Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Ache. My son is, to me, the most fragile and tender boy I know. Nothing could have prepared me for this...the child with bone-wings breaking through his skin, the tears lighting on his cheeks with the slightest provocation, the eyes on me--noticing everything--if my perfume changes, he asks me about it...if I wear different earrings, he wants to know where I got them...if I have been out in the garden, he sees the sun's handiwork on my cheekbones.

The blush of a new love--how he hangs on every word, traces the curve of your wrist with his fingertips, asks you to speak again and again. So it is for this mother--this young son. His body was nourished from mine for fifteen months. Without thinking, I gave to him and he rested in the hollow of my arms--fragrant and fierce all at once. This love, mother and son...until the day his mouth curled around a word instead when we sat in our rocking chair and I offered to nurse him.
"No," he said firmly.
I laughed and tied my hair back, "Don't you want to nurse, buddy?"
He arched his body--little more than an extension of my body in those days--away from me. Off of the chair, down onto the carpet rifling through his books, finding blocks beneath the footstool.
"No," he repeated, "No. No. No."
At naptime I offered again to be met with the same reply...after dinner, after bathtime when quietly secluded before bed.
"No," his mouth pursed--his shadows blue in the man-in-the-moon nightlight glow. "No, mama, no..."

"He's busy, that's all," M. said when I rested in our bed, "Tomorrow will be back to normal."
I ran my fingers over the blossoming vines stitched into the sheets, agreeing with him. But, we were both wrong.

The next day, boy-o persisted with his rejection of my offering...then the next, and the next, until days spiraled out to weeks and I knew--he was outgrowing me. My breasts dried out--relinquished their surprised ache. He still rocked in the chair, still snuggled against me, but my body was my own again. His was his...My son had crossed out of infancy before I even noticed.

Ache. He comes out of the drugged sleep badly. Wild--willowy arms flailing, threatening to pluck out the IV line taped against his forearm. Laughing, screaming, crying, frothing at the mouth...He looks at me and doesn't know who I am. The blank emptiness in that burst of blue--that, I carry in my bones. M. tries to restrain him, to console him, to shield him from himself.
"Bad response to Versed," the nurse notes in his chart. She has a weary smile--kind eyes. "There's nothing to be done now but to ride it out," she says.
This feels like a deeper wisdom than she knows.
"Don't leave," another nurse curtly calls from the main desk of the recovery area. "There's a note that the doctor wants to speak with you right away."

Ache. I understand this code--boy-o's stat MRI where they shot his impossibly tiny veins through with radioactive ink bullets to view his brain from the inside out--it is bad news. M. and I choke back tears as boy-o cannot hold a straw in his lips, cannot rest like the other children rest, cannot answer when we call his name. I know the taste of death--the sting of it--the heady metallic burn on my tongue. I know the pause before the verdict is read, remember the weight of "Your brother died last night," so when the nurse beckons me to the phone, whispering,
"It's the doctor,"
I walk away from my husband and son like a condemned woman. I cannot swallow--the flavor of loss choking up through me. What was I thinking, trying to raise this child or his sisters? What made me think I could bear them across the divide and live to tell about it?
"It isn't a tumor," the doctor gasps, relieved. "But, we don't know what it is...why the brain is so swollen, why he's so ill."
I am numb--M. frantically searches my face, the doctor waits for some sign of response from me, but words are gone...breath is gone. I manage to nod to M. just as boy-o tries to stand up in his hospital bed, wailing in irrational fear...a sound I long to release from my own primal depths.

Ache. I know I cannot save him. I cannot keep him safe. I drop the phone into the nurse's open hands.
"Not a tumor," I hear myself say.
But this moment re-divides my life into before and after once again. Just as I learned siblings can die without warning, reason, or logic--so can children. I taste this reality in the blood of my lip I have bitten to keep from crying out.

Then, I didn't know boy-o would heal--two spinal taps, a hospital stay, and a picc line insert into the heart later--he would again wield sticks as swords in the backyard and tell me I'd be his wife when he became a man. His agonizing headaches would pass, as would the meningitis. He would grow taller, start raining baby teeth, and ride a bike over the sidewalk pretending it was a horse and he was the noble hero. Summer marks a year since he fell onto the kitchen floor and asked to die because of his incomprehensible pain.

Every bruise, every skinned knee, every spiked fever--my body aches...a phantom limb of false security severed when my child stepped out of safety and into his own life.


Anonymous Jennifer (she said) said...

