It’s Sunday, April 11, 2021. Two days from now, it will have been one year since my mother passed away, according to the Gregorian calendar. The yahrzeit, or anniversary on the Hebrew calendar, has just passed, and I spent most of that day in bed.
I have an appointment today for my COVID vaccination: 2:30 p.m. in the Lai Chi Kok Sports Centre. I make my husband drive me. I’ve already thought I lost my ID card this morning twice and then was convinced that I deleted my booking confirmation.
My hand shakes as I pass my Hong Kong ID card through a slot in the plexiglass divider to the woman at reception. I confirm that I don’t have any cough or trouble breathing. The truth is that I haven’t been able to breathe since that phone call in March 2020 when my mother fell and suffered a brain injury.
I begged her not to die. Two weeks after her fall, things started to look up. There were days when she was funny and witty and entirely herself. There were other days where she was confused and disorientated, entirely disconnected from the world, frustrated by aphasia and angry at my father for not visiting. Even so, we started to make plans for after. We spoke to rehab centers and social workers, and then we were told she had caught COVID-19 in the hospital. Things progressed quickly from that moment. She died on April 13, 2020, three weeks after her fall and only one week after her COVID-19 diagnosis.
And now, if I can hold it together for just another five minutes, I will have received my second shot against the disease that killed my mother. In two weeks, I will be fully vaccinated.
I’m told to sit outside vaccination booth 10, a makeshift curtained space. I’m not going to cry, I tell myself. When they call my number two minutes later, though, I do. I’m asked the standard intake questions and give my long list of allergies to medications that I seemed to have inherited from my mother.
‘But with my magic dial, your mommy wouldn’t be dead,’ my daughter says.
The needle is in my arm and out, fast. My vaccination record is printed in seconds. The waiting area, where we are supposed to remain for 30 minutes after the jab, is silent but for the occasional screech of a metal chair on the basketball court floor.
I flip through my phone trying to find things to distract myself. I look at photos of my mother that I recently collected and saved in a digital album. She was always dressed perfectly. Red soft gel nails. A vintage Speedy bag. Always on a diet and complaining about weight she didn’t need to lose. She was beautiful.
Thirty minutes can feel like a long time. I think about how if the timing had been different and she had fallen now instead of then, she likely would have been vaccinated already. Maybe I’d be booking a ticket to see her in a rehab center. I would meet that social worker that I had called. But she fell then and not now so I’m booking that ticket to go back to the U.S. for the unveiling of her gravestone.
On the way to school a few days before my vaccine appointment, my second grader told me she wants to invent a magic dial so we can go back to last year before the pandemic. I try to explain the dangers of time travel. I tell her that we had many great things happen this year. I try hard to come up with some.
“But with my magic dial, your mommy wouldn’t be dead,” she says.
Right now, in the present, my arm is a little sore, and I still have 20 minutes to sit in this chair. I read my vaccination record again to make sure it’s real. Two doses. Complete.
The miracle of this vaccine is astounding. My mother would have followed closely the story of its development. She would have worked to understand the exact science behind it and would have analyzed the efficacy of each vaccine.
A nurse finally comes over to tell me that my waiting time is up. She asks me if I’m OK.
“I’m going to be,” I tell her. I run out of the Sports Centre, forgetting to take an “I’m Vaccinated” sticker. I take a deep breath and realize how good it feels, even through a mask because it’s the first time that I’ve felt OK in a year.
I book those tickets to the U.S. I’m leaving a week after Mother’s Day and two days after my mom’s birthday.
When I get off that 16-hour flight though, my mom isn’t going to be in JFK Airport waiting for me. There is no magic time dial. She really is gone.