How many people had to love this child for this picture to be here, bright and beautiful and nearly bleached-out with sunshine?
The grinning child in the center has been home from the hospital for five minutes, five minutes that followed forty in the car; forty minutes in the car that followed six days in the hospital; six days in the hospital that followed three hours in cardio-thoracic surgery; three hours in cardio-thoracic surgery that followed five months of knowing it was coming.
The blanket behind the child in this picture is hiding three other blankets, one of them filled with synthetic down, all placed on the couch in layers and carefully fluffed and tucked and arranged to accommodate a five inch incision down the back of the child grinning in the center of this picture. The blankets were arranged by the child’s older sister, who will return home in an hour with an enormous poster, signed by dozens of middle schoolers who have never met the child on the couch but who, upon hearing that she was having surgery on her aorta, wanted to send their good wishes. The other signatures on the poster were collected on foot at this child’s elementary school, by the big sister who also made the nest on the couch, the big sister who has been waiting for six days to kiss this child on the head and finally release her worried breath.
Under the blanket on this child’s lap are the bright, striped pajama pants given to her by her best friend’s mother. She’d asked for a job, any job, anything she could do to help prepare for these days of recovery when she would be out of town and unable to help in person. She’d been given the task of pajamas, soft, stretchy pajama bottoms and tops with buttons so that the child wouldn’t have to raise arms in the air as her incisions healed. The tops were too warm for the hospital, but the bottoms were perfect, and the child in the photo will wear them nonstop until she finally goes back to school, two weeks later.
On the child’s hand, a bright blue band-aid covered with pictures of Woodstock from the Charlie Brown comics has taken the place of several strips of long gauze which, for the last six days, have covered the site of one of her IVs. A nurse who recognized her agitation over seeing a needle in her hand had covered it with thin, soft layers of white wrapping, keeping the foreign object hidden away. The IV was the last invasion to leave her skin, early on the morning of this very day. The bandaid was a badge of honor, placed by a nurse with eight months of pregnancy stretching her scrubs in front of her. She grinned at the child as she pushed the wheelchair from behind a sea of balloons, all the way to the car which brought the child home.
Two items in the picture are courtesy of me, this child’s mother:
The hair dangling to the right of her face is her right braid, un-braided, snarled into a hopeless tangle after six days of other priorities. (Seven days before the smiling, couch nest photo, I snapped this other photo after braiding her hair into two tight, pre-surgical pigtails.) One braid unraveled in the hours of poor pain control, and there was never a moment afterward to put it back together. Instead, I put it out of my head and let it stay snarled. In the days to come, I will sit next to her on the couch and carefully, one strand at a time, free it from itself, keeping her from the additional tragedy of the short haircut she doesn’t want. For today, she is lopsided and grinning, and the hair defies us with flaunted mess. I will conquer it; today is not the day for the battle.
The other love I’ve given in this photo is the talisman dangling from a gold chain around her neck, hidden behind her bandaged hand. Two charms hang from the necklace; one is a silver-colored column that reads “I’ll eat you up I love you so,” a quote from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. I would eat her up, I do love her so, and I wanted so much to swallow her whole to protect her from the surgery she’d just had that, the week before it, I’d bought her this charm and the other, to send the message into her soul.
The other charm is round and copper-colored. In simple lowercase stamped letters, it reads “you are my sunshine.” She is, and in this photo, she is moments from being enveloped by her own rays as the light from the sky creeps across the window toward her happy, grateful face.
Eight years, eight months, and thirteen days precede this photo. There is no telling how many will come after. Few will be quite this memorable.
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post. Each week, Kenya of Sporadically Yours and Kristi of FindingNinee share a prompt and a theme. This week’s theme is simply to share a photo and the story behind it.