Sorting through old videos, I spy toddler Esmé. As I watch, I find myself freezing, my own muscles tensing as I watch her move. On the screen 18-month-old Esmé, who couldn’t sit up unsupported, rolls in slow motion, her will overpowering her uncooperative body. At some point she started traveling across the expanse of the living room, proudly smiling at her new independence.
I’m on the move. The train lurches along, rocking me as I watch the Hudson sliding by out of the corner of my eye. My fingers fly across the keyboard—eager to move as quickly as my thoughts, which run too, like the river. I run to spaces like this, uninterrupted time with my own thoughts, with the words flooding out of me as I try to gather them up into my hands and splatter them against the laptop screen.
We move backward
My memory of it all is so blurry. Honestly it is only watching the videos of her from the time period that I know how far she backslid after the seizures came rolling through—stealing the beginnings of babbling, of crawling. Backward is still movement, of course, but it is motion my brain would deny in favor of nothing at all. So, over and over, I’d answer the doctors’ questions about whether she was losing skills, with a certain, “No. No regression.” I didn’t know I was lying, at the time.
As the train rushes south, I keep an eye out for Westpoint to appear across the river. As we pass it I like to imagine my grandfather, still a young man, walking across the campus. He’d be full of full of hope for a future that would, all too soon, slip through his fingers as, first, his body, and, then, his mind, had different plans for him. I find myself thinking about him more and more, about the love he and I share for the power of words to move thing. And I turn the lessons he taught me around in my mind. Not just those about words, but also about how a person can get knocked down over and over and still pick up and find a way to move through it—not just any way, but a way that’s filled with big dreams and even bigger stories.
We seek speed
In the videos, I see Esmé’s body is lengthening and strengthening. She’s five and crawls everywhere now: One arm turned in and locked at the elbow, back swayed under its own weight. There is a swagger to it…as if she is proving a point just by moving through space—as if she is shouting out the world that she won’t be contained. I imagine, really she is.
The train tips to an angle that reminds me of the impossibility of sailing. As it appears to defy gravity, I think about the fact that I might need a few more dangerous rides in my life…so much of me grabs for what little control I can hold on to as I move through life, but more and more I crave speed and a bit of danger. Maybe it is the PTSD. After years of living on the adrenaline of clinging to the life of a fragile child, there is a mind-blowing absurdity to acts like driving her to and from school in my minivan. After everything that has happened, sometimes I wonder if all I can understand is intensity. My mind begs for the kind of force that throws me back into my seat and makes me aware of nothing else.
We emerge from darkness
Almost a year ago, I recorded her, new to her wheelchair, pushing herself almost aggressively. Then came her surgery, and a hiccup. Next came the sickness that seems to have no really beginning, middle, or end. So often now, the fatigue overwhelming her, Esmé refuses to push herself in her wheelchair at all. Until we stop, that is. When we stop to talk for a moment before leaving school, she turns on a dime and heads to the door. Or if we stop in a store to glance over the shelves, she moves on without me. When we pause waiting at a corner for a light, her hands grab the wheels and try to propel herself into the chaos.
We dive into the darkness of the tunnel as we speed under Manhattan—it feels almost though we are moving backwards. The train is so unbelievably late. For a time, I’d wondered if we’d ever get there. I wondered if we’d keep moving, far too slowly, into the darkness forever.
But eventually the train stopped, jolting me back into my seat.
And then I began moving myself, slowly, dragging my suitcase behind me. Then faster, moving around the bodies of stunned travelers, as I look up at the blue ceiling of Grand Central Station.
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post. I love participating in Finish the Sentence Friday (FTSF) with Finding Ninee and Sporadically Yours. Each week on FTSF we receive a sentence to finish.
Join the Facebook Group to start linking up with all of us! You never know what will happen… The first week I linked up I wrote something that I didn’t even know I needed to write. It felt so raw and close to the bone that I wasn’t certain I wanted to share it. But I did it anyway…and I am so happy I did.