I was calm. Outwardly.
But inside I could feel fear hardening in my belly like a ball of antimatter. And I knew if I let it out of its containment field, I would explode into a spreading flame of helpless fright. I knew I couldn’t do that. I had to keep it together for my baby girl. And my sons. And even their mother, who I was sharing more moments with than I had since our divorce over ten years ago.
It was hard. So hard. Sitting there watching her unconscious, tubes of all sizes sticking out of her from all locations top and bottom. The rhythm of my day was the harsh hiss and sigh of the breathing apparatus she was hooked up to, keeping her alive since she couldn’t breathe on her own. I would watch her laying there, wanting so desperately for her to wake up and talk to me again. About boys, about soccer, about work, about life. Anything. Even an annoyed eye roll would have been joyous. And she did wake up on occasion, but there was no joy then, only more agony for us both. Her drugged stupor would temporarily wear off and I would witness frantic desire to be rid of the tube in her mouth, throat and lungs. A wordless mouthing of an impassioned plea. “I want to go home. Please.” The tears would roll out of her eyes, each drop speaking clearly words she could not say.
But still, my own eyes remained dry. I could not let her see my agony. I could not be weak when she needed strength. All I could do was brush her tears away, stroke her hair and whisper “I know baby, I know.” and try to calm her as much as possible until she fell back into unconsciousness as the drugs swept her once more into whatever place they took her. I wondered if she dreamed. It’s possible, I suppose. Her brow would furrow, her hand, restrained to prevent her removing her tube, would make motioning movements. I could only wait in helpless agony, wanting to do what a father should do and make it all better. Protect my child, ease her pain, calm her fears. But I was helpless. It was a helplessness that made me feel as if I were in a wakened form of her current condition. Unable to express what I wanted to say, unable to move in any way that mattered, unable to do anything but wait and watch and hope and look forward to the day she could wake up and talk to me again.
And then she did.
Now, though there is a long fight to get back to where she was, and things are not normal, we can talk, we can hug, we can say I love you and we can even argue. Sometimes. Which seems stupid as well as…normal. Even though things aren’t. I’ll take it. I’ll take those dark days disappearing into the distance. I’ll help them along by driving fast down the road of yesterdays. I’ll scream with joy with my head out the window.
And in the dark, at night, by myself where no one will see I’ll let loose the fear, little by little, not so much that I explode but just enough to let it leak out of my eyes.