It comes back to me in snapshots. Things that I’ve tried to tuck away into the recesses of my mind. Somewhere my nightmares can’t find them, somewhere the demons can’t reach them to put them on display behind the lids of my eyes every time I try to close them.
I try to keep busy. I try to always have something more important to toss around in my mind. But the memories are always waiting at the fringes of my consciousness, threatening to seep in like a poison. And my focus, a sickly, dried sponge, ready to sop up the onslaught at any and every opportunity, unless it’s uselessly fought back with cringes and eyes squeezed shut.
Not surprisingly, they come back no matter how tightly I close my eyes, no matter how tediously busy I keep my mind. A sensation, a smell, a sound on TV, anything can trigger a flashback, anything can send me back to a moment in time I’ve worked so tirelessly to forget. For the moment, forget the nightmares, forget the panic, forget the screams that strangle all sensible thought, because awake or asleep, it makes no difference, the demons torment me all the same.
I’m staring at him as he falls asleep to the sound of the ocean crashing against the shore, captured in the tiny little box he loves so much. When suddenly, a strange sensation overtakes my body. They’re not quite pinpricks, but they’re not goosebumps either. My body heats like I’ve been drenched in liquid fire, but I shiver as though the fire is that of ice. It sears a chill into my bones. I’m there again,m. Infants screaming lullabies to my son; songs of pain, songs of fear, songs of longing for things they don’t even know exist. I’m there again, with the machines, endless machines, beeping his existence into a raging electric current. I’m there again. Staring at Max as he falls asleep, alone in his cube. Eyes covered, skin lit up, purple fluorescence. The longing is unbearable, the pain ten-fold. He’s feisty, and when he would kick me all hours of the day and night, I thought I’d love that about him once I finally met him. Except, here is not a place to be so.
We walk in, bleary eyed, with that 5 AM shuffle where you try to keep your feet as close to the ground so as not to trip over your own exhaustion. And then we see her. Standing next to Max, his nurse has her mouth twisted, scrunched up like a pinwheel. It’s that type of smile that’s about to disappear to tell you of some unfortunate happening. The NICU nurses had it down, and the parents knew to dread it.
But we’ve only been gone 4 hours. How could something have happened already? That’s when she tells us, and I just about collapse to the floor. He was just extubated, but now he’s kicked his PICC line out of place again. Even with a double splint, newborn cast, and a whole roll of tape. He’s done it again, and has to have it repositioned. Now 24 hours, 24 achingly long hours, have to pass before we can hold him again.
Internally, waving my fists in God’s direction, I flounder in the open cavity of my chest, desperately grasping at my ribs, trying to hold on to something solid. My fingers brush each one in turn, and my grip slips over them over and over until there’s nothing left. I’m alone, falling helplessly into darkness, while these thoughts refuse to leave me be. Does he know something is missing from his life? Does he know he’s supposed to be held? Does he long for me as much as I do for him? Does he know this is not what life I supposed to be like? Does he know I’d give anything to make it right? Because I’d always thought the bad things that happened in your life were deserved. But how can a newborn deserve any of this? Though, little did I know, this was only the beginning of the injustices I’d feel on my son’s behalf.