I like to retrace my steps. I’m probably understating that; sometimes I become obsessed with retracing my steps. That time Mom and I met in the Black Hills and I got so lost on the way up the mountain in the dark. Where did I make the wrong turn? I ponder it every year as we drive back there. Which year in Estes Park did my husband and I stay in the cabin with the loud hot tub? Was that the same year we watched the Diane Sawyer special on Appalachia? That one New Year’s Eve with my childhood best friend, did I have a Nutty Irishman as my 4th drink or my 5th? I don’t know why it’s always been so important to me to connect the dots. Someday I swear to write a memoir that revolves around me visiting every single home I’ve ever lived in in my entire life. I even have a title for it, the best title ever, but I’m too afraid to jinx myself so I’m not going to tell you.
Not only am I preoccupied with retracing my steps, I’m a re-teller. My husband once observed, (not unkindly, I don’t think) that I have to repeat the same story ten times to ten different people before I feel satisfied. But after a crisis? Double that, at least.
A year ago I wrote about how much I loved Facebook for birthdays and emergencies. Because I honestly feel the love surrounding me, and it gets me through the day. That last emergency happened after my daughter had a post-tonsillectomy bleed in the middle of the night and we rushed to the hospital. Oddly, I couldn’t fall asleep last Friday night, the night before it happened, which is unusual for me (I’m more of an “awake at 4:00 am” kind of anxiety gal), because I couldn’t stop replaying that ER emergency in my head on a loop. If this were a novel, it would be the most embarrassingly obvious type of foreshadowing. But this is real life, and it happened, it really did.
And again, I feel compelled to retrace my steps in all their absurdity, trying to make sense of what happened and get some sort of emotional distance from it all.
There were like ten women in my kitchen. It was supposed to be a “nourishing morning for moms,” ironically.
My husband was about to leave the house to run into work for a little while. Thank god he didn’t leave, thank god.
We heard screaming and neither of us could tell if it was happy or not. Then my 12-year-old yelled about her sister’s arm and I went running.
I didn’t know an arm could do that. I didn’t take a picture of it that day, not only because I never want to remember what it looked like (as if I could forget) but also as I imagined all the pictures of people’s wounds that have ruined my breakfast as they appeared in my FB newsfeed, violating my desires to not see disgusting images against my will.
I did think about that Harry Potter movie when Professor Lockhart accidentally removes the bones in Harry’s arm.
I think I picked her up. Neither of us can remember who picked her up. I’ll have to ask one of the dozen witnesses to remind me.
We couldn’t decide whether to call 911 or drive her until a friend I trusted said with the utmost authority, “Drive yourself. It will be faster,” and we obeyed.
My neighbor who used to be a paramedic came over with a towel to cover her arm while we drove so we didn’t have to look at it. I thought about asking him to bring me my phone, or some shoes, or a paper bag to breathe into because I was hyperventilating.
I didn’t even think about my 12-year-old coming; there was a house full of moms to care for her.
I put her in my lap in the front seat, which isn’t very smart. I remembered how sometimes when she was hysterical as a baby I would take her out of her car seat and nurse her quickly in the back seat. I’m ashamed to admit that.
We drove with the hazards on, strategically running lights when it was safe. I prayed out loud, asking angels to help us.
My daughter was in shock, and I told her that. I told her that her body was smart and protecting her from pain.
I began to sing, maybe to stop myself from hyperventilating as much as to calm her. I didn’t stop for hours. She requested song after song.
I ran barefoot into the ER, screaming for help, just like I did last time.
Someone asked if I had metal in my pockets, and I stupidly replied with, “I’m not even wearing shoes.”
I kept singing. They let her stay laying on top of me, even when they brought in the X-ray machine and clumsily draped the lead apron between the two of us, three times, I think.
She asked the EMT who was putting in her IV if he knew what he was doing.
