Lights narrowed in on my frame. The smell of Clorox infiltrated my nose. White walls encapsulated the winding hallway that lead up to the dessert room. Men and women towering over me rushed by, plastered with alarmed faces, hands gloved with blue latex. Their eyes big, their mouths moved, shouting commands to those who passed by. Sarah held my right hand tighter as we walked straight through the long hallway. Sarah was my best friend. My mom and dad couldn’t see her, but they always made sure to tell her “good night” after they tucked me in. Sarah and I walked to the cafeteria, careful not to touch the blue checkered tiles on the ground. If we stepped on them, the whole ground would become ocean.
We reached the elevator without drowning. Two beeps later and we were on the correct floor. My left hand had pins and needles from clenching the dollar bill until I finally handed it to the cashier. The Jello cup cooled my hand as we made our way back to the lobby. My dad waited for us. He stood tall in his work suit, shiny shoes, and poufy brown hair.
“Are you ready to go to Mommy’s special room?” I nodded. We walked together through the hallway and into the tan, wooden doorframe.
Her room was small but not too small. Big enough for a bed, a table, two chairs, and a television. Big enough to set up my Barbie pool, which was empty, on the side table text to her bed. My mom’s bed was crisp and warm with spider web wires crawling into different machines around it. People in light blue costumes always came into her room. They all looked different, some tall, some short. My favorite woman, Jackie, came in. She was one of the short ones. She had long brown hair that looked like it belonged to a mermaid, but she sometimes tied it back into a pony. “How are you?”, “Do you need water?” “Are you feeling good today?” I set my Jello down.
My mom smiled, “Would you be able to bring me some water?” she winked at me. Jackie left.
“Mommy, can you put on the rainbow hair? I don’t want Sarah to see the skin on your head.” The rainbow was my favorite. I picked it out when we went to the store. I also picked out the purple. My mom picked out the brown and the blonde but those were boring.
“I will put it on tomorrow, how about that? I can’t right now.”
Her eyes were glassy and full of more apologies than she would ever be able to say to me. She looked away, disappointed. I frowned and placed my hand on her head. The skin on her scalp pulsed under my tiny fingers. As I lifted each finger a white impression lingered for a few seconds, fading as another finger lifted, an impression fading again. Mom laughed and told me she “could just eat me up.” Her hazel eyes reflected the harsh fluorescent bulbs in her special room. I always thought those lights could pierce glass but my mom never complained.
Jackie returned with two cups of water. She knew they weren’t for my mom to drink. “Anna, here you go.” I took the water and filled my Barbie pool to the brim. All of my Polly Pockets lounged around the pool. I had five of them. I don’t remember each of their names but they all looked different. Two with brown hair, two with blonde, and one with red. Two were dressed in fancy outfits with high heels, one was in pajamas, and the others were in bathing suits. Since they were each the size of my hand, they were the perfect toy.
I went to eat my Jello next to my mom on her bed. While I ate, my mom flicked on the television and turned to channel 303, Nickelodeon. “Drake and Josh” was on, but it was an episode I had seen too many times. I grabbed the remote and typed in 3-1-1, Disney. Yes, it was “That’s So Raven”. Our favorite. When the show ended, my Jello cup, emptied, I looked at my mom and she raised her hands, calling upon the sky.
“Anna, I’m having a vision! I see— wait for it, wait for it— I see you playing with your friends, eating ice cream and— Wow could this be? I see you fighting a dragon with all of your friends after getting ice cream.” My mom always had visions, just like Raven in That’s So Raven.
When Jackie returned to ask Mommy more questions I went back to my table with the Polly Pockets and Barbie pool. I thought about how amazing Mommy’s room was. She was so lucky. She could have Jello whenever she wanted. I could only have dessert twice a week, and when I came to the hospital. She could watch television whenever she wanted. Unless I was in her room, I could only watch 30 minutes a day.
“Hi my dumpling.”
When my dad came back into the room he and my mom kissed like they do in movies, I had to look away. He whispered something into her ear, but I couldn’t hear it.
