Heart pounding, I hold my breath as I gradually inch my way toward the edge of the bed. I don’t want to make a sound that would be audible over the whirring box fan in the window. I see how the springy mattress caves slightly under my scrawny toddler body as I move it ever …so … slowly, terrified to disturb my mom — again. I’ve already tried to roll off in one quick movement like ripping off a Band-Aid but was unsuccessful.
“Stay still,” she grumbled.
In my memory, the sheets are crisp and white, but that doesn’t make sense to me now. Mom always prefers darker hues, especially purple, or patterns like paisley or tie-dye. So, the sheets, I can’t actually recall for sure. But the room is definitely white, with sun streaming through the grill of the fan, casting a grid shadow. It’s much too bright for sleeping and I’m not interested in the nap she’s demanding.
“Go to sleep,” she mumbles into her pillow, as I begin another attempt at what feels like a never-ending journey off the full-size bed. “How does she know?” I wonder. Moments before, I was sure she was asleep as I lay on my stomach with my hand tucked in hers under her down pillow, my face turned out. I couldn’t take anyone’s hot sleeping breath in my face even then.
I’m convinced I am weightless, silent, stealth. I begin to channel Inspector Gadget to get out of this sticky nap-adverse situation. If only the bed springs could catapult me out of this room to my Cabbage Patch Dolls. But there’s no use.
“Jamie Lynn. It’s nap time,” mom says again. Uh oh. The middle name always means she’s not playing around.
I lie stiff on my back, staring up at the bouncing shadows on the ceiling caused by the fan. I relent, careful not to bother her anymore. Even then, I just wanted to help make things easier for her. Looking back, I wonder which of us actually needed the mid-day sleep. If it was my designated nap time, then she made it a team effort like she always would. Having me just two weeks after turning 17, we’d often say, only half joking, that we grew up together. I never felt alone. But maybe she was just exhausted and needed to easily keep tabs on me. I want to call to ask her which it was.
I think back to this moment often: my hand in my mom’s, under the pillow. The first memory I can recall, with her and in general. I think of it 11 days after we’re told her cancer has spread and we have “maybe three months” together. She suddenly can’t walk without help and rolls off the bed when I’m sure she’s asleep, the pain pills finally providing some relief. She’s refused hospice, either as surprised by the rapid decline as I am or in denial. I bite my tongue, careful not to say we should have had the hospital bed that she was adamant to never use. Instead, I help hoist her back onto the cool purple sheets and lie against her, a human bed rail, my arm around her shoulder. A fan whirs across the room, as always.
So far this morning, she’s only speaking in one-word sentences. Heart pounding, I am distraught that “Help” seems to be the main one uttered. I just want to tuck my hand in hers under the pillow and never try to roll away. I lay my head on her shoulder, salty tears steadily streaming onto my upper lip as I admire her perfectly manicured nails: a dark violet with a glitter topcoat.
“Do you know how much I love you?” I ask.
I hold my breath, careful not to sniffle.
Hours later, she’s gone.
Now I find myself back in the white room often: the sun streaming in through the fan in the window; my mom, 19 or 20; me, two or three. It’s peaceful in here, despite my wiggling. Our hands clasped under the pillow. All the years still stretched out before us. Plenty of time for a nap. Plenty of time, yet never enough.
Jamie Murnane is an MFA degree candidate at University of Nevada – Reno at Lake Tahoe. She also works in marketing and long ago, was a journalist. She lives in Los Angeles.
Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/JoLynne Martinez
I saw this and I felt it, all of it. Thank you for such a beautiful piece!