You are nine. We are lying in bed. My hand is on your hot belly.
You have a fever. Again. It only happens a couple of times a year, but when it does we do not sleep. I do not sleep. I am transported back in time to the hardest chapter of my life. No this isn't my story, but you are so over the old business that now it is. You've moved on. You're healthy. Strong. You're free of worry. Me? I'm drowning in it.
You had a fever then, too. But you know that. You can tell by the look in our eyes when you have a fever even now.
That time is my shadow. It follows me and haunts my dreams and appears every time you have a fever. Every. Time. Like the bad guy in a scary story who pops up again at the end, just when you think everyone is safe.
It's the darkest of bottomless pits that all parents imagine but that few stare into the open mouth of. We grab you and hold on tight and pull you back from the edge. The precipice. The black hole. Once you've looked in there, how do you shake it off? How do I shake it off?
You were two.
You were with Pete. You were napping, together. (Thank God.)
By the time I got the call and raced to the hospital you were medicated, unconscious, and hooked to several machines. You were wearing your blue pajamas. The ones with the line drawings of little airplanes all over them. They had cut the top off and it lay on the counter beside the bed you were laying on. Those were my favorite jammies. It must be serious if they cut up my favorite pajamas, I thought. (Once you came home from the hospital I threw the bottoms away. I couldn't bare to look at them anymore because they brought back that awful day.) You looked so small. I talked to you, but you didn't hear me.
You were still seizing. They gave you more meds and your body seemed to stop it's robotic short-circut movements.
They wouldn't let me get on the helicopter with you.
It was against policy. I pushed but they wouldn't budge. So you went alone. My God. You'd never been apart from us before, much less like this. So Pete left while the Flight for Life helicopter was on its way. (Let him get to the hospital first and be there when Sage lands, I prayed.)
Just before they put you on the helicopter I noticed the tip of your tongue between your teeth, twitching. We were outside of the hospital, on the helicopter pad in the wind and the noise. He's still seizing – I said and they pumped more meds into you and loaded you inside, the door closing behind. I didn't watch the helicopter take off. I ran as fast as I could to my car, praying to all the gods I knew that your papa had already arrived in the hospital and would be there when you landed. I hoped to God that you would still be there when they landed. I drove home and hastily packed bags for the three of us, not knowing when we'd come home. I called my best friend and asked her to take care of the dog. I was taking rescue remedy and doing deep breathing and trying to be a rock. I didn't even cry. (Not for days.) Because that would acknowledge what I so feared.
And then came the longest drive of my life. An hour and a half to the hospital where they had specialists. Neurologists. A helicopter pad on the roof. I think of that drive every time someone races past me on the road. I get out of their way thinking: Who knows. Maybe they're chasing a helicopter with their baby on it.
I remember bringing you home a week later. You couldn't walk. You couldn't talk. We wondered when or if you would return to normal. When or if life would return to normal.
For a year we checked you ever three minutes while you slept if we weren't sleeping beside you. Just in case it happened again. Dear God let it not happen again.
You've had two seizures since. "Normal" seizures. Three-minute (not three-hour) seizures. But still. My heart stops. It is the stuff of my worst dreams. And every time the god-damn fever. You're too old for "typical febrile seizure". But then, there was never anything typical about yours. What's to stop it from happening again?
Seven years. It's been seven years since we stared into the abyss. That story is over. Right? But how do I shake it? Christ. I'm ready to shake it. How to I thank that story for the lessons learned and then close the door and walk away?
You still have a fever tonight. And so I'll sleep with my hand on your belly again. If I sleep at all.