It can be easy, in the living of hours days weeks
To think of him only as he relates to me.
My children’s father.
My best friend.
The man who scratches my back
Brings me coffee and dinner
Who provides and fixes and sometimes grumbles
About the noise we make and the money we spend.
The man whose smile touches me to the core
And whose voice still makes my heart thump
The way it did in those long-ago first days.
And who wants me always, and no one else
And touches me as though I am the rarest treasure.
Then, with the sickening jolt of reality
I am forced to see him as other, separate, himself –
Sitting in the NICU, holding our comatose newborn
Me watching the heart monitor, but him
Taking in every detail of our baby boy’s face
As he died in his Daddy’s big strong arms.
How he kept on holding that small body
He had not been able to keep safe
For more than an hour, not wanting to let go of a child
He would never be able to hold again
As our baby grew cold, and pale, and then waxen
Like a figure borrowed from a museum
I had to stop looking, focus elsewhere
But he did not.
He communed, father to son
His attention and love total and sacred
And he told me later that he had longed
To cradle Elijah up on his shoulder
The way he did Jeremiah
And a year later Annalise
But did not because
He was afraid he would never be able
To do that with another baby,
If he did.
Or the day we argued with hurled pointed rage
And, he, once again
Fled the scene of the crime of passion
By going off early to work, leaving me
A seething fury bereft of hug and kiss.
And when the phone rang, and I knew
It was him, I didn’t answer, teeth clenched
That he would dare to call,
Pretending there was no fight, no reason why
I would still be angry.
Too, too much time went by before
The sheriff knocked on the door,
And told me, over the dog’s alarmed barking
“Your husband hit a deer on his motorcycle,
He’s OK, but being airlifted to
And I hugged and clung a moment to
The two living children we made together
Bitterness drowned in anguish and clutching fear
Before I gathered us up to go to the Emergency Room
Still not knowing if he would live or die.
Through the dark, through two waiting rooms, and then
The young surgeon who spoke calmly of things
Like eight broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and a lacerated spleen
And ended with “minimal risk of mortality”
As my world heaved up and lurched into the paradox
Of terror and relief.
Finally to the tiny room filled with strangely huge machines
And a large man lying flat and unmoving
As fractured moans broke from his depths –
A man I did not even recognize at first
As the man who, exactly fifteen years before
I had first met, on his thirty-third birthday.
I have known him always as he is vertically, and well
His power apparent in size and frame and bearing I thought
Were permanent and unchanging facts of our lives.
Yet, here he lay, felled by a chance and ill-timed leap,
And a winter warm enough to ride to work and home again.
His body, so strong, no match at all for the pavement
One hundred feet further down that country road.
The pain made him unable to move or really talk, and later
He did not know if he had dreamed us, or if we were really there.
He had called me, he said, much later,
To say goodbye
Because it was late at night and he feared everyone had gone to bed
And so he had somehow found his phone, and gotten it up under his helmet
To call 911, and then me.
He told me too that before we arrived
The doctors had placed a chest tube, and done an MRI
Stretching his arms up over his head despite the broken ribs
Sealing him in the tube
While he screamed.
These moments, the illusion shatters
And I know that he lives
Not only though me or for me
But fully, alive and experiencing every
Breath of his own life.
Here, beside me on the couch watching Castle
Because I asked him to, and he loves me
Is the little boy who got lost in divorce and remarriage
And a female-filled house where the only other male
Had to see in him the reflection
Of his father’s face.
For whom school was a torment because his mind
Shifted constantly from one idea to another,
And he too sharp and alive to bear being bored and shaped
Into something ‘acceptable’.
Whose soul could not be imprisoned within
Classroom walls, and, instead
Wandered out to the mossy, wet freedom
Of the Oregon rain forest.
I’m learning, at long last and just in time
To see him always this way, as a person
With life, integrity, thoughts and dreams of his own,
With a reality that doesn’t always include me.
To look into his eyes and look past the color
And my own reflection and perception
To the being within.
- Understanding the NICU (enfamil.com)