Like most kids, I used to get sick. Strep throat, chicken pox, stomach flu. Nothing unusual, or even particularly frequent. I never minded. There was a delicious kind of routine to it. I’d tell my mother I felt bad, and she’d lay a cool hand on my forehead, and pronounce me sick. She’d immediately get all my favorite blankets and comforters and books and bring them downstairs to make a bed on the sofa so I could watch TV. She’d bring me special food, tell me ice cream was good for sore throats, and make her own cough remedy with equal parts honey, lemon juice, and some hard core alcohol—whatever they had on hand.
No matter how minor the illness, she was there. She held various jobs throughout my childhood, but whatever her responsibilities at the time, she’d be there to watch soap operas and I Love Lucy re-runs with me during my day of pampering. At night, when I’d feel worse, she’d stay up with me if my stomach roiled or my fever spiked, reading children’s poetry from a compilation she’d owned as a child with 1940s drawings of little girls in big hair-bows and boys in short pants.
I grew into my teen years. We fought plenty: over hairstyles and clothing styles and politics and TV shows (“I think Friends is stupid. All they do is talk.”). We screamed at each other. Sometimes we refused to speak to each other at all. We read together anyway – a tentative but permanent alliance over a love of words.
I went to college. She helped me move in and wiped away a tear while breathing a secret sigh of relief. From then on, we argued mostly over the phone. She had her opinions. I had mine. Neither of us was shy about sharing them.
I got married. My husband can’t afford sick time, so when I’m sick now—rarely, so rarely—I’m on my own. If I need a blanket, I get it myself. If I want honey-lemon cough remedy, I have to remember to pick up the ingredients at the grocery store myself. There is no one to feel my forehead.
My mom aged. Now she’s the one who’s sick. When I can, I go to be with her, but it’s not as often as I’d like. Her ailments can’t be cured by children’s poetry in the wee hours of the morning, anyway.
We’ve got history, but it’s mostly good. When I think of my mom, though, I always picture her late at night, shadowed in the light from that bedside lamp, reading poetry and standing guard, suffering through all feverish nights alongside me, the personification of safety.
It’s Mother’s Day. If you still can, go kiss your mom.
THE DARKEST FLOWER:
LYING BENEATH THE OAKS: