The Empty Room

My mother passed away during the week of the longest light of the year. As I post this, we are in the longest darkness of the year. I look forward to the oncoming light.

The Empty Room - 13“Nun-uh,” Janice said, shaking her head with a sad smile, her hair extensions shaking too. She was seated at the front desk, giving the receptionist a lunch break. “I still won’t let Denny put anyone in that room.”

The room she referred to was inside my mother’s care home. It was the room closest to the caregiver station down the corridor known as Country Lane.

It was the room that belonged to my mother.

My mother had died five months earlier, and with the daylight waning in November, her spirit still cast a long shadow over the caregivers and courtyards that bolstered her life for six years. So much so that her room sat empty all this time.

“Every time the number comes up,” Denny said, nodding along. “I just pass it up.” Tall with dark hairs grazing across his chin and upper lip, he snapped his long fingers to emphasize a tacit understanding between he as marketing staff and the caregivers like Janice.

He was referring to number thirteen. In a life where my mother often considered herself the booby prize and we joked about the long-standing era of our family’s Januzzi jinx, she was blessed by care only a mother could give in a room with an unlucky number.

They didn’t mean it, I thought, staring in Janice’s eyes shielded by long lashes, her round face framed by a hairstyle that changed on a daily basis. But her smile had stayed true to its width and her white teeth shone through as a testimony to her mixture of sadness and sweetness that crossed her mind when thinking of my mother. She of all the caregivers was most unable to put into words her unexpected love for her expected duty.

Talking to Janice and Denny, I leaned over the desk, my feet aching from the black patent heels on my feet. I was better dressed than I would have typically appeared whenever visiting with my mother. I used to wear jeans or a sweatshirt precluding my mother from deriding me. “Oh, so high class,” she would say and eye my black sweater with a fur along the collar.

I too had felt my mother’s presence as I entered into the warmth of her former home. The waves of laughter and sadness taken in over the years rippled through me. My mother’s voice rang through the hallways that lay behind the secure door and thrummed in my ears. I so wanted her back roaming those same hallways, moving furniture, making nice or mean with the next person she encountered, stranger or not.

I had visited three times since her death, each with a few more weeks passing between visits, separating me further from my mother and our past. When I drove up the long driveway and veered left or right, I looked for familiar cars and was met with the sight of Janice’s navy blue sedan. It was the sign I always looked for. That my mother was okay.

Standing in the foyer, I saw the flickering ghosts of caregivers, staff, my sister and me, all following my mother’s body on a gurney in the tradition of her care home to accompany the body as it left the premise for the final time. I was yanked back to that day she died.

My mother had ceased breathing around 10 a.m. and by noon, as we stood in the parking lot around the hearse, the scene took on a Hollywood shimmer, forsaking the soft blue sky that opened up earlier. We shielded our eyes, eyes blurred by salt and memory, eyes adjusting from the darkened hallways we had occupied only minutes before as the funeral home escort prepared for my mother’s leaving.

Outside with the form of my mother placed in the hearse, we listened to Jana, the director, speak about her. Suzanne, the bubbly receptionist whose memory of my mother’s berating of Elvis rocketed my mother the top of her list of favorite residents, stepped up to read Khalil Gibran. For what is it to die, but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?

Beneath the dimpled sheets falling into my mother’s now hollow cheeks, her tiny, cold body, still holding on to her pixie-cut gray hairs, had done such a thing. I imagined her melting away from me like clarified butter, turning into or toward more perfect matter. She no longer was mother, wife or an individual with dementia. She was her self.

I, too, would have melted at that prospect.

The director asked the caregivers if they had anything more to share. Felicia, a large-boned woman, slowly moved away from the crowd of caregivers standing under the eaves. “I jes remember Jean, and I used to sing Unforgettable with her and she would finish singing.” Everyone had his or her song, his or her own way of engaging with my mother and keeping her from “engaging” with someone else.

Before Felicia could finish, the tall skinny hearse driver who could have passed for a Harlem Globetrotter, inched away from his post at the back of the car. Our focus was now on him as he started the engine. A loud crackling came from the car stereo and through it, notes of Nat King Cole soon drifted, singing Unforgettable.
I waved my arms to rally the caregivers. We circled together and stood shoulder-to-shoulder, where the burden of my mother’s care had been evenly spread, staff to daughter to caregiver, arms around each other.

