I listen as her breathing deepens, sleep taking its hold despite her 5 year-old arguments against being tired. Propping myself up on my elbow, my eyes trace her black eyelashes against her round expressionless cheeks. I push a strand of hair off her eyebrow as I look down at my daughter, using the barest of touches so my callouses do not wake her.
At peace in her sleep, I can see the infant who curled against my chest and huddled in my arms. Her lips purse in the beginnings of a dream, reminding me of the stubborn two year-old. I can see all that she has been up to this point, just as I see inklings of who she will be as she gets older.
The radio on the desk behind me beeps to life.
I ease away from the small sleeping form, closing the bedroom door as I step into the hall. Crossing to my mom’s bedroom, I look in as she struggles to sit up in bed.
“Mom, you okay?” I ask, moving across the room to stand close enough to offer an arm, facing her huddled form.
“Can’t get comfortable,” she mumbles.
“How about we sit you up a little more with pillows, or maybe lay on your side?” I suggest, starting my steps in the nightly dance.
We stand her up so I can arrange the pillows for her head and back, then edge her into a half sitting position. Grimacing, she fidgets until she finds the perfect spot, her face easing into relief.
I pull the blanket up to her chest, check the water level in her bottle, and turn to exit the bedroom assuming the dance is complete for two more hours.
“Come cuddle in bed?” a whisper floats over my shoulder.
I glance back as I take two more steps away from my mom. Tired, I am focused on laying down and closing my eyes. I turn away, then I stop. I look back at her small body in the large room, then I walk back across the carpet and crawl onto the other side of the queen size adjustable bed.
With the delicacy of handling a newborn infant, I take her bony hand into mine. My fingertip traces the multiple bruises, evidence of heavy blood thinners and multiple IV sticks. Settling down a little more into the hole created by the bed with both the back and knees elevated, I look out the window towards the mountains.
“I regret not hugging you more while growing up,” my mom whispers a breeze of words while I watch clouds blow across the horizon, “I was just so busy.”
Before they gain weight, I force down the habitual retorts built of sadness that show themselves as anger and resentment. I replace the words with thoughts of my own daughter in the next room; all the times she’s plied and I’ve replied in a minute, I’m busy, not right now.
I take a deep breath, settling my head closer to Mom’s shoulder, my cheek barely touching the bones underneath her cotton shirt.
My eyes wander the room, looking at the dressers with missing knobs and off angle mirrors. Furniture that has existed in my mom’s various bedrooms as long as i can remember, changing in appearance but not structure as I grew in height and awareness.
I listen as her breathing deepens, sleep taking its hold.
I push a strand of hair back from her eyebrow.
As her mind falls farther into sleep, I see the faintest signs of the mother I knew growing up and even as recent as a few months ago. Mostly I see my grandmother a few weeks before she died, her sleeping mouth open and cheeks gaunt as her lungs struggled to pull in ragged breaths with cells damaged from decades of smoking.
I ease away from my mom’s still form, resting her hand on her restructured and healing stomach. I kiss her brow, whisper I love you, and crawl off the bed. I stop at the door, looking back at her as she moans in her dreams.
I take a deep breath, holding my lungs at capacity as I cross to the room containing my innocent daughter. Without waking her, I edge back onto the bed and place my arm around her. Kissing her forehead, I hold her, squeezing my eyes against hot tears.