To arrive home that day was to feel the strange simultaneity of an exhausted body and an exhilarated one. It was to carry the brisk thirty mile bike ride like a talisman, the memory of those dusty miles like a polished stone added to a satchel filling slowly with the same. To train. To grow faster, lungs larger, heart filling mightily with blood, pushing at its own sheath of skin. It was to feel the first steps off my bike as a rubbery stumble, the lifting of the steel frame onto the porch as lumbering, as if gravity had grown since I first pushed off a few hours before. It was to notice the door wide open, to think to myself: she’s inviting in the breeze, and also the insects buzzing desperately inside, trying to make the kitchen to claim their treasures.
To arrive home that day was to call through the house for my wife and my son and feel only a slight pang in the silence, the smallest pulse that something wasn’t right, thinking again about the wide-open door, the heavy still absence. It was to hear the faint scream of siren—at first so removed—the standard aural backdrop of living close to 3rd Street, the normalcy of a summer day and far-off, vague emergencies.
It was to hear that scream round a corner, southwest or southeast I can’t remember, to see first the firetruck and then the ambulances and realize as if trapped in a dream that they were landing in my yard, right over the curb and onto the grass, and to see the arteries of women and men streaming from the vehicles and screaming at me, but by then the world had gone muffled and dull. By then I was underwater.
To arrive home that day was to have the most devastating words I had ever heard enter my mind and cluster there and then explode, the shrapnel lodging in every synapse, the shrapnel never to leave again: Where is the boy who’s not breathing? And the only thing I remember about the man who said those words was that he had a red bag full of instruments to conjure back life and breath and heartbeat. If only he got there in time. If only he were lucky. If only his patients were lucky. It was to feel my legs buckle as if my head were concussed, knocked out, hit hard in the temple or cerebral cortex, to go fetal as if in the movies, as if acting out a scene.
It was to feel the arteries of women and men surge past me and fill the house, move rapidly through every room without any direction or guidance or permission, the emergency trumping protocol, my house turned into a state of emergency, the rescuers moving by muscle memory without my permission.
To arrive home that day was to fully understand what I only vaguely sensed when my baby boy was first born and snug in my arms: that I was vulnerable in a new way because of his fragility. And it was to finally hear the familiar ring of my phone in my pocket, to see my wife’s name on the screen, to not trust her first words: Everything’s okay, she said through sobs. A febrile seizure, she said, but by then I wanted to rip the phone open and expose the how and when and where and why in its circuitry, to understand everything in an instant—every detail—and know my boy would be okay.
To arrive home that day was to be ushered along to a second arrival at the hospital’s emergency room and to rush straight to triage where my boy lay in his mother’s arms, hot with a fever that had grown severe in the few hours I was out pedaling trying to make my heart big with blood.
It was to see him open his eyes just barely and to place a hand on his chest to confirm: yes, there is heartbeat, and it was to know that there, in his lungs, was everything, the entire universe pinned to a single breath.
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