For the final time, we lifted my mother in song so she might dance out of the ring.

My only childbirth experience was having a C-section to deliver my son but the separation of life during surgery was equally if not more violent than the natural process, the pulling back of intestines, the recover from anesthesia, the inability to walk for days, the complications that followed. I felt all of that in a painful release of my mother into the heavens. My insides cried.

Later after the hearse drove away, I walked back inside with Beth. My feet in flip-flops were heavy. My cell phone rang and rang. There was much work ahead of me before I could mourn my mother: A son’s college graduation that weekend, flying out of town, a funeral to plan, financial accounts to rectify and the duty in front of me—cleaning out her room.

“Do it now because you won’t be able to come back for while,” Jana had said earlier, patting my back in a maternal fashion though we matched each other in height at five feet tall. Able was defined loosely; I would be confronted by the smells of turkey or human output or the sweet, syrupy scent of red punch. I didn’t believe her; I had been there every day for the past twelve. Of course, I would come back soon. I couldn’t stay away.

Beth and I returned to my mother’s room. Slowly, I parsed through each of her belongings, what would stay: Love One Another – a plaque hung over my mother’s kitchen seemed appropriate to leave behind. What would go: her Sinatra CDs for Janice and Becky, my mother’s little black purses which went to Jeanne and I kept her Christmas caroling dolls.

The task took no time since I knew the contents of each of her compartments. Where she hid Kleenex or where the demons hid. The Kleenex and the demons were now vanquished.

Over the years, I had done my best to scrub the room clean, to save what mattered or replace it with something that stood in for something else. Ironcially, that had also been me.

There was little else for me in that room that signified “Mom.” Whatever remained of hers I no longer needed and I left the rest to be donated. Eddie, the maintenance man had placed her rocker and nightstand in my car. I walked out with two small cartons and set my sights on the emptiness of packing for a trip I, as a mom, had to make. A duty my mother would have respected.

“It hasn’t all been emptied out,” Janice said, bringing me back to life, but not my mother.
How many more months would they let her room sit, I wondered, with remnants of her life lying in state across the plastic covering of the bed?

“My friend was so small, hard to fit her clothes. There’s still stuff laying around in there.” Janice offered another of her reasons, to join the ones about the maintenance staff not painting it yet or there were no new move-ins that necessitated the disposal of the contents or needing a place to store new mattresses.

It would be hard for Janice to see another woman wearing my mother’s clothes, inhabiting the maroon sweater she wore with her short arms poking through and pushing on the door to exit into the air that kept her alive, her shirts with gems or rhinestones that reflected light off her cherub face or enhanced her cheeks reddening whenever she was angry or filled with an explosive moment of joy or shame.

And her shoes. Who would ever walk in those same size 8.5 Reebok Velcro sport shoes, the white and black ones that had finally bested the industrial washers and dryers in a small victory of mine?

But my mother wouldn’t want her room crowded by leftover clutter from the previous year. “Right there,” she would demand some figurine or slip of paper be moved. “Get that stupid stuff off down here.” Or utter some version of, “Clean up your room.” She had already let go of her old life.

My mother would want a room flush with a golden light, another woman frail in mind but not will, taking up residence, one who needed care from a anyone who gave a damn, whoever would be at her side until the end. Yes, that’s what she would want in that room.

And she would haunt any caregiver or family member who didn’t show up in the way she had done.


I Want the Frim Fram Sauce: Carrying Mom’s Music

Standing in the bathroom, notes of classical music grating on my nerves, I brushed my teeth after a visit with my mother, swaying and humming to a different tune.

“I want the frim fram sauce with the Ausen fay /With chafafa on the side” 

My niece emulated Pink. My son obsessed over the Chainsmokers and my daughter, Cheryl, stalked The Mountain Goats. Friends Nic and Em insisted on queuing up Neutral Milk Hotel. Even my husband had his favorites, the latest a pianist from the CSO, Jeffrey Kahane, and he cranked the classical music loud as ever while I took a shower, immersed in the sounds of an Olympic skating competition.

IMG-6294For me, I chose the Classics. The music of my mother.

But my route to the standards wasn’t straight. It was more like learning the steps to the chromatic scales.

