The hospital room is strangely hushed despite the steady pumping of the respirator. In spite of the humming and beeping of all of the equipment needed to sustain life here in the ICU, there is a stillness that permeates the air. Sometimes he opens his eyes and stares ahead of himself. Some doctors say it’s just a reaction of his nervous system. A few cautiously tell me that it may be a good sign. One insists he can’t see or hear anything. Most of them admit that no one really knows for sure what he is experiencing. They all admit that there is still a lot about coma patients that they don’t know.
So I read the sports section to him every day, play his favorite rap cd’s, apply Chap Stick and lotion frequently and tell him about my day. And whenever he opens his eyes, I kiss him and pray that he knows I am here. He never looks scared or in distress. His eyes shine with excitement and eagerness. I’ve seen that same light in his eyes a thousand times in his nineteen years. I saw it at age six when he was waiting his turn to test for his first belt in karate, the first time he stood at the top of the ramp at the skate park ready to slide down the ramp at breakneck speed on his skateboard. The way he looked when they finally opened the beach for surfing after the last hurricane skirted us out to sea.
I can’t help thinking that I was not the kind of mother a boy like him needed growing up. Expectant mothers always say that they don’t care whether they have a boy or girl, as long as it’s healthy. I cared deeply; I prayed for a girl from the moment I learned I was pregnant. I had visions of dolls and Barbies, of tea parties, sleepovers, first crushes and proms. Only my husband knew how disappointed I was when we learned that I was expecting a boy. He promised we could try again whenever I was ready. We didn’t know then that he wouldn’t live to see our son earn his yellow belt.
From the very beginning he was all boy. Screaming and kicking in the delivery room, head butting me at age two when I swooped in for a kiss. My nose was stinging and I had tears in my eyes as he cackled with delight at his new variation on our bedtime kissing game. Even as an infant he would grow breathless with joy when his father would toss him up in the air and catch him. My heart would be banging in my chest with fear as the two of them just laughed and laughed. I remember having my feelings hurt on his first day at school. Other children clung in fear to their moms or sat sniffling on mats refusing to be comforted. My son let go of my hand at the classroom door and dropped his little backpack on the floor in his eagerness to explore that new environment.
Back then he had trouble telling reality from the fantasy world of movies and television. Once he jumped from the top step of the sliding board and knocked himself breathless. He had thought that he could fly because he was wearing Spiderman underpants. I grew more concerned when he told his grandfather that he wanted to be a cartoon when he grew up. I probably over explained it when I attempted to teach him the difference between real life and what he saw on television. He was a kid who saw things in black and white; you were either a good guy or you were a bad guy. You either won or you lost. Maybe I would have done better with a girl. Girls understand the gray areas earlier than boys sometimes.
Once at the beach when he was only three, he got so excited when he saw this girl making huge bubbles with a large tray and a strange looking dipper. He had the same look in his eyes even then. “Mommy, look!” he cried as he ran towards the bubbles. One bubble, almost as big as he was, drifted towards him. He threw back his head and thrust out his chest as he closed his eyes in anticipation. It popped as soon as the bubble made contact with his skin but still he kept his eyes closed a moment longer. When he opened them he looked first perplexed then immediately disappointed. Totally pissed he shot past me with his hand cocked back and viciously popped the next bubble floating his way. He turned back around and stomped back to our blanket and plopped down next to me crossing his arms on his chest.
“What’s wrong?” I asked him.
“It didn’t work right!” he answered.
“The bubble didn’t,” he said looking at me like I was dense. “Like the one the fairy lady flew in the movie with the scary monkeys. Like Pokémon did when the bad guys were chasing him.”
Maybe he never really ever learned the difference. He remained fearless. After his father died I let him try everything that he showed enthusiasm for, no matter how alien the appeal was to me. My stomach churned and my palms sweated as he put on the various pads and helmets that went with each endeavor. But I was there, cheering and filming at every exhibition and event that he was in. I drove him to practices, paid for lessons and equipment. Maybe I did him a disservice by hiding my fear. Maybe I should have taught him fear. I was so afraid of him missing anything that a boy needs to experience just because he didn’t have a father. I wanted him to have the knowledge of the things that males seem to take to so easily, a love of sports, cars, household repairs, and electronics. I didn’t want him to miss out on all the rough and tumble mysteries of being a boy, a teen, a man.
His eyes snap open again, eager and alert. I see the light showing in them as I take his hand in mine and I kiss him and tell him that I am here. I pray to myself that he remains fearless.
Lana Estepp writes and lives in a lovely house in Richmond Virginia, where she lives with her boyfriend Bradley and their two dogs, Tallulah Belle and Buddy. She has had a few short stories published in small literary magazines. She takes writing classes and participates in writing groups for the much needed discipline. Lana spends nearly as much time working on her flower gardens as she does her writing. Her short stories seem to last longer and are more satisfying than her blooms are, but aren’t as lovely as a house full of fresh cut flowers can be.