My mother's daughter

Dear Mom,

When did you first start using your nebulizer? I think it was one of the first tools they provided when you were first diagnosed with bronchiectasis. Or maybe it was when you were diagnosed with the mycobacterial lung infections we didn't yet know would prove incurable. I can still hear the machine's whir and hum. "Come talk to me while I do my nebulizer," you said sometimes. The TV would be on. You'd remove the tube from your mouth to respond, gesturing with your perfectly manicured nails.

I'm pretty sure I remember you using it in the car on the way to the medical center. This was early on in your years of illness, too; you were still well enough to get up and get dressed and drive all the way up I-10 to the medical center complex. Your nebulizer had an adaptor so it could be powered by the cigarette lighter on your car. (Remember when cars all had cigarette lighters?) Somehow I suspect they intended patients to use it while someone else was driving, not while they themselves were at the wheel.

This morning I drove to Surgimed in North Adams, a place where I'd never been. Their display floor is full of walkers and machines and the kind of standing guardrails that go around a commode -- things that no one wants to need. People say that we should all care about disability rights, because if we live long enough, we all become disabled. You would have made a face at that. You never wanted to use that kind of language. Make hay while the sun shines, and don't talk about the puny days.

I left with a brand-new nebulizer in its box, and a little baggie containing its plastic tubing and mouthpiece. I remember your nebulizer pieces drying on a clean dishtowel beside the kitchen sink after every use. Like the pieces of the breast pump I used when I was pumping milk for the baby who's now a strapping adolescent of five foot six. With teal hair and his new favorite purple plaid hand-me-down shirt, he could be in a punk band. I can only imagine what you would say about that.

I can certainly imagine you saying tartly that you wanted me to take after you in other ways, not the lung problems. 

Yesterday I called to make an appointment for my first manicure since the pandemic started almost fifteen months ago. A few moments later I reached for my phone in my pocket. It was playing a number-out-of-service message, with your picture icon in the corner. Did I accidentally dial you after calling the Clip Shop? Or was that you, trying to call me? Well, here's the news: I have a pulmonologist and a nebulizer and a manicure appointment. I am your daughter in every measurable way.

There's a dazzling yellow goldfinch in the tree outside my window. It matches the dazzling yellow tulips behind the rock. There are tulips on my dining table, too, striated in yellow and red. You would like those. Like the ones we used to see on Fifth Avenue. I wish we could walk arm in arm down the city sidewalk. When I was a kid it seemed to me that those sidewalks sparkled, as though shot through with mica flakes, something that glinted and shone if you looked at it just right.




This letter feels like a good time to mention Crossing the Sea, the collection of poems I wrote during the first year of mourning my mom. It was published in December by Phoenicia Publishing (thanks Beth!) and is available wherever books are sold.