For the past 18 hours since the catastrophe, I didn't cry until a moment ago. I've had too many opportunities to say goodbye. I thought I'd seen every species of sadness and tears so many times that they seemed dull, by now. All through the morning, as you lay there, as you twitched with only flickers of life, I was calm. Was I already in the acceptance phase of grief?
The nurse went into your isolette to do the "hands on." To take your temperature. To change your diapers. It felt like a perverse thing. Like we were changing the diaper on a doll or baby-shaped effigy. It seemed like pretending. Like denial. That's when you arced your back and flailed your limbs. You swatted the nurse's gloves. "Hands off me, you bastard!" you seemed to say. You wiggled and twitched in pain. In pain. Like you had before too, when the ET tube was in. I'd never been so happy to see you in pain. To see your forehead wrinkle and mouth open wide. Expressing pain is a complicated mental task. It requires numerous layers of neural activity. Then your eyes opened up. You looked around in bewilderment and blinked, as if saying, "Whoa. How long was I gone?"
I didn't want the nurse to get distracted by me, so I fled to the corner of the NICU and cried. They were a new kind of tears. Tears of happiness contaminated by hours and hours of grief and futility. It made me realize that there must be an infinite variety of tears. That there will always be unexplored corners of emotion and human experience.
The nurse tuned down your respiratory support. Having rescinded your right to slack, you started breathing again on your own, consistently. There was no more steady, sterile breath line at mechanical intervals on the monitor, anymore. Instead, that line was messy with life. You wiggled and squirmed in frustration.
I know you had a hard night, but its time to get up for school, whether you like it or not.
Welcome back, Ellie.