Jessica has just come home from her father’s house, and I have already had her lecture on my terrible eating habits (“I made you a menu,” she has informed me. “Why did you eat popcorn and cookies all week?”) and already she has drawn up a new menu full of healthful foods and we have gone to the grocery store to lay in the ingredients. She will make me follow the menu all week, even on those days when I want to order out for pizza. And then she will smile and say, “It is a good thing you have me,” which is very very true, although not without its drawbacks.
When Jessica is with her father, or even at school during the day, I am very good at compartmentalizing my life, and not letting the messy parts spill over, except for sometimes. Long experience has taught me how not to dwell in the places that scare me all the time, but Jessica has not yet mastered this skill, and so to be in her presence is like entering a Faulkner novel, all stream-of-consciousness chaos from which one must try to extract a coherent narrative.
She sits next to me on the soft green sofa and tells me about her day at school: “We learned about the formation of the earth in science class today.”
“Ah. Like the crust and volcanoes and such?”
She beams at me, like I am a good student. “Exactly like that. I do not know why I have to have surgery again.”
Just like that, out of nowhere, although not exactly out of nowhere. Wait, I want to say. It’s not Tuesday at 6 p.m., which is when I have set aside some time to be upset over the situation. Can’t it wait till then? But of course it can’t.
“Well,” I tell her. “You know how your doctor talked about your disease? It’s not stable anymore, and it’s getting worse.”
“I know,” she says. “Do you think we can read more of The Silmarillion tonight?”
This was one of the bigger mistakes of my life. Hey, if The Lord of the Rings trilogy engaged her, what about some more Tolkien? I should have actually considered what I was getting myself into. A more hopelessly convoluted tangle of purple prose I have never encountered in my life, and she will call upon me to explain what it means, and frankly I don’t know.
“Yes,” I say bravely, “we sure can.”
“Good. Do you remember where we left off?”
“Yes, I do. And we have a bookmark.”
“Good. Tell me about the anesthesia again.”
She’s heard about the anesthesia a thousand times. She’s experienced the anesthesia a thousand times. But I tell her anyway, and soon the anxiety is gnawing at my bones again, even though it is not Tuesday at 6 p.m., and I can only imagine what the anxiety is doing to her.
I answer her questions in a matter-of-fact way, and I divert and distract and entertain, and the day looms closer, so very soon now, just a few days more. And then there will be the tense and awful waiting room for me, crossword puzzles and mechanical pencils, and her father’s pale presence as he works his smartphone. For her there will be the fever pitch of anxiety in the morning and then the welcome sleep and if all goes well, if all goes perfectly, the long road of recovery and more questions not at 6 p.m. on Tuesdays. And then, maybe, for a little while, a reprieve. Enough to lay in supplies for the next long siege, enough to give us hope.