Sleeping is taking too long but mommy says I have to sleep or my birthday will never come…I love my birthday! Birthdays are the best. Last year mommy made pancakes and waffles and toast — that’s her favorite. Maybe if I ask Mommy how long I need to slee- no, mommy said sleep.
I peeked open one eye but our room was just as dark as the back of my eyelids. I couldn’t see her but I knew she was there. Our birthday I corrected myself with a smile and closed my eyes again.
Ok sleep…sleep…SLEEEP! AGH! I’m too excited!!
I open my eyes and look around again. On the table between my bed and Kim’s was the clock we bought with our very own money. It’s a green frog with red dots on his cheeks and a clock where his belly would be. His oversized eyes move back and forth every couple of minutes and it only has 4 numbers. Mommy and Daddy said if we can learn to read froggy clock we’d get whatever we wanted for Christmas. I’ve been doing pretty well I think. I still mix up the big hand and the little hand sometimes but not this time. 3:25…ish.
I hope mommy is having a good day. Maybe I’ll just go and ask her what she’s making this year. Daddy said he’d do it but mommy does it better.
I crawl out of bed and tip toe to mommy and daddy’s room. I push the door open a crack and peek in. Daddy isn’t there. He’d probably not like me disturbing mommy anyway. I creep in and tap mommy on the should. She doesn’t move. I tap her again — nothing.
I shake her and she groans and rolls over slowly. She looks sicker than normal. Daddy said she would be ok. He lied.
“Hey honey” mommy said
There was a rasp in her voice, no louder than a whisper. I got closer so I could hear her.
“Are you coming down for pancakes mommy?”
“No honey, I think it’s time for mommy to go.” She said.
“Go where mommy? You can’t go it’s our birthday!”
She did not respond. I continued.
“You don’t have to worry about anything daddy is downstairs I think, he’s making the pancakes and the waffles and toast. You can even have my toast!”
My offer of toast didn’t seem to convince her to stay. She was breathing really heavily and her eyes started to roll back.
“Don’t go mommy please!”
She held her hand out. It looked so frail peeking out of the pile of blankets. Daddy said she needed all those blankets cause there was little ice pixies that try to get her at night and they can’t get through the blankets. I think they figured it out because mommy’s hand was shaking. She had a wild look in her eye. It was like she was scared of something. I took her hand. It was as cold as it looked.
I thought really hard about what might help and remembered when mommy told us she loved us. She said you shouldn’t just tell people you love them just because you think they want to hear it. She said you had to be sure you meant it. So I smiled and I looked at her and told her for the first time.
“I love you mommy.”
She smiled and there were tears in her eyes.
“Thank you.” She said. The wild look was gone but I don’t know what this new look meant. She looked at me and then her hand squeezed mine hard . Her eyes glazed a little and she was rocked with coughs. They didn’t stop but she was still looking at me so I said it again.
“I love you mommy . Please don’t go!”
It didn’t work. When mommy finally stopped coughing she slowly sunk back down and shuddered this deep sigh. There was blood in the corner of her mouth and her eyes hadn’t quite closed. Her grip had loosened on my hand.
She hasn’t breathed in yet.
I took my hand out of hers and walked down the stairs. I stood at the end of the kitchen and watched daddy fumble with two pots and a cookbook.
He glanced back and saw me.
“What are you doing up sweetheart? It’s 5:30.”
I looked at him. “You’ve been here for two hours?”
He looked back confused, “no about 30 mins. Why?”
I mixed up the hands again. I have some work to do before Christmas.
“What’s on your shirt?” I heard daddy say. I looked down. Mommy’s last coughing fit must have sprayed me a little. There were red specks all over the front of my shirt. There was panic in his voice. I felt like there was some way I was supposed to explain but I didn’t know what it was. Now daddy had a wild look in his eyes.
Don’t say you love him
“Mommy said she had to go.”
Daddy thundered up the stairs… I watched him go. I slowly followed him up the stairs and back towards mommy.
Kim was standing at our door on the verge of tears. She looked at me and I looked at her. People mixed us up all the time. I even caught daddy doing it once or twice. Kim always felt better when mommy held her hand so I held out my hand. She took it and we walked over to mommy’s room. I could hear daddy crying. It was deep and heavy like he was being torn apart. He sat crumpled at the end of the bed as if he was scared to get too close.
Daddy was a big man. Mommy said he was a marine once. I wonder if that would have helped more than I love you. I should have gotten daddy. I should have gone to sleep. Maybe if I had slept mommy would have been fine in the morning like daddy said.
