As I walk the dog at the fields in late afternoon the sun descends, casting its long, early-autumn shadows. Bathed in the golden light, I get a mix of feelings both sublime and glum. I'm reminded of my splendid childhood summers, but also of times my mother rang the dinner bell calling me away from playing with my friends. I knew the fun part of my day had come to an end. It didn't matter that I'd wake up to another one. I didn't think of it. Just hung my head mourning the absence of my friends. Dragged my feet over the gravely road, heading home alone.
Leaving the fields, a boy jogs across my path. He must be twelve or thirteen. He's a little taller than Calvin and nearly as thin. That's where their commonalities stop. The boy is on his own. He is nimble. He can run. He's a fast athlete and, even at that age, serious and focused on his endeavor. Seeing him gives me pause, and I find myself thinking again about Calvin and our sorry situation with him—what if things hadn't gone so wrong?
I watch the boy run down the path and disappear around the bend. In the distance, a bunch of college students plays soccer, their fit bodies able to do exactly what their brains tell them to do. Their laughter is bittersweet to my ears. Hearing it makes my heart soar and sink, my eyes sting and blink, my mouth tighten into a smile then slacken into something more somber.
My precious boy doesn't have a single friend. He has no concept of play or sport, camaraderie or competition. He can't do those things. Doesn't have language. Navigates his world as if he were blind. Isn't very adept at walking. Has poor coordination. Virtually zero fine-motor skills. He's at the mercy of a brain anomaly, unforgiving seizures and drug side effects. I quietly lament: there's so little joy in life for him.
As I stroll home, the sun at my back and the afterimage of the running boy blazing in my brain, I feel lonesome. The wide street that runs in front of my house is desolate. There are no neighbors tending their gardens. No cars or skaters or bikers sailing by. No parents pushing strollers. No flocks of happy students crossing the road. Loneliness is not an emotion I feel often; I like my own company, like being alone. What I feel is the distinct absence of a child beside me. The loss is palpable. I sense the emptiness in it—the absence of conversation, of exchanging ideas, sharing hopes, hearing dreams, of feeling the sheer joy of walking, running, talking, biking alongside one's child. The hollow pit in my gut deepens as if weighted by a stone. The grief and loss constantly and for years gnawing at it. Thankfully, the burden has softened over time, not to the point of being in any way comfortable or easy, just slightly less dark, sharp and heavy. Less likely to literally bring me to my knees.
I've been rereading my blog posts from nine years ago. Back then, Calvin went seventy-eight days without any seizures. Regrettably, his behavior was unbearable—relentless and terrible side effects from taking high doses of three powerful anticonvulsant drugs. It wasn't a fair or sensible trade-off, so we began weaning the drugs one by one. It took us a number of painful years to get him from three down to one. Since then, however, nothing we've tried—five different kinds and repeated tries of CBD cannabis oil, Epidiolex, probiotics, increasing his Keppra, reducing his Keppra—has helped him regain any kind of seizure freedom longer than a few weeks. Lately, he goes mere days between seizures. I'm still fiddling with his dose of homemade THCA cannabis oil hoping to find a sweet spot.
I think about the boy athlete again, the young runner so sure, quick and lithe. I like to believe Calvin would be like him if things hadn't gone so wrong. And, so, I'm mourning the absence of a healthy, able child. But last night, when Calvin wasn't doing so well, I crawled into bed next to him. He reached for me, wrapped his skinny arms around my neck, curled his knees up to his little bird chest and pulled my head to his. With his eyes closed, he relished my kisses on his eyes, nose, cheeks and chin. Then, like he does sometimes, he made the sweet and soft hum I love so much—uh-uh. In my mind, it sounds a bit like Mama, which long ago he said just once. And for a fleeting moment, that empty sense of absence was filled right up.
|Photo by Michael Kolster