“Mom,” I shouted, “we need to hurry up!”
I looked at the clock, growing impatient. I had never driven to Stillwater from Barron before, and knew how important it was that Zachary made his appointment. The day before he had his first surgery to repair his cleft lip. He was required to wear an obtainer, essentially a retainer to cover the split in his palate, and since he was sized, his mouth had grown and shifted. When they tried to put it in place, it came free, causing me to panic. The surgeon gave me a disapproving look when I didn’t know what to do, removed the obtainer from his mouth, and told me to get him to Dr. Donna immediately the next day. And that is exactly what I was doing.
“Mandy, we will make it in time. You worry too much, ” my mother said, putting a few slices of bread in a plastic bag, something she did to always be prepared for the chronic tickle that would strike her throat. She looked over at me, her eyes softened, remembering what it was like being a mother for the first time.
“I just.. Mom, it’s really scary.”
“He looks so different,” my mom said, looking up at me as she leaned over, doting on him. This is something that she did multiple times a day, unable to hold him due to being chronically ill, but refusing to not love him just the same. She started cooing at him, a smile breaking across the faces of them both, him answering her back. It always made me giggle, these conversations they would engage in.
“We really need to go,” I said again, calculating time and distance in my head.
“You are going to go see Dr. Donna today and she is going to get you all fixed up,” I said to Zachary as I held him in my arms, playing with the head of hair he was born with. He looked up at me with his dark blue eyes and smiled, as if he understood what that meant.”You are such a good boy. Mommy loves you Zachary, oh yes I do!” I pulled him in closer to me, hugging him, never having felt so many emotions at one time, but mostly felt love. There were a lot of things I wasn’t good at, but being a mom wasn’t on that list. In fact, it is one of the only things I really felt I did well, funny since having children wasn’t something I ever even considered for my future.
As we pulled away, my mother to my right and my son behind me in car seat, the day seemed so hopeful. The sun was brilliant, autumn was foreshadowing its arrival, and Zachary had made it through his surgery without incident. We drove, listening to Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Hank Jr, exploring new roads and new routes. As we drove up Highway 63, woods and changing leaves surrounding both sides of the road shaded the anxiety I was feeling about getting lost, making it on time, and Zachary’s obtainer getting finished that day. I pulled over to the side of the road, an easy task with the little traffic out that day.
“What are you doing?”
“I just want to check on him.”
“Oh, Mandy! He’s fine!”
“I just want to make sure,” I said, exiting the driver’s side door, moving to the back seat, seeing my little boy looking up at me and smiling.
“Maybe I should move him facing front. I know you aren’t supposed to do that, but I can keep an eye on him that way. Never mind, he will be fine,” I debated and decided, then leaned in and kissed my little peanut on the forehead. He looked up at me, coo-ed, and gave me a big smile. It was different, him smiling at me now, after surgery than before. I remembered that smile, remembered how perfect it was, even though it was pretty perfect before.
I had never been to Stillwater before, though I recognized the name from an exit off of I-94 going into Minneapolis where Zachary’s plastic surgeon was based. Because I had never been there or driven this route, I didn’t know that when I had pulled over, we were only ten minutes from our destination. I looked down at the clock on the radio was was relieved that not only did we make it in time, we were early. I liked being early, and tried to make a general rule of arrive fifteen minutes beforehand for nearly everything.
I went to get Zachary out of the back seat and something was different, odd.
“Mom, I think something is wrong.”
“You always think something is wrong,” she quipped at me.
“No, Mom! I’m serious! Something is wrong!” I said, knowing that this was different than my normal worries. Zachary looked different, not right, not himself. I reached in to grab him and his body was limp. His mouth had an eerie blue gray color around it, sort of like when it is a clear day and storm clouds come rushing in out of no where. I put my hand to his mouth. Nothing. I put it to his nose. Nothing. I put it on his chest. It wasn’t rising and falling.
“He’s not breathing!!!!” I screamed, scooping him in my arms and running into the pediatric center where his orthodontist had her second office.
“My son’s not breathing! My son Zachary is not breathing!” I shouted at the receptionist, panic and fear now controlling everything I said, everything I did.
The receptionist ushered me and Zachary to the office across the hall, where I was met with a waiting room of children and their parents waiting to get vaccinations, physicals, and have that odd rash checked out. Immediately they took Zachary from my arms, and I told the receptionist to go help my mom come in. I ordered her to go help my mom. I needed her right now.
I sat amongst the pink dresses, pony tails, blue jeans, and buzzed haircuts when a little blond boy with a bowl haircut pulled at my pants.
“Your angel is going to be ok,” he said, looking at me and then his mother before going off to play with the Lego set that sat abandoned in the corner. I burst into tears, beginning to upset the children, and was taken to Dr. Donna’s office to reunite with my mom.
“We have to call home, ” my mom said, trying to remain calm and strong while I was falling apart.
I dialed my sister’s number, told her what was happening and heard the phone drop. Her husband picked it up, asked what happened because his wife had just fainted.
The nurse from the pediatrician’s office told me they were going to send Zachary to the hospital by ambulance and after I spoke with the police, we could meet them their. The police? I had to speak to the police? A bad lifetime movie began running through my head. A whole series of young girls killing their children had started to spring up across the country. I knew they thought I did this to him. I knew they were going to arrest me for it. I knew that I was be convicted of killing my son unjustly when all I was trying to do was get him to his orthodontist appointment. After talking with the officer, who just wanted to know what happened, I was able to convince myself that maybe they wouldn’t be making a TV Movie-of-the-Week about me, and was even more reassured when the officer offered to drive us to the hospital, given the state of shock we were in.
We were ushered to a private waiting room. The smell of the ER, the sanitized and disinfected smell, was making me feel nauseous. I had to leave, had to escape, and went outside and found salvation by inhaling deeply on a Marlboro Menthol Light 100. I tried to wrap my head around what was happening, why he had stopped breathing. I knew he was going to be ok. Zachary was a fighter. He was born a fighter. They said he wouldn’t gain his birth weight back, and he did. They said he wouldn’t gain weight, and he did. They said that he could potentially have slowed development, and they were wrong. He was going to be ok. He was.
I went back into the waiting room, pacing, crawling out of my skin. A young nurse, dark hair and just as dark framed glasses, asked my mother and I to follow her. Doing as instructed, we were ushered into a different room, being met by a plethora of medical staff, green scrubs and white jackets surrounding me, suffocating me. It was quiet. Everyone was looking at everything else, anything but me. A nurse with short blond hair came in, looking at me, then looking at everyone else.
“Did you tell her?” she asked to someone, but no one in particular.
“You mean you saved him! He’s ok!” I said with a smile coming on my face. Why else would they create this dramatic moment if it wasn’t because they had saved him and my little boy was ok.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but your son died.”
I looked up at the clock. It was 1:58.