I was bedridden with chickenpox when I was six years old. My brothers, then around nine years old and twelve months, came down with it soon after. I remember it as one of the best times of my life and one of my favorite childhood memories. My older brother shakes his head at this and snorts sarcastically, “Ah, yes! The pox! Good times!” Mom doesn’t like thinking about those weeks at all and when the subject comes up will usually only mutter, “I thought I would LOSE my MIND!” (Sometimes she dwells on it long enough to continue, “UPstairs to check on YOU, then DOWNstairs to check on THEM! Then BACK upstairs....”) My younger brother laughs at our takes on those weeks, as he himself was too young at the time to have any memories of them (and as our resident “Joe Cool” could shrug them off easily enough even if he did).
Mom remembers how very ill I was with it, but to me, chickenpox was a series of naps (and reprimands of “Don’t scratch at those! They’ll never heal!”) interspersed with bursts of magic—and Mom was the magician. She brought me her square artist pastels and sketchpad and displayed my drawings all over the room so I could see them from my bed. I had no appetite and wouldn’t eat anything until she hit upon the idea of chocolate cupcakes. Cupcakes! Without a proper meal beforehand! I hadn’t known such a thing was even possible. She wheeled the TV into my bedroom on a cart, and I watched a program about a kid sleeping on a bed-sized loaf of bread. “If I wake up hungry in the middle of the night,” the child explained, “I just eat a handful of my bed.” (Maybe I only dreamed this, but if so, I was sick, indeed.) I awoke once to a true swirl of color: Mom had blown up what seemed like a hundred bright balloons and left them to float around the room for me to see first thing upon waking. When I’d reach out from my bed to smack one, a bunch would bounce into each other and send another vibrant wave of them toward me. I don’t know what time of year it was, but I remember all those chickenpox days as warm and sunny. Maybe they actually were, and maybe my mother, with her intuitive cure of creativity and love, simply made them seem that way.
Twenty-four years later, I can point out three pale chickenpox scars on my right wrist and forearm. I am grateful for them. Not everyone is so lucky as to be marked by magic. I roll up my sleeve and am reminded that it really exists. I know that there are people out there who will bring you a chocolate cupcake before you even realize how much you want one, and that your little world, even if it looks like not-so-very-much right now, might just become a virtual rainbow while you sleep.