The drive back from the hospital is becoming routine, and so redundant that it’s difficult to distinguish between trips. Except for today. Today there are two things that stand out; first, the lack of traffic at 6:15pm on a Tuesday afternoon, which makes the highway drive almost pleasant; we have spring break to thank for that. The second distinguishing factor tonight is the sky. “Look at that,” my husband says, leaning towards me from the driver’s side and pointing out the mass of gorgeously golden, puffy clouds, with rays of sunshine escaping at all angles, sparkling and almost tangible. “Look at how the light filters through the clouds. Wow,” his mind is elsewhere for a half a second, taking him somewhere far away from the rolling concrete, and then suddenly he snaps back to the present. “Hey, writer, describe that!” He teases me as he tosses me a glance and a smile. I roll my eyes, feigning annoyance, but make a mental note of the gorgeous sight, the much needed beauty. The high after so many lows.
I remember yesterday–a lifetime ago–I was making the same drive in reverse, alone, to the hospital where my husband was admitted for the second time in as many weeks for what they presumed to be side effects from the immunotherapy. And as my husband lays in a bed, waiting for two days for someone to tell him something, anything, he tells his story–the story of his body betraying him at every turn. He waits for news, for decisions, for diagnoses, that never come.
While he waits, I drive toward the black hole of a hospital where time is suspended and then lost. Rolling down the road, I notice the daffodils, bright against the freshly fallen snow. They line the streets in bunches–where one was planted last year there are four more in their place. Their yellow faces have fallen and they seem cold and fragile under the weight of the heavy wet snow that has accumulated since the morning. As I drive back to the hospital, wet snow hitting the windshield, I’m irritated. It’s spring, it isn’t supposed to be snowing. I try to remember if my husband had brought his plants in last night. Spring is a time for growth, warmth, for new beginnings. He shouldn’t have to worry while he’s lying in a hospital bed if his kale and sweet pea seeds are warm enough. He shouldn’t be in that hospital bed at all.
I turn left off the exit ramp, checking my mirrors but not seeing. I flash back to last week, the day after my husband returned from the first hospital stay since the treatment started. He and my toddler and father in law are crowded around two large, square planters on the back patio. I am holding our baby in my lap, listening to his coos while swinging on the back porch swing and observing the scene. My baby bounces up and down, singing a song whose words I don’t yet understand. It’s a true spring day–the birds are flitting, the air feels damp and warm against our skin, and the breeze is inviting and rich. A perfect day to plant. A perfect day for life.
My husband and father in law assess the dirt and discuss the lack of potting soil–will this affect the self-watering mechanism of the planter if they forgot to purchase topsoil? Time will tell. The engineer in both of them is ready with pencils, precision, and patience. Gardening has become my husband’s escape, his sanctuary. I surmise that giving life and sustaining life provides him a form of comfort, of healing. I watch as the scene unfolds in front of me: my husband makes small holes in the dirt with the eraser side of the pencil, my father in law hands my toddler a seed, who in turn drops it in the hole. After the work is done, me and my baby applaud the tremendous accomplishment. As they pat the soil down in place, a robin frantically chirps nearby–a warning cry. We are not welcome here, but the robin is too afraid to do more than sing.
“When will the peas and kale be ready, daddy?” my toddler looks up at my husband with earnest curiosity, his long golden hair curling out underneath his baseball hat, lifted by the gentle wind; every word he hears becoming engrained in his mind.
“Soon, buddy, very soon. They just need a little sun, a little water and a little love.” My toddler is satisfied with the answer and grabs his daddy by the hand, ready to head inside.
The image fades as I realize I’m at a stop sign and I can’t remember how I got here. Lost in a memory and now lost in the words of a Lumineers song on the radio. “Keep your head up. My love,” they are singing through the car stereo. And they are singing to me. The tears are too strong for the lump in my throat and I release it all, feeling the pain of it; the searing pain of “in sickness and health,” of snow in spring. I try to remember where I’m going. Hospital, I remind myself, to the hospital.
But what a difference a day makes, I reflect from the passenger side of the car, now nearing the house we call home. When we left the hospital this afternoon and walked into the bright sunshine, the warm air smelled like freedom, the construction workers in the hospital parking lot contrast against the blooming pink cherry blossoms brought us joy. Everything is possible. The sun is out, and yesterday’s snow forgotten. The drive home is normal, and we’re making plans for tomorrow.
We walk through the door of my in laws spacious home and are greeted with sounds of boys. My baby, a moment ago happy in the arms of his grandfather, is now anxious and whining, eager to get into my arms. Our life clicks right back into “play” from the momentary “pause” and we pick up where we left off. Our toddler, wearing his footed pajamas, cowboy hat and boots, comes rushing towards us, shouting so excitedly that we don’t understand him at first. His baba quiets the crowd so his can proceed with his announcement. He tries again:
“Daddy!! The plants are growing!” he squeals, already leading my husband outside . “Let me show you!”
Snow, spring, hospitals or home, what perseveres is life.
Originally published March 31, 2013