March 7, 2015 § Leave a comment
The Day Before
From the center of the room came the sickly sound like a smallish, leather-gloved bowling ball striking cement, and its instant echo. I had turned just in time to see Lucy – all arms and legs – roll off the edge of the bed and land in a pile beside herself a split second after her head hit the floor.
Missus and I locked eyes in the strange long second that followed and in that moment there was something more than shared dread. It was an indictment. Mutual accusation, assigning of blame. I’m positive that my eyes spoke the same words I was reading in hers — I thought YOU had her – but neither of us said that. I saw Missus’ eyes go from bright and clear to a waterlogged red in an instant. Two or three fat tears sprang from each of them and both her hands went to her face as she biliously shrieked the word shit.
It was (what word?) — egregious. Seeing and hearing your months-old baby’s head and flesh smack the bare floor is not something anyone needs to experience in any lifetime. When she landed, Lucy began convulsing with the violent sobs of abrupt pain. Seeing that, and hearing her wailing not out of hunger or discomfort but of pure blunt force trauma was enough to sicken your heart. Melt your legs.
We were both at her instantly. Missus scooped her up and I examined her tiny melon and fontanel for swelling. Didn’t see anything. Missus said something about ice but I was already at the door and headed toward the kitchen.
We’ve always had this routine. Whenever the girls are away with grandparents for a stretch of at least a couple of days we’ll take part of an afternoon go through their room and purge the place of accumulated clutter: Itty bitty toys and trifles that won’t be missed, and some that might. Naked, neglected dolls with their unkempt hair and scuffed, dirty torsos. Hoarded treasures and candy wrappers long since smuggled past, discarded, forgotten. The occasional moldering apple core shoved to the back of a desk drawer.
Missus goes through their dresser a drawer at a time, an article at a time. Thinning the heard. Excessively stained or threadbare garments go in the trashcan pushed to the center of the room; the outgrown stuff goes into a hand-me-down bin. Good enough toys are put in a separate bin and moved to a staging area in the garage where they’ll wait to be donated to Goodwill or to someone who knows someone.
By the end of it, a manageable number of stuffed animals and the playthings you know their hands touch frequently is all that’s leftover, and hopefully little else. If they ask for it, odds are it’s in the garage and so if a thing’s absence becomes an actual problem, it can be retrieved. Then, all the furniture is shoved to the center of the room and a proper deep cleansing floor mop has occurred that makes the space look, feel — and smell — tenable again.
This was just a Monday, the day before Lucy’s surgery, and the girls were only in school that day. Not off with grandparents. Missus hadn’t planned to use the day for this. I don’t think there was a plan. But it sure needed doing, and so once she set in I knew there wasn’t any use but to fall in and help her. Just get it done. As good a way as any to pass the day I guess, and maybe a welcome way to keep the worry off our minds.
Lucy had been able to flip from her front to her back and we knew it. She was no longer a static little thing confined to one position. She was five months old. She rolled earlier than her two sisters did, we calculated. It did take a considerable amount of work for her to make this happen, though, and this was not something she did any ole time she wanted, or even all that often. It just happened when it happened.
And that day, when it happened, she had squirmed right up next to one of the large pillows we’d rimmed her sisters’ king size bed with after we’d set her in the middle of it. We’d even had to reach over and drag her little squirming self back to the middle of that mattress a time or two. A fair foreshadowing. But with both of us in the room, two sets of eyes, one or both of us working usually within arm’s length of the bed, we knew we had her fairly covered. Until we didn’t.
Yes ma’am. We had that sweet little baby child up on that bed with only a wall of pillows, double stacked, between her pretty little head and a two-foot drop down to an uncarpeted concrete floor. And yes ma’am, I guess you could say we both took our eyes off her for a might too long – myself at the closet digging through toys, her mommy down on the ground sorting clothes. Both of our backs to her for just long enough. And yes ma’am, that’s true too: This little event was not without precedent.
Oldest had taken her ride off of our own bed one day a decade before, when our floors were still padded by old carpet. Middle had met the ground harshly coming off the ladder in a too-soon, short-lived bunk bed experiment years later in this very same room. And so there, in that moment — when our sweet sick child rolled over the great wall of pillows and off the edge of the mattress, the nauseating clack echoing off the walls and through our very bones — we’d gone three-for-three.
