The last time I remember having severe bronchitis as an adult, I would have been in my early 20’s. I had pleurisy, too – my entire torso and especially my back hurt so badly. So it will seem strange when I say that this time in my life is often what comes floating back to me when I’m looking to visualize a calm, safe space… but it does. With a visceral strength that I can feel as if I were still there in that moment, it does.
I’d tried to go to work that day; I loved my job and hated using sick or vacation time if I wasn’t going to see my kids. But I got to work and was coughing so hard and so often, they’d sent me home, and I’d felt so bad that i took myself to urgent care. By the time I got done with exams, paperwork, the pharmacy, the exhaustion had hit me hard. It was still early morning, maybe 10 am? But it felt like I’d been awake for four days straight…I could barely move. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. My whole body hurt. At the time, I lived really close to my mom’s condo, which was infinitesimally closer to the pharmacy than my apartment. I had a key to mom’s condo, so out of desperation to no longer be driving and moving and fighting to breathe, I went to her place and let myself in.
It must have been winter then, too, because I remember I was wearing a heavy coat when I got to the condo that I didn’t even take off. Mom keeps her place cool, but I’m usually hot, so i wouldn’t usually wear a coat in the house – but i was too tired to take it off. I stepped heavily out of my shoes and collapsed on my stomach on the small sofa in her living room.
My mom’s condo has these huge windows, with a half circle window above the normal ones. At this time, she had beige sheers over the bottom part of the window and nothing over the top part. The sun was SO BRIGHT coming in that window; it fell on my body like a heating blanket. Usually, I hate light when I’m trying to rest or feeling cruddy and i hate heat all the time. But on this day, I was too far gone to even feel cruddy. I was tired. I’d taken meds. My body hurt. Laying on that couch, I felt encased and safe and peaceful in that strongly magnified light. I didn’t move, I had no thoughts of discomfort – I just laid perfectly still in the sun.
I didn’t fall asleep right away; I lay there in a neutral heap, my eyes passively exploring the pile of the carpet, or the familiar lines of the frames on the walls, encasing old family pictures in the hallway that I’d seen a thousand times before…I saw things but felt nothing but a sense of oneness with all that I could see. I felt calm and at peace despite my pain.
In this memory, the dryer is running. The condo smelled like my mom’s fabric softener; a generic. I never used generic but she did. Usually i hated the smell of her softener; it was kind of harsh and astringent. But not on this day; on this day it smelled familiar, like her.
My mom used to do a lot of little projects around her house at this time, decorating and gardening and painting. She has excellent taste, and she’s really quite artistic when she lets herself be… she always had some thing she was working on at the time. She had a pair of canvas tennis shoes she used while pottering, and they must have gotten muddy or covered in paint or stain, because I could hear them thudding gently in the dryer… maybe with a handful of towels, because they weren’t slamming. Just gently turning, hitting the walls from time to time…a gentle, irregular thudding. It reminded me of my creative and energetic mother, her efforts to keep her space happy and cheerful and neat as a pin. I laid on her little sofa wrapped in a sunshine blanket; I’d snuck into her home unexpectedly and found it waiting for me, a perfect little encapsulation of her the warmest, most familiar parts of her. I drifted calmly into sleep without a thought of what would come next – probably a healing and healthy sleep that I desperately needed.
That memory is my calm safe space, despite how sick I truly was that day. When I think of my mom, I feel that moment and yes, I know – she wasn’t even there, she was at work. But she WAS there. Everything there was a piece of her, familiar as my own heartbeat and my own breath, comforting as looking in the mirror and seeing my own face. That space, that energy is my mom…. forever locked into my soul.
Now, I’m much older, and my mom is in rehabilitative care after having very nearly died during a battle with Legionnaires disease and E Coli. My mom laid in the same place I did all those years ago – but in the carpeted floor, not a sofa – for three days before anyone found her. Rather than being terrified by that thought, I’m comforted. I hope the sun covered her gently. I hope her eyes traced the lines of the home she’s loved for decades and it made her feel safe. I hope she knew in her heart that we’d be there soon, like I knew all those years ago that she would come and make me better. I hope she drifted in and out of a sleep that, while it could not heal her, perhaps kept her safe.
Today, I’ve been diagnosed with severe bronchitis and early pneumonia. There were a plethora of trips and exams to get the diagnosis, and numerous medicines to obtain. And after I took all those medicines and coughed for an hour afterwards, all I wanted was to be back there; laying in the bright, warm sunshine of my mother’s elegant little living room￼, listening to her tennies and towels in the dryer and smelling her softener and knowing she’d be there soon to take care of me. It’s not the same space today; she’s not the same woman, nor am I, and the energy has slipped away. But that was my calm safe space, for a perfect moment… and I remember.
I miss her.