Exhaustion got the best of her. Two days at the hospital in the same week. The pace of treatment and logistics and unknowing sapped all her energy. When the alarm sounded at 6am, nearly five minutes passed before Jeanette slapped the snooze. I was away, and my wife was tired.
Luc woke before dawn. The act of waking early makes him proud. He climbed down from his bunk and dressed as the sun peaked over the San Gabriels to the east. Jordan was still asleep. He sauntered into the living room and enjoyed the quiet as pink light fought the Venetian blinds to invade the flat. Awhile later, his sister awoke and joined him. He fixed their breakfast: toast, oatmeal and tea. By the time Jeanette had lost the battle with the alarm clock, the kids were fed, dressed and managing the morning on their own – thanks to Lucas. He was late to school, but for once his mother was grateful. The boy often rises to the occasion.
Maybe he is not the cool, quiet cowboy of the mythic western epic, but he is reserved and collected at times. He listens with his eyes. While he chatters rampantly about wondrous inventions, his eyes catch the unsaid and his brain meticulously records and considers his observations. He knows the gravity of his sister’s situation, yet he doesn’t speak of it. Attempts to frankly address the changes in her health are summarily dismissed. But his eyes watch on.
Tonight, she couldn’t sleep. Around 9:30 she wandered into the living room with a glum look on her face. She said her stomach hurt. She curled into a ball on my lap and whined about trivial inconveniences for a few minutes.
“I don’t like when they take my blood.”
I ran my fingers through her thinning hair. Bald patches are forming on the left side of her head.
“Honey, they don’t take much,” I consoled. “You know why they need to take it, right?”
I explained why it was necessary for her to visit the hospital each week, what they did with the sample of blood they collected, and how the medicine they gave her through the IV fought her cancer. She didn’t move, just pulled at the hair on my arms. Something inside me told me it was a good time to address the bigger question.
“Jordan, what are we going to do when you lose your hair? Do you think you’ll want a wig, or will you just want to wear hats?”
I held my breath while she pondered the question. She didn’t move. About a week before, Jeanette told Jordan that some kids on chemotherapy lose their hair. Jordan listened but didn’t say anything.
The tugging on my arm hair continued.
“I think I’ll just wear hats,” she said without the slightest hint of self-pity. Then she added, “what did I look like when I was bald?”
I told her that she was the most beautiful baby – told her that her grandmother had remarked that she had the most perfectly shaped head she’d ever seen. And then I reminded her that whatever happened to her hair, it would grow back.
Tears welled in my eyes, but I fought them back. Jordan cuddled closer and told me that she loved me. I choked back the urge to say something sappy, paused and collected my thoughts. Then I told her that I loved her, too.
After a few minutes, I walked her back to her room. She grinned as I rolled her into her bunk and covered her with sheets. I kissed her on the forehead and straightened to leave the room, until I saw Lucas sitting up in his bunk. He wore a discerning, crooked smile. His eyes probed for signs of my emotion. They hinted at a deeper knowing. I wondered if he heard me talking to Jordan, but thought it unlikely. We were practically whispering and music was playing in the background. But somehow, I had the distinct feeling he knew more than he was telling.
He peered at me with a gaze wiser than his age. I wanted to say something, but nothing seemed right. So I reached out and stretched my hand around the back of his neck. We locked eyes for a moment while my thumb stroked his platinum locks of hair. Then I said good night.
Four of us travel the journey. Four of us. And sometimes, the quietest of all have the greatest tale to tell.