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" Bits of Broken Hearts | 2009 | Mystic Beluga "

02.06.09 2:44 p.m.

Man can live for about forty days without food, and about three days without water, about eight minutes without air ... but only for one second without hope.  

-Hal Lindsey


Hope Personified

I spot Barack Obama in the grocery store, loitering by the meat section. When I approach him, I explain that I know this must be a dream - the president does not make a habit of hanging out in grocery stores and I am aware that I don't actually know what store this is - and he confirms. We wander the aisles and I tell him that I am worried about my nephew Aydan. Even though Obama conceded that this had to be a dream, he continues to do his shopping and apologizes that he has to multitask while talking with me. Since the inauguration, he just hasn't had the time to shop on his own and the Secret Service never buys the right tea. He tells me not to worry too much, that this will go fine because it has to, and I would like to say that I awoke refreshed and relieved, but hope (even personified in the form of Barack Obama) just doesn't feel like enough.

The night before this dream, I returned home to a yellow lanyard featuring two baby pictures wrapped around my doorknob. My mother had told me that she was leaving me some token I was to keep with me throughout the day, while my nephew Aydan had delicate surgery to remove a piece of his skull in order to resolve his craniosynostosis. This has been going on for six months, as we waited for him to be old enough to get the surgery before it could impact his brain, potentially resulting in cognitive impairments and blindness. This pending surgery was a background process to our lives, a constant thrum we couldn't ignore.

Last Wednesday, when I cuddled on my sofa, grateful that I am allowed to work from home in the event of an ice storm, my brother Dan called and said that they needed my blood. While we were pretty sure he was A+, I'd made the mistake of donating blood in high school and we knew my type for certain. The last time I let anyone poke me with a needle, I woke up on the ground with a nurse rubbing my chest, distinctly less pleasant than porn would have you believe. He sent my sister-in-law Becky to free me from my apartment and deliver me to a clinic forty miles away, the only place open to my forced donation. But there was no other option. Aydan needed a pint of my blood.

The lanyard is a way of assuming control of something that is so far out of our hands. My brother got Aydan to the hospital and we had two pints of blood to go into his tiny blood during the five hour surgery, but we couldn't be in the operating room. We couldn't wield the scalpel or surgical hammer or whatever tool is used to crack an infant's skull so they can remove a piece, so we each cling to some plastic and cotton as though that can affect the change we need. My mother is an atheist, but she is more than willing to make an exception for the superstitions that will keep her family safe and whole.

I want to be at the hospital, fretting in person rather than acting as an editor. I know that my presence would not change anything, that I would just sit in the waiting room, typing away on my mini-notebook so the anxiety would not overwhelm me. I would just be additional germs that Aydan doesn't need. My time is better served at my desk, and I dive into the monotonous work so I don't drown into imagining just what our little man is going through. The lanyard sits on my desk next to the picture of Melanie and I spent all day studying it, eventually noticing the slight rainbow on his forehead in the obverse picture.

Around 1:30, my mother calls to let me know that the surgery is over, that he is headed to recovery and is doing well, that they removed a chunk of his skull and his faintly football-shaped head has started moving toward the natural shape of a baby's head, an under-inflated volleyball. He is kept on a morphine drip for days and his head swells incredibly, until he battles just to open his eyes to slits. When the swelling subsists, he looks totally different, as through they are bringing a stranger home from the hospital. It is almost a second birth, a new chance before he is a year into having a first chance at life.

He will have a lightning bolt scar from ear to ear atop his head - we will encourage him to grow his hair out or become a big fan of Harry Potter - and there will be months of healing, but he is out of any danger. Aydan is going to be fine, our real hope personified.

Soon in Xenology: Aquariums. Intermediaries.

last watched: Return to Oz
reading: Identity Crisis
listening: Damien Rice

" Bits of Broken Hearts | 2009 | Skate Like a Pirate

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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