Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Arms behind her, Maya holds one book in her right hand and one in her left. “Pick a hand,” she says.
I peak and see a Barbie book in her right.
“Left,” I say and she pulls out two books.
I pick the one on top, When Mommy is Sick by Ferne Sherkin-Langer, about how a ten-year old girl copes with her mother being in the hospital again. It was one of the books recommended by Maya’s hospice therapist after Verna died in 2010.
I start reading about how the girl is sad because her babysitter slathers the jam on too thick and cuts the bread in triangles, not squares like her mother; how she refuses to draw or participate in class but, at her teacher’s suggestion, draws a picture of herself and her mother; how she loves having her friend’s mom push her on the swings, but still misses her own mother; how she makes a calendar and counts off the days until Saturday when she and her father will get to visit her mother.
The story ends as the mother comes home and pushes her daughter on the swings, makes her a sandwich with just the right amount of jam and cuts the bread in squares, and later reads her a bedtime story.
I am happy for the girl but sad for Maya. I start thinking of Verna and all the special times she and Maya spent together in four-and-a-half years: blowing bubbles in a park in Arizona, the smile on Maya’s face stretched a million miles; snuggling in bed to read; cuddling on Verna’s hospital bed to do sticker books together.
A tear rolls down my cheek as I realize yet again that Maya’s Mommy won’t be coming home. I finish the book and Maya looks over at me.
“There’s water on your face,” she says.
“I was crying because I miss Mommy.”
“Me, too,” she says.
“Mommy loves you so much,” I say. “I think she loves you and Miguel more than anything. She was so excited to be a mommy.”
“I am so glad she found you,” she says. Then she pauses. “How did she find you?”
“We worked together and I asked her to go see Wynton Marsalis with me (something Maya and I are going to do in March),” I explain.
“And then you asked her to marry you?”
I giggle. “I couldn’t ask her to marry me after our first date.”
“When was your first date?”
“July 21,” I answer, and I remember, of course, that it was in 1990, not quite 24 years ago. “I asked her to marry me two months later.”
“And what did she say?”
“She said, ‘Sounds like a good idea’,” I say.
“And then you kissed?”
“Yes,” I say, “and then we kissed.”
I picture the moment, lying together on my bed in a four-bedroom flat on 19th Avenue in San Francisco, after an evening with my mother, who was not happy that Verna was Catholic, and thinking about asking her to live with me but knowing she never wanted to do that again. So I blurted out, “I was thinking of asking you to marry me.”
I shut off the light. I get my book light and clasp it to the back of Thank You For Your Service, about physically and emotionally wounded veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Before I start reading I say, “Mommy loves you and Miguel so much.”
Ten minutes later as I get up to leave, I hug Maya tightly and say, “I love you so much, Maya.”