My head is full of some dull, dark blue ache. I've spent the day drowning in it, being driven to and from the dirty white of the hospital building where they hold my daughter down and dig the needle into the crease of her arm, looking for a vein.
They find it, but it can't draw up enough blood and by then they've marked her foot and her hand with alcohol, gauze and band-aids. Little spots of her blood that they can't get enough of are splattered over the crinkling white paper. They give up.
We are happy to give up. We are ushered out of the bustling lab room where we were constantly interrupted by other lab workers inching past us to reach the refrigerator, the drawers of equipment, trying not to look at us.
We are told next time to make sure we feed her and give her a nap before trying again and we emerge into the crowded waiting room that is pushed up against the hallway. Frazzled faces of parents look at us, but I can't see them without the glasses that I broke the other day, the lens falling out.
I don't care. "How can we possibly make sure she's fed and rested when they make us wait for hours and then send us to another place where we wait again?" I demand of Keith.
I am holding my daughter who is red faced and smeared with tears. We are all of us red faced and smeared by the experience. We look like we are escaping with only the clothes on our backs.
Keith does not answer, he puts his arm around my shoulder and says something meaningless, something soothing. Because I know him, this works, even when I don't hear the words. Eventually we stop at one of the waiting areas to try and regroup. I pull her little socks on, careful of her heel, the one that the lab worker said was too thick.
My daughter had skin too thick, flesh too chunky; she had too much strength altogether for the needle and even with three pairs of hands to hold her down for the one nurse, she fought on regardless, her blue eyes looking straight into my eyes while her tears ran down the sides of her face into the paper.
What could I say to her, as I helped to hold her down? This is for your own good? I was right there as she was in pain and her gaze sunk into mine with all of her grief and bewilderment and anger and pain and the only thing I could offer her was simply to have the courage not to look away.
The lab workers meant well. They were as frazzled as we were by the end, the small room overflowing with rattled intensity, moist with emotion. Everyone was glad to burst apart, to break the tight bond of hushed voices and frustration that had bound us all down to the table.
The sliding doors open to the windy day outside, we are hit by fresh air and grey skies, sidewalks, cracked pavement. I sit her on my lap in the car and when she sees me, her eyes open up into love. I look down into the blue eyes that look into mine without fear and I wonder how she can love me still. Isn't my face the same face that watched over her while the needle dug down?
I feed her in the car and she falls asleep before she can even take half the bottle. She wakes at the PX. We try the optometrist and must make an appointment for next week. I stand too long at the counter, not realizing our business is done, talking with a kind of vague shell shock to another customer about the ordeal of doctor's visits.
Everything is out of focus for me, but my daughter is merely tired, content to watch whatever it is she thinks she sees from the car seat set up high in the cart. How does she see the world, when each experience swims out of the wild blue yonder?
Is it crystal clear for her, the racks of clothing emerging out of distance only to fall back and disappear, her father's blue and white shirt temporarily blocking everything, the magazine rack in the check out line, bright squares of jumbled color?
I wander slowly from one clothing display to another, trying to keep track of the prices, but I feel paralyzed and unable to make decisions. I appeal to Keith again and again, offering him up one selection and then another. He remains patient, leaning his forearms against the cart handle. I start one sentence several times and never complete it. It doesn't matter, we purchased everything we needed but socks. Again we forget socks. We buy fifty dollar's worth of small, soft cotton clothing looking like a rainbow sherbet.
She is hard asleep at the food court. She sits slumped in the car seat, her eyelids blue, her hands limp in her lap. I sit slumped in my chair, shoulders bent against the foot traffic behind me. There are TV screens attached to the pillars and I wonder why we always want that noise in every space. In every room in the hospital there was one screen that every face was lifted to like flowers to the sun, as though drinking in the quickly passing images, so urgent in the black frame, unwilling to lose even one drop of that nonstop narrative.
I can see Keith moving toward me; he is a bright white shirt with blue sleeves and a blurred face and then he is smiling at me and I can see the love before I see the features of his face. We carry the car seat out into the parking lot together, each of us offering one hand to help distribute the weight of our sleeping daughter.
We drive home in the rain and try to resume our day. I dress our daughter in one of her new outfits, all soft grey lace and pink cotton and somehow I don't think it suits her, but I don't bother to change it again. After all, she looks cute. Only I would know it doesn't match that lioness heart that beats so strongly in her tiny body. She is furious strength under round cheeks and knees and chubby fingers. She is like me that way.
I sing her to sleep like I do each night in the nursery with the blinds closed and the night light spilling up golden on the wall. As usual, I am feeling somehow out of breath, as though I've spent the entire day running instead of walking. I can't sing until I've caught my breath. I must allow my shoulders to drop back into their natural place. I look up at the ceiling and us usual, my prayer is wordless and hardly a prayer as it is an acknowledgement- here I am, here You are, here after all.
As I am singing the lullaby, my daughter reaches her hand up for my face. Her damp fingers brush softly across my cheek and bats against my mouth, her eyes wide. It's as though she is trying to touch the sound itself, fascinated by it. I remember singing to her the day after she was born, when she was the size of a kitten, all curled into her self- dark haired, dark eyed, tired from fighting her way into the world so early, fighting to suck the bottle, to breathe on her own.
I held her warm against my stomach, cradled in my arms and I sang to her all those songs that had waited years for the daughter all my life I'd wanted. It had been so long I couldn't remember all the words and had to hum my way through them. As I had, the words had risen up into memory one by one and it was as if by remembering them I was rediscovering myself, just in time to give myself away.
And then I know, as I sing to her in the nursery, why my daughter could look at me with unguarded love only minutes after the ordeal at the lab. Because the things my eyes were saying to her were not for her to endure, to grin and take it.
My eyes had been open mirrors of her own grief and pain, wide open and clear through. My eyes had said: Pour into me your grief, because I see you and I love you and I won't leave you alone in this.