Helena“What the fuck is Bengay fever?” I shouted through the phone, thinking the louder my voice the more in control of it I’d be.

“Dengue, Lena, dengue,” my mother corrected with a weak tremble. She sounded like a tiny bird.

“Spell it!” I barked, flipping open my laptop.

It was late Christmas Eve morning when I realized I hadn’t heard from my mom, who lives in the Virgin Islands. No, we are not Caribbean. We hadn’t talked since I “got snippy” with her a few days earlier.

The afternoon I snapped, I’d been waiting in line at the FedEx (read the ninth ring of Dante’s Inferno) and called Frances to double-check her home address. Anyone with a chatty mother knows you can’t have a phone quickie — ever. She’ll say “goodbye” then fire a complicated round of questions immediately afterward — and repeat.

So when I said, “Okay mom, I’m at the front of the line, so–” instead of answering, “All right, darling daughter of mine, I’ll talk to you later,” my mother goes, “Do you have a cold? You sound like you have a cold. Is it cold outside? Are you eating? Is Rob feeding you properly? How is Rob? When are you guys getting married?”

“Ma, I’m at FedEx like RIGHT NOW. I have to call you back. GOOD BYE.”

“Okaaaaay,” she said, as if was the one being a nut.

Of course I felt bad cutting her off because she’s my mother and as such she’s got the right to ramble. But Jesus if it doesn’t get on my nerves. So when I realized she hadn’t called since then, I phoned her up to apologize by asking if she got the present we spent a small fortune shipping. See what I did there?

My mother answered the phone while leaving the hospital. She’d gotten sick with dengue fever, a viral infection common in “the tropics” that’s similar to the flu and caused by mosquitoes — the Devil’s butterflies. There is no vaccine or “cure.” You just get over it with rest, fluids and Tylenol. Still she sounded like an old lady and not at all like the fearless woman who moved to St. Croix “just because” on her sixtieth birthday. I was terrified, so naturally I yelled at her.

“What do you mean the emergency room?!”

This is what freaked me out about her moving more than a cheap plane ticket away in the first place. I’m an only child. There is no one else to take responsibility for my mother besides me. There is no one to take responsibility for me besides my mother. We are each other’s person.

And because I’m my mother’s daughter, fear in the face of anything scary manifests itself as a controlled, “So what now?” and never, “Oh my god the sky is falling!” But if your mom’s sick, the sky is definitely falling when you can’t get to her in time with an umbrella.

I’ve called her more in the last 72 hours than I have all month. Reprimanding her every time she lets 10 minutes lapse between the time she woke up and the time I said to call me. I don’t know what else to do. I’ve reassured everyone, from my 84-year-old grandmother who was ready to hop on a plane with her oxygen fanny pack to my friends who think Frances is the best part of knowing me.

Thing is there’s no one to reassure me, which is usually my mom’s job. I assume this is what people really mean by growing pains.



This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission. Click here for more Helena on XOJane! 

  • dirtychai

    It’s funny when your family or friend is going through something and YOU need to be there almost more than they need you there. I wish your mom a speedy recovery.

    S/N: You say “f*ck” to your momma? Chile…

  • Misshightower

    It’s YOU who are sick….not your mom!

  • Kacey

    You call your mom by her first name? I know there are people who do, but still…it just never seems right to me.

  • http://gravatar.com/missinformation7 Ms. Information

    It’s a cold…wtf?

  • African Mami

    Awwww!! Sending positive vibrations to your mother! You cray as hell doe.

  • Natalie B.

    I called my late mother by her first name—Edith. It didn’t sit well with some folks either, but she was fine with it. I had and have more respect for her than some folks who call their mothers “mother”. I guess to each its own.

  • Yb

    I guess every person has different methods of coping with situations and the author coped with her mother illness by appearing strong and unphased, not letting the illness instill fear in her and her mother, but I can’t imagine speaking to my mother that way. I’d be the one on my death bed.

  • DownSouth Transplant

    LOL, Kacey if you read their back story (she wrote Bitch is the new black) you would find it more than hilarious & crazy at the same time

  • http://www.beyondblackwhite.com Christelyn Russell-Karazin

    I LOL’d when you said your mother keeps talking when you say you have to go–my mother does this ALL the time. Drives me nuts! But about your fear masked as anger–this is a common emotion I see from black women. Because to express fear is to appear weak. Being “angry” makes you look tough. It’s my hope that black women will one day begin to feel free to express the full gamut of emotions that other women feel free to do.

  • omfg

    as my mother gets older, i try to be more patient with her; she’s the only mother i have and i think as she gets older, she sees that life is certainly finite.

    i feel guilty when i snap at her. i’m sure one day i will wish she was around for me to snap at or get testy with. i’ll wish she was around to pester me and ask all of these retarded questions while i’m watching television.

  • Me

    My mom is sick with a chronic illness (lupus) and has been since I was 12 so that is most of my life. The days when she was vibrant and energetic are becoming a distant memory. I hurt every time she has a flare up because she gets SO, so sick. She’s got about 3 other potentially life threatening issues because of the lupus, and is in pain 9 times out of 10. Too many hospital stays to count. I wish she could just have a bug or something temporary…But instead I’m afraid that one day my dad or one of my siblings will call and tell me the worst news. I think I’ve been unwillingly grieving for her most of my life, slowly preparing myself.

  • LMO85

    Your comment makes me sad. I had to move back closer to home once the reality hit me when my grandmother died, that my mother’s life is becoming more finite by the minute. I cannot relate to what you must be going through with the illness, but I certainly feel your pain. I pray that your fear will dissipate and that faith and strength of spirit surround you, and that you enjoy whatever moments you can with your mother right now in the present.

  • JEN

    no it isn’t. if left untreated you can die from it.

  • http://gabandgraffiti.wordpress.com marloweovershakespeare

    Thank you. I could not for ONE MINUTE sympathize or empathize with the author’s “growing pains” the way this was written. On the other hand, I’m glad she wrote this. It’s always healthier to burst and spray than to stuff and bubble. I pray the two of them get better.

  • Msbrooklynqueen

    Ok first I know you are not cursing at your mom( side eye) second it should make u appreciate her because you never know when and if you will hear from her avian

  • Lissa

    Dengue fever is frequent in the tropics ….ppl recover on their own immune system ince its their first time getting it….your mom will be fine..

  • Pema

    Wow, you really curse like that at your mother?

  • Jenny

    It’s scary when you realize that your parents are getting older and that you are going have to take care of them. It is a sobering moment and a milestone in the maturation process.

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