With help from the front porch light, I began to put the key into the door. Jada, my little partner who helped me navigate the dark, icy walkway, was already complaining about how cold she was and how dark the sky looked. Joli, my “take-my-time-and-smell-every-rose” child, was still near the car.
That’s when I heard the thud. It wasn’t a heavy thud; rather, it was the sound of our empty, plastic, dark blue and slightly cracked, garbage can. I heard her voice, startled, in the air.
“Dad! Oh my gosh! Are you okay? Can you get up, Dad? Oh, Evan, oh no!” I let go of the brass knob and felt the swinging storm door bounce off of my back. I couldn’t see Joli. While her voice filled the air with questions of concern, it was the absence of crying and the absence of Jorge’s voice that I heard so clearly.
The 10-foot stretch from my walkway to the left side of the car was an eternity. The words “His eye! Oh my God, his eye!!” were pulling me closer to the two bodies laying on the ground. “Blood .. his eye… his eye….”
Though I haven’t been able to lift more than 5 lbs in the past 5 weeks, I felt my arms grab my 30 lb son off of my husband’s chest. Even as Jorge struggled to sit up, the bottoms of his feet slipped as he tried to stand. Once on his feet, we took Evan and walked down the path to the house.
The icy black air mixed with the crying of the girls, the begging of forgiveness as Jorge repeated his only son’s name, and my desperate whispers for God to have Mercy on us.
The heat of our home calmed us while the light from the living room lamp — left on while we were away — revealed the amount of blood that was pouring down Evan’s face, forming a puddle on Jorge’s shirt.
I watched her.
I watched her create an imaginary wall that kept her from getting close to her brother. “Please, please, please God. Please don’t let him be like me. Please don’t let him be just like me. Please, please, please let him have two eyes,” she prayed. “Mom, please, please let his eye be okay.”
“Evan will be okay, Joli.” Years of trauma have taught us to be calm. “He is not losing his eye.”
She reached for Squishie — the soft webbing between my thumb and forefinger. Ever since Joli was a toddler, Squishie was the way she let me know she was scared. It was our subtle code for I need you. “Mommy, I remember,” she shook her head. “I remember everything.”
“We never asked you to forget, Joli,” I began. I felt her tiny thumb and forefinger pushing on my hand. “Would you like to tell me what you remember?” She’s always been aware of cancer, her eye, and the speeches we gave. But, this was different. This was memory.
“I remember people holding me down like this,” she locked her arms straight down by her side. She continued, “I remember them pulling my eye and looking inside. But, I can’t explain it. I just remember.” She shook her head and wrinkled her brow. “Everything is going into my brain so fast, Mom. I just, I just, I just remember it all right now.”
Inhale, Liza. Inhale. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.
She has never said those details before tonight.
She has never seen those actions on a video. Never seen those images in a photo. Never been told about it or overheard it in a speech. I have never said those words.
This was all her.
“What do you need right now, Joli? What can I do for you or give to you?”
She said nothing. She didn’t need to. She simply pressed her thumb and forefinger to make sure I was there; that I was really there with her.
She turned around and faced the back of the couch. As I got up to help Jorge put ice on Evan’s rapidly swelling lid, I heard her. I heard her whisper her feelings to God. Our eyes met, and she said, “I wish it was me who got hurt instead of Evan. I wish I could take away his pain.” She turned away from me and turned to God, the comfort she needed.
I began to hear a soft cry at the other end of the couch and realized I didn’t notice Jada very much during these intense 7 minutes. She was scribbling in her Hello Kitty journal “Jada, what do you need? Is there something you’d like to say?”
“Yes, there is,” she said through her tears. Jada closed her eyes and her lip began to quiver. “I’d just like to say that I’m really going to miss Evan’s cute smile.”
For the first time in the 10 minutes since the driveway, I smiled.
“Jada. Jada. My sweet Jada. You know Evan’s not dead, right? He’s right here. Look. He’s right there. Awake. No dying….” I said in my stern-but-smiling face. Jada has a knack for dramatically comedic timing.
“Oh. Okay,” and she went back to drawing in her journal.
Our family has been through the ringer, a few times, and back. Truth is, I wouldn’t have it any other way. When a bleeding cut seems like the end of the world, I’m reminded that we’ve all been through a lot worse in our lives. And, truthfully, there are others who go through and have gone through much worse. If, at the end of the day, we can be thankful for the gift of thankfulness, then we have truly lived a life worth living.
In this holiday season, our little family wishes you health, happiness, joy, and the courage to give thanks each and every day of your life.
Peace, love, and remembering what makes us,