A Time to Heal

I first donned my apron and centered the scarred cutting board on the counter at five o' clock that evening. Several heads of diced broccoli, a pound of noodles, and a pinch of garlic powder later, a steaming bowl rested on the kitchen island—but there was no one to pick up a fork and chow down. I scrubbed pots in the sink, watching the clock in tense silence. At a quarter to seven, I covered the dish with foil, slipped it in the fridge, and wandered upstairs. The house was still quiet at nine. Empty and anxious, I showered, not bothering to change clothes. As I opened the bathroom door at five past ten, there was finally the sound of the car in the driveway. I hurried downstairs in time to unlock the side door for my mom, who offered a tired greeting; sprayed her phone, keys, shoes, and purse with disinfectant; and retreated to her room to remove her white coat, scrubs, and name badge. She returned in her pajamas, pasty and sore-footed. I had just set out the pasta for the second time. “What's that?” she asked. “It's for you. Let me heat it up—” “No, I'm starving. I'll have it now.” Mom carried it to the TV room, settled into her chair, and ate her cold dinner after four grueling hours of overtime at the pharmacy. The artificial light from the screen shifted across her face as she flicked through the channels, her expression slack and exhausted. I knew she was trying to detach her mind from thoughts of harried technicians and difficult patients. Even on the day after each shift, she would do the same thing, unable to concentrate or enjoy the time. We hadn't seen her genuinely smile for weeks. I had a sickening nightmare that evening. Mom was peering out at me and my brother from behind a huge metal gate that barricaded the door of her workplace. We couldn't speak to her or touch her, and she was all alone. Upon reflection, I realized that it wasn't a dream. In 2020, my mother dispensed thousands of prescriptions, hundreds of vaccinations, and distanced herself six feet from her loved ones—and her own needs. Sometimes I wonder how many years the pandemic shaved off of her life. Doubtless, she and Dad thought about it too when her physical and mental health stretched to the breaking point. After a year of being treated like a wind-up toy, Mom slipped a disk. It took two months of physical therapy and pain medication for her to feel better. I remember her sitting at the table, talking on the phone with her sister about ten weeks after her diagnosis. “Right…yeah…the orthopedist sent me a sheet of exercises that might help…it hurts more if I sit for too long. What's that? Well, I thought about trying to work for a couple hours, then sitting down…but honestly, I can't imagine going back.” As she said it, I looked at her, nestling comfortably in the same spot she had occupied all those months ago. With a heat pad on her lower back, the curtains open to let in the sunlight, and a chance to talk for a while with my aunt, she seemed much happier; smile lines blossomed around her eyes when she laughed, and her face was less haunted. Finally, in May of this year, she formally separated from her employer. “I've decided to trust God on this one,” she said happily. It was the best decision. I baked her a pie, and this time, she and the whole family enjoyed it while it was fresh and warm.

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