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Trees. Everywhere. It was supposed to be beautiful, peaceful even. But they made me feel like the walls were closing in, like I was one breath away from being crushed by the weight of the mountains surrounding me.
It wasn't supposed to be that way. I guess everyone says that at some point in their lives. But, I never thought I would be the one uttering those words. I grew up in Los Angeles, California, home of movie stars, glitz, glamor, and plastic. I wouldn't say I was one of them, you know, the type of people who they used to put on shows like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous or Cribs. But I was definitely a big city So Cal girl. Beach trips, sun bathing, surfing. If it was at the beach, I loved it, almost as much as I loved shopping on 3rd Street or exploring the wares on Venice Beach. My life felt average, but I knew I was lucky. How many children to a single mom would be able to say they could afford to live so close to the beach in one of the most beautiful cities in the world?
I was an only child. I never met my father, nor did I ever care to know who he was. Photo albums never showed him or even any hint of someone who might be him. There were pictures of my grandparents, my aunt and uncle, and a few of who I can only assume were my mother's friends holding me as a baby and playing with me as I grew up. We lived with my grandparents for most of my childhood and life was pretty awesome. Even when my mom was busy going to night school or teaching or whatever else she did in her busy schedule, someone was always there for me. In fact, I couldn't remember a time I had been without them, at least until they died.
My grandmother went first. It was cancer, lymphoma. No one even knew until it was too late. We wouldn't have even found out she had cancer if she hadn't fallen, broken her hip, and ended up in the hospital. A week later, she was gone. That was when I was 12.
Six months later, my grandfather forgot my name. Soon after, he didn't recognize his own children. He walked out of the house in the middle of the night while we were all asleep. A few days later, he was found dead in the canyons. Alzheimer's blows.
So, you may be wondering, where were my aunt and uncle in all this? I would have loved to know, too. They moved to Florida a couple of years before my grandparents passed. When my mom tried to contact them to tell them about their deaths? No response. Thanks, guys. Nice to know you love your family.
I really thought my mom and I would be okay. We had my grandparents' house to live in, my mom had a steady job, and I was old enough to start taking care of myself from time to time. We could make this work, even if we were alone. And, for a while, we were. Okay, that is. My mom kept on teaching by day and took on a few hours of work as a lecturer at the local university to help pay the bills. She was working a lot and I didn't get to see her too often, but we always had our weekends. No matter what, we got up on Saturday morning, ate breakfast together at the local diner, and hung out at the beach. I guess you could blame my innocence, or maybe I was selfish, but I never thought life would change. I didn't see what was right in front of my own eyes. Or maybe I didn't want to.
“Mom, hey, Mom, it's time to go. I want to try to get a table early. The surf's supposed to be awesome around 9.” No answer. “Mom?”
I turned the door knob to her room, fully intending to wake her up by jumping on the bed like when I was a kid. At first, I was confused. I didn't see her in her bed. “Mom?” I started to wonder, was she somehow following my grandfather's footsteps even though she was too young? Should I try to look for her? I was about to leave the room when I saw a hand on the floor by the far side of the bed near the bathroom. “Mom? Oh, shit!”
I don't really remember how I got her to the hospital. I must have called 911, because I do remember sirens, unfamiliar voices, and a pill bottle dropping from my mother's limp hand. It was like I was floating in a thick miasma, a vortex of chaos that was tangible, but so far away. So, while the medical professionals tried desperately to revive my mother and the police were investigating at the house, I sat there on the cold plastic chair in the hospital waiting room completely blank, lost, empty.
“Amelia? Amelia? Amy? Ameila Ortiz?” I started to hear someone speak my name. I was sitting up in a hospital bed. There was a cheap cherrywood dresser on one side of the room across from a small bathroom and a door leading out to a hallway. The walls were a light mauve. There was a small flat screen TV above a whiteboard. I took all this in before trying to focus on the voice.
“Amelia, can you hear me?”
“Hmm, yes. Sorry. Where am I?”
“You're at L.A. Central Hospital. Do you remember what happened?”
I thought about it for a minute. Pill bottle falling. Sirens. Mom. “Is...is my mom okay?” My head felt fuzzy.
“Amelia, we've given you a mild sedative to help you out. You had a bit of a panic attack in the waiting room. Don't worry about it. It's normal under the circumstances.”
“But, my mother. What happened? Why won't you tell me?” I started feeling some of that panic rising even through whatever drugs they gave me.
“Amelia, your mother is stable. We very nearly lost her, but she's alive.”
“Alive! Oh, thank God! When can I see her? Is she next door? I'm sure she's worried about me.”
“Amelia, your mother nearly died today. As far as we can tell, she took a handful of antidepressants and had high levels of alcohol and cocaine in her blood. She's...not really in a good place right now. As soon as she's more alert, we're going to transfer her to a rehab center. But it's going to be a long process.”