Charlie

I drove to the hospital and told myself that I was finally going to finish something. 

I slung my purse over my shoulder and stared at the high white walls of the hospital. I took a breath remembering the countless times Charlie and I trudged through those clear sliding doors and I prepared myself to do it again. By then I knew the winding corridors that led to the blinding room covered in florescent “get well soon” cards and overenthusiastic carnations. 

I walked past the familiar physicians and nurses nodding to them weakly, heartbroken. Shania tapped my shoulder as I passed. 

Antonia, We need to talk. I know that she wanted to talk but I couldn’t. I already knew what she was going to say. 

 From down the hall, I could hear the show Cosmos playing and Charlie’s strained voice listing the planets in order from their distance to the sun to an unsuspecting nurse. He wrote a song to remember them on his 6thbirthday at the planetarium. He begged me and begged me to take him to “the place where they kept the moon”. Charlie loved space. 

In the Children’s Ward I took a deep breath before stepping into his white room and smiling at the slight boy. I laid my oversized bag on the on the stiff sofa beside his bed where most days I sat waiting for him to go through his treatment, and sat beside him. Leaning heavily against the mountain of white pillows behind him, he smiled at me as wide as his weak purple lips would let him.  

“Mom! Mom! Did you bring it?” I pulled the wrinkled article out of my purse, placed it in his bony hands and pushed some of the dull black hair away from his eyes. I kissed his forehead which made his little face scrunch up in prepubescent indignation. Sometimes I could  pretend that he was the bouncing boy building forts in the living room with the hideous knit blankets his grandmother made for him every year. 

He traced his brittle fingers along the nebulas in the tiny photo boxes scattered between the columns. The ink from the newspaper article smudged at his touch. If this had been a few months ago he would have explained every photo and how NASA took the pictures. He would have asked me to take him to the planetarium again because Lewis in the Jupiter exhibit would sit with us for hours to answer every question Charlie’s curious mind could fathom. He’d sit next to Lewis and tell him that his father was a shooting star. 

He slipped the paper back into my hands. “Mom, can you read this to me?”

 Wrapping my arm around his shoulders, I sat down next to him on the bed. We read for a while, and I almost stopped worrying that my embrace would break him in half. The nurse cleared her throat for me to take my arm back. It was a long article written in miniscule font. We barely finished the first half when he sunk further into the sterile snow colored sheets. They began to swallow him when the machine monitoring his vital signs panicked. Its screech alerted the doctors and the nurse pulled me from his side. 

“What’s going on- what’s going..”  I asked frantically even though I knew what was going on. The lungs in my chest wouldn’t contract and I couldn’t breathe. “Could he breathe?” Can Charlie breathe? There were so many of them crowding the bed but his limp body didn’t budge. The grainy floor crashed into me. Tears and snot drained into my mouth, choking me. Can he breathe? “Why isn’t he moving?” My baby. “My baby”. Take me. “God.” Why couldn’t you take me. “Take me.” I’ll do anything. Please just take me. 

Charlie loves the galaxy. When we visited the planetarium gift shop he picked out a thick plastic key chain of Jupiter with a cartoon smile. 

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