blood in the sand

I lay there, told the soldier to the CBC, and my legs were gone, and people were running, and screaming, and we could hear gunfire. I looked down and Afghanistan was ingesting me, the sand a sponge where a pool of my blood should have been. I’ve left myself there, soaked in. It belongs to me, and I belong to it, the place I was injured.

We are here for another checkup: hemoglobin scores, blood pressure, weight, length, head circumference, medication dosages, physiotherapy tests and developmental play. We chirp and coo: he tracks with his head, eyes wide, as I knew he would. He is beautiful, rosy-glowing and plump. He smiles on cue. He is a rock star.

Near the elevators to the NICU I see the sign RECEPTION ROOM and remember the Parents of Multiple Births Association meeting, the welcome wagon for shell-shocked gestational overachievers. I won’t dress them the same, I thought, 20-odd weeks along and gazing at the host families at the front of the room with curious anticipation. They’ll go together but they won’t match.

From the nurses’ station I can see through to what used to be Liam’s pod, now occupied with another mother in a johnny shirt and wheelchair with an I.V. pole, a ventilator tube, and a tangle of wires stretching from the bundle in her arms to the machines. The father next to her, hand on her shoulder. It is the same place I first staggered out of my own wheelchair to peer through the plastic, both of us irrevocably damaged. I watch them for a few moments from the other end of the gauntlet.

As I turn the corner I see her at the end of the hallway, walking away from me: the young clinician who put a stethoscope to my son’s heart and declared him gone. She has a cup of Tim Horton’s in one hand and lunch in the other and seems in a hurry. She disappears through a set of double-doors and I press my nose to Ben's head to inhale his scent, once more just the two of us, veterans of this nonstop beige.

This place is my Afghanistan.