on staring back and busting out
- What Happened to Him
- Me as Floundering Vessel
- What Happened to Me
- How We Fared
That's five complex sets of emotions at any given time, all of which demand contemplation, NOW, each before all the rest, and none are patient.
Please let there be more than this.
Was he in pain?
Me who balked.
Days until their birthday and despite rush hour for the internal hecklers, I haven't felt accompanied by him lately, not as I was in that first year. He stayed with me until he figured I could walk on my own. Wait. Was that death-by-hallmark?
Yeah, well. I like cheese. Cheese can be funky and funky makes you grimace and screw up your face like PHEEWPH! but this gig is gorgonzola, incomplete without unexpected grimaces. Just don’t tell me he carried me where there was only one set of footprints. The wee boy was too small for that.
My god, how the hospital is full of ghosts. Not so much of people but of trauma. I walk past the row of pumping rooms, remembering all the fucking tears shed inside, and the pain. I see their pod, darkened. The library where I staggered to write to you.
My skin crawls in there. I can see myself, back then. He is not the ghost. I am.
We came out so lucky, even given Liam. Especially given Liam? Ahh, words.
I fill my mind with streamers, blue ones, and cake, a damn fine cake it will be. And Saturday’s cleaning in advance of Sunday’s toddler infantry. And tiny Elton John star-sunglasses, because for a second birthday and first party it is fitting to add superfluous bedazzlement to a dazzling boy.
I don't think Liam minds a bit. (pause. sigh.)
Who am I kidding. He’s not here.
I realize now why I deprived myself of sleep back then. If I went to bed completely zonked I would lessen the amount of time I'd be haunted by death. It waits for me in bed—the smell of morphine, the way he grew cold from the inside-out—and I imagine him restless at how the horror drowns out his light.
That was not me. That was just my dying.
I curl up into a ball and let the imprints come because these things, they finish their business faster if you’re not so horrified of them. Try and turn away and they only get louder and more insistent. So I cluster the hecklers all up in the corner, and I glare at them until they know to shush it. They owe me that much. Then I turn and I stare back until the imprints give it up and let me sleep.
The cardiologist speaks so quietly I can hardly hear him. I think perhaps it’s cultivated, a radical sort of gentleness, because radically distressing news must dominate the day of a pediatric heart clinic.
“He’s totally normal,” he looks at me a little bewildered, unsure of how to fill the additional time afforded by this kid of the three-word answer. We sit there a moment, staring at each other. I resist the urge to run, and fail.
We skip through the halls, the delighted BYE! he throws over his shoulder much like a taunt, cheeks stuffed with two-bite brownies, and I feel all this.
- Take that, hospital. Take that with your French’s mustard and your wonderbread and stick it. (to son) Let’s bust this pop stand. (son, to mother, in falsetto gibberish) Yeah. Bust this pop stand. TIMBITS!
- Thank you, hospital. I can be kind of an asshole, and I write my kid to sound like kind of an asshole too. Please do not take it personally that we enjoy busting outta you. It’s not you. It’s us.
- I was you once, parent. I really was. You are this aching, shivering thing that is my kin, and I am an escapist who leaves without throwing you the keys. I would sell the world to kidnap you and yours and burn the pain to the ground in our wake. I would.
- Hey, hospital? Can I have my son back? No, not this one. He’s fine. The other one. I want him too. I know you must have him here somewhere.
Just thought I’d ask.