She would know. She never kept a job for more than a year, so she knows bits of everything, and that includes how doctors view their patients. I've always admired that about her. She's never stopped learning. I'm a much more static person--I don't like major life shifts--but I still strive to learn as much as she does, and to take such joy from it. Even now, as her small body is nestled in between thick hospital sheets and her legs tremble perpetually, she's employed as a digital artist. She lied about her age for that, too. Her boss thinks she's a thirty-four-year-old traveler who's currently abroad in Mexico.
I glance at the wrinkles that are etched into her skin. She's so different mentally than she is physically, and my throat thickens when I picture how she should be. Then her hand twitches in mine and I see that she's beginning to wake up. Suddenly, she's entirely conscious and glaring at me. "You're still here? Oy! Last week you told me you had a business trip scheduled for this afternoon. Why aren't you at the airport?"
I was laid off. That's why. But I'm not about to add to her stress. "I decided that I wanted to spend more time with you," I reply. At least it's true.
"You spend enough time with me, Carrie. It's not like I'm going to kick the bucket any time soon," she says. "I'm planning on sticking around for a good while longer."
She sees my face and squeezes my hand. "The doctors give me another three years. Really, they do." Then she peers at me with a familiar scowl. "But that wasn't the only reason why you're not on your trip, are you?"
I flinch. Damn. I could never lie to her.
"You got laid off, didn't you?"
"Oh, honey. Why didn't you tell me?" she says, her voice getting louder. "This is fantastic news!"
"It's what?" I'm perplexed.
"Honey, you're free! You're free to do whatever you want now! Who needs to be a legal assistant? Now you can become a music producer, or an architect, or a researcher! Anything you want!" She's beaming at me like I've just won a Nobel Prize. Except what I've won is the No Job Prize, and her inexplicable happiness seems to suggest that she thinks that actually exists. "So many possibilities!"
I swallow. "Mom, you switch jobs every year, and you do it because you love to. And I always respected you for being able to take control of your own life and decide when you needed a change, but--"
She's looking at me strange. "Honey?" Her voice is hollow. "You think I changed jobs because of that?"
I don't say anything. Not my mom, my strong mom, my brilliant and talented mom--
"I was always fired."
This is not what I want to hear. She's good at everything. She knows everything. She is the person who I admire most in this world.
"The first few times, it was bad. I was always devastated. How could I be so dreadful at the jobs?"
My mother. A collection of failures. Year after year, I thought she was winning at life because she was carrying out each of her new dreams. But she was losing, losing more with every new job.
"But after a decade or so, I got used to it. I realized that I was blessed with being unable to keep a job so that I could explore all different aspects of the world."
She's saying this to console herself. A job loss is a nightmare. Forty job losses is a catastrophe.
"...honey? Are you listening to me?"
How can I listen to her when she's spent her life falling deeper and deeper into the abyss of firings?
I'm aware of her hand clutching mine more tightly. "Carrie, you're not listening to what I'm saying. I don't get fired because I'm bad at what I do. I get fired because I start to lose interest in my work. And I embrace it because it gives me the opportunity to switch to something that I have a fresh interest in." She pauses. "Look, honey, I know that change isn't really your style, but even so, you can use this as a chance to pursue something that you're really passionate about."
"Mom..." I start. I can't force myself to tell her that I don't want that. All I want is stability. I'm passionate about art, but choosing to do art for a living would mean that I wouldn't be able to support a family. "I love you. Of course I do. But the life that you've lived... And getting fired... I don't want that for myself."
"I know you don't," she says simply. "Neither did I, at first. But now I wouldn't change my memories at all."
I don't say anything. I just observe my mother's face: the mirth in her lips, the wisdom in her jaw, the joy in her eyes. And I know she's telling the truth.
She pats my knee. "Now, I'm going to go back to sleep. An old lady like me needs her rest. You can stay with me, if you like... But when I wake up, you better be painting."