I belonged the generation whose fingers were forced to march through the rigors of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms at the mercy of piano teachers who rapped knuckles with wooden rulers or lived alone in homes where broccoli burned on the stove.

And I did so at the beck and call of John W. Schaum piano books, beginning with the Pre-A Green Book.

Then, if luck or practice, or Mrs. Scutt or Mrs. Bacon had their way, I was invited to master the piano utilizing the lessons presented in the A – Red book.

images-1I was a quick learner, mostly because I wanted to advance fast enough to be through with old John and my lessons. I tickled my way through the beginner books and soon was assigned the red book. And each week, I might receive a check or check-plus on my level of skill in mastering the masters and move on to the C – Purple Book or D – Orange.

I also bored easily.

One day, I discovered my older sister, Laura, had acquired a new piano book from the Driscoll Music Store down on Broadway in Lorain. The book was a combination of Broadway and jazz favorites from the 1950s and 60s. I seethed. Laura had been assigned more contemporary songs to conquer. Laura was a lefty and I would not deny she had been gifted with a bit more artistically than I had. Still, what my older sister possessed, I wanted for myself.

I picked up the book, As Time Goes By, with a rose centered on its cover, flipped it open, and plunked out the melodies to A Time for Us, The Impossible Dream, Moon River, Autumn Leaves, Jean, Jean. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, and Misty. I memorized the words that accompanied the melodies. Because the lyrices were there to learn.

When my mother heard me play, she tossed her dust rag on the floor, joined me on the piano bench, and sang along. She would pop out a few notes, or the whole song if I let her. Nervous around Mom or anyone else, I fumbled over notes or apologized, saying, “Sorry, Mom. Let’s start over.” It was a maxim we shared, one that captured our relationship succinctly then, and now.

Mom rearranged the furniture often in our home on Lincoln Street. Over time, she had the piano wheeled from the sea-foam green, sunlit living room to the high-traffic family room. She assumed one of her children would play the piano more frequently.

I played less. I relished the feel of the vacant, sea-foam green living room, alone, with an audience only I could identify. And, I didn’t want my mother’s singing to remind me of my own mismatched voice and how I couldn’t reach the nuance of the lyrics she crooned.

I had grown up and moved on to other pursuits. After junior high, I allowed my skills to lapse.

The book lay crushed beneath the Schwaum collections, and flute and trumpet sheet music, in the bottom of the piano bench, untouched for years.

During my first marriage, I acquired a piano of my own from Aunt Lynne. I asked Mom’s permission to keep the piano book of standards. My fingers soon danced again over A Time for Us.

The piano was forced into storage when I moved to Oregon. I broke the piano out of storage when I moved back to Loveland and installed it, of all places, in the living room, where the bright sunlight of the early morning streamed into another green room, this one a warm khaki, and enticed me to play from that same classic book, rediscovered beneath other musical failings.

IMG-6292Twenty years later, I found myself at my mother’s dementia care home where extracurricular activities (everything is extracurricular after age 90) centered on popular music, movies, and books from my mother’s era.

Recently, I read a social media post predicting what genre of music will be playing, when baby boomers, or post-boomers, like myself, lived in community with others once more.

One commenter predicted Dylan. And I had to break the sad news. Dylan was already on the playlists. Not because of the onslaught of boomers, but because of a few early-age Alzheimer’s residents who deserved to hear their music.

During the most recent music event at Arden Courts, a group called Wild Honey was contracted to play. Several times, I noticed the base player watching me sing along while he plucked away at his strings. I retreated into myself, embarrassed. He probably wondered what kind of 50-year-old knew the lyrics to those songs, Our Love is Here to Stay, April in Paris, by heart and whispered them into her mother’s good ear? What kind of music life did she have?

I wanted to answer Kesha. Or some EDM superstar like Odesza. Or The National. They’re from Cincinnati. Yes, even Neutral Milk Hotel.

But the answer was, I had none. Other than that acoustic space inhabited by memories of my mother’s music.

My children know to fire up The Boss when my time comes. For now, I work my way through lengthy Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra discographies and sing a few Nina Simone songs with Helen, another resident.

I departed Arden Courts with a little earworm or two wiggling around in my head throughout the rest of the day.

Like a spy, my mother and her first loves somehow planted those notes.

They are the seeds of Mom’s life that I carry now, along with the frim fram sauce with the Ausen fay with chafafa on the side.

