When I saw those hospital curtains, my mind traveled elsewhere. Suddenly I was 8-years old, brought to see my maternal grandmother on her supposed death bed. Amid shuffling nurses and beeping instruments on wheels with tubes and digital screens, the curtains to her stall opened like the unveiling of a museum exhibit.
I saw my dad sitting by my grandmother’s side. He waved me in, had me hold her hand, then stepped out with my mother. In the hall, aunts, uncles, and cousins waited around. Standing by her bed, her papery fingers laced in mine, she looked up at me with milky eyes and mouthed the word “water.” I broke grip and got the nurse who said, Of course she can have some water.
Soon, a priest came in and prayed over my grandmother, and my uncle explained to me about the last rites. She would live for two more months.
This time, I pulled back the curtain and saw my mother under a swale of blankets, an IV plugged into her arm, her eyes clear and alert. Two aunts and a cousin stood chatting by her bed. She had gone in that morning with sharp pains in her abdomen. An inflamed pancreas, the doctor told us, caused by gall stones. We were in New Hampshire, a few miles from my mother’s childhood home, for a family gathering. She goes every summer, but I hadn’t been in a decade. After bending down and kissing her cheek, I held her hand, and she reminded us that the last time she laid in a hospital bed was 27 years ago when I was born.
Of course, she’d come through. But I realized right then that the reason I came to New Hampshire that summer was to be there in case my mother needed a glass of water.