This is part five of a seven part series.
The night of April 17, 2012 was a picture perfect night for softball.
The Lady Buffs were hosting WTAMU’s rival, Eastern New Mexico, in a single game series on that Tuesday.
There was scheduled to be a concert that night after the game. The Lady Buffs got off to a quick with Alyssa blasting a home run over the left-center field fence to lead off the game. Mercedes went 2-3 that night with 3 RBI. The Lady Buffs picked up win number 33 on the year with a 20-0 rout of Eastern.
When Mercedes got back into the clubhouse after the victory, she picked up her phone and it had several missed calls and many text messages telling her to call her stepdad or her brother. She got through to her stepdad shortly after the game. He didn’t say much, just that he had booked her a flight from nearby Amarillo that left in 45 minutes. Marchelle wasn’t doing well and it was time for Mercedes to go home. Mercedes was whisked away quickly to her car in the parking lot.
“I honestly thought her mom was dying that day,” Alyssa said. “I turned around and she was gone and I remember people had to catch me up. I remember thinking, ‘this is it. Her life is changing right now.’”
Watching Mercedes get the phone call that she feared the most brought back painful memories for Alyssa, back to the night she was called back from Colorado in July 2008 because the doctors thought Roni was dying.
“I almost relived that night for her [Mercedes] just because I knew how scary it was to get that call,” continued Alyssa.
“There’s several parallels from her night that night and my night that July. I honestly felt the exact same I felt that night and I was so scared for her because it’s one of those things like you can’t get home fast enough and that’s all you want to do is just to be back at home.”
“You celebrate a victory, and it was a big win against a rival and we were excited about that, but then your heart drops when you get the phone call,” Kevin said, who has lost both of his parents and a brother a sister. He remembered the helplessness that he experienced when got those phone calls. “At that point in time, it’s not about winning a softball game anymore, it’s about making sure that that young lady get to get home and be with her mother and be with her family as quickly as possible.”
Mercedes’ mind was racing, she was hysterical and she had no clothes packed. Quickly, catcher Meghan Brown and pitcher Adrianna Garcia got to Mercedes’ apartment and threw clothes in a bag (Mercedes doesn’t even remember what clothes were packed) and off they went to the airport.
The whole way to the airport, Mercedes was asking herself if this was really happening to her and asking Meghan Brown and Adrianna if she was going to lose her mom. When she got to the airport, the airline wouldn’t let Mercedes board because she arrived too late. Her stepdad told her over the phone that there was a flight that left at 7 a.m. on April 18 but Mercedes didn’t want to wait that long. So, Mercedes’ teammates decided to drive Mercedes all the way to Tucson, if necessary.
Outside of El Paso almost seven hours from Canyon, Adrianna’s (a native of El Paso) car broke down in the middle of the night and they had to stop at a hotel. To Mercedes, everything was could have gone wrong was going wrong.
“…that’s when my mind starting running, ‘I’m never gonna get home, I’m never gonna get home,’” Mercedes said.
Adrianna’s father picked up Mercedes and drove the rest of the way to El Paso. From there, at about 9 a.m., Mercedes boarded a Greyhound bus, bound for Tucson. The eight-hour ride to Tucson was hell for Mercedes. She had no idea what was going on with her mom.
Finally, Mercedes arrived in Tucson and she waited for her brother alone at the bus stop. The only thing Mercedes wanted was to see her mother, but her brother wouldn’t let her. Mercedes was forced to shower before seeing her mom in the hospital.
When Mercedes got there, her mother was linked to machines, but Marchelle perked up when her daughter walked into the room. She was there for just a few moments when her uncle asked Mercedes to go eat lunch with him. She resisted but her uncle persisted and she relented. In the hospital cafeteria, Mercedes’ uncle told her that Marchelle was no longer responding to treatments and there was nothing else the doctors could do for her. Marchelle was frustrated because she did everything the doctors asked and nothing was working to get rid of the cancer. She made the decision that she wanted to live the rest of her life without machines or medicines. Marchelle was going to die.
She mentioned that she was going to take a short medical leave from work and that it would eventually turn into a long-term leave. Marchelle’s family told her that she didn’t need to worry about working but Marchelle wouldn’t hear of it. It was Marchelle’s family and she was going to do everything she could to support them. Marchelle wasn’t giving up, the farthest thing from it; she wanted her family to know she wasn’t quitting.
The next wish had the most impact, throwing the heaviest dose of reality at Mercedes. Marchelle mentioned that she wanted people to celebrate her life after she’s gone; she wanted people to share memories at her celebration service, not to be depressed at her passing.
Mercedes was angry, but, she could only hide her emotions for so long, so she crawled in Marchelle’s hospital bed next to her mother and cried.
“She was so worried about everybody else before her,” recalls Mercedes. “Like then, she just told us the news, but she wanted to know that I was okay. That was probably the hardest part. That’s when I knew that this is gonna happen. I have to, in a way, prepare myself, but there’s no way in preparing yourself for it.”