“Okay Anna, it’s dinner time. Tell Mommy you love her.” I looked at my dad and opened my eyes wide, pleading to play with my Polly Pockets for as long as I could. He tilted his head to the left and nodded discretely. “Only three minutes, Mommy needs some rest.”
When my three minutes were up I kissed my mom on the cheek. She whispered “I love you so so much, more than you could ever know.” I giggled. I knew she loved me; she told me all the time.
“I love you too Mommy.” And I left with my dad. We walked to pick up Chinese food and brought it home. My dad lifted me up to type in the secret code to open the door of our apartment building. I got to open the mailbox— number 7H. My dad took the mail and we went to the seventh floor. He opened the food and got out ceramic plates and silverware from the small kitchen adjacent to the dining table.
“Daddy, what are you doing?” I looked at his face. He had taken the chop sticks from our dinner and put them in his mouth in a very weird way.
“I’m a walrus, hello! Arf, Arf.” He was always doing goofy things like this.
“I wanna be a walrus too!” And I followed suit.
The next day my dad picked me up from school on his bicycle. He handed me my heart covered helmet and I placed it over my head, fussing with the buckle until he helped me. We rode his bike through the busy streets and the buildings that loomed over me. I looked around, there were people everywhere. I wondered if they got to go visit their Mommy’s in special places like I got to. There were cars, and bicyclists, and people on roller skates. There were even people running. The sky was blue, but cloudy. It made it easier to see. I held onto Daddy tight as he pedaled away.
The breeze stung my face with the fall air until we finally decided to get ice cream. We locked up his bike and went into the shop on First Avenue. This was the coolest ice cream shop. One wall had all the candy you could ever want with scoopers to put it into bags. I didn’t get candy, though. I stuck with a Kiddie scoop of cookie dough with extra whipped cream. As I sat with my father his eyes looked droopier than normal, and the wrinkles on his forehead seemed to have grown overnight. But that’s what happens when you have a dad that works a lot. He was just tired from work.
“Daddy, how’s your ice cream?” He was about to answer but got cut off by a yawn and a phone call. He pulled his phone out of his black leather brief case. While he answered it, I made “ice cream soup.” It required only two ingredients: my ice cream and my spoon.
“Do you really want your ice cream to taste like that?” My dad chuckled.
“Taste it, Daddy, it’s delicious.” He took a bite and his face squished like a raisin.
“Hmmm… Try my chocolate flavor, I think you’ll like it.”
“Ewww no. I tried it last time and didn’t like it at all!” I still never order chocolate ice cream.
After a certain point, my mom didn’t have her room anymore. She got to be home a lot more and even go to work. She was usually too tired to play with me though. Luckily, my dad and I kept our tradition of going out to eat. One afternoon, we abandoned the ice cream store and found a Vietnamese shop that had a rice, bean, and milk dessert that filled a glass bigger than my face. “Anna, are you excited for your first swimming lesson after this?”
“Yes! I’m going to be the best swimmer ever. Daddy, will you please swim with me?”
“Sweetie, that’s how the class works.”
“This dessert is so good; can we get it more?”
“We can come whenever you have swim lessons, and you have them once a week. Is that enough?”
“Yeah, that’s good! Will you wear swimmies, too, with me?”
“You bet I will if I can find some that’ll fit me! Do you think I could borrow yours?” I looked him in the eyes and started cracking up, imagining him wearing my swimmies. I got to wear them in the bath so I knew they’d never fit him.
In the summer, I spent a lot of time at my grandmas. Along with this, was a lot of time on the train to get to my grandma’s. “Dad, can I sit by the window today?” My dad nodded as he guided my back with his hand into the maroon and navy leather seat to our left. He rolled up the sleeves on his crisp white button-down and pulled out his yellow legal note pad and blue gel pen, the same type of pen he’s always used.
“The dot game or hangman? You decide.”
My brows furrowed and my eyes glued themselves to the ceiling until I declared “Hangman! But only until we get to Yonkers. From Yonkers to Dobbs Ferry I want to play the dot game.” I smiled with pride after sharing how much I knew about the train stops before Grandma’s.
