It’s never simple, is it? Just when I decide there was nothing dramatic associated with the third anniversary of my husband’s death, Short Stack gets a high fever in a strange town and I have a full blown, true, fantastic spastic panic attack.
My foundation had slid away in a tenth of a second. In the depths of the attack I said to myself, “I’ve never felt this before.” But after all I’ve been through, I’ve always been able to cope. How many times have I called 911? How much bad news have I taken in? I’ve had trouble sleeping, trouble eating, but never lost my moorings. Lately I tell people that I got close to falling a few times in the past 5 years, but this felt worse than a fall.
Even at my lowest, I’ve always been able to take care of my child. Her needs always revived me.
Not tonight. Whining that her back hurt, her fragile arms radiated heat before I even touched her. I woke Mr. Fresh up and said, “Shortie has a fever and I’m totally freaking out. I don’t know what’s going on.” I lay down in this new agony, without any anchor.
No, not falling; fallen. LOW, paralyzed, airless.
My therapist always says, what does it remind you of? I remembered the moment I learned Gavin was going to die. “Oh honey. It’s cancer.” (Did you know I was a writer/editor specializing in cancer research in September 2004?) I knew it was the end because it was in a lymph node. Part two of many cancer stories starts there. I felt it was the end, and look, I was fucking right. I looked back with magical thinking: I’m so powerful. Maybe I can predict shit. It happened once.
Her back hurts. Shit. What if it’s meningitis!?
Even as I thought about moving, taking action, I felt completely helpless. And I really sort of was: I had no thermometer or kid medicine with me. I didn’t know the area. My girl needed my arms for comfort and I had to think and act, too. Task #1: Breathe. Task FAIL.
I felt alone. Where were the in-laws? Sleeping with old ears. I was alone. Almost.
I heard Mr. Fresh say something about medicine. Slowly I started to feel the floor under my back. I proposed smashing up a grown-up Advil and mixing it with a spoonful of honey. He played along with a groan. She looked at the lumpy concoction with disgust but tried, throwing it right up. He put on his pants and shoes and drove off. She screamed at me to snuggle her and I said, over and over, that everything would be okay once the medicine got here. My freakout subsided as we listened to 1:30 a.m. birds, an owl hoo'ing gently. I recalled the comfort I took nursing her for the 6 months after our loss. Flesh works, this body is all we have.
Mr. Fresh strode back into the nightlit bedroom and cheerfully tossed a little white bag at me. “The clerk said, ‘Huh, you’re the tenth parent in here tonight, there must be something going around.’”
“Mmmmmm! Deee-licious cherry syrup!”, she oozed, licking every last bit from the see-through graduated cuplet. She was already cooling off.
Poor Mr. Fresh was the only one who wasn’t back firmly asleep an hour later.
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