Joyce Payson was saying good-bye to her daughter Emma for the second time since her daughter had gone to college. The first time Joyce visited, her existence as Emma’s mother, or something, had caused acute embarrassment. This time, however, Emma introduced her mom to everyone in sight. Much as Joyce appreciated this, she was mostly relieved that her daughter had found a way down from such anxiety.
They were getting her overnight bag from Emma’s dorm room and were halfway down the steps, when two shouting boys carrying bicycles distracted Joyce. She heard them laughing and saw their thick calves coming and her foot landed wrong. It crashed through a mirage step and twisted on the real one.
Fists clenched, she tried to fool Emma, insisting it was nothing. Meanwhile, her ankle radiated dull, sharp, and steady pain, three in one. Too bad: No way was she overstaying her welcome.
“It might be broken, Mom.”
But Joyce said, “Please, it’s fine.”
Ten minutes later, during which Joyce tried not to focus on Emma too much—no staring awestruck by her mouth and eyes—the taxi arrived. A middle-aged woman driver sucked on an antique pipe reeking of cherry tobacco.
Holding the stem in her teeth, the driver said, “Hurt your foot, didn’t you? The reason’s emotional, did you know that?”
“Think carefully. And confront your feelings.” The driver watched Joyce in the rearview mirror.
In too much pain to argue, Joyce agreed, and the driver continued. Studies, she said, had proven that even cancer stemmed from emotions. “People with cancer who aren’t depressed recover better than depressed people.”
“Are there people with cancer who are happy about it?”
“Not happy, probably. But not depressed.”
A block from the train station, Joyce said “Here’s fine,” and overtipped the driver, which meant she was angry. On the strength of that anger, she hobbled to the platform.
No one would convince Joyce that her mother, Emma’s namesake, had died from breast cancer twenty-six years ago because she was depressed. Her mother had vowed she wouldn’t die and leave Joyce to her grandparents. If she failed to keep that promise it was not due to bad attitude or weak will or wrong thinking.
No one knew why her mother had had to die while everyone else lived on. A random, fatal illness that could happen to anyone had stolen her mother. Joyce, her mother, the doctors, and even God apparently, couldn’t stop it. As a girl, Joyce told herself over and over: it’s no one’s fault. No one’s.
So now? A twisted ankle? It was not even as significant as the mother-daughter bond that had initially left Emma so anxious. A bond that Joyce hoped one day when her daughter recognized it only in retrospect, she would accept as a gift.
The misstep that caused Joyce’s twisted ankle was nothing. Really. In fact, the growing physical pain was starting to recall her long-gone joy.