I got tired of her 3 favorite lullabies and began pulling out the songs I sang 12 years ago when her sister was a baby: Leonard Cohen, Regina Spektor, Joni Mitchell. I tried to sing Dar Williams’ “The One Who Knows,” but had to stop after the second verse because I was bawling and was worried I might upset the nice EMT whose competence had previously been called into question.
She cried for her sister until we had my friend and neighbor, her stand-in mama who also cleaned up my party mess and put my dog in the crate, bring her a few hours later. “I love you so much,” my oldest repeated over and over as she burst into the room.
They gave her Ketamine before they set her two broken bones. I slipped out from under her because I was already so traumatized. My 12-year-old clung to me and sobbed, “Her little body. It’s so tiny. She broke, I heard it break.”
I asked if it was time to go back in, if they were done setting her bones, and then asked if that was her yelling. The nurse explained that “sometimes that happens.”
She was out of her mind. My co-mom witnessed it with me but I refused to let anyone else see her like that. Eyes wild, mouth unable to form words. “STOP; MOMMY; I WANT SISSY” came out in slow motion. When I began singing, her favorite, “Baby Mine,” her eyes focused on mine and she began to sing along with me, despite her stupor. My tears fell all over her as I kept singing, intermittently pausing to say all the bad words in the world and ask the staff how much longer this would last and how could they possibly bear it?
They gave her Ativan, then some more. I reassured her every ten seconds that I was there as she continued to wrench around and stare at me incredulously, having forgotten already. “Mommy? I love you!” then more crying.
I thought with detachment of my near-hyperventilating that morning, how I ran to the car barefoot, how I couldn’t make decisions well during a crisis. But then there was now. I could do ANYTHING. It didn’t matter if it was the most horrible thing I had ever experienced. It didn’t matter if I didn’t want to see it. I was there, and present, and strong, and heroic, and I would do anything, anything, to anchor that baby to the earth, to remind her that she was safe, and not alone, that I was there. I could be the strongest person that ever walked the earth, and not because I am special. That is what mothers do.
My husband came in. She continued her loop: “I’m confused. How many eyes are you supposed to have? Is the shelf moving? Daddy? Mommy? Oh I remember. I’m in the hospital. I’m so confused.” More crying. “I met some interesting people while I was away.” To an unsuspecting lab technician: “Are you the Duke of Weaseltown?”
Her sister came in. This time it was my 7-year-old who burst out with, “I love you so much!” as soon as she laid eyes on her sister.
My community put me back together. They let me tell the story until I could say the words without crying. Every hug, stuffed animal and balloon for my daughter, every Starbucks card and meal prepared rebuilt me. Every visit, message, email, phone call. They validated my deep trauma, that this was not just a normal broken bone. I felt surrounded by love and supported by others who were traumatized as well. Because that’s the beautiful gift we are cursed with as mothers: the ability to become deeply empathic whether we want to turn it off or not. It’s why we are glued to the coverage of tragedies, because we can’t help but bear some of that burden. When one mother loses something, we all lose. When one mother hurts, we all hurt. We are bound together by the horrible reality that we love our children more than life and are powerless to keep them safe. The fragility of life is an undercurrent beneath all of us, particularly those most deeply touched by loss.
So I continue to retrace my steps with my community who so patiently listens and bears some of that burden. I try to turn the loop off as I wake in the middle of the night, inches away from the child who insists on sleeping in my bed (as if I could let her be anywhere else) until she has her permanent cast. She drifts towards me magnetically, she and her 22 Beanie Boos, and I press my forehead against hers. When she has a hard time falling asleep, I sing the first two of her favorite lullabies, avoiding Baby Mine as if its omission is a talisman against future emergencies, as if its very presence will traumatize me all over again. But then I take a deep breath and sing it anyway, for the hundredth time this week. I will not be so afraid that I eliminate the song that is the thread binding my 12 years of motherhood, the song of bedtime and thunderstorms, road trips and fevers, ER visits and tiny fragrant infant heads.
Baby mine, don’t you cry.
Baby mine, dry your eyes.
Rest your head, close to my heart, never to part,
Baby of mine.