I Was Always There


I hate this picture.

I hate that my daughter — normally so sunny, so funny and vital and affectionate and bright — asked me to take this photo. She asked me because she wanted to keep a record of her time staying in the cardiac intensive care unit at the children’s hospital, where she was trapped after surgery to move her aorta from where it was crushing her esophagus. She asked me to take this picture — this haunting, heartbreaking picture — because I’d suggested that she keep a journal of each day, mostly so she could see herself getting better each day. I hadn’t anticipated that she’d be awake for the photos the first day. Somehow, though, she pried her eyes apart and did her best to smile, right there, as the sun was beginning to set on day one.

I can tell you everything about this room. To her right — our left — is a tall stand with a computer on it, where the nurses stand to enter information in their charts. Also on that side is the IV stand. If we could pan down, you’d see the IV lines — three of them that day — snaking out under the covers on the right. Shortly before we took this picture, I asked the nurses to wrap a bandage around her IV sites so that she couldn’t see them — just looking made her anxious and teary. The nurses did one better — they covered them with a bandage, put a bed pillow next to her on the mattress, and laid her arm gently on top, covering the whole business with the blankets.

On her left — our right — was a table and an overstuffed vinyl reclining chair. My husband and I had dragged it right up to the side of the bed so that we could take turns sitting right next to her, to hold her left hand or smooth the hair back from her face or, in a desperate moment while she slept, fall with our foreheads on her tiny lap, hugging her hips gently, grateful to feel the warmth that told us she was alive.

Further to our right is the window seat that expands gently to become the makeshift bed where my husband and I took turns sleeping every night she was there. Outside the window are more buildings and — blessedly — a patch of sky.

Across from us — just behind my face at the camera — is a bathroom, a wall of cabinets, a shelf and a television. I’d lined up everything cheerful we had from home so that, whenever she opened her eyes, it would all be right there.

I can tell you almost everything we discussed for the entire time we stayed there. I can tell you what she ate, when she was ready to eat (fat-free-macaroni-and-cheese, strawberries) and what she drank (blue powerade). I can tell you every movie we watched and every person who visited to make my girl feel better.

I can tell you all of it because I was always there.

If I went home to see our other daughter, my husband was there.

My little girl was scared and hurting, and so, of course, her parents were there. There was never any doubt about that. That would never have been any different. We would have done anything we had to do in order to be there. When I wasn’t there — because I had to care for our other daughter, or because I had to go downstairs to get food, or because I had to go down the hall to use the bathroom — there was a low hum of panic in my heart.

It’s that low hum of panic that I hear and sense in my soul as I read the stories of the children in detention facilities separated from their parents at the US southern border. I imagine my daughter hurt and scared, and me unable to reach her. I imagine myself disallowed from even knowing where she is — what facility, what state she is in. I imagine not being able to picture the room where she is living, the people who are caring for her, the clothes she is wearing. I imagine all the things I know about her that no one else can know, and the things she needs that only her momma can give her.

It makes me cry, imagining it. The energy of that pain, just my pain, is palpable. When I imagine it multiplied by thousands of mothers and fathers, desperate, lost, reaching out for children who have slipped away or been dragged away, it is a pain that seems to rip through the soul of the entire country. That much pain seems impossible to ignore. How are we functioning through it? Who has the strength to ignore it? And for those who can ignore it — what damage is created by so much repressed humanity?

“The newspaper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others. How awful, we would say, and they were, but they were awful without being believable. They were too melodramatic, they had a dimension that was not the dimension of our lives. We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.”
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

Imagine that hospital room with no mother to witness it. Imagine that child with no one who loves her nearby, and no one coming. For a moment: imagine it.

Then march and vote and call.

This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post, hosted by Kristi of FindingNinee and Kenya Johnson of Sporadically Yours. On the fourth Friday of each month, we share a photo and the story behind it.

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8 thoughts on “I Was Always There

  1. It’s heartbreaking and tragic to say the least. I had the same reaction! Imagining and comparing it to what it would have been like if my daughter and I had not been able to stay together during her hospital stays.!

  2. For all the struggles we’ve had, which are smaller in comparison but were still huge at the time, I was always there too. And I remember the craziest details. I used to have a nightmare about my toddler daughter alone in a dungeon type basement with bad guys. It’s because she was so happy and so trusting and so colorful and I couldn’t imagine anyone taking that away from her.
    And it’s happening right now in this country and the mama bear in me is screaming. I’m sure there’s a collective mama and papa scream right now.

  3. YES to voting and calling and caring and doing everything we can. To empathy for others in situations we’re not familiar with. To photos we hate that remind us of the strength in ourselves and in others with empathy and kindness in their hearts, too.

  4. We never leave our daughter when she is in the hospital either…it is being there to protect, but also to witness. It is totally unthinkable to not be there. I just cannot imagine what it would be like to be unable to be there.

  5. I don’t know what the Handmaid’s tale is about, but that quote is so applicable to what you’ve written regarding the news and responding to it in an proactive way. I feel like I live in between (news and social media turned off) where the freedom is and I can’t be hurt by what I see or hear.

  6. […] power to make them see me as fallible just like them, right into the future. Sure, I loved them and I cared for them when they were sick and I cooked and I listened, but I made a totally embarrassing mistake. I look at it and know how […]

  7. […] on without holding tight, how to connect without smother, is one she’s still trying to teach. In sickness as a toddler, she sat on my lap and cried, “mama!”, and when I held her closer, she squirmed further away. […]

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