I’ve been told that she was in the hospital about six months. When they finally realized that she was dying, she decided she needed to see her boy, so my grandmother and sisters sneaked me up the fire escape. (At that time you had to be fourteen years old to visit in a hospital). It was about six floors up. That fire escape was scary, but not scary enough to keep me from going to see my mom.
I remember how heavy the air felt and how cold it was when I entered that hospital. It also stank, and the color of the walls was this ugly, dull, and depressing off-white, almost yellow color. Thinking back, it was probably because they were stained with tobacco smoke. There was a horrible energy and everything was so drab and dreary that I immediately wanted to leave. This was before we were even in her room.
The day she left for the hospital she had looked as healthy as anyone, but when I walked into that hospital room, full of anticipation to see her, what I saw was horrific. This woman did not look like my mom at all. I did not know what death was at the time, but even to this five-year-old it was obvious that she was not long for this world. She was very pale with a chalky-white complexion and was very thin. But worst of all was that huge blister on her lip. I can still see it like it was yesterday; a big yellow scab on her upper lip. It actually looked like snot. It was disgusting. I turned my back on her and walked to the end of the bed. I was so incredibly disappointed. I had come to see Momma, but she wasn’t there.
I wanted more than anything to just leave. I remember her saying something like “Please get him out of here. This is too hard on him”, and “He shouldn’t have to see me like this.” Then she said, “Come give Momma a good-bye kiss.”
I just said, “No, I don’t want to.”
I had no idea what those five words were going to do to my life. I was so confused. How could anyone say that this person was my mother? My mom was very pretty, and she laughed and smiled a lot. This woman couldn’t have laughed or smiled even if she had something to laugh or smile about. Somewhere inside me, though, I knew she was my mom and that something was very wrong.
When we got home, my sister, Jackie, told my drunken dad what had happened. He became very angry and pulled off his belt and spanked me, all the while screaming at me, “Here your mother lays on her death-bed and you, her only son, won’t even kiss her good-bye”. Not even Alzheimer’s could erase that memory from my mind.
Johnnie Calloway is a gifted story teller, and has written a superb personal account of his harrowing childhood, and adult life. Although he retells his experiences of emotional and physical abuse, neglect, heartache, and betrayal, and later his own addictions and struggles with mental illness, he manages to keep the reader thoroughly engaged and inspired by his strength and wisdom throughout this page turner. Johnnie’s willingness to be soul-baringly honest in this book as he traces his earliest memories into his teens and then adult years is truly unlike anything I have ever read. I have no doubt that his display of courage and his determination to go to any lengths necessary for his own healing will serve as a guiding light for countless readers. It is a story of hope and love, forgiveness and healing. I only wish it had been available when I was a practicing addictions counselor. I would have made it required reading!
Retired Addictions Counselor
About the Author
Johnnie Calloway grew up in a small town in Kentucky (Population around 11,000). His mother passed when he was only five leaving him to grow up with an angry, alcoholic, sexually confused father. Johnnie was born into a reputation that he never wanted but was obligated to live up to. Still Johnnie always wanted to be the “good guy”. The conflict between his personal desire and his sense of obligation to his dad’s/family’s reputation created a great torment that was oddly accompanied with an insatiable yearning to learn. Eventually Johnnie became a seeker of truth. And has now devoted himself to sharing what his seeking has taught him with others. He has written two books, “Taming the Dragon” and “Dragons to Butterflies, The Metamorphosis of a Man”, and is currently working on, “Within the Chrysalis, It’s an Inside Job”.