FW 4.17.16

When I was four years old, I almost died.  I have vague memories of that night - of a flannel nightgown with red rosebuds, of Dr. Stratman coming to the house in the small hours of the morning, of breathing through a rolled up Nat Geo - a 1960’s version of an inhaler.  I remember the tight band around my chest easing.  I remember arms.  I can’t remember whose. I just remember being gripped very tightly.  

Mary’s Special Day

I am four.  Mommy keeps chattering excitedly about my Special Day.  Mommy doesn’t usually chatter, but I am excited because she is excited.  Daddy is not sleeping like he usually does during the day.  He is coming out on my Special Day too.  Mommy has ironed a brown gingham dress with an orange bow in back.  It is not my favorite dress, but I wear it anyway because I like the bow.  

I am so happy and proud to be out with Mommy and Daddy - just me.  None of the boys on my Special Day.  I have never had a special day alone with them.  I am so happy.  I am skipping and galloping in circles.  I am pretending to be the church bell as I swing from their hands. 

We go to meet a man.  He is big and scary and has braces on his legs and walks funny.  But his voice is kind and he talks to me too, not just to Mommy and Daddy.  I feel like a grown up.  I sit up straight with my knees together and feet on the floor the way Grami tells me good girls do.  I want them all to see that I can be a good girl.    

The man with the nice voice and funny legs leaves.  Mommy helps me take off my Special Day dress and lays it carefully on a chair so it won’t wrinkle.  A lady comes in and Mommy helps me up onto a table where I lay face down on the scratchy paper.  

Then there is pain.  The lady is counting.  I know these numbers 1…2…3.  Each time she says a number there is the pain again in my back.  26…27…28.  I try to be brave, to show Mommy and Daddy what a big girl I am.  32…33…34.  But what the lady is doing with her numbers hurts and I start to cry.  37…38…39.  My feet drum on the table.  Mommy or Daddy has left the room.  I don’t know which because I am crying.  45…46…47.  Sometimes in my mind it is my girl-lovin daddy who stays and whispers in my ears even as tears roll down his tanned cheeks.  I want to reach out, wipe them away, and say, “I’m sorry, Daddy.  I tried to be quiet.  I tried to be brave.  But it hurts.”  …48…  Sometimes it’s my Mommy who stays and whisper-sings into my ear and holds my hand. 

I will never learn which is true.  Daddy has been dead 30 years and Mommy’s Alzheimers is too advanced for her to remember her own life, much less mine.  So both will always be there.  Both will also be absent in some Schrodinger’s in-between-ness.  

…49….

…50… My whole tiny body unclenches.  It is done, but it still burns like when I scrape my knee on the concrete.  Both Mommy and Daddy are there now.  I want them to pick me up off the crinkly paper and hold me, protect me.  Maybe now I can put my pretty dress back on and my Special Day can continue.  But they just watch.  

The lady who counted and hurt me is back.  She is carrying a tray full of tiny bottles.  They are every color.  The light makes them twinkle and I think they are beautiful.  I want to keep looking at them.  I twist around, but she says, “Hold still,” in the way my Grami does when she is angry with me.  I stop trying to look at the bottles.  I obey.  I always obey.  I am a good girl. 

Something on my back burns.  I walked into Daddy’s lit cigarette once and it burned like this.  The burn-y feeling is spreading.  And it itches like when I got stung by the honeybee in the grass.  That was all burn-y and itchy too.  Is that lady stinging me with bees?  I want to scratch, but when I reach around, the lady swats my hand and says,”No scratching.”  The itch is getting worse.  Mommy and Daddy are holding my hands to keep me from scratching.  

The lady is gone.  But my back itches so bad.  I hear Mommy whisper, “Oh, Hank.  Look at her poor back.”  Daddy doesn't answer.  I hear him blow his nose.  I think he is crying because he snorgle-gulps the way he does when we watch Lassie together and he cries even though he doesn’t want to.  They both whisper to me and stroke my arms.  I want to roll over onto my back and wriggle the way our dog Dizzy does when he is happy.  Only I am not happy.  Just very very itchy.  They hold my hands, so I can’t roll over.  I am sick to my stomach and “Special Lunch” comes up into the brown metal trash can.  

The kind man with the funny legs is back.  He strokes my back and it feels good.  The itching isn’t so bad now.  Maybe he used the “Kiss-It-Better” magic Mommy uses sometimes for my booboos.  I am sleepy.  I hear big words I don’t know.  Grown up words I will have to ask Mommy about.  Allergy.  Asthma.  Did the kind man say shots?  I hate shots.  Inside.  Inhaler.  The big words get jumbled.  They don’t mean anything.  Mama is helping me into my pretty dress.  Daddy is holding me.  I am so sleepy.  We stop for Special Day ice cream.  But I just curl up next to Mommy in my pretty dress and go to sleep.

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