Sean and I had a disagreement earlier this week. L forgot all of his swimwear for our Labor Day weekend trip to Pentwater. It was mostly my fault. I had a list and didn’t double-check it before we left. It was also a little L’s fault, too because he had reassured me that he could pack his own bag. By the time he realized he had forgotten his stuff, it was too late to turn around. We bought an extra swimshirt and L borrowed C’s extra bathing suit. It was a fantastic farewell to summer.
Sean and I disagreed on how each of us responded to L’s (and mine) packing oversight. I think Sean was too harsh. He thinks I was too lenient. While “discussing” this Sean, blurted out, “He is not a fragile flower!”
And inside I raged and shook and screamed, “Yes HE IS! YES he is. Yes. He. Is.”
Sean sees L as he is. TEN. Kind, funny, loyal, and a hard-worker. He cares about Legos, Star Wars, Pokemon, and starting a Minecraft club with newly found friends. L sees himself that way, too.
For me, L is frozen in time. Bald. Silent. Accepting. Three. He was only three.
People tell me that L is a warrior. He fought to survive. He wanted to get better. He did everything that he was taught to do; just like the Jedi he is named for, he trusted his teachers- us- and followed their instruction. All true. However, he was also too young to know better. He didn’t know to be afraid. He did what all three year olds do- anything possible to get back to playing. Sean and I knew better. We carried the weight of “what-if” and “now what?” We carried it. I carried it. We are the warriors. I am a warrior.
I am L’s memory. Do I remind him of everything he went through? Bring it up so he knows he can do hard things. That he has already done the hardest thing? Or let it go? Let him relish the present and make a cancer a thing that happened a long time ago that has no bearing on today. The constant negotiation is exhausting.
He doesn’t remember. He. Doesn’t. Remember. I am desperate to forget. I envy L’s freedom. I want to erase smells, phrases, hospital scenes from my mind. I claw and scratch at them. And yet, in the oddest moments, the most unassuming times- like standing at the kitchen sink fighting about how to discipline him- my grip on those same memories tightens. The remnants of L’s treatment are visceral. I need them like oxygen.
I am afraid that focusing solely on his survival will make me lazy, or comfortable. I missed his cancer once before. It grew and grew for months. Months before I noticed it. What if that happens again? If loosen my grip, everything could slip away. I could slip away.
L’s journey is always with me. It is the current that pushes the river. Sean is right. L is not three. I need to choose to see the pre-teen boy right in front of me. He is not a fragile flower.
I am the fragile flower. I can let the river nurture it so it blooms into something better. Or I can let the river swallow me.