A Love Letter

She tells people she’s not a hugger.

You’re surprised when you hear her say this since you’ve known her so long and know how warm and big her heart is.

Then again, you also know better than to let the color pink and the easy laugh fool you. She’s as tough as they get. But she says that we’re all just as tough, we’ve just haven’t been forced to prove it.

She’s been hugged a lot lately. In six minutes last December, everything changed. Before there were jingle bells, a middle finger inside joke, and presents. Then, suddenly, after — it’s the middle of the night, should I call someone? There’s a binder with all that stuff in it. What I really need is somewhere to put this retainer.

According to her, she’s not a hugger. But every time you saw her in the hospital, she had her arms wrapped around someone. The nurse who whispered softly to Brian, “Hello there. I’m going to shave your face. Is that okay?” even though he couldn’t answer. The palliative care practitioner who spoke bluntly with refreshing honesty and grace and said, “these are hard decisions.” The nurse who just couldn’t stop crying.

The tiny lines around her eyes dissolve like sugar in hot tea when she smiles. Each one of them has a purpose for its place on her dimpled face. That one was the birth of Charlie. The one over there was when the hurricane took the roof in Florida. The ones for Jonathan are deep because he’s older, and is such a kind soul. When Brian went to the Middle East, worry hung around like fog across her smooth brow, but it eventually faded away, traceless.

The lines on her face belonging to Brian now change like shadows on the wall. They reappeared in the ICU when she sat staring at his body, with all the machines, noises, and tubes. Red angry numbers on a screen judging oxygen levels and kidney function with attention-seeking beeps.

Now, after the accident, the worry floats over her face like a top sheet in the summer. She tries to kick it off, but it wraps around her when she talks about the doctors reconstructing his skull, or when she thinks about what it will be like twenty years from now. She thinks you’re not looking.

It’s gone in a flash when she answers Brian’s incessant questions, typical brain injury healing, because there was a time she thought she wouldn’t get to be annoyed by him again. She smiles when she watches him hug the boys as they run in sweaty and sun-kissed, just a typical summer day, on the way to another adventure, now that their dad is back.

Just before she pulls you in to hug you, her head tilts to the left. It would be imperceptible if you hadn’t been hugged by her a million times. She lifts her arms and lets out a tiny sigh before taking you all the way in and wrapping you up. You try as hard as you can to breathe her in before she starts to giggle and say, “I’m so happy you’re here. I’m all filled up with stuff.”

She’ll tell you she’s not a hugger.

Don’t believe her.

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