Sunday, May 16, 2010

What You Do

I spoke to a friend at around 5:30 this evening and realized, when she asked me point blank, that I had not left the apartment in over twenty-four hours. Why? Sick baby, that's why. The routine is familiar to me now, in a dreamlike way--sharply defined behind a veil of haze--perhaps because it so often launches itself in the middle of the night. Like most people, I suppose, I loathe being wakened from a deep sleep, but when a hot face presents itself to you with a wail of utter despair, you are suddenly so awake that it's as though you never were asleep, as though night never actually happened--it is in these moments, at 3 a.m. with a sick little girl in my arms, that I can really believe the world has stopped, that only she and I exist, that only her suffering and my desire to alleviate it exist, and that I was given this child, put on this earth, for precisely this reason, to be the source of some, of any, relief.

We spent all day like this, once the long night finally turned itself over, and all day, we lay beside each other, her eyes hot with tears each time she sat up over the pot I was carting around with us from room to room. She knew the sips of liquid she was drinking were making her sick, but she is two, after all, and she couldn't quite get over the emptiness in her stomach, and we tried, again and again, my teeth clenched as I waited: a popsicle, a cracker, some Gatorade, a rice cake, some seltzer. It all came up, and I held her head each time, and then she sank back into me each time, collapsed, almost, in a rare submission, saying, over and over, "Me not better, Mama. Me not."

"You will be soon," I said, holding her, pushing her damp hair off of her forehead, my own mind flashing a surreal sideshow of my own sick memories, as they always do when they are sick: the antennae on the small TV carted into our sick rooms and the static on the screen, such an anachronism now, my father in the doorway with a coffee Fribble from Friendly's, my mother's face, a face I never imagined wearing until the first of these night wakenings, the cool cloths she always brought, just before you needed to ask her, poking those chalky orange-flavored baby aspirin into the soil of a plant in the living room, a story I have not told my girls, maybe won't.

The rise and fall of a day with a fever, the sobbing at the worst of it, the hot flushed skin, the bright eyes, and then the cooling off, the euphoria, the padding around holding hands--"I like to walk with you inside, Mama," making me mad at myself for tiring of it. "Now I better. I hungry," and then the rise again. And the fall. And the inevitable turn to the favorite game, the way I will remember my littlest girl over the course of this remarkable year of her life: Tiny Mama, in which she turns to me with no warning, no introduction, and announces, "Now you baby," and I am meant to immediately assume my role, no dress rehearsal, no allowances for timing. This time, though, when I complied, when I asked for my blanket and for her to make me some soup in her kitchen, she shook her head, forgetting, in that instant, that the whole thing had been her idea, initiated not by me. "No," she says, climbing onto the couch and nestling into me, her skin, I can sense through her shirt and through mine, hot and dry again. "You Mama."

"Why?" I say, curious about the unprecedented pivot, unexpected change-back.

"I need you take care of me," she says, matter-of-factly, aptly, so sweetly that I almost cannot bear it.

And the day continues. The rise and fall of it.

And I do.


SMB said...

Oh Amy...sweet baby girl. Those nights are the worst. xoxo

sheila said...

Amy, you are such a wonderful mother. And a beautiful writer drawing me into each moment with such richness. I'm there with you in so many ways.

Kiley said...

Beautiful. Felt like I was in the room with you two ... and with my baby, too. Thank you.

Liza said...

How did I miss this? A bad dream for you now, but written exactly how it was, the truth so challenging, poignant, painful and loving.

Oh the perfect words you choose...