You lay swaddled in cheap cotton—no strings, no zippers, no buttons, no ties, your sweaty head heavy on a thin pillow.
You are spent, exhausted like you were on the night we met, when my untested body failed us both and so a bad doctor and worse comedian started, against my protests, to go in after you. He joked about his catcher’s mitt while he put his hands inside me. But you would not have it, and so, without his help, you rolled into position and kicked your way into the light, and after being turned over in the lamps and washed and assessed by a team of masked decision-makers, you were finally laid in my arms where I called you mine. You locked your temporarily blue eyes on me, and then fell asleep so hard I feared you dead.
I have not known that particular and exacting panic in the nineteen years since, but I recognized it two days ago as your little brother and I carried you to the backseat of the car—are they dead mama are they dead?, your limbs limp and your face blue and your writing hand, the one that has been curled around a pen since it could close into a fist, inked up from the not-so-magic marker with which you’d scribbled an apology on the bathroom wall. The ambulance in this town takes too fuckin long, your sister said, go mama go mama go go now. And I screamed at you all the way there to wake up honey wake up baby got-damnit, and then they took you, and I went wild on some doughy kid who held a clipboard before me and asked did I want someone to give you a blessing.
But what would that mean, I wonder now, as I count your breaths and watch your heavily lashed eyelids twitch in deep and doped-up dreaming, and what would that sound or feel like to you, a blessing from people whose perfect manners cannot be assailed but whose faith forbids you a place at god’s table? And what good a blessing, anyway, in this antiseptic-smelling room, so much like their chapels – safe for toddlers but bereft of comfort?
A nurse glides into the room, in non-denominational disguise — no tag, no tie, two-hundred-dollar sneakers, and remarks on our reading choices that are not from the book cart. Later, you and I will read these poems and stories you asked me to bring, words that will carry us through the night and prevent me from strangling the next man who calls over the crackling intercom with an offer of priesthood blessings. No more, Latter Day Saint. No more Latter Day Saints. Let us have a Saint of Always and Never, or a Saint of Right Got-damn Now.
The nurse stares at your hand in mine, where it has been since you called for me hours ago. He asks do I want to pray with him, holding before me a form I do not remember though it bears my signature, and his buffed fingernail hovers over a blank space where my religion should be recorded. His eyes close like he is bracing for impact, and his lips move but I do not hear him. My prayer is silent mourning and dissent, languages he does not speak. On his way out of the room, the nurse says The Lord loves you I hope you know that and then his gaze falls on your form in the bed and he says Repentance is such a gift.
You wake, and our eyes open open open on each other. Your brow is stitched up in a question; a faint smile breaks across your face. You have fought your way back into the world, but I don’t know what to say, failing us both again. You reach for me and our urgent embrace is reported by the chirping monitor beside your bed. I kiss your damp hair, marveling that you are mine but not.
I say mom things are you hungry are you thirsty what can I bring you, and then I confess I want to give you something true and real, but my own words are inadequate and I do not know a prayer or poem equal to this moment. I tell you I will try to write one for you someday. And while your heartbeat steadies on the screen beside us, I promise you this: we will build the world anew. And we will call each other by our sacred names, the ones we choose for ourselves.