Many Shades of Red

“Please God. I’d like to get the chickenpox.” The most unlikely of wishes escaped from my mouth.

My little sister slept in the next room, covered in tiny rose colored bumps, three days into her quarantine.

I wanted to be next.

At age five my mother took me to a “Chickenpox” party at a neighbor’s. Unknown to me at the time, her goal was to infect me.

The party was a total bust, my immune system refusing to comply.

I never understood until this night why any parent would wish for a child to get sick; my parents regaling a story about a grown man hospitalized from what was a mild itchy irritation for my sister.

“I really really want chickenpox.” I said again, just in case.

* * *

The morning was dark, cold. I ate breakfast. I watched Jem. Alone.

My sister nowhere to be found; she survived two more days of sequestered itching. Two more to go.

My cartoon ended and I rushed upstairs to get dressed. I quickly pulled the nightshirt over my head.

Wait. Was that a spot on my arm?

I ran to the bathroom, the giant mirror covering most of the wall. I peered into it, trying to see my back.

More angry spots.

“Mommy! Mommy!” I raced down the hall to my parent’s bedroom.


“I have spots! I finally have chickenpox!”

My mother, confused over my joy, sighed. “I’ll call the school and tell them you’ll be staying home.”

“Whoopeee!” I did a happy dance down the hallway. “Hey Mom?”


“Can I take a bath in baking soda?”


The bumps didn’t itch. Not really. Not unless I imagined it. I simply wanted to see how a baking soda bath varied from a regular one – my sister had one daily.

It smelled funny.

* * *

Blackness in my bedroom.

The bed soaked. My arms and legs sticky. My long hair twisted and damp – as if I had fallen asleep immediately after showering.

My nightshirt clung to my torso as I crawled out of bed.

As first, I thought I’d wet the bed.

My teeth danced, chattering uncontrollably as the air hit my skin.

The clock yelled 4:45 AM.

Too early to bother Mom and Dad.

I went to the bathroom, stripping my soaked clothing. I turned on the hot spray, climbing in to warm myself.

So. Cold.

* * *


Talk shows.

The Price is Right.

The Young and the Restless.

The news.

Soap opera.

Soap opera.

Soap opera.


Three days paraded by, the same old shows numbing my mind. No cable. Five stations. Nothing else to watch.

The couch my home.

Too lethargic to move.

Bouncing from fire to ice to fire to ice to fire.

My body flushed as my skin burned with the 103 degree fever again.

“I want Taco Casa for dinner.” I ordered my mother – my appetite devoured by the fever. It was the one food my stomach yearned for.

“I don’t think we’ll have it tonight.”

“I WANT TACO CASA! NOW!” I raged, the demonic heat unrelenting, pushing me past the brink of reason.

I screamed.

I yelled.

I cried.

I screamed.

I ate Taco Casa.

It was delicious.

* * *

“But I feel fine! Why can’t I go to school today?”

“You might be contagious. It hasn’t been a full week yet.” Mom sympathized, but was firm.

“But it’s the Valentine’s Day party!”

I dreamed of frosted cupcakes, rainbow Sweethearts, and vivid cherry Valentine’s addressed to me.

My “homework delivery service” returned that afternoon. My mother staggered,  laden with books, instructions, a plate of holiday goodies and an envelope of Valentine’s.

All other parties forgotten.

All but my unexpected 3rd grade chickenpox “valentine party”.


This week, we’re borrowing a prompt from Natalie Goldberg from her amazing book on writing memoir, Old Friend from Far Away:

Goldberg offers this challenge:

“Give me a memory of the color red. Do not write the word ‘red’ but use words that engender the color red when you hear them. For example: a ruby, a tomato, fire, blood.” Word limit is 600.

Constructive criticism very welcomed!


About Kelly K @ Dances with Chaos

Kelly K has learned the five steps to surviving of motherhood: 1) Don't get mad. Grab your camera. 2) Take a photograph. 3) Blog about it. 4) Laugh. 5) Repeat. She shares these tales at Dances with Chaos in order to preserve what tiny amount of sanity remains. You can also find her on her sister blog, Writing with Chaos ( sharing memoir and engaging in her true love: fiction writing. It's cheaper than therapy.
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32 Responses to Many Shades of Red

  1. Frelle says:

    brought back memories of my own chickenpox outbreak 🙂 love the listing of tv shows, I was there too! I got mine in 1st grade though. great job with the prompt 🙂

  2. Pauline says:

    I love this. Every kid goes through this WANT of the unknown. And if your sister had it then it had to be fun, right? I just love the way you go from desire to OMG to regret for the wish.

