The first time it happened, we got out the books. Each one of them said this was likely to happen. Well, maybe not likely, but possible. Babies have seizures. They just do. Most of the time when there is a fever; and he had one. No one talks about it, but it’s more common than you’d think. That’s what the nurse in the ER told us after his second one, and his third. They gave us a DVD and a booklet. Our doctor told us her brother had had seizures as a child, and he was just fine. So we tried to believe we were normal. That what was happening was normal. That the panic was normal. Oh it was there, that fluttering bird, like Millay’s but with less hopeful feathers. But we talked ourselves down each time, like a negotiator on a bullhorn shouting to the suicidal that everything would be all right, that bailing out was not the answer, that we should just back away from the ledge. We convinced ourselves that as long as we didn’t panic, this very abnormal thing, this thing no one talks about, would move along. Nothing to see here but a dark cloud briefly obscuring the sun. The brain, like a hard drive, just needs to reboot sometimes. But after the next one came a CT scan and an appointment in neurology. It’s difficult to convince yourself that that is normal. Then the blood tests, the MRIs, the medications, the therapy, the special classrooms, the emergency phone calls. That time on the plane, already taking its place on the runway, and the pilot and all the passengers forced to return to the airport: that felt nothing like normal.
At no time in my fantasies about parenthood did I predict this sort of dissonance. Isn’t that why I took vitamins and said yes to those screening tests? A co-worker asked one day, “What, had you thought it was all going to be perfect?” And what do you say to that? No? Yes? Maybe? So we lived in a kind of maybe for a long time. That maybe things would be ok. That maybe babies grow out of these things, even though the DVD and booklet warned us that a child who has one seizure is more likely to have another, and so on. We would have to be watchful. We would have to be diligent. One of us would sleep with him at all times. We would keep our phones near us at all times. By the fifth, I suppose the likelihood of his having more had grown so exponentially I should have known then that the panic would soon find a place to perch, it’s tiny talons clutching on my aorta, its beating wings drowning out the beat of my own heart.
The night is quiet, the hum
of the air-conditioner in the window
is like no noise at all. I watch your chest move
rhythmically beneath the thin sheet, the sheet
pulled up over your thin arm, your arm
pulled up alongside your cheek. I can’t
see your eyes. Your small foot twitches again, against
my leg, and I stop, don’t move a muscle, don’t
take a breath, the quick rhythm of my heart
beats loudly in my ears. Slowly,
lightly, I press my leg against your leg and wait, wait
for the next rhythmic twitch, but the next
doesn’t come. I should reach over, put my finger
in the soft crook of your arm—at 8, still
more meat than sinew—, and slowly, lightly
pull your arm down from your cheek. I should look
at your eyes, see if your lashes beat rhythmically
against your cheek, a sight that sounds
an all too common alarm so quiet
you make no noise at all in the night.