The Continuity Gene

By Katy, Philadelphia, PA

Tomorrow I will be 38. I woke up this morning feeling disconnected from my body. Before I was completely awake, I looked down and saw the hands on the bed next to my head. Surprised but I felt so happy, calm, protected. Then a wave of sadness passed over me. They were my hands. My hands that look just like my mother's. I hate giving myself a shock like that. Catching a glimpse of myself in a glass and thinking instinctively that there, my mother is just there behind me and I turn and she is of course not there. It was only me.

Everything about my mother is encapsulated in hands. I fell in love once just because He cupped my face the way my mother did. His hands were the same temperature as hers. I closed my eyes and was engulfed, overwhelmed by all of those wonderful feelings.

My oldest brother. We have the same hands. We sit side by side at the dinner table, and I look down and see his hand next to my plate. It looks quite normal sitting there next to me, his hand. I do not think of his hands as manly. I do not think of them as feminine. I think of them as "ours" . I see his hands sitting next to me and I am a little surprised when the fork does not come to my mouth. He smokes. He holds the cigarette the way my mother did. The way he rests his chin on his thumb, the cigarette between his fingers, nibbling a little on the pinky. His eyes off in the distance, thinking. Today I was sitting in a meeting. Waiting for it to get started. Gazing out the window. My chin on my thumb.

My fingers are just like my mother's. And so are the finger nails. Some that grow and grow and others that grow more slowly. And the pinky fingernails which grow out and take a bit of a bend, spinning over almost inside out if I let them grow that long.

My mother was just about my age when she gave birth to me. My hands are her hands and will continue to be so. The hands I knew my whole life. "My fingers used to be so thin," she said one night. We sat side by side on the couch, holding hands. I had asked about the swelling in her hands. The knuckles pained with arthritis had swelled up and trapped her mother's ring - a birthstone for each of us. I wear a college ring that she and my father bought me when I was 21. 17 years later. My knuckles are swelling. My hands have thickened. The ring is painful to wear sometimes. I cannot take it off. I could but I can't. Who would I be without it? How could I give up the last remnant on my body that is them? And then to feel that awful emptiness of the ghost ring.

My mother lay comatose in her hospital bed. We rotated our time at her bedside. We each had about 15 minutes. I sat on her left side. Her hand was draped lifelessly on the sheet. The rest of her body had bloated with the trauma of open heart surgery. But her hands remained almost the same. I lifted her hand to my face, and I rubbed my cheek against her hand like a cat would do. Consoling myself. Pretending that she was consoling me. I thought then if I have one last memory it will be this - her hands that are my hands, and they will be with me until I die.

Tomorrow I will be 38. Today I painted my nails.