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Wordle by Mom's Bedside

Serena Kim '23

Mom and I battle separate stages. I, a theater stage; Mom, stage III breast cancer. Halfway across the world, our stages merged when two hours before hosting the Lip Sync Battle, she called. Her post-surgery sighs shot a dose of helplessness into my heart. Could I hop onto stage in front of two hundred people and cheer into the mic: “Are you readyyyyyy?” I wasn’t ready at all. Mom murmured a joke that toasted my cheeks; it struck me that laughter wasn’t a medicine, but a coping mechanism. For this feverish night, I’ll laugh to cope; I’ll radiate a beam so bold that it blazes the hall with hope.

“Mom, can I confess… I brought cocaine to my world history presentation.” She gasped. 

“I presented Bolivia, and I wanted to point out that the country’s heavy dependence on the cocaine trade exacerbates its political corruption and economic disparity. So that morning, I held up my coke-filled ziploc bag, and my classmates poked it and held it up to the lights like examining a specimen until the teacher yelled, ‘don’t touch the cocaine!’”  

Mom giggled so hard, clutching her arm so that the needle piercing her skin wouldn’t wobble. “You brought… to class… cocaine?” 

“Salt from the dining hall, technically, but yes.”

Peals of laughter bubbled up like steam in a kettle at the MRI waiting room. Looking back, I wonder if my cocaine story was even that funny. Maybe all we wanted was an excuse to escape the present. Oceans apart, I’d trade anything to hear her laugh: that tittering and jiggling that shimmered in the air like salt. One more time. 


Sometimes, we crave to break apart the beautiful: bubble wrap, crunchy leaves, and scrap paper. And Mom’s hopes for Thanksgiving break. 

“I want to see y—,” Mom said, her voice glitching over the phone. 

“The tickets are three thousand dollars.” I couldn’t go. 

The truth was, price aside, I didn’t want to go. I’ll see her on Christmas, anyway. Were the fourteen-hour flights, thirteen-hour jet lag, and countless hours cooking porridge and cleaning the house for ten days worth it? I wanted a break—not only from school, but also from home. Most of all, I was afraid to get tired of whom I love most. Was I selfish? 

Sometimes, love is so overwhelming that we need a break. Maybe that’s why I broke Mom’s hopes—because I had limitations to what I felt I could digest. Maybe that’s why we tend to break apart the beautiful—because we are only capable of digesting the imperfect. 

“I’ll call you every day,” I promised. “Kakaotalk.”

The summer before senior year, we last held hands at the subway station. I couldn’t bear to let go. She bought me a pair of sweatpants, olive green and stitched with red and blue plaid patches. Ten bucks, cash only. Mom shook her head as she plopped it onto my cold hands, muttering, “it looks too cheap.” I wear it now in the crisp autumn air, rubbing my fingers over the patches. Perhaps love is rubbing our hands together to hold heat against the biting wind. Perhaps love is collecting fragments of fabric strewn in soil and sewing them together. Perhaps love is a patchwork of everything beautiful, ugly, and mediocre—everything all together that I love about her.

I’ll play Wordle by Mom’s bedside this Christmas—guessing and shifting different letters until I arrive at an answer. Like learning how to love. I know that I won’t get it right on the first try: my choices aren’t always optimal. But with every try, I’ll inch a step closer. 

This Christmas, I’ll scoop custardy hobakjuk with chunks of dates and butternut squash. I’ll spoon it to her lips like she once did to mine. When her eyes close in a snug slumber, I’ll clutch her hands, comparing our palms: the crease between the thumb and the forefinger that is our lifeline, with the length and depth of the Grand Canyon. I’ll remember that laughter is not a medicine but a coping mechanism. No matter how hard we run away from our past and present, laughter won’t solve the future; our actions will. So, I’ll sit by Mom’s bedside this Christmas, aligning our palms, grateful… so grateful that we are… 

Art by Gillian Grant '23

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