Growing Love

By Avery Lantz

               I watched as the pile of weeds next to me grew bigger and bigger. Third year on the job,

and this was nothing new. For countless hours I would sit in the sun, baking my skin to a crispy

pink color, while pulling bindweed and thistle out of the ground. I came to find the sound of my

digger ripping through the roots satisfying. My team and I usually started our gardening process

around 8:30 every morning, and by about 2:00 p.m. each day, every drop of my energy had

seeped, as water does, into the ground below me. I was giving up my life for the plants. It’s

funny though, how connected I could get to a single specimen growing out of the ground, when I

knew it would be dead and wilted come the autumn months. I watched the plants grow, and kept

the nasty weeds from wrapping their fingers around the plant stems and strangling them. I was a

caretaker to the gardens. Physically draining, yet oddly satisfying.

           I paused for a moment, as that pile kept growing, and thought about my mom. She was

racing across America on her bike, and would be cutting across the southwest corner of Colorado

that day. I liked having my phone on me when she was gone. Updates buzzed through, and

missing them felt like I was missing a breaking news event. All morning, everything stayed

pretty quiet. Strange, I thought, but no news is good news right? Within minutes of this thought,

I felt a ring on my hip where my phone was tucked away. Relief. My mom’s team must be

making good time. As I put down my tools for technology, nerves overtook my world. A text

from my sister read, “Please call, I think something happened to mom.” I knew my sister tended

to be more on the dramatic side, but she did have a good sense of judgment.

           I called. No answer. Slightly worried, I still had this life below me, so I focused my

mind back on what I could take care of. Still on edge though, I continuously pulled my phone

out, only to see a—what felt like—never-ending black screen. Then lights. I fumbled my phone,

with both anxiety and excitement and held it up to my ear. My sister’s voice had a hint of

concern in it, as she said that she was told our mom took a bit of a tumble and bumped her head.

She would be going to the hospital to get checked for a concussion, but would probably be back

on her bike within the next couple of hours. At this moment, I figured everything was going to

be okay.

            I’ve always been one to think that things get better with time. Plants grow and bloom,

storms pass, injuries heal. Though little did I know, that on that Monday afternoon, things would

be getting worse. What started as a little bike “tumble” turned into a flight for life trip from

Durango to the St. Anthony’s Lakewood hospital—a level 1 trauma center, specializing in brain

and spinal injuries. She was unconscious for 2 minutes. With a crewmember stabilizing her

head, she lay still on the ground, breaks and fractures crawling up her spine. At the moment that

this was occurring, I too was handling a life. This was a life that wouldn’t make it long without

the help of a human hand. Both this plant and my mom needed the most delicate touch in order

for survival. Any slight movement could damage the stem.

           Within hours, I was sitting right outside of the hospital Emergency entrance, watching

my dad pace back and forth and my sister nervously scattering through thoughts in her brain.

When will she get here? The place didn’t smell very good. It had a clean scent, but not the type

of clean you would want your house to have. I honestly could not say the events that played out

until the moment that I walked into a white room with fluorescent lights and saw my mom’s

face. But it wasn’t my mom’s face. It was one of those Halloween masks. Bruised, black,

purple and red, with traces of blood on her lip. And swollen, really really swollen. A brace

surrounded her neck, but the rest of her body was free. Relief round 2. My mom was in front of

me. Not the version that I had come to know, but nonetheless, my mom. I watched her body,

waiting for any movement of a finger or toe. She was able to move, but elected not to. I figured

she was too mentally and physically exhausted.

           She had to answer a lot of questions that night in the hospital. Whether she smoked, did,

drugs, or drank. She answered in some form of “yes, everyday” to all of them. As the nurse’s

pen carved out each answer on the paper, my mom had the slightest trace of a smirk come across

her face. She then continued to say, “No, I’m just kidding.” Relief round 3. It was a very

inappropriate time to include these little jokes, but it made everyone in the room lighten up. That

was the mom I knew. Seriousness collapsed on all of us again as the doctor walked in the room.

He had reported the fractures in C1, C2 and T4, a right rib fracture and a traumatic brain injury.