In Canyon, the Lady Buffs still had to prepare to play their final home series of the season, senior weekend, against Texas Woman’s University. It was also the weekend dedicated to Shout Out For Roni, with the name of Strike Out Cancer. Because of Marchelle, the team was going to honor melanoma that weekend in addition to ovarian cancer. This series of games were must-wins for the Lady Buffs if they had hope of not winning the conference tournament and still making the Regional Tournament. Marchelle had promised Mercedes that if the team made the Regional Tournament, she was going to do everything in her power to go watch the team play.
“We tried to play our hearts out for her,” Alyssa said. “It was really hard to prepare knowing that she wasn’t there. We hung up her jersey in the dugout. We all had ‘MG’ written on our wrists for her. It took a toll on the team knowing that she wasn’t there and knowing that she was going through absolute hell in her life that entire week.”
That weekend is when Alyssa realized that she missed Mercedes, particularly when Robbie Dailey started at second, not Mercedes. But she not only missed her because of their relationship, but also because she knew what Mercedes was going through.
“When you reach something like that, it’s one of those things [that] softball is just a game at that point,” continued Alyssa. “It’s just a game. With something so massive going on in your life like that, it really puts things into perspective for you just to know family just trumps everything.”
Mercedes and Marchelle watched the games online from the hospital in Tucson. She stayed in the hospital all day and night, watching over her mom. Being with her mom in the hospital seemed to take the pain away for Mercedes; she’d rather be by her side and sad than be away from her and not know what’s happening. It hurt Mercedes to not be in Texas, playing with her team. But, in a way, she used softball as an escape from her situation.
Even though the team tried to play their hearts out, the Lady Buffs lost the series to Texas Woman’s 1-2 and lost on Senior Day 12-4.
“I felt like I worried them the whole time I was gone,” said Mercedes. “Especially because when they went to play Texas Woman’s, Coach [Blaskowski] had talked to them and gave them a speech and a few of them cried.”
After six days, her mother and brothers started to push Mercedes to go back to Canyon, to finish the school year. Mercedes fought the idea because she had found out that a tumor had reached Marchelle’s aorta and soon, her mother wouldn’t be able to breathe. She didn’t want to go all the way back to Texas and get another phone call and have to rush home again. But, Marchelle didn’t want Mercedes to not complete the semester in which she was doing very well academically. She wanted her daughter to finish what she started. Finally, Mercedes conceded. She would go back to Texas and finish the year, finish the season. The conference softball tournament was right around the corner and the team had ambitions of making Regionals.
So, on April 23, Mercedes said goodbye to her mother, not knowing if it would be the last time. She cried all the way to the airport. When she got there, Mercedes sent a text to her mom, saying that she was sorry that she left her and for Marchelle to stay strong. Marchelle said in response that she wanted Mercedes to hurry home to take care of her. It tore Mercedes to bits knowing that her mom needed her there to take care of her and she was leaving her.
“She never asked for anything from other people,” Mercedes said. “So that told me how important it was for her, in a way, how much it hurt her, too, that I was coming back. It wasn’t exactly what she wanted, but it’s what she thought, as a mother, she had to do.”
“I know a lot of what she does is because of what her mom wished her to do,” said Meghan Slattery. “The way she works in school and softball, a lot of that is because of her mom pushing her and saying, ‘this is what I want from you, this is what I expect, you deserve better.’”
Mercedes’ life became a lot more separated when she got back to Texas. She tried at school, but she had no motivation for class or for softball; her head was back in Tucson. She never got back into a routine. Mercedes compared it to walking on eggshells; anytime the phone would ring, she was terrified that it was that phone call again, the one to take her back to Arizona. All she wanted to do was to go home.
Alyssa kept trying to tell Mercedes that shouldn’t have come back to Texas. Alyssa wanted her to spend as much time with her mom as should could. She recognized that time was running out for Mercedes and Marchelle. Still, Mercedes decided to play in the conference tournament in Denton, Texas. It was important to her, she wanted to win for the team’s seniors but she also wanted to play for Marchelle. It was her mom’s wish to play in the conference tournament so it was Mercedes’ wish as well.
In the first round, WT beat the Abilene Christian Wildcats 5-1 and advanced to face the No. 1 seed Angelo State. The Lady Buffs lost in the semifinals of the conference tournament 11-3. Mercedes finished the tournament going 1-5 with three assists and stranded five batters on base.
With the loss, the softball season was over. No Regional Tournament, no chance at the NCAA Tournament, no chance for the Division II World Series. The loss crushed Mercedes and broke Alyssa’s heart. Mercedes desperately wanted Marchelle to see her daughter play one more time. She felt like she had one job to do and she couldn’t do it, she failed. She wanted to see her mom in the stands one more time, to go up to her after the game and give her a hug. She slowly realized that she couldn’t; she has to play with the cards she’s dealt. What happens when mom says, ‘I’ll be at the next game’ and the next game never comes?
The “what ifs” started to creep into Mercedes’ mind after the loss to Angelo. “That’s one of the games that she’ll always think of for the rest of her life,” Alyssa said.
“After that loss, there was an opportunity for her to walk away and just say, ‘it’s too much, I’m going to focus on my mom, we’re going to have our time,’” Kevin said. “I would have understood if we’d had that conversation.”
Mercedes made arrangements with her instructors regarding finals. She took them all a week early and did the best she could. She thinks she remembered half of what she studied, but it didn’t matter, Mercedes was finally going to go home and be there for her mom.
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