Cherishing a Short Life

baby in isoletteAlice Park Photography

On a weekly basis parent child relationships are forever severed by the law. I’ve seen it too many times to count. I don’t envy those responsible for supervising the goodbye visit between parent and child. The thought of looking either of my children in the face for the last time brings tears to my eyes. I know many substance abuse treatment programs require their parent participants to write goodbye letters to their children as a way of driving home, how their drug use has harmed their children.

Loss of this sort, is nearly a daily occurrence in my world. Despite its frequency, it never passes over me as freely as water does. It’s more like oil that takes good soap, hot water, and scrubbing to remove. Then you always find it someplace later and have to repeat the process.

This past week was much the same with an enduring difference, I was reminded of how quickly life can pass us by and to cherish all that I have, especially relationships with others because you never know when they will slip through your fingers. Even the relationships you believe will endure for a lifetime, such as your children.

I’ve become an expert at cherishing what I have even during the darkest times of my life because of the frequent reminders I receive, but this one has hung on with more persistence. A short life, which rippled through the world.

A woman with long auburn hair bends over the warm isolette watching her sleeping child through the clear glass. The baby girl’s tiny chest rises and falls, a comforting sight. She weighs a mere 3 lbs and 8 oz. Tubes run into the baby’s underdeveloped lungs through a tracheotomy and into the side of her abdomen, providing her with breath and nutrients to grow and get stronger.  The woman is able to hold her child for only a short time each day due to the child’s precarious hold on life.

Ava was born premature due to her mother’s drug use during pregnancy. Ava is not this woman’s first child and she probably will not be the last because the auburn hair falls on the shoulders of a twenty-year-old woman. Her slender build makes her appear more like a prepubescent female than other’s her age.  Like the baby in the isolette, the drugs have sapped all excess life from her body.  Her hair is dry and brittle. Her cheeks are sunken, and her skin has a grey pallor.

She has watched her child cling to life through the glass for four months. She visits when she can, about once a week. Doctors tell her that Ava, will not survive without the machines. She must decide how long Ava should be forced to remain here. The little blue eyes flutter open and she brushes the fine soft hair on Ava’s small head with her shaking fingers.

When asked why she doesn’t visit more, excuses and justification spill from her lips.

“No transportation to the hospital,” she said as her eyes flicker around the room, pupils the size of the abyss.

“What about the bus pass we gave you?” asks a nurse. They know she is high, but how do you approach that subject with a woman who is here to say goodbye to her baby forever.

“I can’t find it.” She looks at her black converse shoes with grey frayed laces tangling along the floor.

Ava’s father was allowed to leave the prison accompanied by two guards to help make the decision of when his daughter will be taken off life support. It is the first and last time he will be able to see her with his own eyes and hold her. He caresses her cheek, and places his finger in her tiny hand. He understands this loss more than the mother because he views it through a mind that has been forced sober by incarceration for the past six months.

His hazel eyes are rimmed in red and tears trickle down his face. His breath catches in his throat as it constricts with the ache twisting his heart and soul. Our poor choices eventually catch up to us. Sometimes we lose the most precious things in our lives when they do.

Once he’s released  from prison will he remember the short time he was able to cradle his daughter in his arms and make choices she would be proud of him for making?

Ava is given morphine and the machines are turned off and the tubes are removed.  Her breathing slows as her parents cradle her small body wanting to hold her for as long as they can.

How You See Me

kids on the street

Seeking eyes and whirling thoughts piece together who I am.

Despite my many faces, my eyes have never changed.

A brief once over tells me if you want to open me up or forget we passed within a breath.

Your suns shine cold on my skin, as the storm clouds wrap me in warmth.

Hold me steady while I skitter and dart toward the trees.

Flitter like a butterfly as I strip you bare.

Covered with dark, they still tickle my skin crawling with one hundred legs beneath my veil.

Draw your curtains closed, but the remnants of who I am remain.

Spread your wings and glide on currents toward the ground beneath my feet.

Search my mirrors lost in your own design.

Dive into the depths and lose yourself in dreams.

Flash Fiction Friday: Bad Parents

Flash Fiction Friday is a challenge offered by Author Chuck Wendig on his blog Terribleminds. Chuck throws out a random topic and you have until Friday at noon EST to write a fictional short story in 1000 words. This week’s challenge was near and dear to my heart, “Bad Parents.” In a sense my personal experiences probably limited my creativity since bad parenting is the crux of my day job.

