“Why am I meeting my brother at the hospital?” Simon looked radiant sitting in his carseat. His curls zigged wildly around his head.
“Do you mean why isn’t he at home with us?” I asked.
“Yes. Is that because he’s sick?”
I thought: Yes — and maybe he’s sick because of me.
I said: “Yes. A little sick. Sometimes that happens with babies just after they’re born. They just need a few extra days in the hospital to make sure they’re ready for the world. We’ll bring him home soon.”
“Okay. Daddy, why are you crying?”
I looked over at Jack in the driver’s seat.
“I’ve been scared about Gus. And what your mom said just made me feel a little better. So I cried, I guess.”
“Oh. Did you know that the red Power Ranger is more powerful than the white one?”
We pulled in to the hospital parking lot. My mom and my only — and younger — sister, Naomi, were waiting in the lobby.
“Hi, honey! Don’t worry, we can take Simon as soon as he’s done meeting Gus so you can nurse or rest or whatever,” Mom said. “Maybe we could take him out for a toy?”
I wished we had told them to stay at the hotel. They had seen Gus the day before and I really wanted to hold Simon close today.
“Thanks, Mom, but that might be too much. Let’s see how it goes.” I tried to be appreciative.
“Well, we haven’t even got a chance to see Simon yet so it would be great if we could take him later,” Naomi added.
Right then all I wanted was to hug Simon closer to me.
“Okay, let’s go meet your brother!” I took Simon’s hand. We all went upstairs and Naomi waited outside while we took Simon inside. Naomi seemed fine to wait outside. I half wished my mom would wait outside, too.
We showed Simon how to scrub his hands before going in to the NICU and got him a special kid’s gown. He looked stunned as we walked in past the incubators.
My mom took my arm “Oh my god, Rebecca, look at Simon’s expression.”
As we approached his brother’s little bed (Gus was big enough that he didn’t need an incubator), Simon’s feelings emerged as if under a layer of beach sand, blown slowly clear by the wind. His mouth turned up at the corners, but he wasn’t quite smiling. His face flushed and his eyes, huge, appeared on the verge of tears, but he wasn’t crying. I had seen my four-year-old sad, happy, thoughtful, angry, and his face pinched in concentration, but never so deeply moved.
This expression remained as we sat him in a chair and brought his brother to him. He posed for a picture with Gus in his lap. His feelings were so intense he didn’t bother to smile for the camera.
“I’m your big brother. I love you.”
My mom took Simon to the waiting room to play while I nursed the baby. My butt ached on the chair and I couldn’t see Jack talking to the doctor because of the screen the nurse insisted I needed “for privacy.” Jack came back with good news: Gus was recovering on schedule.
I put Gus in his bed and headed for the bathroom. I felt as though he and I were attached by a rubber band. The further away I went, the more stretched I felt. How far away could I go before the band snapped?
In the stall I squatted over the smelly toilet and had to clench my teeth and spray warm water on my vagina continuously in order to pee. I passed a blood clot the size of a small onion. That was too big. My doctor would say it was time for me to lie down.
I went to the waiting room and found Naomi and Simon playing hide and seek. Naomi made a big show of looking around when Simon popped out from behind a couch screeching — glee tinged with mania. Naomi leapt up “I GOT YOU, I GOT YOU HAHAHA!”
This couldn’t end well.
“Hi, Simon, want to come sit on my lap?” I asked.
“We’re playing.” Naomi was terse. She opened the door to the hallway and led Simon outside. I sunk into the couch to rest. I wanted Simon beside me. I heard him laughing hysterically in the hall. Naomi was peeking out from behind a wall and tickling him. They crashed into the room laughing. Simon hopped up onto a chair.
“You can’t get me!” he yelled.
“Naomi, maybe he should settle down.” I offered.
“Oh, you’re always so cautious! We’re having fun! He’s fine.”
Was I being too cautious? Simon smiled and tipped backwards off the chair. He landed on his butt on the carpeted floor and lost it, screaming. I reached for him but Naomi got there first. She put her arms around him and his eyes met mine over her shoulder. He stretched out his arms for his mommy.
“Naomi, I think he needs me.”
She didn’t answer.
“Naomi, he needs me.” I walked over and plucked him out of her arms. He screamed louder but clutched his arms around me and buried his head in my sweater. “It’s okay, Naomi, I think he just needs his mommy and to calm down for a few minutes.” I took him into an adjoining waiting room and rocked him.
Jack came in. Seeing his face helped me realize what I needed, and how to ask for it.
“Honey, I’m so tired. I just want to curl up with you and Simon. Do you think we can tell my mom and Naomi that we’ll see them tomorrow? ”
Was it okay to want to go home? Shouldn’t I want to stay?
“Of course. I’m sure they’ll understand.” Jack was hopeful.
My mom came in to the waiting room. “Well, do you want us to take Simon for the rest of the evening? I’m sure he’d love to play at the hotel and have dinner with us!”
“Oh, Mom, thanks for the offer, but I was wondering if you and Naomi would mind if we all just went home. I’m really tired and maybe you guys could get dinner at the hotel? ”
“Oh, of course.” My mom switched gears, her face registering that we needed the time to ourselves.
Naomi looked hurt. “Oh… well… if you want us to miss Thanksgiving dinner with you, then fine.” Was she pouting?
“Naomi, Thanksgiving is tomorrow.”
“Oh, yeah. Okay. I just was hoping we could spend some time with Simon since I never get to see him.”
“Oh, honey, we’re really tired. Tomorrow I’m sure Simon will want to play.”
We went home and ate mac and cheese with Simon. Later, during story time, he fell asleep in my arms.
Simon slept, curled against me like a baby, like the baby that should be home with us. I wanted to rest too, but my brain wouldn’t turn off. Should I be doing more? Should I be getting ready to go back to the NICU after putting Simon down? Ugh, I couldn’t imagine going back there until the next day. Did that make me a bad mother?
Was I avoiding the NICU because I was tired? Or did I feel guilty, as if Gus was there because of me? I couldn’t let myself believe that. Logic told me it wasn’t true that I was to blame, but I knew I was in danger of getting lost in a fog of self-pity. If I went there I’d be that much closer to giving up, snapping the band between me and my son. Was I close to getting depressed again? Or was I simply reacting in the best way possible to a bad situation? Could “IT” come back?
I put Simon in bed, went to look for my husband, and tried to leave the “beast within” behind.