I don’t want fish cakes and rye bread
You heard what I said
Waiter, please serve mine fried
I want the frim fram sauce with the Ausen fay
With chafafa on the side

Now if you don’t have it just bring me a cheque for the water.

– Visit the Nat King Cole video.



The Sacrament of Cookies

Cookies for Arden flashed on my calendar that Friday. It was time again for the weekly rite.

IMG-3186Arden is my mother’s home. Her care home. Mom has lived there for five years, just the past week. She lives amongst sixty-some residents who experience some form of dementia or memory altering condition. Mom has outlasted at least a third of the residents who succumbed to death, departed through lack of funds and or the need for a environment more suited to a particular condition. However, it is unlikely Mom will beat out Miss M., currently careening into her hundreds.

Five years was an eternity to evaluate the relationship I had to my mother’s disease. But the span offered me the gift of not only loving and caring for Mom, but of embracing other residents and caregivers.

It was on a different Friday, a year or so ago, the notion of “Cookies for Arden” was mixed, rolled, baked, frosted, and served.

I was departing the city for the weekend. The cookies were essentially a bribe to the caregivers to watch over Mom for the weekend (as if they didn’t already do that with such care).

Regina, an older caregiver, was delighted when I produced the sweet bounty of colorful tea cookies boxed up from Busken. Jillian, Mom’s most consistent caregiver, groaned. She had been trying to lose weight, despite chasing after the ever-active residents and her obligation to feed, clothe, and bath 15 women and men.

When I held out the box, Mom’s hand aimed for one on top. She grabbed several cookies, denting the swirled frosting on each.

Another resident, B., who was charming and cunning all in one instant, beckoned me towards her. “Hey, I’ll pay you if you bring me in a full box for myself.”

“And they better be Busken. Those Servatti cookies are Italian and they’re not made with the same butter as Busken.

B. had insulted a whole forest of my family trees and was clearly wrong in her presumption that Servatti cookies were made by Italians. The bakery was named after a cafe where the cookies were sold in Munster, Germany, in a location near the Church of St. Servatii, an Italian saint. And, the cookies were made by Germans. But B. also made a point. I, too, relished in the Busken cookies over Servatii’s.

Astounded by such reception, I erratically continued the tradition of bringing in the cookies. Always on a Friday, but not every week.

When I finally typed the entry Cookies for Arden in my calendar, I found that I routinely fulfilled my duties.

The same duty my mother once fulfilled on a September day, in 1994, for my marriage to Devin. My mother baked four of my favorite varieties of her Italian cookies. Pizzelles, rolled Italian cookies, nutroll, nut horns. She obsessively placed them in old May Company shirt boxes layered with waxed paper, and transported the goods from northern Ohio to Cincinnati in the back of Dad’s suburban. My entire family relayed the cargo across Fountain Square through Oktoberfest to our wedding reception at the Banker’s Club, ten stories above.

No image better signified Mom’s dedication to cookies as consecration than that of white department store boxes filled with cookies, bouncing along the heads of siblings towards the delicacies’ eventual consumption that night.

No matter where I am in the world – at home with the dog, in Washington Park, in Oregon or northern Ohio, if its Friday, Cookies for Arden pops up on my phone screen. And I smile.

On the most recent Friday, the cue flickered on my screen while I was in the midst of a neighborhood walk through West Price Hill.

“Yes, yes,” I spoke out loud to the phone. “I got it.”

Hours after my shower, I stopped at Busken Bakery, only to find the bakery cases emptied. I was stupefied. “Where are all the tea cookies, where are the sprinkled ones?”

The clerk offered me a morsel of relief. “Oh don’t worry. They’re in the back. We got wiped out today. It was back to school week.”

In a matter of minutes, the clerk loaded up a box with piles of red, blue, white and sprinkled mounds of butter. (I do wonder who decides on the color scheme each week).

When I arrived at Arden, the receptionist spotted the gold container with a plastic window into the world of delight. “It must be Friday.”

I lifted up the box with a broad grin on my face. “You bet.”

As I entered the kitchen of Mom’s hallway, many of the women were still seated around their breakfast table, including Mom.

“Hello, girls.” I announced. “I’ve got cookies.

Miss J., the other Miss J., lit up at the word, “cookie.”

