Waking Up: Mother – Part 4
Contains allusions to emotional and psychological abuse
at the hands of a maternal figure.
“Your mother is so weird. She watches you sleep and asks what we talk about even though you’re barely talking yet. Why is she never here when you’re awake?” The small brown-haired nurse pauses at the foot of the bed, “I hope it’s not offensive, but she gives me the creeps.”
The ICU memory replays and arises from the curling salt and pepper waves atop the head of the woman in the chair. She lifts the corners of her mouth and places a hand over mine, “You scared us, you know. You were gone for so long.” Her eyes get misty, and she squeezes my hand. I parse “K” as the first letter on her nametag.
Mother? No memories, reanimate sensations, nor experiences.
She lets go of my hand to rotate in her chair and reaches into a large canvas tote, pulling out a large brown leather book with thick, shining black pages. “The doctor said I should bring this in to help with your recovery.” The plastic pages and spine crinkle as she opens the book. The lights flicker beneath a clap of thunder that introduces the tapping of raindrops on the window from the dark purple-green daytime sky. “Michael?”
She flips around a picture of a small child in a red and white striped shirt and denim overalls peering out from behind a giant plush toy. One green eye stares away from the camera from beneath a mop of short brown hair. The glossy colored print perched between her thumb and middle fingers as she holds it closer to my face. A sizzle, then a spark, ignite in the recesses. I lean forward. “Henry?”
Her eyes widen as her cheeks lift and mouth opens wide, corners lifted. “Yes! That’s Henry! Henry the Hippopotamus. Do you remember why I got you, Henry?” Her eyes misted.
As I close my eyes, my ears fill with music and shifting colors fill my field of view, changing with each new note of the melody. My left-hand twitches in time with a song as the beats of the room warp to match. “Only a hip-p-p-otamus will do.” My voice rasps as I stutter and recover.
My heart races while a pit opens deep in my gut as her eyes narrow and her mouth tightens. “What is the name of the song?” She inhales deeply, the ‘K’ on her nametag rising and falling with her breath.
“I don’t… I don’t know.” I whimper.
“Yes, you do.” Her mouth pulls into a taut, thin line, her eyes narrowing.
My throat tightens, and chest caves. I brace myself. Why? But nothing happens as the hospital ambiance fills the silence.
She raises the corners of her twisted mouth. “When you were a little boy, at Christmas time, you loved to sing the Gayla Peevey version of ‘Only a Hippopotamus Will Do’ and march around the house. When I asked what you wanted Santa to bring you for Christmas, you recited the song to me and marched off to your bedroom in front of a whole dinner party!” She forces quiet false laughter without softening her face, returning the photo to the album.
My mother lifts a faded Polaroid photo of a small brown mop-haired child with sidewalk chalk in both hands in front of a brick colonial with black shutters. Only the left-hand contacts the sidewalk. “Do you remember our house in Connecticut?”
An electrical impulse triggers a recent memory.
“Michael, try with your right hand first. Your mother told us you were right-handed before.”
I follow it through my mind. I try to find some unlocked door within reach.
Her hair is jet black, and my hands are small. She takes my crayons and moves them to my right hand each time I try to color in the lines.
“No,” I manage to breathe out. Heart racing, the room fills with the sounds of cicadas, but her mouth continues to move. Tense muscles hold back a flood gate of unknowns, begging for this woman, my mother, to leave.