Eleanor & Grey - Brittainy C. Cherry

Part I

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news,

my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

-Fred Rogers



April 8, 2003

Everything my mother knew about life she learned from Mister Rogers.

She called him the greatest teacher of life lessons, and she swore up and down that he’d saved her life countless times. Whenever she was upset, she worked through her problems using her words. Whenever she was happy, she embraced it fully. Whenever she was hurt, she studied what led to her aching.

I’d never met a woman so in control of her own energy. Her awareness of self was something to be applauded. She never raised her voice, and she had the calmest demeanor of anyone in the whole world. You couldn’t be around my mother and be angry. I truly thought it was impossible.

It was because of her that we had Tuesdays with Rogers.

Only on Tuesday nights would we eat away from the dining room table, and pull out the TV trays. There was never a Tuesday that passed where she, my father, and I weren’t watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. It was an odd tradition, yet it was something Mom had been doing since she was a kid. She’d watch the show every week with Grandma, and when she met Dad, she made him promise he’d keep the tradition going if they ever had kids.

I loved it, too. There probably weren’t many sixteen-year-old kids who knew, let alone loved, Mr. Rogers, but honestly, they were missing out. Even though it was an older show, its life lessons were still pretty relevant.

That Tuesday afternoon was no different to me. We ate meatloaf and mashed potatoes, we talked about music, we laughed at Dad’s bad jokes, and we chatted about Mr. Rogers’s cardigan collection that looked very similar to mine, seeing how Mom made me a new one every year for my birthday.

Everything was fine and dandy until three words rocked everything sideways.

“I have cancer.”

My body reacted in a way I didn’t know was possible. I slumped back against the couch cushion as if someone had slammed a fist straight into my gut, forcing all air to evaporate from my body.

I turned to my mother, confused, stunned, aching. My palms grew clammy, my stomach knotted up, and I felt like I was going to vomit.

“What?” I whispered, the word hardly falling from my lips.

Three words.

It was just three words. Three words that changed my mood. Three words that cracked my heart. Three words that I never wanted to hear.

I have cancer.

My eyes fell to Mom’s lips as she spoke to me. At least I thought she spoke to me. Did she say anything at all? Did I make it up? Was I hearing things? Were the echoes of my past haunting me?

Grandpa had cancer.

He struggled with cancer.

He died from cancer.

There was nothing good that came from that word.

I shook my head back and forth, confusion swirling as tears began to slowly fall down Mom’s cheeks. I looked to Dad to see him on the verge of crying, too.


That’s all I could say.

That’s all that came to mind.

I shook my head. “No. No, that’s not true.”

Dad pinched the bridge of his nose. “It’s true.”

“No,” I repeated. “It’s not.”

There was no way Mom had cancer.

People like her didn’t get cancer. She was the healthiest woman in the world. I mean, heck, her idea of a crazy snack was juicing carrots, apples, and a cucumber. If you cut her, she’d probably bleed out broccoli. Healthy people like Mom didn’t get sick. They only got healthier. There was no way…

Oh, no…

Now Dad was crying, too.

Dad didn’t cry. I could count on one hand how many times I’d ever seen him shed a tear.

“Eleanor…” He called me Eleanor when things were serious, and my father was hardly ever a serious man. He sniffled and shut his eyes. “This is hard for us all. We wanted to tell you when we found out, but we didn’t know how. Plus, there were more tests to do and—”

“How bad?” I asked.

They both answered with silence.

That couldn’t have been good.

My heart felt as if it was being ripped piece by piece from my chest.

Mom’s hand flew over her mouth as the tears kept falling.

Dad spoke again. Saying my full name—again. “Eleanor…please understand. We’ll have to all stand together to get through this.”

“We’re going to fight it,” Mom promised, her voice shaky and scared and