Ha! Yeah this was “just a bump to the head.” That light that we were all reaching for had

suddenly dimmed out. He gave us two options of how to heal the broken body lying on the bed

in front of us. She could either go into surgery and get a neck fusion, or opt for the halo brace.

As my dad and the doctor discussed the repercussions to both, I stood by my mom’s side. She

grabbed my hand and said, “It’s going to be okay, honey.” Through the pain she was

experiencing, she still played her role as a mother and made sure that my pain was lessened.

           So came the question, would this accident really jeopardize the activity that she loved the

most? I couldn’t picture her life if she wasn’t cruising through it on two wheels. Yet I was

forced to picture it that night in the hospital. It was right in front of me, lying on a bed. A much

more important life than that stupid plant I had to water earlier. I became angry. Angry that this

woman who outlined aptitude was now unable to help herself. I didn’t like seeing the nurses

pick her up and move her from one bed to another. She should’ve been doing that on her own.

She was supposed to take care of me, that’s what moms do right? At that moment, she was just

as vulnerable as a flower. But despite how battered she was, she still had that glowing quality

that a garden does, living through even the toughest storm.

           The halo brace it was. This brace would be screwed into her head the next morning and

permanently stay there for three months. No one was sure what this brace would encompass,

except that it would bring an entire new way of looking at life. Not just for the family, but for

her as well. She would be viewing her surroundings through a cage that would physically keep

her safe, but that had an added sense of fragility. It wasn’t until I actually saw the brace

embedded in her skull, that I realized how seriousness her injuries were. I walked out of the

surgery recovery room with tears filling my eyes. I wanted to think that the situation could be

worse, but at that moment, that was the worst it could get. That’s the thing. Her injuries could

have paralyzed or even killed her, and people made sure to tell us that. I understood, but it still

sucked. No one could comprehend this fear and pain. She had been entangled in a mess of

weeds, and it wasn’t easy to get out of.

           It didn’t take long for the sympathy to start flowing in. My family had many people

offering to make meals for us and at first we declined. We thought we were a lot stronger. Only

about a couple days in did we realize that we overestimated our capabilities. On Wednesday, my

sister and I left the hospital hours after the moon was welcomed by the sky. Though only home

during the early and late hours of the day, we realized we actually did need some food. We had

to make a trip to the store and then we could head home. Both of us were exhausted, and this

was just another step out of the way that we didn’t want to take. I recall being short tempered

that night. I still could not wrap my head around the fact that this had to happen to my mom.

After a quick stop at the store and not long after walking through the door, I headed up to my

room. A place where I could normally find a sense of calmness. Not the case. Instead of my

head hitting my pillow, my fist did—then my tears. A moment of pure frustration. I kept fairly

quiet, but inside I was screaming. I was genuinely mad at the Sun for not providing enough to

keep this life upright.

           Lying there, I thought about how much my mom would give to be wearing herself down

on the bike rather than trying to stand up in the hospital. Both of which required an extreme

amount of mental and physical toughness. I had never understood those aspects of toughness in

cycling. It’s an activity that is straining on the body and also challenges the mind to push past its

limits. The Race Across America (RAAM) was one of the biggest tests of toughness and

endurance. Riders go 3,000 miles from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland, with no

breaks, and a continuously running clock. My mom was always the image of strength to me, but

this made her a badass.

           After the accident, I saw a whole new meaning to “badass.” It was no longer proving you

had strength, it was creating it. The halo brace was a big weight on my mom’s shoulders,

literally. Walking, let alone sitting up, posed a challenge. I watched as each day, after the six in

the hospital, my mom created more strength. She was starting from dirt. Dirt being the rental

hospital bed that stuck out like a sore thumb in our living room. No days were pretty, but they

were days nonetheless. I had never seen someone with a better attitude about life after being cut

down. Her perseverance over those three months made it look easy.

           Now we are at a new season. Being presented with an opportunity to start over, but with

stronger roots. A family once close became even closer. I t has been almost a year and a half,

proving that healing takes a lot of nurturing and patience. I had the opportunity to watch a new

life blossom out of adversity, and that was better than any garden I ever touched.