Arrival at Baggage Claim C

He shifted his weight in the third chair of the single pew at Baggage Claim C.  He was amazed at how these thin seats initially looked comfortable, but soon made him squirm to find a good position.  His elbows banged up against the metal arms on both sides of his seat.  Why do humans intentionally design discomfort? 

“Flight 0804 has arrived,” the automated voice announced to the air.  “Baggage can be claimed at Baggage Claim C.  For passengers flying to another destination, please check the consoles located throughout the terminal.”

He was expecting many important people arriving on this flight.  Dignitaries, financiers, artists and musicians were listed on the manifest.  But he was especially interested in a woman he had yet to meet.  Her postcards always managed to reach him, bits of her life scribbled on the backs of beaches, mountains and cities.  Her simplicity intrigued him. 

“I like this town.  I may stay here awhile.” 

“I didn’t realize how much this beach meant to me.”

“These mountains must reach heaven.”

The tired-looking travelers started filing in one by one, pushing the turnstyle that ended their journeys.  He recognized the young senator from Illinois who will lead a nation, and another man who will challenge Israel’s sovereignty.  He smiled fondly at a dark colored man who will sing about how wonderful life is, and nodded briefly at a man whose baseball career will be tainted by his credibility before lawmakers.

He stood when a small woman came through, carrying an overstuffed red purse and a slim computer bag.  She seemed so . . .  ordinary next to these other destinies.  Yet he recognized her by her expectant glances at different faces, and a small smile that breathed anticipation. 

She set her bags down near the baggage conveyer and ran her fingers through her hair.  She was business-like in her movements, yet bent down to talk to a little Asian boy who will star in a TV series about being lost. 

She saw him walking towards her, and her smile broadened.  “I knew you’d be here,” she murmured when he stood a few inches away. 

He gently placed his hands on her shoulders, and said quietly, “Welcome to Gaia, child.”  They hugged as old friends do when time is of no essence.

“Let me help you with your bags,” he offered, as they waited for the conveyer to deliver her life.

a birthday present to myself

Settling In (Part 3)

For three weeks, I helped my parents look for an apartment. We looked in several communities in town – Makiki, Kalihi, Kapahulu, Mo`ili`ili. Too small, too far from the garage, too close to the highway, too many apartments on one floor, too many people with pets, too many people at the swimming pool.

One day, after assuring yet another building manager that we would call him tomorrow, I muttered to my mom on our way to the car, “I don’t understand why none of these apartments are good enough. What do you want, anyway?”

“We got used to the beach and the ocean. But we don’t want to live in Waikiki. Too many tourists,” she replied.

“You live by the beach now. You don’t like it there, remember?”  I felt like a petulant child but couldn’t resist it.

“Don’t worry, Trina,” dad said. “We’ll find something soon.”

*****

Their apartment hunting went on for four more weeks — without me. I suggested that it might be easier for them to look for a place without my butting in. They agreed.

In the meantime, I did some hunting of my own. I had come to realize that I didn’t like Lanikai much either. I rarely socialized with my rich neighbors, and they didn’t seem to care either way. Besides, after the way my parents were treated, I lost whatever neighborly aloha I might have felt towards them.

Mom and dad finally found a small apartment unit in a two-story walk-up in the Salt Lake area.  The neighborhood was congested and noisy, but my dad thought it would be quiet during the day because everyone else would be at work.

I asked them to go holo-holo (cruising) with me to the North Shore the next Sunday morning. “We’ll have brunch on the way,” I suggested.

We ate at a popular Kahuku oceanside hotel, and by 1 PM, we were driving along Sunset Beach on the North Shore. “Look,” my mom point out the window, “there’s a Catholic Church. And look at those yards. See the kalamunggai trees? There must be a lot of Filipinos living here.” I chuckled and kept driving.