“And, I get to pick the word first!” I grabbed the note pad from his lap, pulled out the tray table from the chair in front of mine and picked the best word I knew: symphony. I had only used the word playing hangman once before and it was with my mom so there was no way my dad would be able to get it. It took me ten repeats before memorizing s-y-m-p-h-o-n-y— symphony. The best words have y’s in them because no one ever guesses y, they always guess the other vowels first.
The hangman guy was only one eye away from being completed when the intercom spoke “Yonkers, Yonkers, the next stop is Yonkers.”
“Oh well look at that, I guess we can’t finish the game!” My dad laughed, but I knew better than to fall for his trick.
“Daddy, don’t be such a sore loser. You only have one more letter to guess until I win!”
“Hmm, I guess R.”
I drew the final eye on the hangman, a large frown-y face, and the words “Anna wins.” We played the dot game until we reached Dobbs Ferry where we had to walk two blocks from the train station to my Grandma’s apartment. Whenever we made this walk, my dad declared the same things.
“Look! That was my old elementary school!” A few steps later, “That’s where my best friend Jimmy and I used to play Dungeons and Dragons.” We walked and held hands. “And that place-“
“I know, I know, I know. That, was where you used to get guitar lessons!”
We arrived to Grandma’s apartment ten minutes later. Her apartment was small, because only she and Pop, my grandpa, lived there. The walls white, but covered in obscure paintings. The carpeting was tan, and never fully clean. They were a “wear your shoes in the house” couple. Grandma and Pop had a big television though, with giant blue couches. I spent countless hours on those couches crocheting scarves, while Grandma quilted, and Pop read the newspaper. Sometimes Grandma and I would switch; I would sew, she would crochet. Sometimes we’d do other projects too, like collage.
Grandma and I did other activities as well. We went to the library a lot. It was right down the street so we’d walk together hand in hand. She would go to the big book section and I would go to the Movies on VCR section and pick out something for us to watch together. The one summer I spent with Grandma, I watched every single Mary- Kate and Ashley movie. We couldn’t just watch movies though, Grandma always made me read with her too. At the library we’d meet up, and go to the book section for me, and pick something out. I learned that I went to my grandma’s every Thursday, because that’s when my mom was given chemo. My mom would then go home, but needed the weekend to recover. I would go back on Sundays.
When I visited my grandma and my pop, I got my own room. It was right next to their room. Grandma and Pop had this special couch that turned into a bed for me. That room was covered with photographs of my giant family. They had six children, so that means I have a lot of cousins. In my room, there was a corner with buckets of building blocks. My dad told me once that they were the same building blocks he played with when he was my age. Before Grandma and Pop moved into the apartment, they had a really big house and my dad had a huge room that he shared with his brother, Uncle Ben. Uncle Ben used to throw these blocks at my dad’s head! They’re so hard, I can’t imagine how much it hurt.
“I love you, sweetie! Grandma will bring you back to the city on the train on Sunday. Do you need anything else?” His right thumb tapped on his left hand, eager to return to the City.
“I have everything I need!” I looked at Grandma and knew how much fun we were about to have. “Bye Daddy.” And out the door he went. Grandma had a recipe on the counter and I snuck a peek before it was dinner time— the only part I knew was hot dog; the other words were too long. My dad told me I always had to tell my grandma her cooking was good, even if it wasn’t.
“Anna, want to go to the movies?”
My eyes lit up and my head mimicked a bobble head. Every night Grandma and I had fun. This was the best summer ever.
I recently learned that I had only visited my mother’s hospital once when she had cancer. I fixated on all of the wonderful aspects of my visit, and created a year’s worth of memories. Many things I remember were true; visits with my grandma, swimming lessons, the Vietnamese restaurant. Maybe I created these memories because no one felt comfortable enough to tell me what was really going on. Maybe, it was because I found solace in imagining I had the world’s greatest playground, a playground unattainable to other children my age. Maybe, it was because I wanted to have this place where I could break so many rules; whether it be dessert, or television. Maybe, it was because I wanted to believe that I spent more time with my mom than I did.
Anna Charny is a first year International Relations and Spanish double major and English minor. The inspiration for this piece came from seeing the knock-off brand Jello that downstairs Letch sells.