I spent most of my Saturday immobile. I was, at last, pulled out of my death sometime in the early afternoon by the ringing phone. Caller ID told me it was my sister, Ka. During our adult lives, we had always been pretty close confidantes. She was in the hospital room with us on the worst day of our lives but, somehow, we had hadn’t spoken much since. We had been around each other, but quietly. It had been 24 days, and I had felt her avoiding my eyes and my silent, drunken invitations to let it out or let me let it out. I sensed her wanting to be near and far away at the same time. She cleaned our house when we were still in the hospital. Like my dad, she was more of a doer than a talker. I knew she was calling from New York, where she and Ja were spending their weekend. I heard the hollow shake in her voice as she tried to speak through sobbing, breathing deeply.
“What’s up Ka?” I tried to say as gently as possible, but I heard my voice shaking too.
She fumbled with her words, and choked.
“Wait, can you say that again? I can’t hear you very well.” I noticed that I was pacing around our white tiled kitchen island.
"It’s okay. I know.”
“I feel like i haven’t even talked to you guys…” she mustered.
“I know. It’s okay. I know you’re there.” Silence.
“I’m glad you called,” i said, finally.
“I don’t want you to feel like you have to console Me,” she said.
“I don’t. I’m glad you called.”
“I just… there’s nothing to say.”
“I know. How is New York? How is Ja’s grandma?”
“It’s fine. We showed people the pictures i took in the hospital.” (Pictures of Roxy)
I shook and started to vomit words... “Oh yeah... I think it’s hard probably, the idle time. Some of the hardest times for me are driving. That’s when i lose it. Something about keeping my body still, i guess. I can’t help but feel it… punching the steering wheel… screaming at clouds...”
“I know,” she sobbed and sobbed. “I’m so sad for you all… i keep shaking my head. How can this be real?”
“For me, there is only moment to moment. Just trying to find the will to keep my body alive long enough to even remember any of this.”
Eventually, we sighed, said good-bye and I went to lie back down. I convinced Mason to take a nap with me.
When we awoke, there were people in our house. Food was brought and eaten. Night showed up again and I had more waking dreams of the doorbell ringing. This time, i heard someone open it and come in. Who visits at 4 a.m.?! This is offensive. I sensed that the cat was pacing. I knew it was a man that had walked into the house. I knew he had red hair and a scruffy beard. I wasn't afraid of him. I didn't even bother moving. I knew this dream. I knew I was wrapped in its sheets and trapped in its design. I didn't fight it.
Morning came several times. First, there was the hint of sun. Then, there were Mason’s footsteps. Then another dream. Then the bright sun, the guilty hour. I imagined myself rising, showering, going outdoors with my son. I told myself that he needs activity. He needed to run. “I cannot just LAY here. How long can I LAY here? What about the birthday party he’s supposed to go to today? What about his breakfast? What time is it?” None of the self-talk produced the energy it took though, and I rolled over. All of the guilt fell into the ocean of ache and there was no splash.
The day flowed like a burning river over my back. Terra managed to shower, feed mason and left me laying on a pile of blankets. I offered, disingenuously, to go with them to the birthday party. "i should go..."
"it's alright, you may be getting sick," she said, protectively.
"Are you sure?"
"Do you want to go?"
"i don't know. I'm afraid of talking to someone's grandmother or something."
Terra looked at me sideways.
"i mean," i continued, "I don't have a problem with grandmas or anything, I just..."
"Seriously, it's alright. Try to get some sleep."
I asked Mason to be good for his mother, because that's what fathers on the TV say. Speaking of the TV, I sat up and stared at it and wondered where Terra found the strength to put on her shoes. I am proud of her. And ashamed of myself. Another thing about grief: there's a LOT of guilt in it.
