When I was still in feety pajamas, I’d use my parents’ bed as my hospice. Whenever I was home sick, after waking quite early, I’d claw my way to the top of the stairs and crawl into the folds of their bed, the warm soft sheets smelled like Kerri lotion and my mother. My father would get dressed and watch the traffic report. My mother was already in the kitchen, coffee percolating, cupboards opening. I imagined she was leaning down to the cabinet beneath the junk drawer, pulling out one brown paper bag instead of two. I miss the sounds of that house, the sounds of family, up around me. I wanted to keep them there, with me, in the bed. I didn’t want them to have days without me. I’d whine when they kissed me goodbye.
My mother would leave to play tennis but would return before noon with matzo ball soup, ginger ale, and Charms lollypops for my throat. I’d stir the ginger ale flat with the lollypop as my spoon. Then I’d search for hidden pictures in Highlights magazine and play with the Yes & No Invisible Ink book. Mad Libs wasn’t fun without a friend to shock. I could only play with Wooly Wally for so long (a magnetic game where you moved shaved bits of magnet to create hair, a beard, a pirate eye patch). If I was home sick for a few days, I’d learn the television schedule and actually look forward to my next day at home. I knew to play the Blockbuster Video, Little Darlings, when the soap operas began to air. When it was over, it was usually time for Inspector Gadget, and then Lea would be home to keep me company and play with plastic dolls and their snap on clothing. Before my father returned home from work, during Three’s Company, and after dinner was tented in aluminum foil waiting for his arrival, my mother would check in on me.
“Can I get you anything else, Stephanie?”
“No, just stay with me. Stay here and hold my hand.”
She’d twitch her nose and decide to stay. “Just for a little while.”
“Hold my hand.”
“Stephanie, that’s how germs spread, through the hands.” She might have held it anyway. I’m not sure. I just remember that she stayed longer than she said she would. She’d sit on the bed, propped up against her pillows, with her knees bent as she flipped through a magazine using one hand, starting from the back. I was afraid to change the channel, worried she’d realize time and want to get out of bed to do the things that mothers do.
My favorite days were weekends when my father was home sick with a cold. He’d plug his nostrils with toilet paper and watch black and white movies from his bed. I’d rub his bald head with a paper towel because it felt greasy to me. He didn’t mind. I suppose that’s how I felt about back scratches and hand holding when I was sick. I never let anyone touch me, except when I was sick. That’s how my parents knew I wasn’t faking it. I was more open to affection when i was sick. Spending time with my father meant so much to me; I’d even watch what he wanted, just to keep him near me.
It’s why now, when I’m in bed with you, I really don’t care what we watch. Baseball. Football. Tennis. I really don’t care; I just want you near me, holding my hand. It feels like that’s all I need sometimes. Okay, that and maybe some Anne of Green Gables.