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April 27, 2012

In the places we are broken

"There's a lot of blood."

He's trying not to sound frantic, or upset. But these are not calming words, so I tell him I am on my way, and hang up the phone and tell my boss: I need to leave. And my eyes blink and my keys jingle and then I am on the road, cutting through traffic and accelerating aggressively and slipstreaming my way across the miles of highway as I try not to think of her, frightened and in pain, each minute an endless exploration of unwelcome sensation.

I need to be there. I need to be there now.

The sky is a deep gray and my windshield fills with rain, the hard syncopation of droplets bursting against safety glass matching the thrumming pulse in my thumbs, pressing flush against the steering wheel, gripping it tightly as though my intensity and purity of purpose will be enough to bridge the empty space between here and there, and time and space will fold in upon itself and in another eyeblink I will be at her side, and in another we will be...

My offramp comes up suddenly, and I carve off the road and take the ramp hard, trusting my thick black tires to keep me on track as I loop through the 90, the 180, the 270 and then cut beneath the highway and up the hill and then my hand throws the car into park and I step out into the rain - this cold, hard rain in the midst of a warm and dry February - and without pretense I run. I run, across the long entryway and through the door and up the stairs and into the school's gym, and as I burst through the doors my eyes are wide and serious and I focus on a staff member, and without taking a breath he points toward a small room off the gym (away from the tables where the other kids are doing their homework) and says, "She's there" and I slow to a rapid walk and

there she is, sitting on the edge of a table, pulling long and ragged breaths into her small lungs, clearly doing everything she can to stay close to composed, her face wet with tears, her hand wrapped in a bandage and it's red, a generous Rorschach bloom of red spreading irregularly across the mesh and cotton, and she looks up at me and says, "Daddy, I'm so sorry" and

no, sweetie

I say: no, you have nothing to be sorry for. Nothing at all. And the staff member - a kind woman who we've known for years, ever since our son started in this same afterschool program four years ago - is telling me how she was in the wrong place at the wrong time when this heavy door swung unexpectedly and then my daughter is saying, "I tried to pull my hand back, and I got it all out except for..." and I'm telling her not to worry, that we just need to take a look and then we'll figure out what to do and the staff member tells me, "It's pretty deep" and then we gently, as gently as we can, we unwrap the bandage and I tell my daughter to look away and then we carefully pull it away and there is blood and we move her hand to the sink and pour a little water over it and

I see white. A glimpse of white never meant to see daylight, never intended to taste the fresh air.

Oh, god.

Okay, I say. We're gonna go to the hospital, alright? And before she has the chance to get upset I tell her: we're going to go so they can decide what's the best way to make it all better, right? Because we've got to fix this, right? And she says, "right" and the word is half a sob, but we don't really have time for debate because the woman and I are already carefully rewrapping her finger and hand in gauze and bandages, adding as much as we can for the drive over, and then I say, "I'll be back in just a minute" and I run out and find her backpack and her jacket and as I'm coming back to the small room my other daughter finds me and she's delighted I am there, all blonde sunshine and broad smiles and pure happiness that I've come early, but there is no time and I tell her that her sister hurt her hand and I'm taking her to the hospital but she'll be okay and that Mommy will come to get her and her brother a little later, okay? And her eyes cloud a bit - concern, or confusion, or some mix of the two - but I have to go so I give her a quick kiss on the forehead and then I'm back in the small room.

Let's go, I tell her. I lift her gently down from the table's edge and am relieved that she's steady on her feet, holding one wounded paw in the other, and I put my hands carefully on her shoulders and together we step out and across the gym and back through the doors and down the stairs and then I drape her fleece jacket around her shoulders and say, I'm sorry, but it's going to be a little chilly, and then we're out in the rain, a cold deluge that assaults us for the thirty seconds it takes to get to the car and open the door and help her inside and fasten her seatbelt and then I'm in my seat and turning everything on and cranking up the heat and shifting it into drive and

we go, fast as we can, the engine revving strong and pitching high as I push it hard onto the highway and down the road, and I'm telling her that it's going to be okay, that this is the hardest part - right now - and that either she'll get some stitches or they'll just glue everything together and either way we'll be home tonight and she'll be sleeping in her own bed so really, we just have to get through this next little part together, and I promise I promise I promise I will be right by your side, the whole time

and she's crying, a bit, but I can tell she's doing her best to stay in control, and I tell her she's being amazingly brave and we're only a few minutes from the hospital, and she says okay and I say okay and we're doing our best to make it okay, because right now that's our job.

(I call my wife. "We're going to the hospital," I tell her. "She hurt her finger pretty badly. I'll call when I know more. You need to pick up everyone else." She says she understands, and will wait for my call. I keep my voice careful and even when talking to her, because I know my daughter is listening. She is hearing the words, and the tenor of my voice. I will measure it all out carefully, so she will know: this is kind of a big deal, but it is nothing too scary. She will be fine.)

We wind our way off the highway and through the streets and across the river - running high and strong, infused with the fresh kinetic joys of late-winter rainfall - and over to the hospital campus. I can't believe I'm here again, I say to myself, and my daughter asks why (because she is listening: I had already forgotten, she is always listening) and I tell her it's because I was here just last week when Grandpa fell and the ambulance came and brought him here, and he ended up staying here for a couple of days to get better — and immediately, she says (because she is 6 and smarter than I can ever imagine having been at 6) "But I'm not going to be staying here, right? You said I'd get to come home tonight." and I tell her: yes yes yes tonight you will be home and you will be covered in warm familiar blankets and the hugs of parents who love you and the gentle smiles of your most beloved stuffed animals and in the morning your sister and brother will want to know all about it and you can tell them how brave you were and she says "Okay" because we are working through this together and okay is the goal; okay is the finish line.

We pull in to the ER parking lot, and I hop out and run around, open her door and unbuckle her, and then drape her jacket back around her shoulders. She is shivering. I hope it is from the cold. I tell her: I'm sorry. It will only take us a minute to get inside, and then it will be warm again, and they'll take care of you. And she nods and sniffles a bit - I notice: she has stopped crying - and says, I know. And then: "I'm a little bit afraid, Daddy."

And I tell her: that's alright. I'm here with you. It's going to be fine, and I will be with you every minute. I promise. I promise. I promise.

Together, we step out of the garage and into rain. It is stunningly cold; each drop an explosive declaration that even in its gentlest fashion this is a season of harsh and unforgiving realities. I try to lean over my daughter, and create a rainshadow that might protect her, even if only slightly. She cradles her hand in her hand, a broken bird cast from the memory of an infinite blue sky. The rainwater soaks her bandage, adding a softer cast to the shades of rose and crimson still growing from within.

And then we are there. The reception desk awaits, and we step to the front. My face is ablush with the sudden chill of rainwater and carefully exercised control as I give my name, and our insurance information, and describe why we are here. The woman at the reception desk turns to my daughter, and asks her, "How are you feeling, dear?" And my daughter looks back at her - her face wet with the same rainwater but now free of salt, the tears locked down and locked away for good, ready to face the moment with a calm and control so full-hearted and complete it approaches the terrifying - and says, "I'm going to be fine."



(We are there for five and half more hours. Five and a half hours of an open fracture, and painful irrigation and anesthesia and stitching and re-attaching the fingernail and affixing the splint and dressing the wound and my endless, chipper banter as I try to keep her mind free of this place and affixed to the bold, cheerful world beyond these walls and through it all, my daughter - all of six and a half, and built of steel, willpower and soft, brown curls looped 'round the edges of huge, brown eyes - does. not. cry. once.)


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