a night in the life…


lt’s 3:45 and I am late. She will be early, because that is what she does. She comes after school, and there’s nothing else to get in the way. No sports teams, no dance class, no student council meeting. Sometimes she is sick, but usually she is early. There is a text on my phone that is bad news. There is an undone list rattling in my head. There is the echo of a conversation I wasn’t meant to hear in my ears. I am late, and I run in apologetic while she smiles.
She asks me my name a thousand times, and the names of all the characters on the screen. She almost sings to part of “let it go”, which I am pretty sure I could sing perfectly from beyond the grave at this point. She is red faced and crying, all the more frustrated because the words for it aren’t there. In the whole world of sounds she has repeated, she owns none for whatever it is this time. She screams and it barely registers on my radar. It is not a new sound.
The rhythm of the robot is steady, and I find myself changing the legs without actual thought, sometimes. It never stops being a miracle to some of them. The ones, like this one, who sit and take pictures and get teary eyed. They roll around on stools and marvel at how beautiful it all is. Meanwhile, the beeper is going off for the thirteenth time and her left toe is plantarflexed. It makes a sound as it drags.
He is the next one in, and his mom is not one of the new ones. She dashes in and out, a phone to her ear and enough finality in the way she pulls him up from the chair that I feel almost sad. He’s talking, and he’s smiling because he knows his lines and I know mine. I am dramatic over the mat, pulling faces and crying fat tears I have pulled out of a Dixie cup. I am hamming a dance to the song on his youtube playlist, and he is almost embarrassed, for a second, as the next ones walk into the room. It slides back off of his face, and he is giggling in the voice that is busy trying to change. I meet her eyes, and we have that moment where we wonder how much longer.
And the little one is there, and she has a pink bow. She doesn’t sing, doesn’t giggle, doesn’t shout at me. Her parents are eyeing the others with a mix of wishing and of feeling very sad. She is so small, and the tiny spasm barely registers in my hands. She pulls her head back and they clap and cheer like those parents in the stands at the Olympics. I can’t decide whether to be sad.
And finally the last patient of the day. She is easy and happy to see us. She shouts, and it is singing along, but could just as easily be swearing, really. She signs a few of the words, and she notices that I’m not smiling, not wailing in the voices like I usually do.
“Abby,” I tell her “I had a bad day.”
For a second I think she understands. She might, but she could never tell me. She’ll never make those words. She just looks solemn, just looks guilty. She mumbles sorry, and she drools a little bit. It splashes on my hair. But when we get her down she hugs me, just for a second.
There was a time when I thought I would be the person who figured things out. I thought I could understand, and I thought I would be able to explain away the questions. I thought I would be able to stop asking them. I thought there would be a light and a calmness and a firmness under my feet. Instead, it has been a bad day and there is drool in my hair.
The more at home I feel here, the more often I ask the questions. The more I realize that the ground is shaky, here (maybe it’s the shale fraccing?). The more I become comfortable here, and resign myself to a life lived waiting for an answer.
But I will come here again and sing the songs with a cheesy grin that will settle into a genuine smile as the night goes on. I will come here again and exclaim with the new, excited parents. I will lament with the tired, practiced ones. I will worry with the uncertain ones. I will come here again and do the simple thing. The one that uses my hands more than my head.
Because every time I do, I start to understand a little more about God.

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