Thursday, May 15

When They Get Sick in the Worst Way

What I noticed while waiting for the call:
  • The blossoms on the Crabapple, past bloom, drift to the grass.  Countless petals of white, spent effette, sprinkling an interment of time. Just last week it was full to bursting.  Now fall so the fruit can swell.
  • The spots on the rug, half-empty bottles need combining, the chain left in a knot on the dresser, the mending never done.  The dusty details passed over for someday, when there was time. Today I make it.
  • The silence.  Each one hoping, reasoning, shoving away the thought.  Wasn't I just writing him letters to urge him deeper into life?  Check the temp, the phone, the water, the phone again.  Keep the silence busy.
  • The sorrowful song in my head sings: I know you have a little life in you yet. I know you have a lot of strength left.  Repeat and repeat. 
He's sleeping and wakes when I touch his neck. A long groan. A few weary steps. Back down again. Wretched week; upset piled upon upset. Sleep more, son.  There's nothing here to miss.

We are on the edge. Waiting for the grim.

The symptoms could be.  The signs point.  There were notes and tests in that little room the other night, where the waiting began.  Weary and cold, he laid under the blanket fresh from the warmer, the one with the scent that reminded me of his birth.  And together we waited to hear.

Only that little room knows that we pressed into the silence with settled concern.  That we blithely compared the spotted ceiling tiles to the rash coursing across his chest, his arms, his legs.  No one else laughed with us at the magazine's swimsuits and redundant chai tea products. Or saw that I lingered on the page that said When to Let Go and Move On.  No one was a witness to the banter we maintained even after the doctor left in his first stuffed silence. But no one saw the nurture, when I laid my denim jacket over his shivering frame until a blanket could come.  When I tried to decipher his groans; was it the neck, the stomach, the dread?  And no one was with us when we both released the heavy breath when the doctor left us finally with his bleak suspicion hanging wide-open and heavy in the air.

I asked my boy, "Is this the moment life changes?"  Wasn't yesterday regular quotidian, when we were once all doing homework, slicing peppers, thinking about a birthday?  And then in this one single evening page we wipe it clean and wait, pen at the ready, to write it in a different setting, a different tone.

When you wait for the call that says leukemia or not, you notice things.

The sweat on his head.  How much he looks like his dad.  How the fear dances in his eyes, liquid blue in this moment.  Which is all we really have.

The mistakes, the attitudes, the efforts and cries and persistence.  Silent phone in your pocket, you notice the tension melt away.  What's past is past and what we have can be made new. You notice the messy rug, but you don't speak it.  The verboten wrappers but you don't scold.  He's resting now, doing the right thing. He knows the exact right thing in this moment.  Maybe this is when to let go and move on.

It's been forever since he left his door wide like this, since he asked my advice, since I responded with this level of care, sat with him, touched his skin.  What the dim brings to light humbles the heart.  The moment is honor and fear, tribute and terror.  We walk it together.

The call comes and says just what I knew, deep within.  It's likely not.  It's looking good.  We'll keep checking.  It's not over.

But it's over enough.  We've begun something new.  The fruit is coming.


Two weeks ago this was our wonder.  When grim news comes at you like a gale, you stand up to it convinced it won't take you down.  Wasn't this the boy I just spent Lent fixing my heart to?  Wasn't this supposed to be the fruitful time?  It can't come crashing down.  Not now.

God's mercy came through with a different diagnosis. One that he's healed from, that was endurable.  It's all over and done.  All the strength is back.  The vigor is ours again.  What we've won is another chance to see each other in a new way.  We've won more days to learn to see each other as human, not as obstacle.  We win because we have each other.  Still.