She heard laughter and looked up. Across the reception area she saw two people meet, their eyes smiling over their masks. They touched elbows, then both laughed again and walked through the door of the patient’s room. Family, must be, she thought. They had just eased visitor restrictions for this floor.
A wave of muted memories drifted through her. I remember when I was like that. Happy. But it seemed like a long time ago, a lifetime ago. She was so weary inside, she could not find the wherewithal to care about the loss of joy, the savor of simply being happy, of feeling good.
She had been sitting by the door of her son’s room, able to see out as well as in, the curtains drawn around her boy’s bed, nurses inside doing things. She had been there for hours, just sitting. Just watching him sleep. It was not the ICU, but his recovery had been slow, fraught, his body resisting its new heart.
Her throat tightened as she heard sounds from behind the curtain. Were they changing the IV bag? Had they been clumsy, and knocked his shoulder port? Were they rough in changing his bandages? She kept her eyes on the nurse’s station, watching the motions of their hands, hard at work.
The two nurses emerged with their container and equipment. One looked kindly at her, the other kept busy. As they left, she moved to the side of his bed. Did I not tell you to just wait? She thought. Angry tears blurred her vision, and forgetting herself, she wiped them with the back of her hand. If he had only been a little more patient, if only he had not run off and gotten a motorcycle when she was sure she could have talked Dale into payments on a new car. If only he had not had the accident, the accident that had killed his heart.
She pulled out her phone, then remembered, and put it back in her purse. I will do it later, she thought. Dale owes this boy. He owes him! Him and his pretty young wife. She swallowed hard. Him and his new family. Dumped the old, didn’t he, leftovers for the old, all the best for the new. Her anger felt righteous and strong, filling her with energy and power.
Her hand was clutching the sheet covering her son, the latex gloves sticking and stretching. She made herself loosen her fingers and smooth the sheet while being careful not to touch the skin of his foot. Slowly she backed away, to her chair, to fall heavily into its seat, and watch, all at once wanly empty.
Then his eyes opened, and he looked around the room, finally falling on her. “Mamá?”
His voice was raspy, he gave a small cough. She wanted so badly to pull off her mask, to rush over to him and kiss his forehead, to brush his hair, to murmur over him. Instead she nodded, “Yes, pequeño, it is me.”
New tears flooded up, relief, he is awake!
His eyes crinkled. “Mamá, it’s okay.”
She ducked her head down. He did not need her crying, he needed her hope, her can-do, he needed the mamá who had cheered at all his home games, who had thrown him a giant party when he graduated, who made over every new job, and patted his hand when he would get laid off. “They didn’t appreciate you, anyway,” she would tell him. That mamá. He needed that mamá.
She looked up again, and he was still watching her. “Yes, it is okay. You are going to be okay.” And as she spoke the words, she could even feel a faint wisp of hope. “Yes,” she warmed to her role, “You look better today. Do you feel stronger?”
Unexpectedly, a head popped through the door. She was a small woman, short-cropped brown hair, frameless glasses, and a pastor’s collar under her jacket. “Carlos!” Her voice was filled with wonder. “I’ve been praying for you every day, and last night I asked God to open your eyes.” She fumbled in her coat pocket, then drew out a small card, giving it to Carlos’ mother. “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5 (NRSV)
“God is giving you a gift,” she said warmly, then slipped out.