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Our days were unfolding into a rhythm: wake up at the crack of dawn, go to the hotel breakfast buffet.
Their delight in the breakfast array never failed to delight me. It reminded me so much of how excited Dana and I would get over the same stuff when we were kids ourselves.
Then we’d go back to our room. If word from the hospital was that we couldn’t see Dana yet, we would change into our swim suits and go to the pool.
We are water people.
Despite the boiling heat of Redding in August, I’d head straight for the jacuzzi. Yes, even in the morning.
The kids would follow me.
I would worry a little about their blood boiling up or something, but not enough to make them get out.
I’d sit there in the water and stare at the rust-red of the walls, the kids. I’d feel the balm of the water. Everything was such a fog. It was like I wasn’t there; I was there.
BUT WHERE WAS DANA?!
I had always felt such a connection with him. “Irish twins”, only a year apart, we would play telepathic games with each other.
Dana was not so much my brother as he was an extension of my own self. He was the yin to my yang. I was smart and serious and a good dancer. Introverted, dark. He was bright and fun and gregarious and learned all his dance moves from me. He pulled me out of the mental holes I would crawl into. He always understood me and knew how to talk to me so I could hear.
I could always feel him. I could always sense it when he was deeply upset or when something huge was happening to him, but in this fog, in this limbo that was that moment, there was simply NOTHING.
I couldn’t feel him.
I’d sit there in that jacuzzi and stare at the rust-red of the wall, my kids. I’d feel out this nothing-ness and try and sort out the fog that I felt I was existing in.
I wondered if the fog was what Dana himself in that moment was experiencing, because I couldn’t get through.
I remember kind of hating myself for not being able to.
After the pool, we would go back to our room and get ready and drive over to the hospital.
My mom was there.
She paid for our hotel and our food, and she herself did not budge from the waiting room.
Maybe I never loved my mom more than when I saw her sleeping like this.
And I knew how much she needed that vibranium tether that the kids provided.
Dana had been in surgeries and the risk of infection was greater. We had to gear up when going in to see him.
They made everything a little more intense.
Mom, YuHan and YuRou (- my nieces, Dana’s daughters), my kids and I stayed in the waiting room and took turns going into the ICU to sit next to Dana.
We were not allowed there all of the time; Dana was going through surgeries and preparations for surgeries He had people tending to his IV’s and wounds all through the day and night, so it wasn’t always that we were allowed in.
Dana’s sons were working, as was my husband. We were all farmers, and this was a critical period before harvest.
Even as I write that though, I become angry, because somehow along the line, we had all come to see “work” as “the most important thing, ever.” Work was the pinnacle. It was the absolute priority. It was tacitly understood in my family that work trumped everything.
So the men in my family were working. The women were in the ICU. Somehow that was okay at the time.
And the kids. The kids were ok.
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.