    • The “spooky” thing?

      No one I knew or had been around had chickenpox. My sister contracted it from her kindergarten class.

      The incubation period is 9 to 21 days.

      I overlapped two days at home with my sister, giving me an incubation of only about 5-6 days.

      I didn’t get it from her.

      It has always made me wonder….

  3. You had me at Jem. Truly outrageous. loved it (again).

  4. Kim says:

    You captured this so well! So often our fantasies don’t vibe with real life.

    • I don’t think it was a fantasy so much, as the fear of being sent to the hospital as an adult for something that just made my little sister itch. I was not a fan of doctors. Or the food.

      I was not prepared to have a dangerously high fever for three days – my sister only had a mild one.

      On the positive side, I broke out much less than she did.

  5. I love all of the small details you included – specifically the TV shows you watched (Jem!). I clearly remember when I got Chicken Pox in 9th grade and the joy of watching The Cutting Edge in my parents’ king sized bed 🙂

    Visiting from TRDC.

  6. mypajamadays says:

    I missed my 8th grade Valentine Dance because of chicken pox. It was devastating. The boy I had a crush on lent me his jacket that day. I was feverish already but didn’t know I had chicken pox. The chills were crazy. My mom was a teacher at my school and saw me wearing his jacket, although it was way too hot for one at an open campus school in Texas. She sent me home. The dance was that night. I slept, dreaming about dancing with my crush, hearing my friend’s words in my ears before I left,

    “Don’t worry! I’ll keep an eye on him for you and tell you what girls were flirting with him.”

    They were an item the next day.

    • That b*tch! Don’t get me started on the “loyalties” supposed friends have…

      Did you have a raging fever for days too? My sister hardly had one in kindergarten, but being 3 years older, I had less breakout, way more fever (and a high one).

      You should write out this memory in more detail..

  7. I love this telling of being sick. You covered it fully in such a short span of words. You learned that important lesson of being careful what you wish for at an early age, but here you show me that rather than just telling me. This worked incredibly well.

    Now, I’m going to try to return the concrit so take it or leave it. 😉

    “My little sister slept in the next room, covered in tiny rose bumps, three days into her quarantine.”—tiny rose bumps didn’t work for me. I envisioned little flowers bumping out all over her body. Perhaps something like “rose-colored bumps” would work better.

    “It smelled funny.” What does funny smell like? Maybe it smelled like chalk clapped from the classroom erasers or the sterile smell of an empty refrigerator left on between tenants?

    And this? “I raged, the demonic heat unrelenting, pushing me past the brink of reason.” I LOVED. Demonic heat…so very descriptive, and a fitting one too.

    I loved this memory. I don’t remember my round with chickenpox other than the daytime tv I think gave me my first taste of soap opera love.

    • You’re right about the bumps. I was just too tired to get my brain to fix it last night.

      I can’t describe the smell. I don’t remember what it smelled like, but it left a footnote in my brain: “smelled funny”. Does that make sense?

      Yes, this was my first real exposure to “daytime TV”. The Young and the Restless became a favorite. The other ones I didn’t care for.

      The funny thing is, I really did want the chickenpox, and I was glad I had them – I just had about 4 days where I was miserable and then 3 more where I had to stay home even though I “felt fine”.

      Thanks for the concrit!

  8. Kim says:

    Oh man, I was five and I wanted the chicken pox too, I licked the lolly pop of my aunt who had it on purpose. I think my mom was horrified though, so all four of us little ones came down with it over easter. !! your story brought back memories and I liked how you listed them in order, I totally got that, it was perfect and to the point.

  9. Jennifer says:

    I got chicken pox over Easter and my mom and aunts got all of us together so that we could all have it at once. I don’t remember a lot about the actual chicken pox, but I do remember not being able to wear my dress to church on Easter Sunday. It was so pretty and I was so upset that I couldn’t wear it.

  10. Andrea says:

    Oprah!?! You watched Oprah when you had the chicken pox? You’re so young. 😉

    I really enjoyed this, but at certain points I honestly thought you were combining illnesses. The youth and chicken pox, the older teen, perhaps, and another illness. The not waking mom and dad, that part I thought you were older, and maybe older still when watching all those shows. That’s my only concrit, that I lost something in the flow there with the breaks. It also might have been this line, “Too lethargic to move.” as it doesn’t strike me as a childhood memory kind of word.

    As someone who lived off soap operas my entire life, I appreciate the experience of being home from school to watch them, and I appreciate the bath memory. To me it smelled like oatmeal powder. Ah, Aveeno!

    Great post. Thanks for sharing!