I turned onto Papailoa Drive, a narrow road makai (ocean-side) of the highway in Hale`iwa. Except for its shoreline location, it was hard to tell that this narrow stretch of houses fronting Papailoa Beach was pricey real estate.  What were once exclusive summer homes of rich town folks now comprised an eclectic mixture of 40-year old tropical houses with an assortment of cottages and nouveau riche beach palaces. 

The kids kicking the soccer ball around in the street were typical of Hawai`i, a mixed bag.  I drove by a cream-colored Lexus, a rusty Dodge SUV, a souped-up Honda and three Harleys in a row before I entered a short driveway.

As I walked towards the front of the house, my dad said with one foot out of the car, “Trina, wait.  Whose house is this?  We’re not dressed for visiting.  Plus, we didn’t bring anything to share.”

“Just follow me,”  I responded, and they obeyed, albeit with great reluctance.

The vacated wooden house was of old vintage, but held up well.  It smelled old and salty and the screen door handles were slightly rusty.  But the white and light yellow paint on the interior walls seemed young, like new skin on a crab shedding its old shell.  We walked into a big living room that blended into the nearby shoreline and panoramic ocean views. 

We peeked into four small bedrooms and checked out old fashioned bathrooms.  My parents glanced my way every now and then, wondering what I was up to.

We went to the back door and looked out. I could tell that they liked what they saw. The backyard had character; it was perfect for the abutting beach. Part of the yard was slightly rolling, with grass poking out of small sand piles. There was even a small plastic yellow bucket with a red shovel abandoned in the corner of the yard.

We made our way to the kitchen, in the middle of which was a huge well-used woodblock table. The ceramic knobs of the glass kitchen cabinet doors were yellowed by ghosts of previous residents. I stood in the middle of the kitchen and announced, “Next month, this is where we’re having our Sunday brunches.”

******

My parents immediately felt at home. My mom had the neighborhood kids over within a week, and she taught the next door twins how to crochet. Dad started a garden, and soon shared his papayas, kalamunggai leaves and eggplants with our Filipino, haole (Caucasian), Japanese and Hawaiian neighbors. A few times, the retired Chinese engineer from down the street helped him with the tilling and weeding. Sometimes they shared a beer on our front porch.

One day, dad took a nap because he was very tired after thinning out our mungo bean trellis. He never woke up. Our neighbors came to the funeral, and brought over dinner every night for two weeks.

Eventually, I had to hire an architect to retrofit our house for ADA standards because mom needed a wheelchair to get around. The kids still came over, and sometimes I had to referee arguments about who got to push her wheelchair. When she died, a couple of the neighborhood girls asked me if I wanted them to sleep over at my house to keep me company. Of course I said yes.

This morning, as I walked along the beach, I stopped to watch some kids trying to stand on a surfboard in shallow water. One of the kids fell and cut his head. It wasn’t a bad cut, but he was scared and crying. I brought him and his friends to my house. I patched him up, and gave them some juice and snacks.

One of the girls peered into the living room. She looked at me and said, “Eh lady, dis one real nice house, man. How come you get dis house? You wen marry one haole?”

I laughed and said, “I’m single.   I was lucky to find this house for me and my parents.”

“Hol!” she exclaimed in awe. She scrutinized my face. “So, what nationality you anyway?”

I looked her straight in the eye and said, “I’m Filipino.”

Note: Parts 1 and 2 are pretty much the original short story, but for some reason, I felt I needed to tweak a few scenes in Part 3.  Though the plot remains the same, the storyteller changed lens a bit, or perhaps just matured as a writer.

Settling In (Part 2)

The next morning was Sunday, and Sunday brunch is a treat. When Stan and I were married, Sunday brunch was the one luxury we allowed ourselves. We made a big deal of baking different kinds of rolls, cooking omelets and tryng different kinds of sausages and other meats. Every now and then, we even had champagne. After the divorce, there were no special days, and I used Sunday mornings to catch up on my office reading.