My writing kills you, your writing slays me. I cannot express what I am feeling right now. This has done something to me physically. This has tapped into my own fears about loving someone so fiercly. About growth, death, what is out of our hands/our control. It made me cry and scrunch down in my chair as I read. I wonder what writing this felt like for you, during and after. Thank you for coming to the page so openly.

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I am deeply shaken from reading this. THIS, is what keeps me up at night, what makes me want to hug them and never let go.

You are amazing and I am so happy that your story, and your son had a happy ending.

You've captured a Mothers fierce love beautifully.

10:34 AM  
Blogger brittany said...

I'm weeping.

11:01 AM  
Anonymous bimacs said...

This is such a powerful piece that I could barely read it straight through. You expressed your helplessness and fear so clearly. I'm having trouble keeping my eyes dry. Your writing is simply beautiful.

11:02 AM  
Blogger Amber said...

You moved me so deeply with this. It felt like you had cut yourself open, and showed us your guts and soul. And also the truest fear of every mother.
I am so sorry your little one went through this pain! And I am so sorry you and his dad, did too. But I say a prayer of thanks that he fine today, and such a special, loving boy! (My own boy is tender like that, so I know how special a son like that is.)

Again I must tell you how your writing touches me, every time.


12:40 PM  
Blogger deirdre said...

I didn't want to cry this early in the day. I so sorry you had to go through this with your child. Sweet, precious boy. I'm so glad he's well. You are a gifted writer.

12:55 PM  
Blogger paris parfait said...

Powerful and beautiful writing; makes me want to weep. Thank you for sharing this deeply personal story. Congrats for the positive outcome for your precious little boy.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Susannah said...

Delia, if you ever doubt yourself as a writer again, you should read this post back. that was masterful, *breathtaking*. the student has become the teacher (i'm sure Natalie would agree with me) - from the first line to the last i was in your world, your head, your heart. you inspire me, love, you really do

1:10 PM  
Blogger ESB said...

oh, my god...the fragility of everything...you capture it beautifully.

1:49 PM  
Blogger Lilian said...

Wow, I have no words to express what I feel about what you wrote. I too am relieved that it turned out fine, but just imagining being in the same situation freezes the very blood in my veins. Amazing writing.

7:04 PM  
Blogger Colorsonmymind said...

I felt your ache....so much....I have a 14 month old son, and I feel, cry and celebrate with you....I also ache just imagining it all.

9:59 PM  
Blogger Laini Taylor said...

Oh my god, this was so riveting and frightening... not knowing what the outcome would be, if your little boy was okay. All the fears I have about becoming a parent one day, really welled up in me. I can't begin to imagine what that experience was like for your family. Such gorgeous, moving writing, and I am so so glad it has a happy ending!

2:27 AM  
Blogger bb said...

fierce, frightening and fearless writing. inspirational in its measured control, lack of sentimentality or sensationalism in the face of dealing with the themes that hurt the most. thank you for writing and sharing this.

5:48 AM  
Blogger Letha Sandison said...

This was so amazingly written and heart-breaking to read. As the mother of a 5 year old sensitive boy, it hit very close to home. One of the things I didn't really expect of motherhood is how totally vulnerable it makes you. How deeply we worry and try to protect them from the harshnes of life.

I am so grateful your son recovered and is doing well.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

I just wanted to thank everyone for the thoughts about this post--it felt a little dangerous to put this raw stuff out there. But, I have an article coming out soon about my battle with post-partum depression, and I guess I figured I'd better get used to "standing naked in front of a crowd". I appreciated your thoughtful feedback very much.

12:42 PM  
Blogger Nicole said...

I couldn't breathe until you said he was okay now. Thank you for sharing this. It really makes me want to go hold my little boys. It reminds me to be a little more patient and never stop being grateful...

3:36 PM  
Blogger KB said...

Your son is so so beautiful! What an inspiring yet sad story. I'm so very happy he is now doing so well one year later.

thank you for sharing this with all of us.

12:40 AM  
Anonymous Lia said...

This is such a powerful piece of writing - resonating deeply with me. . I know the sudden loss of a sibling - and I often hold my child and fear the loss my mother exerienced. You articulate mother love in such a real way.

5:15 AM  
Blogger art and soul said...

i have goosebumps all over me and am choked up from the real encounter i just read from your post. ACHE is a perfect title. i have felt the ACHE before and all your words written so eloquently prtray "Ache" perfectly.
I am so glad your son is out wielding sticks around again!

7:58 PM  

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