I had the blinds to my window slightly open, enough that the glow of the moonlight hit my face as I rested in bed.
The television in the living room was left on with the volume loud enough that I could hear it from my bedroom.
I was about ten years old, but it was a habit I would continue into adulthood. When the noise from the television floated through my childhood apartment home, it provided an illusion that the house wasn’t empty.
I had completed all my homework just a few hours earlier. I had prepared my supper, heating up leftovers that my Momma had left for me before she headed into her second shift at work. I had picked my outfit out for the next day of school and had it sprawled over my mountain of stuffed animals. I combed my hair and brushed my teeth just moments before I headed to bed.
Then I heard the familiar sound of my Momma’s vehicle pulling up right outside my bedroom window. It was well into the night, and Momma had worked two shifts, back to back, at the hospital. She was a nurse, and a good one, working whatever shifts she could to keep the bills paid and food on the table.
Being a single mother, she would often take on jobs with a nursing agency as well. In fact, on Saturday mornings I would often head to my grandmother’s house while Momma took a job in Memphis to earn some extra cash.
With the front door opening, I heard Momma unload her purse, taking off her jacket, which was filled with hospital tape and pens. Easing to the door, I peered out into the dining room where she took a seat at the dinner table. Resting her head into her hands, she let out an exhausting sigh. She was tired, hungry and mentally drained from another long shift at the Jackson hospital.
I never realized it until I got older, but she would not eat many nights when she got home from work. The leftovers she left for me were all we had sometimes.
I would eventually head back to bed and drift off to sleep. It didn’t seem like much longer after that, Momma was waking me up for a new day.
Momma had to get back to work for her 7 a.m. shift, which meant she had to leave by 6 a.m. to get to work on time. The sun would not even be in the sky yet, as she hugged me and put me in front of the television with a Pop-Tart and orange juice.
Momma would then check my homework, kiss me goodbye and head back into another shift. I would walk down to my school bus stop with the sun slowly starting to creep into the sky. When the bus would drop me off later that afternoon, I would unlock the key to our apartment and continue the cycle again.
With no one home, Momma would call to make sure I got off the bus. She would remind me to do my work, keep the door locked and heat up the food she had left wrapped in the fridge.
As we observe National Nurse’s Week, I think back to my Momma. The global pandemic we’re experiencing right now wasn’t an issue when I was growing up, but Momma worked long hours to make ends meet.
Sometimes, I would find her throwing away scrubs with bloodstains on them. Her skin would be dry, covered in flakes, from changing gloves so much throughout her shift. And when I would hug her, I would often smell that familiar odor that can only be found in hospitals.
But she was a good Momma and one heck of a nurse. And I can’t help but think the same cycle experienced within my own childhood home was felt in many other houses across the country where nurses were the breadwinners.
Momma is still a nurse, working long hours, now in the middle of a global pandemic. And she does the same thing I used to do when she returns home from working…she turns on the television to make it sound like her house isn’t empty.
But it is.
And it’s empty because she did her job as a mother. She raised me to get an education, pursue my dream of being a journalist and make a home of my own.
She did her job at home and at work. She still does. It takes a strong person to be a nurse. And I would put her up against anybody.
Thank you, Momma, and thank you to all of our nurses out there.