He is all limb, now, at twelve, so skinny his hip bones and knees enter a room before he does. His pajamas are always too short in the leg and arm, no matter what size I buy him. His face is showing signs of angling into manhood. And here he is crying, as I'd predicted, but also clutching at his head. So I was right and wrong both. He tells me he has the worst headache of his life, and I believe him. He is pale, and his eyes are wild and darting, as if they want nothing more than to escape this body and fly away south.
I have forgotten my book. I pretend a calmness I do not feel. This headache, it has awakened him from sleep, which is not usual, is it? I can't remember whether I've read anything about this, but I'd be lying if I didn't confess that terrible words like tumor or aneurysm float up into the space between me and my son. I give him medicine, deciding to overdose him only slightly, because he's that close to the adult dose, three or five pounds off, and if anything requires sending in the cavalry, it is this headache. I have him lean his back against my chest, which given his age and lankiness means a few awkward maneuvers, and I massage his scalp and forehead. We sit like this, in the darkness, for forty minutes, when he thinks he can return to bed. I am now too scared to sleep. I remember that he suffered through another bad headache two or three weeks ago, and I swear to myself that if he has a third one, I will be running him to the doctor.
In the morning, he leaps downstairs in his coltish way, and offers me his smile, wide and restorative as a view of the sea at the horizon. And I breathe, for the first time in hours. My sleeplessness has afforded me the time to finish the book put aside at midnight, but I suspect that it will always be tainted by its connection to ruthless pain, and I shelve it far back in a bookshelf I find hard to reach. As my boy smacks his lips impolitely while downing his breakfast cereal, his hair askew in every plane imaginable, I bless this return to normalcy, and recognize how lucky I am. Roughly he carries his bowl to the sink and slops milk on the counter. I don't feel like asking him to clean it up, not just now.
He turns from the sink to glance at me. His eyes are bashful. "Thank you for last night, Mama," he says. I return, sterner than I mean, "You shouldn't thank me for that; it's what parents do!" He nods, agreeable, and slouches off to dress for school. I wonder why I didn't, or couldn't, say, simply, "You're welcome." Maybe because nothing I did in the night seemed voluntary. I did what I was there to do. This was my imperative, no less: to ease his suffering. Or perhaps I couldn't acknowledge my child's gratitude because earlier I'd been so annoyed by his intrusion into my time alone. That kind of annoyance does not deserve to be thanked.
What dogs me the rest of the day, as if by inches I'd averted the hideous metallic scrape signifying a car accident, is shock, heightened adrenaline, relief, and most of all the sense of narrow escape through no agency of one's own. I've written this particular story, but I'm well aware that I might have been forced by chance or circumstance to write a different, far less ordinary one.