When my younger brothers were between 2 and 5 and my mother read to them, I was 7 and still liked to get in on the stories. I don’t recall if she ever read to just me, alone. There’s reason for me to believe she didn’t because there was always another interested listener: When I was 2, 3, or 5, my older sisters were still part of a leaning clump of bodies on the sofa, trying to get close to the book in Mom’s lap. But those memories are gone, even though I can remember most of the books she read over the years — including A. A. Milne’s Pooh books and Babar the elephant, Rudyard Kipling’s Just-So Stories, Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies, and more­.

Yet I do have one specific memory of a particular storytime. In this single particular memory, my two brothers were on one side of my mother and I was on the other side. Perhaps my youngest brother was directly on her lap. The pile of arms, legs and shoulders was warm and soft and I leaned in without reserve. After a few minutes, my mother’s body — the bedrock of so much — shifted like a small earthquake, then her elbow pushed out toward me, moving me away while she said, “You’re heavy, don’t lean on me.”

The ways and times I’ve pondered this floating memory have usually been associated with my unnatural fears of — followed by difficult experiences with — sex. And yet, when I worked for 3 or 4 years on a memoir unpacking and probing my decades living with female sexual dysfunction, this piece of memory was not included. At one time it was, but I removed it. I think I made the right choice. Deleted, but not obliterated: I kept it in an e-document folder of stray vignettes, images, scenes, and memory-moments. And this next much-more-recent memory segment was likewise one of the strays in the “future nonfiction” folder:

I was at a dog show. Indoors at a fairgrounds, it was the usual din and chaos and hours of waiting around for my 10 minutes to be judged performing with my dog. Exhibitors routinely set up a camp chair beside a cloth dog crate, but most of us hardly ever sit in our chairs, instead, stand in clusters of 2 or 3, watching a rival exhibitor or discussing results from previous shows, recent dog illnesses or injuries, and which of the long-time exhibitors we only know through these weekend rituals is now dead or dying.

In an unusual moment of repose, I glanced to the end of the row of empty chairs. A woman I knew had brought her 8-year-old daughter and husband, but of course the woman was off somewhere, gossiping and kibitzing. The little girl was not a particularly beautiful child. Cute, in a gangly, grubby, natural way: thin stringy hair, knobby knees, one front tooth missing, the other a new too-large adult tooth. She was sitting on her father’s lap, facing forward, leaning against his chest, her legs dangling down between his, looking down at a game she was playing on her mother’s cellphone. One of the man’s arms was around her. As I watched, he stroked her hair once, lifting his chin as though her hair had been tickling his face. Then, his eyes still on whatever he was watching in the dog show ring in front of him, he leaned forward and kissed the back of her head. She was utterly absorbed in her game. Didn’t respond in any way to his (familiar and expected) gesture.

Memorized, translated into language, stored, without bafflement as to why, only in what context would it reappear.

In the year or two after the dog-show vignette was stored away, I visited the family homestead – my parents’ house for over half a decade. I resided there the first 15 years; the storytime scene occurred there in one of the first years, between 1963 and ‘68. Now, my father was 94. His time in the gardens had been reduced by his ruined back, his cracked-then-healed pelvis, and because my mother no longer managed her daily communal tasks, so he was doing the laundry and trying to prepare meals. The situation rose to crisis as soon as I arrived. Mom was sleeping on the sofa. Woke to greet me, but didn’t want to get up, slumped into sleep again. She ate a few bites of a meal I prepared, but abruptly left the table to return to the sofa, then to her bed.

My father said, “Go help your mother.” I don’t believe he’d ever said this sentence to me during the 15 years I lived in this house, when it was expected and routine that my sisters and I vacuumed, did laundry, cleaned the kitchen after meals, cleaned our bathroom and changed our beds on weekends, in addition to helping him weed, lug yard debris, paint, and mix cement.

I got pajamas from her bureau and assisted the shedding of clothing then dressing in flannel, winter-white with tiny crimson cardinals. It was March in California. I hadn’t ever seen my mother’s nude body. Helping her thread her arms into the pajama shirt, my fingers brushed her upper arm. Her skin was satiny soft. I remembered when I was 7 — the approximate age of the storytime memory — a hole in her pillow revealed an astonishing piece of flesh-colored foam rubber, which to us looked like our mother’s arm. We called it “the Mother.” She must have hugged me with her arms, but I didn’t remember ever reaching with my hand and touching her bare arm.

Mom sat up for the process of re-dressing, then immediately collapsed onto her side. She said she was dizzy. I straightened the rumples and twists in the pajamas. Then my hand remained on her back and stroked her slowly. I thought I heard her say “feels good.”

The next morning we were back at the Emergency Room — her third trip in 5 days. This time they decided the congestion around her heart was enough to admit her. Those were two never-ending, taxing days, for all three of us. Four days later my two sisters and two brothers had arrived, nurses and physical therapist had visited, two home-assistance companies came for interviews. In the evenings Mom had played a card game, watched a slide show and worked on a jigsaw puzzle. She was bewildered by the blizzard of visitors and phone calls and our travel itineraries, but she could count the tricks in her hand of cards. She was apprehensive about the 3-day-a-week home-helper we’d engaged, and she was tired. So was I. I stood in the kitchen with my packed suitcase, waiting for my sister to take me to the airport, my mother sitting on one of the kitchen stools beside me. The tall stool put her shoulder just below my head. Somebody was talking. I’m not sure who. It wasn’t me and wasn’t my mother. I think my father was talking with my sister while she stirred a marinara sauce on the stove. Tired isn’t the right word. Spent. But I was leaving, going back to a different “real” life. My mother could not escape to some other life. I slouched a little, tipped my head and laid it on my mother’s shoulder. I felt her shift. Slowly, she raised her arm and put her hand on the outside side of my face.

Cris Mazza’s next novel is forthcoming from BlazeVox Books. Her last book was Charlatan: New and Selected Stories chronicling twenty years of short-fiction publications. Mazza has seventeen other titles of fiction and literary nonfiction including her last book, Something Wrong With Her, a real-time memoir; her first novel How to Leave a Country, which won the PEN/Nelson Algren Award for book-length fiction; and the critically acclaimed Is It Sexual Harassment Yet? She is a native of Southern California and is a professor in and director of the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.