“Mommy is that where Ava will go?”
The question was innocent as any other, but it shot daggers straight through me.
“No Jess, Ava is staying right here with us.” There was something behind that sentence, a pain. I stare at the rows of tombstones, a sea of dead. Ava will not be one of them, she can't be. I let my eyes travel to the rear-view mirror. Sleep pooled on her pale eyelids, and her small fingers clasped onto Cuddles with all life she had left. Ava should have a whole life ahead of her! I imagine her first day of preschool: maybe she will cling to my hand, but right now all she can cling to is the thin strand of life.
I am more educated about cardiac tumors than most nurses in that hospital, the thing is I only have the time for one patient. I remember the day we found out--I thought it was my fault, of course I know now that cancer doesn't develop as a result of bad parenting. It started as lung cancer and grew to involve the heart. But why did it had to pick her heart? Ava’s pure, fragile heart. She used to be so outgoing, Ava was the glue in our family. We were finally putting our puzzle pieces back together, but they were scrambled right back up again.
I turn to Jesse, he knows things have to be a little one sided around here. We always tell him that we love our kids the same, Ava just needs a little more attention. The thing is I hope I’m not lying. After seeing the shadow of death rest over her face, I realized there is no one I wouldn't sacrifice. Not even Jesse.
Adam always takes Jesse home. He doesn't think it’s a good idea for Jesse to stay in the hospital. Seeing his sister like that, all lifeless and limp. But if Ava stays then I stay. There is nothing that could tear me away from that bedside. I call Adam to check on Jesse. I wonder is it because I really care, or because that's what a mother is supposed to do?
“Fine, how’s Ava?”
“The same.” We trade the status of our kids like baseball cards on the elementary school playground. The troubling part is, the guilt of that is nothing compared to the thought of loving your kids with an unequal passion.