And Your Daughter?

Fast forward faster. Past the marionette months of drain bags and catheter tubes and spiking fevers with an affinity for threes (a.m., one oh).

Your arms look weird, overly naked somehow. It’s just that there’s nothing sticking out of them. No tubes to collect from or inject into. Weird how your own unadorned body becomes a stranger, lacks comfort.

But look, you’re better now, dancing with your daughter. You can pick her up again. See? Better.

The music: I Don’t Want to Die in the Hospital. Her choice.

She’s about to turn three and giddy with desperation. She hurls herself at you, adamant, determined that this here and now is how we’ll remember two: playful, alive, a tiny and shimmering fierceness. She’ll shake awake memories of when your arms didn’t feel so foreign, when your muscles fell just so and you smelled like safety.

You have a rash. Probably nothing, they say, as if atypical presentation is a balm instead of a hook.

You’re probably fine, usually.

You feel your side, your scar, for hardness (= fluid collection), discreetly, you think. You miss it when the smile slides from her face and shatters, your feet grinding it into dust. You stifle a sneeze.

She’s clinging now, limp. The weight of sadness: 24 pounds.

You spin faster, bathe her in the sun that slices through the blinds. Show her she can glow without you. (She already knows. It’s not what she wants.)

A phantom syringe stabs your neck, injects, What if it’s MS?

Sure, ok, the telltale MS rash.

What if?

Dance, idiot, dance.

***

The physician’s assistant pulls up a stool. You checked (your daughter was asleep by then)—there’s no MS rash. Fine, but there really is a rash spread across your lower back. You run down your history for the PA and choke, like every other time, on tumor. You explain it wasn’t actually cancer. She reaches over and slams a STOP button.

You’re startled. You didn’t know this existed.

She puts her pen down.

She lets you breathe and notice it.

She lets you breathe some more. 

She says, “You know about being sick.”

Your face opens, soft in a way you thought no longer possible, from a time before you knew anything like shame. You think of your mom. You think of yourself at age three. The word for this moment, you believe, is safety.

All this time, you’d never considered sick. Only: these are things happening to my body.

There is a you that still sits in the silence of that moment, chilled feet dangling from a johnny in front of a PA whose name you forgot before it even left her mouth. You’ll learn to climb back there, occupy the angle and awkwardness of your frigid elbows, and recall the mercy of the strange and disentangled.