I’m lying on the floor of the playroom. The ugly carpet is scratchy against my face, my nose is running and my sinuses are playing a drum solo. I rub my cheek back and forth: It keeps me awake. I reach out to a mess of Magnatiles, pick up one and run my thumb across its hard plastic edge.
It pushes in the soft skin. Lately, my hands have been reminding me of my mother’s hands: my knobby knuckles, skin puddled around each joint, the little bones on the back of my hand moving up and down with my fingers.
I push the Magnatile in until it hurts, then I toss it away. I woke up this morning in a sweat, my head hot and my skin cold. It’s Sunday, but Jason had already left for work; when I texted him, my neck straining to hold my head up, he said to text Sofia. Sofia with her messy bun and her loud laugh. My first friend in this town. But she’s away, visiting family for the summer.
I don’t want Sofia. I want my mom. It’s been four years, but on days like today I miss her with a sharpness that grips me hard. I don’t text him back.
We just moved to this house this year. It’s split level. Tidy. White with green shutters and window boxes with fleur de lis cut into them. My mom’s never even seen it. We bought it after she got sick, after the hospital turned into hospice, turned into a too hot day in a cemetery and a fight with my family.
And I know all that, but when I woke up sick, my head swollen and my nose dripping, my first thought was to call her. Because I wouldn’t have to tell her how to help: She’d just know. She’d come over, and she’d fix everything.
Thankfully, this morning the kids got themselves up and went downstairs on their own. I had horrid nightmares all night, a rodeo where I was chased by clowns, and they put me in a mood. Emma, 8, no doubt poured cereal with her still chubby hands and turned on Netflix for Mila, 5, and Lucas, 3.
I had no energy to shower, so I wrapped myself in my fluffy robe, brushed my teeth and took a handful of DayQuil. I followed the kids’ voices to the basement playroom; when they migrated to the kitchen, I stayed behind to blow my nose and stare down this beige carpet that I can’t wait to replace.
Before moving to the suburbs, we had a two-bedroom in the city. The girls shared bunk beds; the baby slept in our room. When my mom visited, she slept on the couch, washed bottles with her soapy hands, did loads of laundry, her hands moving fast like butterfly wings, and walked the length of the apartment with first Emma, then Mila on her shoulder, one hand patting their backs, singing Grateful Dead songs as lullabies into their ears.
By the time Lucas was born, my mom had already died. I cried every day of his first month, missing her and feeling like an orphan. Like a wave, it receded; but today it came back full force to smack me down to the ground.
So I am lying in this windowless basement, on the horribly nondescript carpet, looking at the Pixar movie posters for Toy Story, Cars, Ratatouille and Finding Nemo I hung on the wall and finding my strength. Because underneath this sick, this tired, this aching for my mom, this frustration Jason isn’t home, that Sofia is MIA, there is a hardness that will not shake.
My phone dings, and it’s from Jason, “I love you! I hope you feel better.” I heart his message and open up Facebook, the phone held close to my face.
When my mom went on hospice, I had a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. I wanted to camp by her bed, where her hands were so frail and still just lying there on the sheet. I wanted to hold her juice straw and carry her to the bathroom. Instead, I found a really good nurse to sit by her bed.
While I was home with my babies, I talked to the nurse, coordinated my mom’s care, kept my extended family updated, made dinner every night, did storytime and bed. It was the best I could do. One of these days I’ll forgive myself that it wasn’t enough. I wanted to give more, but I couldn’t.
I wish my mom was here, but it’s just me and the little people I created. I have no choice but to figure it out. My head is feeling clearer, my nose drier.
Facebook is garbage, and I put the phone away. It’s sunny enough to play in the backyard. I have supplies for s’mores, beaded necklaces and sand jars. There’s always coloring books, stickers and puzzles to fall back on. I’ll text Jason to get a pizza and go to bed early. From the kitchen, up a short flight of stairs, I hear the kids talking, laughing and bickering slightly. Emma’s voice starts to sound shrill; but by the tenor of their voices, I have a minute.
I can do this: I can get up. It takes a second, but I do it. I push on the carpet with my hands, my mother’s hands, and I stand up, stretch and go upstairs.
Peaches Schwartz lives in Philadelphia with her husband and son. When she’s not working, she can be found reading in bed, baking brownies or outside gazing at the moon.