When my mom and dad moved in, I rekindled the tradition. It wasn’t quite the same. My parents woke up at 5 AM everyday, a rhythm established in their plantation days.  They ate leftovers with coffee and puttered around the house until I woke up.

Sundays were no exception. They assured me that they didn’t mind brunch, since they were ready to eat another meal by 11:00 anyway.

On that Sunday, mom was in the kitchen making another pot of coffee for our “second breakfast,” as she called it. I was thinking of making blueberry waffles, maybe some sausage and poached eggs

“Morning, mom. How are you this morning?” I kissed her cheek.

“Fine, Trina. Dad told me you were upset about last night. That’s why I didn’t wake you when I got home. Don’t get mad so much. You want some juice?”

“Mom, why do you babysit? You’ve babysat for almost every house on the entire block. It’s embarrassing. The neighbors must think you’re doing it for money. This is so crazy. In this neighborhood, babysitting is for high school girls so that they can earn makeup money.”

Mom looked hurt. I must have gone too far. “I’m sorry, mom. I just hate to see you get used this way. Those people should know better. They wouldn’t let this happen to their own mothers. They must think they can get away with it just because you’re Filipino.”

After a brief silence, she said, “You’re Filipino, too, Trina.”

More silence. Then only the sound of spoons in our coffee mugs.

“Where’s dad?” I asked, trying to change the subject.

“He said he was going to Dr. Allbright’s house. He’ll be right back.”

“What’s he doing?”

No answer. She must have still been hurt, maybe angry.

“Mom,” I persisted, “what’s dad doing there?”

She relented. “He said not to tell you. You’ll get mad again.”

“Wait a minute. Did he go there to work on Allbright’s yard? He’s helping that old codger cut some branches off that stupid tree, isn’t he? That guy is a retired doctor, mom. He has a Mercedes! He can afford a weekly yard crew, for heaven’s sake!”

My mother kept stirring her coffee and avoided looking at me. I stomped to the door. I think I had it in mind to confront this situation. As I slipped into my Birkenstocks, my father walked in.

“Hi, Trina. I was just out taking a walk,” he said cheerily.

I could barely control my temper. “Dad, did you help Allbright trim his tree?” I bore into him, daring him to lie. “You did, didn’t you? You climbed that rickety old ladder and cut some branches. You could’ve gotten hurt. And what did you do with that machete? Hide it in the garage? Why couldn’t you just say no?” As I ranted, mom quietly entered the living room and watched us.

Dad replied sternly, “Trina, Dr. Allbright needed help. He’s an old man. It wasn’t too hard. I know what I’m doing. I enjoy this kind of stuff. I don’t mind helping.”

“And what would he have done if you got hurt? Would he have treated you? Or would that be beneath him?”

Dad looked at me confused. “What are you talking about?”

I suddenly became very tired. Tired of seeing my parents feeling so defensive with me. Tired of being a bitch with them. We’ve had these discussions so many times since they moved in.

I took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I guess I just get mad when our neighbors take advantage of you and mom.” I gave him a little hug and we all went into the kitchen and proceeded with our cooking.

The next Sunday, I made popovers and eggs. As we sat down at the table, dad said, “Trina, your mom and I want to talk to you.” He and mom looked uneasily at each other.

Mom started. “We want to move to an apartment in town. We want to go back on our own. Your dad and I are still strong. We’ll be okay.”

Dad quickly added, “Don’t get us wrong. We love you very much, Trina. We appreciate everything you do for us. In fact, you do too much. But we fight all the time. You’re always telling us ‘Don’t help him. Don’t talk like that to her.’ You want us to be different. This is who we are. We’re too old to change. We can’t help it. We just want to be ourselves.”

I was indignant at first. “Move? You’ve been living here for three months. What’s wrong with this place? It’s a good neighborhood. Hell, Lanikai is one of the classiest places in Hawaii! Most people don’t even dream about living here!”

