What Ails You?

My mother is sort of uncomplicated in a lot of ways. She has her routines and her opinions and nothing ever truly causes her to alter them. Her outfits are mostly ones that she’s had since I was young and she often says the same things in the same situations.

These last are what I think of as her persistent phrases. A lot of people have a few of them and go through phases of them, but my mother has had the same ones for as long as I can remember. She seldom deviates from her own internal script.

For instance, if she sees something surprising, she will say, “Holy cow, Batman!” (My mother is a child at heart and her favorite super hero is Batman.)

If she’s upset with you, you’ll be called a “son-of-a-gun.” If she loves you, you are her “precious darling.” When it’s raining really hard, it is “pouring like piss out of a boot” – I’m not exactly sure where she got that one.

Understand, these are not sometimes expressions. These are her defaults and have been for basically the entirety of her adult life.

Among these phrases is the question, “What ails you?”

In my case, it is usually, “What ails you, my precious darling daughter?” The question is asked in any number of contexts. It can be concerned or mischievous or even exasperated. Most of the time – though not always – it is said with love and patience.

Today, and for the past few days, I’ve been impatient with myself, because I’m ill and being unproductive and generally lackluster. I haven’t been slacking off, necessarily, but there’s no pep in my step. It’s much more of a shuffle.

This morning I woke up and looked in the mirror and had to ask myself, “What ails you?” Even though I am physically unwell – I have an infection and there is water in my ears – I am feeling almost inordinately passive, with regards to being unwell.

It’s not bothering me that I’m missing work and lounging around the house and going to bed at eight.

I know what is physically ailing me. But what is ailing me mentally?

I am in a state of change, but the changes are of my own design and I’m being the author of my own future rather than just the narrator – an important distinction. A lot is going on, because of my choice to start school, but a lot of the process is simply waiting around for papers to be stamped and filed.

I’m not one of those people who get into the car and ask, “Are we there yet?” . . . but I also don’t like to make pit stops once I’m on the road. And right now it feels like I’m on a bus that stops at every gas station and rest stop. For valid reasons, of course, but I really wish this route was a non-stop line.

So, I suppose that my mental ailment is impatience. I am sitting on the bus, straining forward, but being forced to endure a mandatory stop to smell the flowers.

And the flowers are great and all, but I’m craving the sense of arrival.


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