different vistas

Driving along winding roads, I reach behind the passenger seat. My son grabs my hand. His is soft and small. Mine, thin-skinned and wrinkled. When I tickle his fingers he smiles, head back, mouth open. Nearly seventeen years ago those fingers were translucent, adorned with tissue-thin nails smaller than seeds on a bagel. Between his teeth he works on the floppy ear of a crocheted rabbit. By now, it's sopping. He has taken off one shoe and one sock, chewed on them too.

We drive like this for the better part of an hour on the same familiar roads. From behind the wheel I feed him blueberries, halves of grapes, segments of clementines and chunks of cheese and chicken sausage. I watch him in the rear view mirror to ensure he chews each piece well. We stop every so often so I can photograph panoramas of the fields, the pines, the water beyond. I wish I could pull to the shoulder, abandon the car, escape my son and even the dog and get lost in the meadows by myself for hours. Maybe I'd lie in the snow and study the clouds. Perhaps I'd get to the the water's edge, perch myself on a rock and melt into the vista.

It has been nearly ten months of mostly back-to-back days with Calvin while Michael is working. Some days can be as long as nine hours. How many more months will this be our routine? When will we be able to get the vaccine? Despite certain hardships, frustrations and limitations, we are keeping our heads above water. Michael has a paying job so I don't have to work (outside of caring for our son.) Michael does all of the shopping and cooking and most of the laundry. Calvin both buouys and sinks me with his want, and so I bob. Last month, he went twenty-two days without any seizures. Then one came six days later and two six days after that—a different kind of vista. Still, we have so much to be grateful for—shelter, heat, clothes, food, so many creature comforts.

On the drive, I look out at the silvery sky and pines dusted with snow and think about my pen pal who is on death row. I doubt he's seen a tree in years. I wonder what his vista is. In letters, he tells me he prays for Calvin. He says he is busy despite spending twenty-three hours a day in a tiny cell. He speaks of waking up every morning in Hell. He mentions how cold it is until they stretch plastic over the windows. He says he's seen more people die in prison than in the Freeworld. He fights to stay strong. He writes me lines from a favorite song.

My heart been broke so many times, I don't know what to believe. Granny said it's my fault, it's my fault I wear my heart on my sleeve. So I think it's best I put my heart on ice, heart on ice because I can't breathe. I'm gone put my heart on ice, give you the best of me.

On the drive home, I think of my childhood friend and neighbor whose autistic son, the twin of a neuro-typical sister, died unexpectedly last summer. Like Calvin, he was nonverbal and loved everyone unconditionally. Then, I think about my friend's little girl, so much like Calvin, seizures and all, who died last March from complications of Covid. I think about my friend's daughter who overdosed on opioids. Why do I know so many parents of supple children—Lily, Rose, Rainier, Kari, Jennifer, Katie, Kellie, Mike, Ross, Mikki, Martin, Cyndimae, Charlotte, August, Arnd, Kevin, Ronan, Elisef, Andrew—who perished?

Coming up a rise to a bend in the road, a gorgeous and familiar view emerges: a rolling hillside above a salt marsh wading into the water. The sun, shrouded by clouds, makes the whole sky glow. As we round the bend, the vista disappears behind suburban homes. I wonder who lives there. Wonder if they have kids. I wonder how it feels to lose a child—to illness, to accident, to epilepsy, to drugs, to suicide, to prison. Though the vista, now behind us, is a clear shot from the car, I wonder if Calvin sees it, can make sense of it, recalls it as one we've passed by nearly every day in this pandemic. I wonder what kinds of vistas—if any—are ones he loves. I will never know.

a different vista

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