Then I felt hurt. Confused. I felt like crying. “I just want you both to be happy. I want you to be treated well. I don’t like seeing you being treated like servants. I worked really hard to buy this house. I finally make the kind of money we need to live in a place like this. I don’t understand it. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”

“Trina, listen to me,” my mother said as she patted my hand. “We can’t just retire and do nothing. We’re not the kind of people who go the beach to sit and read books. When we go to the beach, we like to fish and pick limu (seaweed). You don’t see anybody fishing in Lanikai, do you? Dad doesn’t golf. I don’t belong to clubs. We’re working people. If we move back to town, at least we’ll be around our own kind of people. They’ll understand us better.”

I couldn’t look at her. Maybe she was right. “I know we’re different from our neighbors,” mom continued. “They’re not our people. Most of them are haole (white). The ones who aren’t haole are like you – educated, smart. You believe you’re equal and you fit in well. But we’re not equal. We don’t fit in.”

My dad said quietly, “Trina, I know how they look at us. I see it in their eyes. They only respect us because of you. If it weren’t for you, they wouldn’t give us the time of day. I know that. Let us go where we want.”

Settling In (Part 1)

Many years ago, I wrote a short story that placed second in a competition for Filipino American writers. I was reminded of it when a dear friend gave me this print, which is now hanging in my foyer. So, for old time’s sake, I am posting it in three parts.

SETTLING IN, Part 1

When I was five years old, I wanted to be Janet Lennon. She was the youngest and the prettiest of the sister trio on the Lawrence Welk Show. I shared this dream with Lani and Sylvia who lived next to Uncle Louis. Singing “Sentimental Journey,” we used to skip in unison down the narrow dirt which led to our family farm in Ka`a`awa, O`ahu. If we timed it right, we would start at Uncle’s house with “Go -onna take a sentimental journey,” and end up at my family’s pig farm with “Se-entimental jour-er-ney home.”

By the time I was ten, and living in Palolo Public Housing, I decided I was going to be just like Honey West, the blond sexy private detective. I used to brush my bangs to the side and draw a beauty mole on the side of my mouth with my mom’s eyebrow pencil.

Eventually I shed my TV dreams, but not until I secretly tried to emulate Mary Tyler Moore. A thin brunette newscaster with high morals, supportive girlfriends and platonic relationships, she was a perfect woman for the 70s.

A few years ago, I was having drinks at the Pacific Club with my law partner after work. She was reminiscing about her experiences as an airhead cheerleader at Neshaminy High School outside of Philadelphia. I retaliated with my girlhood dreams.

She was mildly surprised by my revelations. “God, Trina. Didn’t realize that all of your role models were Caucasian women?”

“Who else would I have chosen? Besides,” I confessed, “for a long time I fantasized that I was part haole (white), and that someday my real parents would come and get me.”

She laughed. “I don’t know if that’s sick or sad. What about successful Filipino women you looked up to?”

“I didn’t know any with careers,” I rationalized. “I think the only Filipino women I knew were moms, aunties and grandmas. I didn’t even have Filipino teachers until I went to the University of Hawaii.”

As I drove home that night, I thought about growing up Filipino in Hawaii. I was teased a lot. At my grade school, which had mostly Portuguese and Asian students, Filipinos were “book-books” who ate black dog and smelled like bagoong (a Filipino fish sauce). The old folks spoke funny with their drawls and “pshht” signals. Our names were gutteral, humorous. Sometimes, even teachers made fun of our names.

Several Filipino girls compensated by claiming to be half-Spanish. I went the other way. I decided that I was just me, no color. Even being a girl didn’t matter. I studied hard, got good grades, and finished high school among the top of my class.

By the time I was in law school, I paid no attention to being Filipino. I didn’t join any ethnic clubs, and only ate Filipino food when I visited my parents.

This attitude did not sit well with my father. For him and mom, there were two ethnic categories — Filipino and Others. Everywhere we went, they would make comments. One of them would say “That police officer looks Filipino.” Or, “Look, that guy’s wife is a Filipina.” They would read the name tags of store clerks and waiters and ask, “Are you Ilocano or Visayan?”

