I remember it like it was just three hours ago:
a hot Sunday---July 17th,
we were at the neighbors' for a cookout
and my son was being a nuisance, eating anything orphaned, however briefly,
and bumping into anyone with a dish full of anything
so I walked him home and left him to play in the backyard
I came back twenty minutes later to make sure he wasn't getting sunburned
and found him lying on the slate patio, blowing bubbles in his throat in short muddy breaths
like a genetically deficient pug,
trying to get something up that would never come.
I picked him up to gently Heimlich him
and his stomach was notably distended
like he'd swallowed a bowling ball
I tried to coax the ball up his throat but it was stubborn
He drooled thick white foam on my flip-flops and refused to drink anything
I called the Emergency Room and they told me to bring him down
so I put him in the back seat and raced across the Freemont Bridge
talking to him calmly about how funny it would be when they diagnosed it as a bad case of gas
and how they would still charge me an obscene amount of money
and how I was going to make him work it off all summer
but his eyes were shifty like a caught rabbit
and his breath was quieting,
so I didn't dare turn on the radio.
The waiting room was a tragedy menagerie: a cat with a broken tail, a Pomeranian with whooping cough, a Boston Terrier who hadn't pooped in days.
At the front desk I was very calm
I told the woman that my son was choking and she interrupted the Roseanne Arnold-look-alike accosting her about an overweight lab to call out over the PA, "Triage needed immediately!"
A young vet tech with a skater cut burst through the double doors and took my son
I tried to explain his entire medical history in a sentence or two
she nodded and nodded and they disappeared through the double doors
I was given a clipboard
with all sorts of releasing on there
I filled it out with a shaky hand
and blotted the ink with some stray tears
I signed and initialed everywhere
check, check, check, check - make him ok
They delivered me to a small room
where a surprisingly young doctor came in
---either she was still in college or I'd aged ten years in that waiting room---
she told me he was suffering from gastric dilation, which lead to torsion (wherein his stomach flipped and cut off some important blood flow)
and that they'd anesthetized him, put him on an IV,
and poked a hole in his stomach to let all the excess air out
He was stable now, but they needed x-rays.
Yes, yes, do whatever it takes - Can I see him?
"Unfortunately that's against policy"
She left and I thumbed my phone
I wanted to call my way out of that moment
share the wealth, as it were
but it seemed cowardly
so I focused myself on a spot between my shoes,
watching tears settle there,
and cut my breaths into halves:
inhaling was the Birth of All Things
exhaling was the Death of All Things
I dreamt a time-lapsed film of a flower's life cycle
and I tried to watch it
But still my fingers crawled into my pocket, hoping to spill my fear onto someone via text message
I pushed my cheek into the wall,
watching the flower in the black spots I made there
and tried to breath in time with its whole life
The girl came in again with the x-ray results
and I pitied her, always in the position of corralling the distraught customer towards an inevitable solution
I asked her to call my son's regular doctor
I wanted to hear someone make a case for the $8k surgery
She promised to try to find his number, and scooted out of the room
Once alone, I cracked faster that time
it was becoming harder and harder for me to compose myself
I could not find the flower, and I couldn't find enough tissue to keep my eyes clear
I could not control my breathing
I held my chest like my heart had come loose
"What is the lesson?" I asked myself.
"Sometimes you must make a decision without the time it takes to understand how you got there," I answered.
My son's doctor called me and tried to put a positive spin on things.
He said I could think about it as an "Easy way out," since we were already struggling with other medical issues.
I thanked him and hung up, called the girl to make plans for euthanasia
She quickly walked me to my son and told me, "Take as much time as you need"
He was really drifting, though, breathing laboriously, he wasn't looking anywhere
every minute he was alive, he was in pain
so after two minutes of rubbing his head and trying to remember every thing he ever did,
I told her to proceed
It was 9:35
She told me to talk to him while he went and I even joked
"His ears haven't worked for a long time."
"He knows you're here," cooed the sympathy girl, pushing a needle into his arm
I wanted to tell her that I didn't need a Death Coach
and I know what he knows
but I felt every second of those two minutes drip off of us
down a dark passage through the sterilized floor
120 petals I could not catch
I cursed myself for every moment that I looked away from him
because I didn't want him to see his dad broken
"He's gone," she told me
but he was still warm and I felt a pulse so I asked her, "Are you sure? His heart stopped?"
"Yes... I'm sorry for your loss."
It occurred to me that it was my heart pounding through my fingertips and onto his neck
and for a moment I believed I could bring him back that way
then I snapped to, rushing things - I knew that my coherence was subsiding
so I asked for the remaining paperwork.
They put me in a gentle room with tissue boxes everywhere,
soft lights and free bottled water.
Everything calligraphied, cross-stitched, and beige
When the money woman came,
I refused the Commemorative Handprint option
the sealed lock of hair (as there was still plenty strewn about my house),
and the $390 cremation.
"I will bury him myself"
She spoke to me like I was an egg-shell, nodding her head before I finished my sentences.
She gave me a pamphlet about coping with loss
I was very polite,
I thanked the doctor for being so frank with me about my lack of choices
I thanked her for giving me time to hold him
I thanked the money woman for charging my credit card $479.30
I apologized for using so many tissues
I apologized myself out of existence
I wanted to be the greatest ex-dad this Emergency Room had ever seen.
Two thick women wrapped my son in a white blanket and wheeled his body out to my car
"Sorry for your loss, sorry for your loss" they sang in a round, as I closed the back door and drove home.
When I went in our house, I picked up each of his things and put them in a closet
so I wouldn't see them when my feelings came back
I took the shovel out of the garage and cut a hole in the earth outside my studio window
I went inside and shined the desk lamp out there so I could work into the night
my dear friends walked over and helped me dig
each more reverent than I
I was exempt
We set him down there in the white blanket
and placed his favorite toys around him
Then I covered him with dirt and went inside to shower
I left the lamp on so that he would not be afraid in the night