When I was a kid, sick days were rare, yet always scripted. There was the large humidifier that sat on the folding tray at the foot of my bed, pumping out warm, moist air. The steam from it rose in circles until it hit my ceiling, then dissipated, and I liked to imagine it spread across the ceiling, sprinkling down minute droplets that I couldn’t feel but I knew were still there. My covers would be pulled up to my chin, but they were never enough to stop the chills that would periodically shake my body.
My mom always came in with the bottle of cold medicine and a tablespoon, like a specter, gliding across the room to see to my needs. I wrinkled up my nose at the medicine, but I would eventually take that tablespoon and empty every drop of it, hoping for a miracle even as it burned my throat. Mom always took my temperature with the ancient thermometer, the old-fashioned way, and I would be so embarrassed even though no one else was there. It would inevitably show as high, and I would sink back under the covers to die.
Soon blankets would march themselves into my bedroom and begin to pile on top of me one by one, depending on my muttered utterances. In my feverish state I always said I was cold, no matter how much I was sweating or delusional, and blanket after blanket would create even more of a cocoon for me to be reborn from after hell had its go at me. The medicine would begin to do its job, dropping my eyelids from fatigue, settling deep into my bones and dragging me down into a dream-filled sleep.
My dreams were filled with pirates and concierges, with lanyards and playgrounds, with every conceivable possibility that my conscious mind would generally kick out and reboot. I would twist and turn in the bed to match my movements in my dream world, my eyelids fluttering spasmodically in order to keep up. The blankets, instead of being my protector, began to sit heavy on me like a wrestler with a chokehold. I would wake up thrashing about, certain I was being strangled, screaming out for someone, for anyone, to save me.
That’s when my mom always came back in, calm and collected, because she had been there before, because she knew how the story would end. She would come in, and take off blanket after blanket until I felt comfortable again. Her cool hand against my forehead would be welcome, refreshing after the horrendous dreams, and she would sit with me until I had calmed back down again. Then I would sleep, a true sleep, as comforting as the other was frantic, no longer delusional from the medicine.
As I would drift back off to sleep I remember my mom easing backwards out of the room, by the haze of the humidifier steam that kept pumping out its warm air, its moisturized droplets that reminded me of fog rolling in across the sea. My door would close silently, and I was alone once again in my cocoon, safe and sound, but still weak from my ordeal. And one by one the blankets would pile back on, and my smile would return, a little lazy and indistinct. The last image in my head was of that spoon, set down neatly on my bedside table, with its promise of freedom.