One of dad’s favorite dinner time lectures went like this: “You should be proud you’re Filipino. Filipinos are hard-working, good people, especially us Ilocanos. You should learn your Filipino history. If you don’t know your heritage, you’re not a whole person. But the most important thing is you need to learn to cook Filipino food.”

My responses infuriated him. “Dad, I’m an American. I work hard because that’s who I am, not because I’m Filipino. It’s what’s inside that counts, not my skin color.”

No one ever won these arguments. My mother usually ended them with, “If you both don’t shutup, I’m leaving the table.”

As I turned off the car engine, I mentally prepared myself to enter my house. Living in Lanikai brought me close to the ocean, and at that moment, I could hear the gentle waves and smell the salt air. It calmed me. Ever since my parents moved in with me, these last precious moments helped me think calm before I went through my front door. I never knew what I would have to face. We didn’t have the “Filipino” argument anymore, but sometimes I was caught in the crossfire of their trivial spats, and, as the “family lawyer,” I was often asked to give my opinion.

I opened the door and heard the television going. “Hi, mom and dad, I’m home,” I called out.

“Your mom’s not here,” dad answered. “She’s at the Andersons, babysitting. There’s leftover chicken papaya on the stove if you’re still hungry. Do you want me to get you a bowl?”

“No thanks, I had dinner. She’s babysitting again?”

“Mrs. Anderson came over at 4:00 and said she and her husband had to go to a dinner. She asked mom to babysit, and mom went their house at 5:30.”

The Andersons were in their late 40s. Lanikai is known for its upscale expensive beach homes, and the Andersons lived in one of the bigger Lanikai “mansions” about a quarter mile away.  Steve was an architect; Jenny stayed home to watch the kid and play housewife. They were Caucasian.

It irritated me that my parents called them “Mr.” and “Mrs.” When my parents first moved in, I wanted them to call our neighbors by their first names. They balked. “We can’t. We’re not like that,” mom argued. “Like what?” I asked. “We’re different, that’s all. It’s habit to call these people by their title. Leave us alone about this, Trina.” Case closed.

I insisted that dad talk to me about this babysitting business. “Dad, mom is not some teenager looking for something to do. Jenny Anderson shouldn’t be asking her to do this kind of shit. Who does she think mom is? Somebody’s nanny? A servant? She’ll probably pay her minimum wage!” I was getting angrier by the minute.

“Your mom likes little Joey. She likes to see the kids. That’s why she goes to the park so much. So that she can play with the kids.” He forced his attention away from “Law and Order” and looked me right in the eye. “If you had kids, she’d do the same for you.”

“My not having kids has nothing to do with this,” I sputtered and ended the conversation by stalking out of the room.

Counting Backwards

“C,mon, momma, one more time!  This time count to fifteen!” Crystal enunciated.

“Okay, but this is the last time,” Mara said, as she pulled the swing chains back for 15 gentle pushes.   “One . . . Two . . .Three . . .” she chanted.  Truth be told, Mara would count all afternoon if Crystal asked.  The child was pure joy and Mara marveled at how the sunlight picked up different shades of copper and gold in her daughter’s flowing hair as she tilted her head back in unabashed delight. 

On the way home, Crystal quietly counted the number of people on the bus.  Mara thought about her four-year old’s penchant for counting.  She counted everything – the steps to their apartment, the dresses in the closet they shared, even the spoonfuls of cereal she eats before they go to Mother Waldron Preschool.

“Mrs. Santiago, your girl’s a smart one,” Mrs. Kirkwood said yesterday afternoon.  “The other day she let me know that the paint tray for Miss Donovan’s three-year olds was missing two colors and asked if she could lend them two of ours.  I asked her which colors and she said it didn’t matter.  She said they usually have 20 colors, and now they have 18, so we need to get it back to 20.  Today, she counted Jimmy’s teeth.  Maybe she’ll be a mathematician or come up with a computer program that will change the world,” Crystal’s preschool teacher predicted with a smile.

