She has a dream. A monster chases her around the house, then begins to eat her. She says she stands still while the monster picks at her and it makes her sad. Until Daddy comes and scares the monster away.
Every time she tells me this dream I think to myself, “no pressure!”
But for the dream, Jordan is happy. She doesn’t dwell on many setbacks. She is less moody. And she is much more cooperative when she goes in for chemotherapy each week. Yesterday, she didn’t even cry when they accessed her port. The truth is that while she is emotionally composed, she is physically fragile. Her body is showing the first signs of a compromised immune system. She is pale. She tires easily. And her blood counts are low.
Last week, we experienced a slight scare. Her counts have been steadily declining. But last week a test showed that her hemoglobin dropped to “crash” level, meaning she would need a blood transfusion immediately. The test was run again and the second set of results were better, more inline with the weekly trend. She escaped this time without needing to tap our veins.
Sunday, our family went shopping. It was a quick trip between football games. Jeanette and Lucas wanted to go to a store a block away while Jordan and I took our purchases to the car. On the walk to join the rest of the family Jordan began to drag. She was having trouble keeping up with me, so I slowed my pace. I looked down and her face was ashen. She was smiling, but her lips were without color. I asked her how she was feeling and she told me she was a little tired. She said she wanted to take a nap. We wrapped up our excursion and relaxed at home for the rest of the day. She didn’t nap, but she took to more sedentary activity. We made roast for dinner, hoping the extra iron might give her an energy boost.
Last night we watched Monday night football together. I’d ask her, “now how many turns does the team have to go 10 yards?”
“No. Remember, four downs for ten yards.”
She snickered and held up four fingers. She had just emerged from the bath and her hair was wet. Ordinarily, I’d ignore it. Trying to get Jordan to dry her hair is like leading a cat to a well. But there’s little room for risk, so I rubbed it with a towel while she snuggled next to me and rambled on about playground activity.
“Jordan, Daddy wants to hear the game. You’re chattering.”
She giggled, snuggled and fidgeted. Finally, at one point she looked up at me with those profound blue eyes and said, “Daddy, I will always love you.”
Somebody scored a touchdown but I didn’t see it. I just looked back at Jordan. Her restless hand was tapping the buttons on my shirt while her eyes wandered. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t think of anything to say. I didn’t want to read into the heaviness of the remark or dismiss it for anything less than it was. And so I put my hand over hers and said, “And I will always love you … madly.” This made her smile and conjured a request for me to sing the Duke Ellington standard “Love You Madly”. A little while later she mosied off to bed.
What Jordan doesn’t know is that I, too, have had a dream. It unfolds very quickly. We are rushing her through a hospital lobby. It doesn’t look like any place I’ve seen before. We argue with the attendants at the nurse’s station trying to get Jordan past them to an elevator. When we finally get into the elevator, there are doctors and nurses but I don’t recognize any of them. I am holding Jordan’s hand. She doesn’t have any hair on her head and her scars are visible. She is beautiful, though her skin is pale and her body is frail. She is unconscious, lying still on the gurney. One of the nurses puts her hand over mine. She has a plain, expressionless face. In the background, the doctor speaks of “the mass of disease”. His words are clinical and daunting. Though every word he says is comprehensible, I don’t understand what he is saying. I look at the pallid nurse holding my hand and she tells me to cry. I feel helpless and weak … and I cry.
Every time I wake from this dream, I feel the same: defeated. In reality, the monster of Jordan’s dream devours her in front of my very eyes. I hope to live up to her expectations – to chase the monster away – but it seems I only watch her health weaken, knowing that she is more vulnerable to illness than ever before, seeing her tire and slow in pace. I am challenged to reconcile the two dreams – to be a hero without breaking down and proving useless. It is a challenge best met by following Jordan’s example: with steadfast courage and gentle tenacity.