Yes ma’am. Welcome to our home.
It took a while for Lucy’s labored wailing to come down to more of a slow cry, but after a few minutes that’s where she was. Just letting Missus hold her tight to her chest, with the icy pack to her head, quite content to cry long and low in time with her deep breathing. They two sat on the middle of the sofa consoling one another that way for what felt like most of the afternoon, but it wasn’t.
Meantime, I felt that this had to be reported. That someone directly in the know needed to know. In case maybe they wanted Lucy’s head examined before okaying her for surgery or something. I don’t know. A little dramatic maybe, but I couldn’t handle the thought of not saying anything and then some complication arising the next day, during or after surgery, and “Has anything happened with Lucy in the last few days? Anything out of the ordinary? Anything at all?”
I called Lucy’s cardiologist. I left a message with the nurse, told her in detail what had happened and why I was reporting it – Her heart surgery is TOMORROW – and she said not to worry about it too much but that I could expect a call back. Then I called the surgeon’s office to do the same. I spoke to his nurse and right hand woman, Maggie, the genial Texas gal, and she just about laughed it off as she told me about the same thing happening with her own kids. “It doesn’t take a second does it?”
It didn’t quite feel like the same thing. It eased the tension some, to where I even felt a little silly about calling, but I reiterated my concern about internal bleeding and anesthesia the next day and so on. She asked about swelling and I said she had none, really — surprisingly — barely even a bump. “None at the fontanel?” No. “Well, good. I’ll pass it along because he’d want to know but I wouldn’t worry about it. Just let me know if something changes. I doubt you’ll hear from him.”
And we didn’t.
When the cardiologist called back it was much later in the day.
Lucy was fine. Still no bump, only a little blushing there. She was totally over it, even if Missus and I were not. Lucy’s cardiologist is a nice, soft-spoken man who doesn’t stray much from matters directly medical in his conversation. Still, there’s a keen wit there that runs deep beneath his gentle giant surface, and he is not one to necessarily forsake the opportunity to pick some low hanging fruit. As soon as we were past salutations, he segued into the conversation like a pro.
“So what’s this I hear about you throwing babies on the floor?”
I laughed a little. Uncomfortably. Very uncomfortably. I was very embarrassed and felt inept and was generally not at ease, but I assured the good doctor that I had already taken the prudent measure of reporting myself to the Child Protective Services, and that he needn’t bother. It’d been taken care of.
I’ll admit. I took my turn.
I sat on the sofa beside Missus for a little bit, Lucy on her chest, drifting off. Missus had been weeping. Not loudly or dramatically. Just softly, generally letting it come. Enough to wet the eyes, but not the cheekbones. It was all too much. Everything leading up to it. The surgery, so many inherent grave unknowns. And then this.
Wordlessly, we’d both owned responsibility in equal parts for what had happened and we both bore it heavily all that day. The poor thing. To let something like that happen. Just the thing to make you feel incompetent, the last thing you need to feel. Now? ‘The HELL’s the matter with us?”
But it wasn’t only that. It was all of it. It’d built up. And so when Missus, watching me watching them, asked if I wanted to hold Lucy, I nodded my head. She placed her on my chest and we hunkered down low, slunk deep into the cushions. It wasn’t long and I started the deep breathing again. Slowly, in and out, all through the nose. Lucy rising and falling on my chest. Missus lain over, her head on my shoulder. Our shoulders. Me with my eyes closed. Silently, generally, letting it come.
Later, Missus was taking Lucy up to the nursery to put her down, and we had a brief conversation in the foyer. I was at the bottom of the stairway, Missus at the landing on top. Lucy lay sleeping on her shoulder — Out. I was on my way to go and pick up the girls, one hand on the banister; keys in the other. We spoke in hushed voices from twenty feet away, the three of us rightly sapped. It felt like we hadn’t spoken in hours.
Me: “You okay honey?”
Her: “Oh. Yeah. Just…“
Me: “I know… She didn’t need that did she?”
Me: “We didn’t need that.”
“I love you.”
“I love you.”