And I know. I know it’s a mistake. Still, my feet are taking me down the stairs and through the dining room to my mother’s home office. She’s not there, and not in the den. I head to her bedroom and knock lightly, hands shaking. She doesn’t answer. I hear running water. She’s probably in her bathroom getting ready for bed. I knock again loudly.
“Mom,” I call out as I turn the handle.
She’s just leaving the bathroom, turning out the light when I walk in.
Her still-gaunt face breaks into a wide smile when she sees me. Her cheekbones are sharp and more prominent in her narrower face. The dark circles that I put under her eyes seem to have become permanent. She’s not wearing any makeup and her hair hangs loosely around her shoulders. Black silk pajamas hang from her thin frame.
“Hi, sweetheart,” she says. “Did you come for a slumber party?” Her face is so hopeful that I want to say yes.
I step farther into the room, shaking the pages. “It’s from a doctor in Maui.” I look for the name again even though I know it. “Dr. Melissa Francis. Did you meet her?”
If I hadn’t been watching her so closely I might not have noticed it, but she freezes. “I met a lot of doctors in Maui, Madeline.” Her voice is tight.
“Mom, I’m sorry—”
She holds up a hand telling me to stop. “What is it, Madeline?”
I take another step. “This letter. She, Dr. Francis, thinks I’m not sick.”
She stares at me as if I haven’t spoken. She doesn’t speak for so long that I begin to question if I had spoken after all.
“What are you talking about?”
“She says she doesn’t think I have SCID. She doesn’t think I’ve ever had it.”
She lowers herself to the edge of the bed. “Oh, no. Is this why you came to see me?”
Her voice is soft, pitying. “She got your hopes up, didn’t she?”
She gestures for me to come and sit beside her. She takes the letter from my hands and wraps her arms around me. “I’m sorry, but it’s not true,” she says.
I sag into her arms. She’s right. I had gotten my hopes up. Her arms feel so good around me. I feel warm and protected and safe.
She strokes my hair. “I’m sorry you had to see this. It’s so irresponsible.”
“It’s OK,” I say against her shoulder. “I knew it was a mistake. I didn’t get my hopes up.”
She pulls away to look into my eyes. “Of course it’s a mistake.”
Her eyes fill with tears and she pulls me back into her arms. “SCID is so rare and so complicated, honey. Not everyone understands it. There are just so many versions and every person reacts a little differently.”
She pulls away again and meets my eyes to make sure I’m listening and understanding. Her speech slows down and her tone turns sympathetic—her doctor’s voice. “You saw that for yourself, didn’t you? You were fine for a little while and then you were almost dead in an emergency room. Immune systems are complicated.”
She frowns down at the pages in her hand. “And this Dr. Francis doesn’t know your full medical history. She’s just seeing a tiny fraction of it. She hasn’t been with you this whole time.”
Her frown deepens. This mistake is upsetting her more than it did me.
“Mom, it’s OK,” I say. “I didn’t really believe it anyway.”
I don’t think she hears me. “I had to protect you,” she says.
“I know, Mom.” I don’t really want to talk about this anymore. I move back into her arms.
“I had to protect you,” she says into my hair.
And it’s that last “I had to protect you” that makes a part of me go quiet.
There’s an uncertainty to her voice that I don’t expect and can’t account for.
I try to pull away, to see her face, but she holds on tight.
“Mom,” I say, pulling harder.
She lets me go, caresses my face with her free hand.
I frown at her. “Can I have those?” I ask, meaning the papers in her hand.
She looks down and seems confused about how they got there. “You don’t need these,” she says, but gives them back to me anyway.
“Want to have a slumber party?” she asks again, patting the bed. “I’ll feel better if you stay with me.”
But I’m not sure I will.
sus•pi•cion (səˈspiSHən) n. pl. -s 1. The truth you don’t believe, can’t believe, won’t believe: Her suspicion of her mother keeps her awake all night. | She had a burgeoning suspicion that the world was laughing at her. [2015, Whittier]