i didn’t hear the phone ring. at a party, a few drinks, a lot of laughter. walking home the beeping catches my attention. the message short and too the point: my son has been shot. please come to the hospital. shit. these are the reasons we have cell phones, to get these calls. fuck. the kid has been shot. the sweet, 13 year old boy who acolytes and plays baseball and lives the ghetto and tries to keep his nose clean amidst the world around him.
i drive the car, despite the wine, to the hospital. enough time passed and nothing sobers like the words gun shot. children’s hospital, filled with computer games and big screen tvs, enough to think that it was a hotel, if not for the IVs and the gaping hole in his thigh.
in the room stands his mother, who had, on more than one occasion, screamed at me for not buying a bus pass or not bringing the right groceries…this night, without words, we made peace. she had come, straight from work, on the bus, not knowing if he was dead or alive, having to sit through 3 transfers and waiting for delayed buses to bring her to this part of town. she smells of work and anger and anxiety. she yells on the cell phone, her normal tone, and barks orders to her other 3 children.
i need to change. i smell, she says
i’ll wait, i reply.
and so she leaves. my waiting, a gift to her. my waiting, her gift of trust to me.
he talks on the phone. and sometimes stops to tell me stories. no tears, no fear, he promises, sometimes couching it in god language.
does it hurt? i ask.
nah. i can take it, he says.
after 11 he tries to sleep but keeps the light on until the nurse comes in, florescent bulbs bright against the dried red blood of on his brown skin. she dims the lights, the glow of the side lights, and the blue television screen illuminated with visions of fish in a fish tank, the most peaceful screen saver i can find. i watch the fish float by and gaze at him from time to time, his eyelids heavy.
you awake sarah? he asks.
sure am, i say and he closes his eyes.
his mother returns 3 hours later, smelling of beer and calgon.
i asked the neighbor for some liquor, but all they had was beer she tells me. then i took me a long bubble bath.
i think of my mother and know that she would’ve never left, let alone basked in a bubble bath had half the fate been bestowed on me. another highlight of our different worlds.
you didn’t have to wait she says.
i know. i lie.
i say a prayer over his sleeping face, the breathing heavy, the face innocent of the days trauma. i anoint his head with oil more for me than for him and drive the car home to try and sleep.