The following story – or series of mini-stories – is one of my most vivid memories. You know those kind? The kind that when your thoughts drift and land on a memory, it’s often one of these. One of those that had a funny point, or a summational pinnacle, or has so much crammed in it just makes it special to you? When it gets cold, or I have a cough, my thoughts sometimes harken back to this memory. I hope you enjoy. 🙂
It was winter. I’d done a reverse of what I did a few years ago – I’d gone from a snowy-icy New York airport and landed smack-dab in the middle of a sunny summer’s day one flight and half a world away.
Now, I’d plunged into midwinter from the “every day is 85º, with a chance of tropical rain” equatorial line. We’d brought all the clothes we could from this sunny realm, but it seems they may not have been enough to fight an eastern coldfront.
Because a few days after we arrived, it started to snow, and my little heart could not resist going out and playing in it. Neither could my Mom and we went out in our barely-suitable clothes, but warm on the inside from our pure glee at seeing the snow again.
We gazed upon the sky as the flakes floated down, and I trudged a giant heart in the hillside.
As it grew dark, we headed back into our long-term hotel room.
I came down with the flu the next day.
Two more factoids – 1. we had a housekeeper at this hotel. Instead of a rotational shift, the same brash lady kept our rooms for almost every day of the weeks we stayed there. 2. My dad was not with us originally, but came a few days later, cranking the tension to eleven. 3. All my friends lived nearby the hotel, so we were making plans to be with them after being so long apart.
And I came down with the flu. I knew the housekeeping came, and went. I knew Mom didn’t like her. I knew my dad came. I knew my parents argued.
I knew Mom boiled chicken into health-giving soup. I knew we’d made arrangements to see my friend perform in concert.
Besides this I was O.U.T.
There have been 5 times I’ve been memorably sick in my life – once with salmonella, once with pseudo-fly disease (it had a complicated name), a few times with colds as a child, and a weird 1 day flu. This was a flu I was unused to, and I was sleeping or eating, pretty much, and that was it.
While part of me wanted to be up to protect my Mom, part of me was glad for the blissful ignorance.
But when I did wake up, I sometimes couldn’t care about all the politics going on. So when the brash housekeeper bustled in with her big voice and her loud statements of fact, I couldn’t help but be relieved at the clarity.
I felt like I had 3 people looking after me – her, my mom, and dad. And she felt bigger than their arguments.
One time, when I was close to healing, I was hungry. I’d sat up in bed, Mom had asked me what I felt like eating, and I went for the leftover salad from a previous day. She brought it out to me, and I started chowing down when the housekeeper came in.
I saw Mom’s sideways glare, and felt my cheeks light up. I usually feel exactly the same way my Mom does about things, so the dichotomy worried me, but I was a bit too exhausted to care.
Especially when the lady looked over at me and said, “Mmm-hmm! You eating salad? That’s good. You keep eating healthy stuff like that and you’ll get better real quick!”
Mom also seemed to relax when she heard her topic. Being bolstered like this and the idea of feeling better soon endeared me to the lady. She also didn’t seem to be afraid of my sickness, which I would be if I were her.
I soon wasn’t sleeping all day. We also soon kicked Dad out. So it was blissfully just waiting for the next shoe to drop when it was nearly time for my friend’s concert.
The only issue was, I didn’t have the flu anymore, but I did have a terrible, hanging-on, intense cough.
It was basically every moment I had the urge to cough, and I couldn’t stop it.
I willed myself to get better as soon as possible. Everyone knows you can’t cough at a concert!
Especially one where your friend has a special dress and is playing a stringed instrument with a lot of other stringed instruments. These are especially the types of concerts at which one simply just does not cough.
I confided the problem to Mom, who seemed way less worried than I was. The cough continued to the concert day. It had abated to be only every few minutes, but it was still right there.
We loaded up on cough drops of different types, dressed up and drove out. My cardigan’s pockets were full of lozenges and tissues, and my head was full of pleadings of “Please don’t cough please don’t ruin this concert for her please be able to be there for your friend.”
We sat down, and a sucked earnestly on a lozenge. I felt fine, surprisingly.
The program advanced. As it did so did the urgency of the cough. About a 1/3 of the way through, I gave in and coughed. I looked worriedly at my mom, she looked at me with a chuckle in her eyes, showing me, “It’s fine, really.”
Lozenge, dissolve, repeat.
Cough drop after cough drop – I probably had at least 8 cough drops in those couple of hours. The recommended dosage was way secondary to the etiquette of the situation.
Somehow I manage the entire concert with just a couple of discreet coughs. My friend did amazing, we clapped and I desperately tried not to talk before we exited the building. Talking irritated it like nothing else and I was out of drops.
Finally, I was all better, the days were no longer a blur, but they were hastily lived and I don’t remember much about what happened next, either.
Well, I remember disgracing myself in front of people who no longer cared about me as much as I cared about them. I remember borrowing everything – cars, lodging, and more. I remember living half lives as I pet sat and house sat for 2 people I’d never really known before and entered their lives wholesale, and as we borrowed my friend’s car and were welcomed to her car snacks and listened to their audiobooks where they’d left off. I caught glimpses of their lives so genuinely it caught in my throat and engraved itself on my mind.
The winter of coming back began with a high. I can still feel the crispness of that snow, and remember the awe of hearing the bugle raise the flag every sunlit morning. It continued to a blur of sickness and appreciation, and the best chicken soup I’d ever consumed. And it finished with an angsty concert. Soon it was the spring of setting out and the years of confused disarray.
But for that moment – it was a salad and a brusque maid, a cough drop and a celloist’s concert. It was indistinguishable days, but notable moments. It was the cold of melting snow on yoga pants and dusk air and snowflakes, and the warm of my Mom’s smile when she saw the giant snow heart, and soup and temporary security. It was my moment of transition at a crossroads hotel.