My oldest stood in front of the window looking across a sea of snowy white. He was in his pajamas and his hair was wild. He was tall, lanky and full of small wonders.
I explained to him that due to slight variations in the geography of our area that he would indeed be walking to school in the snow, uphill, literally, both ways. He watched it fall with a silent reverence, at his side a hole where his brother should be.
The cough had been a week in the making. Our home was a choir and we had all come together for the chorus. Slowly the youngest began to stand apart. The spotlight was his, and where we once all sang in unison he now powered on through a painful aria. We became the occasional hum and the extras posing in the background.
Every website, label and pharmacists said the same thing: don’t give a 4-year-old cough syrup, do give the cough seven days before taking him to the doctor. Neither of which offered a favorable option. We spent our nights sleepless waiting for the calendar to catch up with our impatience.
Sunday evening found our home full of people. The children were resigned to the playroom and the depths of the house best left unseen. He lay on the floor between them all, and he slept still and deep.
It was nearly midnight when they strapped him into the ambulance. My wife had taken him through falling snow to the local emergency room, and the local emergency room had diagnosed him with pneumonia and booked him a stay at the hospital.
The oldest son slept in my bed, which made exactly one of us.
Morning was full of ice and chaos. Plans were made for school and weather. I walked my son into his class an hour late, and I didn’t apologize to anyone. Then I drove across the ice-covered bridge to where my wife and the youngest boy sat, scared and waiting.
And so the days blurred around silent nights and closed schools. The sound of snow seemed louder for the absence of it — cold, white fluff where noise once fell. The lack of coughing was as brazen as the cough had been. We were a family divided between a house too empty and a hospital too full.
My wife stayed with him for three days and nights. Doctors changed their diagnosis from pneumonia to asthma to an infection in his lungs. He sat frail and frustrated in a Bugs Bunny gown, and watched his world grow smaller from behind the oxygen mask.
I stayed with our oldest through snow days and long, frozen trips into the city. We found things to keep us busy while we ignored the things we needed to do.
Always it was quiet.
Then, finally, he came home. He was greeted by unopened cards, anxious neighbors, and a brother that had missed him. He seemed smaller than I remembered.
I carried him around the driveway, and he held on to me tightly. We talked about the weather and we looked across the snow. It was starting to melt, and it was growing dark around the edges.