I wandered outside, deciding to force myself to do something productive. I spent 45 minutes looking for a missing rack for the gas grill. I looked over and over again in the same 50 square foot area. Then it occurred to me that I've mowed the yard about 7 times since the last time i saw it. I decided to burn a 10 foot high pile of limbs and brush. I turned the hose on, in case it got out of control. I lit a cigarette and then i lit the pile. I watched the leaves burn, sending smoke and ashes billowing out of my back yard. The heat. I indifferently watched as it melted a finch feeder that I should have taken down from a tree too close to the fire. Darci circled the tall flames with her ears back. She looked at me. I looked at her. The telephone rang. I didn't answer it. I was suddenly aware that I was, thankfully, alone. The hummingbirds were almost out of food. The cats needed their water changed. The yard needed mowing. The weeds were rising up above the tall grass. Time had passed. Time had passed. Soon, sunday would be over and I would be back in my office. I would answer questions about software, and go to meetings about software licensing and every voice that spoke to me would be sharp and I would sound weary. Everyone was probably getting tired of my grief.
After watching the fire die, I wiped ashes from my freckled arms and walked heavily into the living room. The telephone rang again. Caller i.d.: Terra.
“Hey there” i whispered.
“hey” she sighed. “can you start Mason’s bath? He’s got a pretty bad cut on his foot and it needs to be soaked.”
“He was barefoot… they were playing on a slip n’ slide. I don’t know. I think he jumped off the porch onto a rock.”
“Fuck. I’ll get it started right now.”
“Okay, i’ll see you soon.”
I was in the garage when the car pulled in. I opened the door and mason was smiling at me.
“Look at what i did!” he lifted up his right foot.
There was a horrible mound of blood filled flesh about the size of a dime on his foot.
“Wow, that’s a pretty good one,” I said.
“Yeah i know. Would you carry me?”
“Oh i guess,” i teased him.
I hauled him into the bathtub and we let him soak. After 20 minutes, we checked the foot again. We examined it carefully.
“that’s not blood under the skin,” i said.
“Is it dirt?”
Terra pointed out that there was a small gash just beneath the bottom of his big toe through which a small mountain of dirt had made its way.
“Oh my god” i said.
“What?” mason asked.
I looked at Terra. Her occupation as an x-ray technician at a pediatrician’s office surely gave her the advantage here, right? She had seen this stuff before, right? She’d know what to do.
“What do we do?” she asked.
“i don’t know. Should we take him to the doctor?”
“your mom is working tonight. We should call her.”
“Well, he’s had his tetanus shot, but it needs to be cleaned,” my mom said.
“How do we do that? He won’t even let us touch it,” I said.
“I don’t know. I can ask dr. Simpson, but that’s what we tell patients when they call about these things.”
I hung up, looked at terra. “I guess we’ll need to cut that flap of skin off first,” “No, I don’t want you to cut my skin off!!!” Mason said.
I suddenly realized that we had been having this entire conversation in front of him, and he could see panic in our eyes.
“Listen Mason,” I said, trying to sound confident, “if we don’t do it, we’re going to have to go to the doctor. We will be very, very gentle…”
Meanwhile, Terra is gathering q-tips, cotton balls, small medical scissors and then opens the cabinet door for the peroxide…
“Noooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!! Not the stuff that burns!!!! No no no!!!!!!!!!!” This is going to be awful. I hated the sound of real fear in his voice.
I knew the tears were coming. Mine.
“Listen sweetheart, I know you’re scared,” said Terra, “but if we don’t clean your cut, it will become very infected and we will have to go to the doctor and they will have to clean it and you’ll have to get medicine…”
We eventually had to pull his foot out of the water as he protested. I held it up and simultaneously worked to keep his arms back. We let some water out of the tub. Terra began to cut slowly at the dirty flap of skin, tracing the circle of his wound.
Mason was crying so hard.
“No, no, no, I don’t want that!!! I don’t like those scissors!!” His voice was rising.
As the flap of skin fell, the amount of dirt in the wound revealed itself... It was terrible. Terra poured peroxide on a q-tip.