I sauntered over to Miss R., relegated to a corner table filled with wooden abacus like toys, and she took a pink one. “Thank you,” she mumbled and her visage returned to a blank stare.

Miss M., known for crying without tears ( which may be a condition known as pseudobulbar), accepted a green one from me. However, not even cookies could stop someone from overcoming that condition.

Again, Miss B. proposed payment for the entire collection. I politely declined, though she was good for her word and the money.

FullSizeRender (60)Mom finally acknowledged my presence – and that of the cookies. She waved her hands in the air. “Hey, hey.”

I inched towards Mom and presented to her the box resplendent with rainbows. Mom fingered three of them, placed the first one wholly in her mouth, and clasped the other two, again crushing the swirl of icing between her fingers.

I stashed the remainder on top of the microwave, where all the staffers would know where to look for the prize. The hiding place was like the cookie drawer in our home on Lincoln Street. But Mom never stored her good cookies there, only the packaged ones. The good cookies were kept locked away in old Charles’ Chips cans, like the sacramental offering they were.

At the last minute, I swiped a cookie for myself, to join in the ceremony of cookies. It was the closest I came to receiving a blessing that morning.

Do Caregivers Experience Sympathy Pains?

IMG_7456Couvade syndrome. Sympathy Pains. It’s not just for pregnancy anymore.

My mother recently was hospitalized for a soap-swallowing incident. Ironically, as I observed and helped her to recover normal swallowing functions, I began to experience swallowing challenges of my own.

When she has had what I perceive to be, but she cannot share, hip pain on her right side, suddenly, I throw the right side of my back out, reaching in for a load of laundry.

When she aches. I do. When she smiles. I do.

Our pain is so intrinsically connected, that where her pain starts and ends, I cannot detect.

Couvade syndrome, also called sympathetic pregnancy, is a proposed condition in which a partner experiences some of the same symptoms and behavior of an expectant mother. These most often include minor weight gain, altered hormone levels, morning nausea, and disturbed sleep patterns. In more extreme cases, symptoms can include labor pains, postpartum depression, and nosebleeds. The labor pain symptom is commonly known as sympathy pain.
Couvade syndrome is not recognized as a real syndrome by many medical professionals. Its source is a matter of debate. Some believe it to be a psychosomatic condition, while others believe it may have biological causes relating to hormone changes.

I am convinced the same sympathy pains present in pregnancy, of which there is no medical evidence, are transmutable to those who are caregivers, those who are in a constant state of worry, obsession and love.

As such, I find myself wondering how connected am I to her brain health? What is the state of my own? Will I experience the same sort of memory loss that so devastates me at times? What would I want to tell my children, my husband, who ever is left holding the bag full of tricks to make me tick?

A cousin of mine, Debbie Wick Herd, recently posted a quote related to a similar theme of If I get dementia.  The prompt floated around in my head for days as I considered what would really be important for my loved ones to remember.

I wanted to write how I have coerced my husband to sign an agreement that he would pluck my white chin hairs and for my kids to make certain that I was served bacon at each meal.

But I went with authenticity instead of the truth.


If I Get Dementia

I want you to steady a pen
in my hands that ache to be of use,
roll out the paper in front of me
or flip on a computer
if I am still adept
at that
which I think I will be –
but may forget.

I want to still write
to feel the pulse of waiting
endlessly for the muse to strike
heartbeat bursting through my chest.
For her to paint a picture
– with words
which rush to ink the thin wood
– with words as broader strokes
this time, because though the mind
has shut down
the heart has opened to a
wider landscape
than I might have guessed.

I want you to edit my words,
craft them as you would sculpt
a bust of my being.
You will know what they mean.
Readers have always known better
than writers
what their words really

Do not fret for an agent
or whether or not to publish.
The words will find their way
in the world.
They always have.
They are like worms digging through
the refuse of human tragedy
or wiggling to the top
of human triumph.

If I get dementia,
read me stories.
You will find my most treasured tomes
tattered and scattered throughout
my life.
Then read me something fresh.
Not news, but a crisp voice,
with a new throated call
to keep the niggles at bay.

And last, read me my own words
so I may recognize them still
and say goodbye
to some of the world
I am leaving behind.


Annette Januzzi Wick

Hugs Not Hikes

Every year, I say, “I’m not gonna do it.”

