Jessica is scheduled for a procedure in the morning. Routine, in its way, but nothing is ever routine with her anymore. If it ever was. You used to think it would get easier. But it doesn’t. You get understanding, yes, and you know what to do and where to stand, and you long ago made peace with her father, and he knows where to stand, too. But it doesn’t get easier.
Because she is still just a little girl, and this disease already stole the life you expected to have. And it is greedy, this sickness, a greedy bastard, and it might steal the life you’ve stitched together from all the tattered bits and pieces that were left behind. It could happen at any time, when you’re not looking, when you are not even ready yet.
She is just a little girl with a doll you gave her clutched in her hand as you tuck her in bed, and she looks up at you with dark scared eyes and she says, “This is the last time.”
And you wish she would not say it like that. “You mean before tomorrow? And the hospital?”
And she nods, and you say, “That is true, and it will be over soon, and that will be good.”
This is one thing you can do for her. You have done it all these years, and you will do it again, every time you must. You will gather up her fears, and carry them with you. It is the least you can do. The ritual begins, the songs, and the patient descriptions, and the promises you have no business making, but do. Finally she sleeps, untroubled by nightmares, and you begin to pace.
And her words ring in your head for hours. This is the last time. And christ if she had just not said it like that.
She is braver than you are and she has never once believed this disease stole anything from her, and in some universe perhaps that is true, and she grew there like other children do, laughing in the sun. But here it is just another hospital waiting room and endless fluorescent-lit corridors that show up in your nightmares.
The endless corridors won’t show up in tonight’s dreams because you will not sleep. You never do, the night before. You try, because you are exhausted, but the worry is like rats gnawing on your bones and none of the handy tricks you learned from you therapist friends have any chance of working in this dark of night. When the disaster has struck too many times, you cannot reason with yourself. You cannot say, in an overly hearty voice, Oh, that will never happen, because it has, and it took you by surprise and the only thing worse than bad news is being too dumb to expect it, and to sit there stunned to hear it, your mouth hanging open, and not the first clue how to cope.
So you promise yourself you will not be that dumb again, and your stomach churns, and your head pounds, and there will be no rest.
She is just a little girl, and the sickness has already stolen so much from her. How can it demand more?
Now, between the crisis and the catastrophe, you know you should lift a glass of champagne, but you have failed to lay in supplies yet again. Maybe next time you will remember.
Tonight there is just a long time till morning, and your lost saints can give no comfort. So you pick up your pen instead and you pin the terror to the page, and you hope it does not get loose. And a circle of women who have sat this vigil themselves seem to surround you, echoing back so many generations you cannot begin to count, and you know you are not alone, and you never have been, even in that hardest part before dawn.