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Do you know there is a box hidden in the back of my dresser with your name on it? Sometimes I pull it out and look at what’s inside; old photographs of you with your daddy when you were a baby, a clipping of your mud brown hair bound with twine, your hospital bracelet, and an envelope. You were my sick baby, I knew you were hurting and I wanted to hold you, but you weren’t a little child I could always hold. The envelope, I don’t think you, your sister, or even your father when he was still here knew about it, and I wanted it that way because I knew that one day maybe it could help you.
I put dollars in at first, but soon I began asking for my salary to be put into smaller checks putting part of my wage into the hope that you would be okay in the end. I let us have less then we could afford just in the hope that when you need the lung transplant that would inevitably save your life that we would have some money to pay. I was just a nurse with a small degree, but I told myself that if I had to wear myself till I collapsed every day for the rest of my life that I would do it for you.
Your happiness was what consumed me for such a long time, but once your father left I had to take care of your sister too not just my sick baby. I had so many choices and you both were so young with you only five and your sister seven, but I wouldn’t stop collecting in that envelope. You always told me that I needed to work less, but if triple shifts could keep you happy then I would do it. My efforts went on for fifteen years and the envelope was bursting with the memories of hard work for my son, but when your condition began to get worse I felt like there wasn’t anything else I could do.
I remember taking you to the your doctor on your fourteenth birthday even though I knew you would rather be out doing celebrative, but that morning you woke up and could hardly breathe the damage and mucus build-ups were so bad so I had to take you. The doctor stared us both in the eye and told us the transplant was needed or it would get worse and that once we got through the paperwork we could be put on the list. I think I called every night that month seeing when they thought you could receive the transplant and they kept telling me how many thousands of people were on the same list.
I couldn’t handle thinking of what if you died in the night when I was away from simply trouble breathing. So every night after you fell asleep I would bring a chair in and watch you sleep making sure you were okay. I took too much on to handle and for a while I think your sister took care of you when I could barely get myself in off the couch in the weekends after so many shifts at the hospital and making sure you were okay all night. I remember one Saturday you, your sister, and I went to the fair and you won one of those cheap, gigantic bears and when we drove home we just dropped it on a random doorstep. You were happy, Gregory, the pain didn’t define you.
I want to only remember the times when you were happy, but I can’t ignore the times when you were sad or in pain. When you were fourteen I remember you sat in your room on the window seat and cried with your head resting on your knees. Your sister and I tried to talk to you for hours, but you just yelled at us to get out and for the next couple days we left you alone. I remember I took the next two days off and tried anything I could to get you happy; I tried just sitting there with you, trying to talk, making you food, buying those chocolate croissants you liked so much from the bakery on the corner, and I even tried showing you pictures back when your dad was with us.
You were hurt I always knew that he hurt you deep inside, but I didn’t expect it to hurt you so badly. I guess I don’t really understand what growing up without a father being there to protect you and make you laugh is like since my dad was always there for me until he passed away, but you didn’t have that. I never tried to find you another male role model; I only think I went on two dates after your father left us. When I finally got you to talk after four heart tearing days I finally got you to tell me what was making you so sad and you said that you missed your dad and that perhaps if he was here he could let me take a break every once and a while.
I remember holding you and crying after you said that with both of us sitting on the window seat huddled together. You didn’t want to see me crying so you cried too until both of us had cried our tears dry. Life continued, but I could see the pain building in your body.
When you collapsed that one morning it drove a spike through all those years of hard work because I felt like I had failed you. I don’t think I stopped holding your hand when we were in the hospital because somewhere deep inside I was channeling all the strength I had left from the years I had worked so hard. I remember looking at you when your breathing slowed and your pulse dwindled, you had your eyes locked on me, but although you had no last words I understood your message.
Losing you, Gregory, made everything I had left crumble, but I knew that even with you gone there was someone else who needed to be cared for. I knew that you would want me to take care of your sister as I had taken care of you my entire life so I did my best to numb her pain. I know I can’t stop the pain that will always be within our hearts, but I’ll try to make the memories soothe it.
Sometimes when I get home early now from only one shift at the hospital I will go into your room and look at everything. I see the book you were reading still on your desk still laying open on the page you were on and I dare not touch it because you never liked when I made you lose your place. I see one of your dirty striped shirts lying on the corner still bearing the sweat of your skin from the day before when you threw it on the ground when you went to bed. I see your backpack still lying unzipped on the computer chair with your science book which I won’t ever return to the school. I see the sheets still ruffled from a troubled sleep the night before your passing and I’ll lay there sometimes thinking of you.
Every time my heart feels like it is ready to bring back the memories to soothe the pain and release tears I will go into your dresser and pull one of your shirts out and pull it over my head. I smell the familiar scent of your body that all mothers recognize on their children and I go and sit on the window seat and cry. I think about everything I did for you and how if I hadn’t tried your happiness would have been less apparent, I think of how you became such a nice gentlemen, I think of how although you were my sick baby your illness didn’t chain you down, I think of how much I loved my son, Gregory Henry Smith, and when I can’t handle the memories anymore I think of how much my beautiful son made me better with his love.