The sun shone in hot, grazing my knuckles with its rays as the air rushed in from the open window smelling sweet and sticky, a mix of mature chlorophyl and highway fumes, and for a second I almost felt peace. I caught a glimpse of another driver, window down, hair blowing in the wind, and I wondered where she was going or what she was doing and I imagined her freedom. I lost myself in a moment of reverie, as I often find myself doing these days, imaging the days when I was free from seeing the reality of life and knowing those days of freedom are forever gone. The moment lasted but the space of a couple inhale and exhales until I heard her tiny giggle in the backseat and I was snapped back into reality; until I felt the massive weight of responsibility suck in around me. Responsibility like the crushing pressure of water that can rush in to any tiny hole or deformity found in a vessel at sea and displace all the air and eventually crush massive structures sinking them, banishing them to the ocean’s depths; responsibility so massive it is like an ocean.
She yells, “Fresh air!” and laughs again that magnetic giggle that forces all those around to involuntarily smile.
I smile with a twinge of pain as I think how oxymoronic that something so pure and joyous could suck all the air from my lungs and snap me out of the closest moment to freedom I have felt in the longest time. She is almost 9 but still has the giggle of a toddler, like many of her other features.
We are behind the clock, again, rushing to pick up brother; coming from an appointment at the hospital, to get him, and to go to his therapy. This is the third therapy of the week; it’s like soup du jour, every day has it’s own flavor of therapy, mostly for her but also some for him. The car sways with the turns, a little too much, it needs new suspension but we can’t afford it, therapy is expensive, doctors are expensive, this life is expensive.
“Baby, Mama’s had enough fresh air I’m gonna roll the windows up now.”
I feel my breath being sucked out the window like the air being displaced by water in someone who drowns, and I just need the window closed; but there is no end to this drowning, no rescue and no death, just the ever pressing weight of responsibility and no way to swim through it.
I hopped out of the car and the sun hit my back warming me, I hear the noises of summer in the background and wax nostalgic for the time I worked summer camp; I love children more than anything else in this world, I love working with children, talking with them, teaching them, everything about them. How could I not know it could be like this? I opened the car door to help my nearly 9 year old out of her car seat, a full 5-pt harness car seat. I have religiously buckled her in and out of a car seat for 9 years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future; it’s easy to forget about the monotony of care when they are stages in the developmental march of childhood until the march forward is halted and becomes a never ending merry-go-round.
I prayed as we walked that nothing behaviorally “unexpected” happened at camp today, to who I prayed I’m not sure, because I stopped believing there could be any benevolent spirit in this world the day I resuscitated my daughter in our living room while her younger brother lay sleeping upstairs. Whatever juju there was left I must’ve squeezed out of the universe with that prayer, because we managed a successful day at camp and emerged from the shadowy cool basement of the school back out into the blinding sunlight of the parking lot and back we climbed into the car, ball and chain of responsibility following like the shadow of memory that I can’t seem to escape every time we enter the car, the one that causes my heart to quicken its pace and my mind to replay every time she slipped into a seizure in that car seat I have buckled her into, the one that is supposed to keep her safe, but does nothing to protect her from her own body. Her body, the one I tragically knitted together for her, irreparably broken and in need of support for the rest of her life, both beautiful and tragic, and eternally entrusted to me to defend and protect.
They asked for music, just more din added to their quibbling, the buzz of the tires, and the constant internal dialogue; scheduling, dinner, scheduling, medications, scheduling, to-do, birthdays, what-ifs, politics, am I doing enough, the general on goings of the mind, ever churning like the constant whirring of the gears of a clock inside my head. It’s such a beautiful day, what happened to my freedom? I wonder where that woman was going, wind blowing in her hair as she drove down the interstate. I think this is nothing like I imagined it would be and I know it is never as anyone imagines it would be, but all this with its constant therapies and medications and doctors and emergencies is really so very far from anything anyone could imagine. I love children, they are all I ever wanted, it can’t all be crushing responsibility like the water that rushed in and crushed the Titanic like an empty Coke can under foot.
Friends have children, they drive with the windows down, and breathe deep breaths that fill their lungs with sweet air that smells of lilacs and cut grass. They still experience the delicious freedom of life. They take swim lessons and piano, they complain about dance class and the cost of costumes, they worry about reading and enrichment, and what type of organic sunscreen is best to protect their intact children’s bodies; they live on the sandy beach and I live in the crushing depths with the rusty wreckage of those who have drown long ago. I live where my lungs cannot expand. My lungs cannot expand because I live in the world of therapies that are a have to instead of dance classes that are a want to; in a world where I look at the medications sprawled out on my kitchen table readied to be dispersed into their neat weekly planner and come to the mind-numbing realization that the cost of one month of these medications combined is literally double the average U.S. yearly income (yes, yearly!); and a world where everyday is spent moving crisis to crisis. I live in a world where I am meant to pretend I can breathe because it is the polite thing to do in the company of those who find breathing so natural. Occasionally I find others like me amongst the wreckage, drowning at the crushing depths, we share knowing looks, and try to help each other the best we can but the problem when you are drowning is there is no way to help another who has sunk to the bottom of the ocean.
I’ve lived this life so long I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to have lungs that move in and out easily like the well oiled machines lungs are meant to be. I forgot until I saw a young woman driving down the highway on a beautiful summer day, hair blowing in the wind, and longed for the freedom of healthy children giggling in the seats behind me and a destination unplanned rather than the therapy du jour.