Crystal counted 27 fellow bus passengers and eventually her head rested on Mara’s shoulder as she napped to the drone of the long bus ride.  Mara was restless because she needed to get home and complete the research on her new project. 

She wished she still had her old car.  The Saab was pretty reliable until the transmission gave out.  The money she got from selling it to the garage owner was used to pay the next two months’ rent.  It made up for Nick’s late child support, further proof that he had little interest in raising a child.

The cracks in their marriage became clear after their first failed attempt at in vitro.  When Dr. Pahed cautioned that odds would be lower if they tried again, Nick looked at his shoes and said, “That’s alright.  Maybe we’re not meant to have kids.. This was really just for Mara anyway.” 

After much discussion and mild attempts at renewing their passion, they divorced six months later, when Mara was surprisingly five weeks pregnant.  “I’ll help you take care of it,” he feebly vowed.  He held Crystal only twice before moving to San Antonio.

That night, when Mara finished reading Where the Wild Things Are, Crystal announced “And that was page 48,” as she snuggled close on their shared sofa bed. 

“Momma, let’s count different tonight,” Crystal suggested.  “Let’s count backwards,” whispering the last word, as if she herself was surprised with the novelty. “Okay, ” Mara responded, impressed that they were about to embark on the next phase of Crystal’s obsession with counting.  “What number do you want to start with?”

One hundred!”  Crystal continued whispering, as if it was the biggest number in the world.  She carefully repeated each number Mara recited.  “One hundred . . . ninety-nine  . . ninety-eight . . .” 

When they reached ninety-two, Mara felt a sharp pain deep in her belly, so deep she couldn’t pinpoint the source even though she pressed down on the general area.  She sucked in slowly in trying to continue counting, but had to stop at eighty-five.

Crystal was worried when she looked up at Mara’s face.  “What’s the matter, momma?  Are you hot?  You’re really sweating!” 

“I’m just tired,” Mara managed to say, not wanting to scare her.  “How about we just go to sleep?” 

“I’m sorry, momma,” Crystal murmured, patting her momma’s face.  Mara told her it was nothing and they hugged.  It was a while before the girl’s breathing slowed to steady sleep breathing. 

Mara started drifting herself even though the waves of pain remained in the background. At times, it reminded her of her worst menstrual cramps, the kind she experienced as a teenager.   The typically ensuing headache throbbed at the top of the base of her neck.  She had better take care of this before she made a mess in the sheets.

Trying not to wake Crystal, Mara shifted slowly out of bed to go to the bathroom.    She stopped when she realized her underwear was dry.  What am I thinking, she thought.  I don’t have periods anymore.  Not since my surgery. 

In the course of trying to get pregnant, the doctors said she had endometriosis, that tissue lining of her uterus grew on her ovaries.  It scarred her so badly that she was infertile.  She had to have a complete hysterectomy to prevent major problems.  That’s why she and Nick could never have their own children . . . That’s why he was so angry, why he left her a week before she was to go to the hospital for the operation . . . That’s why . . .

Her train of thought jolted her.  She eased back in bed and closed her eyes tightly trying to clear her head.  What was she thinking?  What hysterectomy?  She has Crystal, for heaven’s sake, a child from her own womb. She must be tired.  Perhaps her financial problems were too much handle.  Maybe she shouldn’t have taken on the new project with her already heavy workload. 

She reached over to touch Crystal’s face for assurance. For a heartbeat of a moment, her fingers met only air, then she felt her daughter’s skin.  She opened her eyes and watched Crystal breathe.  That calmed her, watching Crystal’s chest move in cadence while her eyelids fluttered.  Mara fell asleep with her arm around her daughter while the pain in her belly faded into vague pulses.

