Posted inEditor's Pick

Johnny Rotten, My Mom, and Me

Kimberly Mack | Longreads | February 22, 2019 | 7,118 words
Posted inEssays & Criticism, Feature, Nonfiction, Story

Johnny Rotten, My Mom, and Me

Kimberly Mack recalls the ways in which rock music bonded her with her African American mom, and how those fierce sounds helped them cope with the poverty, violence, and despair both outside and inside their Brooklyn home.
Associated Press / Unsplash / Virgin Records / Vertigo Records

Kimberly Mack | Longreads | February 2019 | 28 minutes (7,118 words)

“Will you sing to me?”

My mom’s pain had subsided for the moment, and her voice was strangely perky. Happy even. The morphine had kicked in. She was strapped in tight, on a stretcher, at the back of the ambulette. An assortment of pillows and towels cushioned her body to protect her from the impact as the wheels slowly rolled over each pothole, each bump, each uneven patch of street.

I had been warned that the ride from Midtown Manhattan’s Roosevelt Hospital to the Lincoln Tunnel would be the worst of it — a minefield for my 68-year-old mother, whose stage-four uterine cancer had metastasized to her liver and lungs and, as her palliative care doctor characterized it, “filled her entire abdominal cavity.” It was the pain that finally got my mom to visit the doctor seven weeks earlier. There had been other signs, but she had refused to go to the doctor before that, only repeating to me what I’d heard her say when I was growing up: “Doctors look for problems…they make you sick.”

It was August 2015. We were now headed by an ambulette service to my new home in Toledo, Ohio, ten hours away, where I was a college professor. The plan was for her to first spend a few weeks at a skilled nursing facility, so she could relearn how to walk after her recent long hospital stay. That would give us time to order a hospital bed and other medical supplies before bringing her to our house for in-home hospice care. I had been looking forward to showing my mom our new home ever since I texted a picture of it to her after we found it in June.

“Look, Mom!” I wrote. “I can’t believe the house comes with such colorful flowers. There are dark pink rose bushes in the backyard.”

“Oh Kim, it’s so beautiful,” she texted back.

“I can’t wait for you to see it,” I replied. And that was true. Neither one of us had lived in a house before.

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