Bad Parents

“Get out of my face you little bastard!” she screeched inches from Andy’s cherub cheeks, sprinkling them with her spit. With narrowed eyes, she pushed on his chest, and he plopped onto his behind. Tears spilled from his eyes and his bottom lip quivered. I glared at her and pulled him into the bathroom.

“Hurry up in there you little whore. He needs to be in bed before Steve and Dereck get here.” She slapped the door.

Letting out a held breath, I leaned against the door pressing it closed. I hated her. Yes, she was my mom, but I hated her. I felt bad about hating her, I mean, I should love her, right? What could I do at seven years old? I couldn’t leave or tell anyone. She said we would be in foster care, separated, and god knows what else. I wasn’t going to lose Andy. He needed me, and I needed him.

The running water drowned out mom’s continued raving about how worthless we were, and how she wouldn’t have to get high all the time if she didn’t have us. She told me she needed to escape her awful life. I lifted Andy into the warm water. A brown ring circled the tub. I scratched at it with my fingernail lost in my thoughts of how I could make mom’s life better.

“Sit down, so you don’t fall,” I told him. We pushed his rubber ducks around in the bubbles I had made with dish soap. Mom cries a lot, ever since we found dad hanging in the closet by a belt. I wish he were here. She didn’t get high so much then.

I pulled Andy out of the tub, dried him, and put a diaper on him.

Through the door, I heard Steven and Derek come into our one bedroom apartment. I opened the door just an inch. She snatched my shirt and yanked me toward her. My cheeks and forehead cracked against edge of the door and the doorframe.

“I don’t want to see your ugly face tonight,” she said through clenched teeth, pushing me back into the bathroom.

Mom and her friends were laughing and coughing out there while I read The Giving Tree to Andy in the corner of the bathroom. Heavy footsteps passed the door. Two more sets of steps followed a minute later. I stroked Andy’s hair and waited. No light came under the door. Their muffled voices came to my ears. I turned the doorknob and peeked out. Her door was closed.

Andy and I tiptoed down the hall to our mattress on the floor behind the couch. I cleared the old pizza box and McDonald’s wrappers off. A cloud of pee wafted through the air as Andy flopped onto our mattress splotched with yellow and black stains.

“You sing?” Andy asked.

“If you’re quiet, I’ll sing,” I told him. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was the only song that came to my mind.

Once Andy was asleep, I tiptoed down the hall. What are they doing in there? Their voices were getting louder. Mom was talking real fast. It was dark in the room, other than an occasional flicker of dancing light.

There was rustling on the other side of the door. I shuffled back down the hall tripping over a pile of clothes. Mom grabbed my arm and pressed her nails into my skin. I squeezed my eyes closed.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing? Trying to catch a peek of my man? You little slut,” Mom said, shaking my eyes open.

The fire in her eyes scared the heck out of me. That fire had burned me more than once.

“No mommy, I was going to the potty.” I looked at the floor. Her backhand caught me on the left side of my face and sent me crashing into the wall. I pulled my legs to my chest and tucked my chin into my knees. She kicked me in the ribs and slammed the door.

The sun rose casting a soft yellow glow through the front windows.

“Mommy, wake up,” Andy said, shaking mom’s bare shoulder. She didn’t stir. Her eyes didn’t flutter open sparkling with love. She didn’t even breathe anymore. I stood at the door of her bedroom. I knew before Andy touched her. Her lips were blue, and white powder dusted her nose. The oozing pus nodules ringed in red on her arms stared back at me like her red-rimmed eyes. Andy looked back at me, his diaper sagging between his knees.

“Come on Andy, she’s real tired. Let’s change you and go for a walk,” I said, waving him out of her room with my hand. He kissed her pale cold cheek. I pulled the door closed hoping the residual chemical smell wouldn’t follow us like the specter of my mother.

“Why won’t she wake?”

“She was up late last night little man.”

“With her friends?”

“Yeah,” I whispered wiping the tears from my face. I chipped dried oatmeal out of a bowl and set it on the table for Andy. I poured the last of the frosted flakes in the bowl.

As I turned the blue lid of the milk, a rotten stench ran into my face. I gagged and set it in the sink overflowing with dishes caked in week old rotting food.

“There’s no milk.” I handed him a blackened spoon. Mom used it to smoke a rock last night, but it was the cleanest spoon in the house.

Pulling out clothes from a knee-high pile of dirty laundry in the corner of the living room, I brought each piece to my nose. It’s all sour. All the socks are yellow and stiff. I tug one of mom’s t-shirts over Andy’s head and roll some socks over his toes.

“I need to call someone,” I said.  “Let’s go.”

Taking his hand in mine, we walked in the morning sun dragging his dingy blanket behind us.