He was really thrashing now, desperate.
“No mommy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Please!!!!!!!!!!! Please!!!! Please no mommy!!!!!!!!!!! It burns!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It burns!!!!”
Terra gently dabbed the peroxide into the open wound, trying to knock the dirt loose. She looked into my eyes and saw me crying. She was disgusted, tired.
This made me angry.
“You are going to have to do it harder,” I said. (The quicker this was over with, the better.)
“I’m TRYING,” she said.
“Mo-o-o-mm-mm-mm-eee-ee-ee…” Mason pleaded, back arched, head back, lips puffing, tears falling.
We told him that it would all be over soon. We said we were sorry, so sorry, a lot.
“I know sweetheart,” I kept repeating, stroking his hair and blocking his hands at the same time. “I know.”
We stopped for a moment. The flap of skin was gone, but the dirt was still heavy in the wound. It had weaved itself into the burning, red flesh beneath his skin.
We called my mother again.
“Mom, I know it’s late, but can we just take him over to your pool and let him swim around? Maybe the water, chlorine and movement will clean it out as he swims…”
“Sure you can try that,” she said. “Poor little guy.”
“Okay, we might do that.”
“I’ll tell your dad to open the pool.”
“Okay, okay. Bye.”
I informed Terra about my plan, feeling relieved. But then it dawned on me… what if it didn’t work and we still had to clean it? Mason was already exhausted. “I’m afraid it won’t work,” terra said.
She decided to try to clean it again. Mason, this time, went straight into violent hysterics.
“M-o—mmmm—mm—m000mmmm-eeee…” He could no longer get the words out.
I was so angry that this was taking so long.
“Do you want ME to try it?” I asked, rudely.
“No!! I don’t think I can hold him!!!”
We were yelling at each other now.
Mason was shrieking.
Terra continued to work. More peroxide. She went from cotton ball to q-tip and back again. Nothing was working.
“C-a-a-a-n I have some w-a-a-t—t-er?” he asked.
I literally felt the chambers of my heart shredding. I was barely a step from becoming a huddled, knees-to-chest mass on the floor.
“Let’s try the pool,” I said. I was incensed, though no longer at Terra. I was angry at the DIRT. I was a burning, wall-punching furious at a half-inch circle of dirt. I wanted to a table over. I wanted to tear down the ceiling fans.
But I refocused.
I asked Terra to grab a big towel, and I pulled mason out of the bath. I suddenly felt strong, my anger successfully channeled. I carried him into the living room and turned on some cartoons. I even managed to get some giggles out of him by poking his ribs. God, what a kid.
“Do you want to stay here and have us scrub it, or do you want to go to mimi’s pool and see if swimming around will clean it out?” I asked.
He sighed heavily and didn’t look at me.
“Can I watch cartoons when you scrub it?”
Terra and I decided to try a washcloth. She began to scrub and he began to shriek again.
“Nooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!! I want to go to mimi’s house!!!!!! I changed my mind!!!!”
I couldn’t stand it any longer and grabbed the washcloth from Terra’s hand and put the weight of my entire torso onto his legs to keep them from thrashing. I scrubbed the cut harshly. Within 10 seconds it was totally clean, and bleeding a little again. Mason was crying hard and steadily. I hugged him.
“I’m so sorry I had to do that. We’re done now. We’re done. It’s all over.”
“Good job,” terra said.
“Haven’t you done this before?” I asked her, forcing a half-smile.
“Yes, but never on my own kid.”
I finally saw her weariness and she saw mine. We both shook the tears off, and she went for Neosporin, band-aids and gauze to dress the wound. I just held on to my boy. I wondered to myself whether he had noticed how much I had been staring at him lately. He looked peaceful again, and giggled at a joke on his cartoon.
“Did you hear what he said dad? That guy was farting.”
I laughed out loud and was shocked by the sound of it.