  11. tracy says:

    Love – I remember those chicken pox parties. So jealous you were young enough to have Oprah. I had the Merv Griffin show..OMG torture.

  12. Ash says:

    I’m laughing at your Oprah reference with the rest of the “mature” crowd – pretty sure she was still a Chicago local when I came down with the chicken pox. I don’t remember much from my experience, except that my brother gave them to me, and he had them much, much worse – bwahaaaa.

  13. Elaine says:

    Now I have memories of The Price is Right, like crazy – ha! I think it’s funny that you wanted to get the chicken pox. And I’m so glad you got your Taco Casa!!! ;P

  14. Beautifully written.
    I remember purposely being exposed to the chicken pox.

  15. Kir says:

    this was good, those sick days on the couch and my own outbreak (I missed my confirmation because of it) I remember the sweating and the cold, the itchy and mind numbing TV for days while I healed.

    good job

  16. Ironic Mom says:

    I love the short paragraphs. Great piece.

    Reminds me of a quick-write one of my students wrote. She wrote how she liked being sick. The way she described it–staying home, extra attention from mom, chicken soup, warm blankets, melting into the couch–made it seem inviting.

  17. mrsbear0309 says:

    Gah! I had the chicken pox in 7th grade. It was awful. The itching was maddening for me. Can’t imagine getting it as an adult.

    I love the way the language transitioned with the fever and illness, the monotony of being home sofa bound sans cable. That I can relate to as well.

  18. Overall, this was a fun one. We all have chickenpox stories – I still have a scar above my eyebrow where my mother ripped off a scab while pulling off my hat. I was 4. And my sister was 10 and she had it REALLY bad, in her throat, in between her toes, etc.

    What confused me was how old you were. You said you didn’t get it at a party when you were 5, but then you don’t say how old you were when you DID get it. Obviously, old enough to consider your parents’ feelings and to get in a shower by yourself. Just a few words somewhere putting you in time would help give context.

    And it should be your mother came home with Valentines, no apostrophe as it’s not a possessive.

    Also – you don’t know who Merv Griffin is? Wow. That’s….wow. You might want to Google him. 😉

    • Between the toes? Ouch. I didn’t break out much and didn’t itch as much as sister – I had the insane fever for days though. Once it broke, I wanted to go back to school. I wasn’t used to “feeling fine” and being forced to stay home.

      I mentioned in the last line, my 3rd grade “chickenpox” party for Valentine’s day, just to clear up the age thing. I would’ve gone into more detail, but would’ve been over word count.

      Ooops on the non-possessive Valentine. Thanks.


      The name is vaguely familiar, but I never watched him. Or I did and had no idea he was Merv Griffin.

  19. Geri says:

    Oh lordy, the chicken pox! I was a swimmer in the way back, so I NEVER got perfect attendance because our meets started on Friday nights and I had to leave school early (I was a very competitive child LOL). But when I found out the school awarded a TROPHY to the kids with perfect attendance that became my goal for second grade. I’d do anything for a trophy…did I mention I was competitive? Then, one week before the last day of class, on a bright Saturday afternoon in the back of my parents forest-green Pinto, I complained to my mom about the three itchy “mosquito bites” on my tummy. Mom and Dad exchanged the “oh crap” look. I got very seriously ill, and spent the next two weeks in bed, and another two weeks before I could really get around well on my own. I slept with my little sister (who kicked like a mule in her sleep), so she would get them too – and she never did. And, to add insult to injury, I didn’t get my dang TROPHY!

    I loved the way you described your temper tantrum – it’s so easy to picture a sweet little girl erupting in volcanic rage!

  20. See, aren’t you glad you wrote this? I loved how you delivered the story. And you captured the voice of a child very well.
    I liked the line “It smelled funny.”…that’s exactly how a child would have described it!

    And I SO DON’T MISS day time tv. You just brought back memories of total boredom from days home sick. Thanks.

  21. Carina says:

    The episodes sounds familiar – great red memories popping up – the flushed skin, the fire of your temperature, the redness of the spots, the Valentines you were hoping you wouldn’t miss.

    Nice imagery.

  22. Katie says:

    ah the pox.

    i had like 4. i hardly remember it.

    my brother? had them so bad that they were on the inside of his mouth…they were EVERYWHERE. and he was so little. He would scream in TERROR when he saw his body in the bathtub.

  23. Galit Breen says:

    Love it woman! I adore stories that cross over times- the post seems so buttoned up that way.

    You had me at Jem with a J. I loved that show, too!

    I loved that you named the shows and candy by name. And I really liked the ebb and flow of feelings.

    Sorry that you had the pox. 🙂

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