By Aspen Adams

             I used to draw as a child. Very poorly, and to my mother’s dismay, on everything. But I was seven and found joy in coloring in ovals for my dad and calling them planets, doodling cows for my mom because she cooked beef a lot so I assumed she liked them, and sketching four happy figures like the ones I’d see people stick onto the back of their cars. Our family, I wrote on top of it: me, my mom, my dad, and Ulysses, but without the wire coming out of his nose, and we were standing inside of a house instead of a hospital.

            From seven to ten, I spent half of my time in California Pacific Medical Center. My brother was named after a warrior, and he was one, fighting infant leukemia from five months old until his passing at three. I spent half of my time there, but my parents didn’t want me to hear his screaming when they had to change the dressing around the tube that went into his chest, or when they’d fight over the medical bills, and so they sent me to the playroom, located in the middle of the terminal pediatrics ward.

            It’s a strange feeling to sit alone in a room full of toys. It’s a disheartening one to realize the floor was full of children who were just not well enough to play with them, and I almost felt guilty sitting there at seven by myself knowing that I was. But I liked to draw, and I didn’t need company for that, so I sat at the arts-and-crafts table alone with a pile of papers and a jar full of pens.

            “Mind if I join you?” A voice asked.


            I’m twenty-one now. Since then, my mom has developed a tendency to call me when her favorite television characters die. 

            Years ago:

            “Nini,” she said.

            “What’s wrong?” I’d ask, and she’d tell me that George from Grey’s Anatomy died.

            Another time:

            “Nini!” She yelled.

            “What?” I yelled back into the phone, and that time it was Jack from This is Us.

            Just before last summer:

            “Nini,” she said over the phone.

            “Who died?” I asked her, but that time it wasn’t fiction. It was Nora, from the hospital, the first friend I made in the playroom fourteen years prior.

            I hung up, sitting in my room in Santa Cruz for a few hours by myself during which time my mom wandered the halls of a hospital that now feels like a distant home from a different life. She texted me a drawing of two girls flying kites taped beside the sign that read “Welcome to Pediatrics.” A drawing I had made with Nora almost fifteen years ago, when she had walked into the playroom and saw me coloring by myself.

Self Portrait With the Glass
by Mallory Mahon