The 6AM alarm mercifully called her out of a most disconcerting dream. She remembers counting backwards starting from a hundred, as a pretty young Asian woman held her hand and said, “That’s it.  Good. When you wake up, you will feel groggy and a little nauseous.  But don’t worry.  The doctors will take good care of you.  Everything will be all right.” 

Scenes shifted in this dream world.  At one point, people were looking down at her while she was lying down.  They were wearing blue masks that covered their noses and mouths.  Splatters of blood dotted gloves and white costumes.   Bright lights blinded her, but she caught shadows of words. “Stabilizing . . . doctor . . . pressure. . .ovary”  She heard faint beeping and pinpoint sounds of metal on metal.  She tried to see what was happening but a male voice warned, “She’s waking” and a woman said, “It’s too early!  Increase general by  . . .”

The alarm beeping seemed to keep time with the throbbing of her headache.  As Mara opened her eyes, she simultaneously reached for Crystal.  The little girl giggled. “Don’t tickle, momma! I’m awake,” she said as she scrambled out of bed.

Their morning routine started as usual.  Mara took a shower first and started breakfast in the kitchen.  She heard Crystal counting something in the bathroom and her cell phone rang.  Her hellos went unanswered and all she heard was paper rustling, murmuring and steady beeping.  As she pushed the END button, snippets of her dream invaded her thoughts.

That call signalled the beginning of odd things, little off-center clicks that were mild irritations.   The knives and cereal in the kitchen were out of place, and the coffee mug with Crystal’s photo was missing. She found Nick’s socks in her undies drawer, and couldn’t find the blouse she bought last week.  All the while, she felt vague cramps and the area above the nape of her neck pounded incessantly.

Crystal didn’t seem to notice anything different.  When Mara knelt to kiss her goodbye at the preschool, Crystal hugged her tighter and longer than usual. Before she let go, she whispered in her ear, “You don’t have to count backwards anymore, momma.  It’ll be okay.”  Mara started to ask her what she meant, but Crystal’s friends called to her. 

She ran to her playmates, but turned and blew Mara a kiss, declaring, “Momma, I love you one hundred times!”  “I love you a million,” Mara called back, catching Crystal’s kiss in mid-air.

The stops and acceleration of the bus ride to work aggravated Mara’s headache.  She closed her eyes and massaged her temples and breathed deeply. Suddenly, she heard someone speaking gently in her ear, “Mrs. Santiago.  Mara.  Wake up.  C’mon.  Time to wake up.”

Mara opened her eyes to see who was whispering.  She was somehow lying down, looking up at a white ceiling.  What in the world happened?  Was there an accident?  Did she faint?  She couldn’t move but felt okay.  No apparent injuries, just the headache.

Bending over her was the young Asian woman from her dream this morning.  Mara tried to talk, but her words felt far away and thick.  She thought she asked, “What happened?  Am I okay?” 

But the woman just kept looking at her and cooing her name.  She turned away to adjust a tube attached to an overhead clear plastic bag, further frustrating Mara with the lack of communication.

Mara was scared.  What the hell was going on?  Was she badly injured?  Paralyzed? What if she’s in a coma and nobody can hear her?  The woman kept fiddling with the tube.

Mara’s panic heightened when she thought of her daughter.  Who’s taking care of Crystal?  Who will pick her up from school?  In desperation she managed to blurt, “Crystal!”

“Welcome back, Mrs. Santiago,” the woman said, turning toward Mara, fully attentive.  “Your right on time.  The operation went well, and all your signs are normal.  How do you feel?”  Mara nodded, sorting out her thoughts and trying to speak.

“I’ll be right back,” the woman said, patting her arm.  “Dr. Pahed is right outside and I[ll let him know you’re awake.  He’ll fill you in on the details.”  

Before opening the door, she turned to Mara and said, “By the way, I only see patients while they’re going in and out of surgery, and most hardly notice me, much less look at my name tag.  Thanks for remembering my name!”  She tapped at the embossed tag on the left side of her uniform.  It read Crystal Kirkwood.