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Strawberry Girl

Say it. Say the word "red" without saying it.

Her skin, yesterday, standing in the sun while waving signs. The back of her neck. Her cheeks. The tops of her ears.

"Have some sunscreen," I say.

"I'm fine," she replies. She's busy making a difference, and she can do it on her own.

The sunscreen, 50 SPF, sits on the grass behind us. We're standing along the highway, protesting peacefully, but I feel the sun's rays pelt us and the stinging of my own skin. We've been standing only an hour and are wearing hats and shades, but this is Hawaii, and we are fair-skinned, my daughter and I.

Turning, I abandon my sign for a quick smear. The white cream is cold against my heated skin. With a pool of it in my palm, I dab white onto a finger and move toward the brightness of my daughter's ears. It's the same area a dermatologist told me years ago were spots of skin cancer from years of sun damage and forgetting to sunscreen them. My spots came back and were treated twice.

"I'm fine," she repeats with a bit more emphasis.

Maybe I can't help it, this momming thing. Maybe that's why I felt such a pull to go wave signs. Weren't all mothers called to action when George Floyd cried out to his mother with his last dying breaths? Regardless of where you stand on the issue of Black Lives Matter, everyone had or has a mother. Whether she's your bio-mom or one of your own choosing, there are women who care. Some of us will ask how you're feeling and if you need sunscreen.

She stands proud, my kid, and in doing so, she makes me proud. She informs herself and stands up for things, even if her legs ache after. She cares, deeply, about what's happening around her--to people, her community, and the world.

My finger, tipped in sunscreen, hangs in the space between us. She's a grown woman now, my daughter, and I'm caught in the thick of things, trying to pinpoint the exact moment it happened. When did she grow up? When? I wonder this because I'm painfully aware of how lucky we are. The lucky few.

Standing there, feeling a fool, my finger in the air, my face flushes from heat or something else. I spread white cream over the hot ridges of my ears, then pick up my sign. The sun rays pelt, cars honk, skin sizzles, and a memory flashes back.


She was hot, burning from the inside-out, it seemed. The nurse had administered the IV Benedryl, so my girl was taking a sudden and much needed nap. Her skin flared as if torched.

"It's the antibiotic," the nurse told me. "This should help the Red Man Syndrome." She said it matter-of-factly, like I knew or should have known, as if the naming made things less scary.

My daughter was the color of a overripe strawberry. Swollen that way too, the pores of her skin puckered and strained like seeds against a covering too thin. When had I considered the pores of her arm or the peek of her chest where the hospital gown was drawn? I hadn't, but there they were.

Red Man Syndrome (RMS) is a reaction, an itching, red rash that typically spreads over the face, neck, and upper torso. It happened quickly after the Vancomycin was syringed into my girl's IV, but by then, the nurse had left the room. The color started, I remember, at her ears. Then her cheeks. I rang the call button.

"This is a common reaction," the nurse said. "We had Benedryl ready, just in case." She smiled at me, a tired but reassuring look. "I'm just glad she'll be out for the worst of it."

Vancomycin, a rapidly infused antibiotic, is used to treat MRSA. Because cancer and surgeries weren't enough of a scare. Yes, let's add some angry red boils. MRSA. To have a super bug, a staph bacteria resistant to most antibiotics, when her immune system was already tanked from the chemo was just too much. MRSA, you bitch. Leave her alone.

So I waited, dabbing her inflamed skin with a cool, wet cloth. Momming her the best I could, I worked and willed that bright color to leave. I hoped against reason that I could.

I remember waiting in that Seattle hospital room with my sleeping girl, my girl on fire, my strawberry girl with vermilion cheeks. I waited, and I prayed for her recovery, for a miracle, for her chance to grow up.

And here we are

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