A mass behind my mother’s uterus has brought me to this oncology ward. I learn about debulking a tumor, lymph nodes and a tumor marker test called CA 125.
I will stay the night, sleeping on a makeshift bed fashioned from three chairs. The nursing staff provides sheet, pillow and blanket.
“Let me look at the wound,” the nurse says. She could have said, incision, but she said wound, and I realize then that my mother is wounded. Will she recover from this wound? Will I?
I walk the hospital’s halls, my arms wrapped around my body, holding myself together, afraid pieces of me will drop off and be lost. A pregnant woman with a young child passes by me.
I was just four years old when my mother told me “…a baby is coming.” I spread my fingers wide upon her growing belly, placed my bowed lips there and popped a kiss. “I love the baby,” I said. “A girl.”
“Maybe,” whispered my mother.
I dreamed a sister, who would dress-up with me in mama’s old high heels. Playing beauty parlor, my sister and I would roll curlers in our dollies’ hair, polish red their fingertips, perfume rubber necks and wrists. We would turn on the faucet in my deluxe play kitchen, catch the trickling water in tiny cups for tea and cookies. When we crossed the street, I would hold her hand.
Each day I asked, “Is my sister coming?” I was told I would have to wait a little longer. When the baby finally came, my sister was twins. All my friends’ mothers gave them only one baby at a time, but I got two brothers.
A few years later, I was told again “…a baby is coming.”
“Maybe a girl,” whispered my mother.
But one day as she made breakfast for us, she kept towels between her legs. This time when my mother came home from the hospital, she didn’t bring my sister. The baby girl “…went to Heaven.” After that I was never again told “… a baby is coming.”
I step back into to my mother’s room, wait at the foot of her hospital bed. I am a bird, purple plumed and teal tipped feathered, royally proud. On wings spread wide, I enthrone my mother, sing a hopeful song as we soar past gurneys and IV poles to a mountain green with spring.
Instead I sit on a chair pulled next to the side of the bed and hear the click of the morphine drip. My mother’s hand is locked around the pump, thumb pressing up and down on the button.
The pump falls. I reposition it, caress her hand, stroke it, try to pull the disease out through each finger
I loop my pinky with hers, squeeze, wait for a response. My mother sleeps. What is she dreaming?
Hair curls across her damp forehead. I sweep the wet strands back. Her lips are so pale. I remember how she touched mine so many years ago… From a gold metal tube, a swiveled column of red, my mother strokes lipstick across her pinky tip, presses it to my lips. We play fancy ladies. Me in her black peau de soie shoes, she in glittery sandals, high heel up and down our apartment’s narrow foyer.
Another memory of a paper bag, the tumble of candy onto the dining room table, my mother and I grab Mary Janes, Red Hot Dollars, Bit-O-Honeys.
“How many did you get?”
“Trade you two jaw breakers for a Tootsie Roll.”
Did my mother think when I tied headbands in my brothers’ baby fine hair and placed pocketbooks in their tiny hands that I was disappointed I didn’t have a sister?
When she knelt on the floor beside me, bent over my play kitchen, her handkerchief shining the faucet with the real running water, was it her way of giving me what she thought she hadn’t? Did she think I wanted a sister so much, she became one?
I realize then that there has always been this sisterness between us, but did I ever tell her it was enough that she was my mother?
Hannah Garson taught special needs children in New York City for 35 years. Her work has appeared in Highlights for Children, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Art Times and local newspapers. Hannah and her mother continue their sisterhood.