Three years old or thirteen, it doesn’t matter--you always want your mama when you’re sick in the night.
I hold her tight as she trembles. I spoon against her slight body and realize that, actually, she’s not so slight after all. She’s curvy and womanly and almost as tall as I am. But right now this girl-woman is shaking with illness and fatigue. She snuggles closer and I wrap my arm around her waist. My neck aches; her bed is too small for the two of us. I consider moving to the floor and realize that she doesn't just need me in the same room; she needs me right next to her like when she was a baby.
Earlier in the night I heard her desperate call of, “MAMA!” from my room. Every imaginable boogie man swam in my head. I stumbled down the hall only to find her bed empty. Instead I found her in the bathroom, sobbing over the toilet bowl. She finally let it all come up and out, and I got her back to bed where we are now.
I feel guilty as I silently pray that no one else gets sick before Christmas Eve. I stare at the bottom of the top bunk while I whisper a mother’s incantation. . .
Let her be ok. Let her feel better. Spare my boy this. Spare ME this.
I look around the room and see all that makes her my daughter: Chap Stick on the night stand, candles on the dresser, bookshelves two deep, messy journals, tie-dye socks, posters of foreign lands, sea shells, crystals.
She sprints from the room and I race behind her. She dry heaves again over the commode. I notice she is gripping tight to her glasses, the cute turquoise and black pair. She is afraid they’ll fall in the bowl. I slide them off of her face, and she empties her stomach again. I sweep back her hair and hold back my own tears. It makes my heart clench to see her so weak. I cover her in towels and watch as she lays her cheek on the tile. I remember moments when viruses or beer or heartache put me in a similar spot. I remember that all I wanted was a clean towel and a cold tile floor and my mama.
She decides on a shower, and I let her have her privacy though every cell in my body wants to sit on the toilet lid and make sure she is ok and that she doesn't slip in her shaky state. But I don’t stay. I go back to her bed and nod off to sleep. I have fitful dreams of lost babies and an absent friend. I dream my daughter is driving a car. I dream of an empty museum and yellow flowers with wooden stems.
At some point she comes back and I help her dress in fleece PJs and warm socks. I tuck her in and slip away, back to my own bed. At eight-o’clock my mom calls and I snuggle under the covers with the phone and pretend she is with me, keeping me warm in my big empty bed.