“Daddy?” Kim asked. She was scared.
Daddy looked up at us and it was like he had never seen us. He paused and then said, “ Your mother is dead. She left us and we’ll never get her back.”
“Is this an emergency?” Kim asked.
Daddy paused again and then replied, “yes.” He broke down and started crying again.
“I know what to do” Kim whispered to me. It was more than I knew so I followed her back downstairs. The house smelled like burnt pancakes.
We walked over to the big cozy chair in the living room, climbed up and sat down. Kim reached over to the side table,picked up the phone, put it between us like we do when we call grandma and dialed the way mommy taught us.
“9–1–1 what is your emergency?”
“Daddy said mommy is dead.” Kim replied.
“What is your address?” The lady on the other side of the phone asked. We looked at each other. We’d never gotten this far with mommy.
“I don’t know,” I replied
“Ok don’t hang up, we’re dispatching a unit to come help you.”
We put the phone down on the table carefully and climbed off the chair. We sat at the bottom of the stairs until we heard the cars pull up. There were bright lights and sirens that cut off as they screeched to a halt then a knock on the door. I walked to open the door but Kim stopped me.
“Who is it?” She called.
I always forget that part.
“Police responding to a call about a deceased person or persons in the house. Are you okay?”
She walked back to the phone.
“Yes has the officer arrived?”
“I don’t know. A man said he was police and he was looking for a deceased. I don’t think we have one of those.”
“It’s ok, you can let him in.”
Kim hung up the phone and I opened the door.
The men rushed in all at once and looked really busy. One went into the kitchen, turned off the stove and opened the window. The pan made a hissing sound when he threw it in the sink. He then scanned the rest of the house walk-running up the stairs. The other one asked us questions.
“Is there an adult in the house? Where is your dad? Do you know what happened?…”
I let Kim answer the questions. She likes talking to grown ups more anyway.
“…How old are you?”
“5,” Kim replied.
“No,” I interjected, “ we’re 6, it’s our birthday.” He paused for a second. I don’t think he knows I noticed. I continued filling in the answers Kim didn’t have. “I said I love you and then she coughed and coughed and coughed and died.”
Just then daddy stumbled down the stairs. “Happy birthday princesses,” he said. He didn’t even look at us and his voice was bitter and worn down. The man now looked at us with a strange look in his eyes.
“I’m so sorry for your loss” he said closing his little notepad and tapping on it like he wanted to say more but didn’t know what.
More people had come in while we answered questions. Two of them were carrying mommy down with a sheet over her. Her hand was hanging down exactly how I left it like she was still waiting for me to take her hand again.
A woman in a suit walked up and said we were gonna go with her while the police talked to daddy. She said she was child protective services and asked if we were ready to go. I was not. I ran up the stairs back into mommy’s room. I ran past her bed and her things into her closet. I pushed to the back and grabbed two boxes wrapped up with bows. I stacked one on the other and walked back downstairs peeking around the boxes as I went down the stairs. Noone tried to help me. I’m glad they didn’t.
When I got to the bottom of the stairs I gave Kim her present.
“Happy birthday sissy.”
I looked to the lady. “We’re ready.” — and out we went.
I knew I would never love my birthday again but with any luck Kim would. As we climbed into the car I remembered a conversation I had with mommy when she got real sick.
“You know love is a powerful thing,” she said, “and sometimes you can love someone so much that you can’t live without them. They become so much of you that you can’t find yourself anymore. I’m afraid your father loves me that much. If that’s true I need you to be a big girl if I have to go.”
She could tell I didn’t really understand.
“Promise me something ok. Promise me you will love, love hard and long, love deeply and completely but never lose yourself in the love for another…”
As we pulled away I saw daddy sitting on the steps a broken man…and I understood. I looked at Kim and took her hand as I recalled the last part of my promise.
“…and watch out for your sister. I think she will love like her father.”
I lay keenly awake with my eyes closed watching the swirl of hanging hands, cops and burnt saucepans receed, slowly opening them as fresh echoes of 'sorry for your loss' faded away. As I heard that phrase and saw the look over and over I learned what it was, pity … and I hated it.
I rolled over, saw all the ‘happy birthday' notifications of well meaning Facebook acquaintances, rolled my eyes, plopped back down on my bed, took a deep breath and stared at the ceiling knowing full well I should be getting ready for my day.
God I hate my birthday…