Register for another walk, another march to “end” a disease. Another two-mile jaunt with balloons, strollers, drawn-out faces or heavy breaths. Another fundraiser where one can secure a FAST PASS, meant for the elders perhaps, to the front of the registration line or be handed a bag of goodies for sponsors or items not needed.

My mother’s condition was never diagnosed as Alzheimer’s, based on scientific testing, hers was of the slow-slide dementia variety. But there is no “walk for dementia awareness”, so naturally most efforts fall under the Alzheimer’s category, because its an identifiable name.

FullSizeRender copy 10“I’m not gonna walk, to end Alzheimer’s,” I say, as I sit with Mom these days, and wonder how she is still here, when her present lasts only seconds and her past does not exist. Then she glances at me, and smiles. Mom’s is a child-like smile, unlike any witnessed in younger, more somber photos of her, as if not wanting to participate in the ritual.

Mom’s smile causes me to gasp, especially when she says goodbye to my son, off to college. He won’t see her until Christmas. She is seated in the sunshine on a worn wooden bench in full view of the burnt orange mums recently planted, and the fountain which will be turned off soon, its gurgling gone away. My son leans his lithe body into her and gives one last squeeze. Mom receives the squeeze with grace.

She reaches up, beaming. “Goodbye, sweetie,” she says, brushing his cheeks with her still soft hands, as if years of Jergen’s lotion really did the job. I am near tears, remembering how she used to cradle a five-pounder in her arms. Nana’s little snuggler.

“I’m not gonna walk this year,” I think, noting her stature has shrunk now, following two seizures, which impacted her posture. She has a permanent “lean in” which would make Cheryl Sandberg jealous. As we stand and I try to straighten her, l lift her arms past the shoulders and tell her we are practicing sun salutations. Mom would kill me if she knew this was yoga.

She wobbles to keep her balance while I support her arms overhead. Then, she really leans in – to me – and nestles into the crook between my head and heart. She has become the snuggler now. Clutching, grasping, patting my back.

“I’m not gonna walk this year,” I tell myself, then encounter the brave caregivers who stroll corridors with or chase down Mom and respond to her every need. Or I am met with the real, live bodies of other residents in mother’s care home. With Jim and Ella, I am discussing the pope. “Well, I haven’t seen him in a while,” Jim says. And Ella says, “I really haven’t been watching television,” despite my last visit when Ella was in the room while we were watching news about the pope’s upcoming visit.

“I’m not gonna walk,” I say. Then Matty smiles at me while eating a late lunch or early dinner, as I spy her through the window of her dining space. She rarely is without grasping the arms of a male, whatever male is in her reach, to lead, coax, sit with or share. I wonder what her marriage must have been like.

Then I sit at lunch with Madge, and she says, “Everybody get out of my house.” And  I’m ready to high tail it out of there, given her mood shifts. But I don’t.

Or I place a red cowboy hat on Sue Ann’s head, for “cowboy day,” knowing she used to listen to Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton. She giggles and hums.

“I’m not gonna walk, “I say. Then, I’ll lead Mom around her hallways, occasionally attempting to move her outside because it’s warm. She is reluctant because if the sun is not out, she doesn’t consider the temperature warm.

To exit, we have to dance around Gerry, the caregiver, and another resident, Karen. Karen’s young life at age 60 was once full. It still is, only now her days are spent walking, walking, walking. She never sits long, not even to eat. She is thin, worrisome on her best day, agitated on her worst.

“I’m not gonna walk,” I think. Then Karen’s eyes light up when she spots me. I hold her in a long embrace. Karen has a grip on me and I am OK with that, despite Mom’s impatience. “C’mon, c’mon,” she chides, moving me out of her way.

I wish this walk wouldn’t use such an impractical phrase as, “Walk to End Alzheimer’s.” The writer in me believes the slogan feels more like a gimmick than goal. But what I really want is for walks to be replaced by hugs. Hugs to raise money. Hugs to end our fears. Hugs to “lean in” to the nakedness and vulnerability we have all felt at times. Hugs to remember the humans inside each of these creatures that look, sound and yes, even act like the rest of us.

Regardless, this year, I’ll walk.

But next year, I’m gonna hug my way through the day, knowing that fierce hugs ignite a brain in a way medicine and marches cannot.




*All names, with the exception of Mom’s, have been changed.