“What’s wrong mom?” my daughter asks. She stares at me from my computer screen, since we live an ocean away. A brown-eyed girl with a bun of freshly showered hair, wearing my red woolen sweater. She is about 10 inches tall, one-dimensional, with no fragrances discernible.
“Nothing,” I mumble.
But she is not easily fooled. Children are the forensic anthropologists of their parents’ inner moods.
“You look tired,” she says, looking intently at the screen. She peers at my clothes.
“That jogging outfit,” she asks. “Didn’t you wear that the other day as well? And since when did you stop wearing mascara?”
“I think COVID got ahold of me,” I say. “Not of my body but my spirit. I miss my friends, my colleagues, dinners, parties, fun.”
“And I miss you,” I add and start to cry. I never cry.
“Mom, did you sleep at all?” she asks, looking worried.
“No, I hardly slept,” I say. “I felt restless. Then in the middle of the night I was trying to figure out when we get our vaccines. Then I couldn’t go back to sleep again.”
“What color do you feel?” she asks. My daughter has the condition called synesthesia. In her mind, moods can have all colors of the rainbow.
“Pastel green,” I say. Somehow it seems to fit.
“You don’t even like green,” she says.
“Maybe that’s why,” I say.
My daughter lives in Amsterdam, alone in an apartment. The city is in lockdown. There is an evening curfew: After 9 p.m., nobody is allowed outside. All her classes are on Zoom. So we like to spend some time together.
She puts her computer on her kitchen counter.
“Time for my dinner,” she says. “Your lunch.” She starts slicing some mushrooms while heating the skillet.
I am not hungry. Still, I start doing the same in my kitchen.
We add zucchini, then bell peppers. Rosemary and thyme.
“Have a bite,” she says, and holds her fork in front of the camera.
I cry again.
“Just because it tastes so good,” I say. “And because you are the best.”
“Here’s a hug,” she says, and folds her arms around herself. “This sweater smells of you. You should wear something out of my closet too. That will work wonders.”
“Oops, gotta leave,” she says. “Zoom classes.”
I think about the past week. I really did not feel like myself. I snapped at people, got angry over nothing. I kept forgetting things and worried about that.
I am not unhappy. I have too much to be grateful for. But something is missing. It feels like I am walking through a museum, where the color has leaked out of the paintings. Or eating in a restaurant, where the food is tasteless, and the wine has lost its joy.
The next morning, I open my computer and find a picture from my daughter of the wall behind her desk.
“Here’s to you mom,” she writes. “I figured you needed some light.”
She had painted on her wall all kinds of lamps in the brightest colors. Fierce orange, bold purple, sky blue. All that light, the happy colors, dazzle me.
“PS,” she had added. “Notice, none of the lamps are pastel green. That just isn’t your color.”
Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer who lives in Princeton. She can be contacted at email@example.com.