I wake as I do all school days, two minutes before the five-thirty alarm. I am wound tight, like a night watchman who accidentally dozed off. My hand slaps the alarm that never gets a chance to buzz and my feet hit the carpet as I prioritize. No day is the same and there is little room for error. If I forget to pack a lunch, write an excuse note, or buy toilet paper on the way home from the bus stop, everything will be thrown off. The boys are on two different school schedules and keeping track requires a mind capable of last minute recalibrations. Pat for example, who sleeps on the other side of the bed, has probably neglected to tell me about an appointment that can scatter the best-laid plans like an ill wind on a neatly raked pile of leaves.
Which isn’t to say I don’t love him. But I don’t have time for that now.
I pad out to the dark living room and turn on the lamp. This is routine. I flip on the light switch in the kitchen, feed the cat, and walk back into the living room to turn on the computer and check the weather. I look out our bay window, seven stories above a street in West Hollywood. The odd car drives by. A woman walks her dog.
I breathe in.
The top priority today is getting Murphy to the dentist. We lose our health insurance at the end of the month because our union only gives insurance based on income. We didn’t make enough last year to get more coverage. Three months ago, I assigned Pat the task of booking our physicals and dental appointments so we could get everything done before we move to a plan that only kicks in after we have paid an $8500.00 deductible per person.
A gate across the road swings open and a man in a business suit shuts it behind him.
$8500.00 out of pocket per person. I feel my lips curl. I told a friend that all I would be getting for $450.00 a month was assurance that if one of us got cancer it wouldn’t cost us more than twenty percent after we’d paid off $8500.00.
She said, “Forget cancer. What if one of you breaks a leg in three places? That adds up fast.”
Now I have to worry about our legs being broken in three places.
I breathe in again to soften my belly, which is tightening.
The lady with the dog across the street unlocks the gate that the businessman just passed through.
Of course, Pat didn’t schedule the physicals and dental appointments. It’s not his usual job. He does the bills and the car. I do the appointments and dusting. I allowed six weeks to tick by, waiting and reminding him to make the appointments until I couldn’t stand it anymore and I picked up the phone to do it myself. It took me all of fifteen minutes to nail everything down in a tight, almost triumphant voice that must have confused the office assistants. Then I wrote the appointments on a clean sheet of paper, in jagged handwriting, and smacked the list down in front of Pat at the computer. Proof, you see. Proof that I have to do everything around here.
Except the bills and the car.
And the bathrooms.
I haven’t done a bathroom in twenty-one years. My girlfriends want to know if Pat has a brother.
A truck drives by.
In the last month, all four of us have had our physicals and teeth cleanings. Spencer and Murphy are scheduled to see an orthodontist later this week. I just had a pap smear and my mammogram. And Pat and I both had colonoscopies. It’s like we are on a reality show that involves a wacky family health challenge. We would have an excellent chance of winning it too. Except that Murphy ended up having seven cavities.
“Can you squeeze his appointments in before the end of the month?” I implored the receptionist, who has known our family for several years. “I’m leaving town in April.” I wasn’t about to tell her that our insurance was running out for fear that she would drop us entirely. “Or what about doing all seven cavities in one sitting? Has anyone ever done that?”
The receptionist smiled vaguely and consulted the schedule, “I don’t think an eight-year-old can sit in the chair that long.”
I had to stop myself from yelling, “Don’t you have a fucking drug that can knock him out?” Instead, I waited anxiously while she squeezed three appointments into my inexplicably rigid time frame, all of which involved pulling Murphy out of school.
I turn away from the window, breathe again, and walk to the door of the kids’ bedroom. I twist the knob as noiselessly as possible so as not to wake Murphy who can sleep until it’s time to go to the dentist. I reach up to the top bunk and grope around for Spencer’s shoulder.
“Spence,” I whisper, “time for school.”
“OK,” he croaks. “Is Murphy all right?”
“What do you mean?”
“He threw up last night.”
“Yeah,” I hear Murphy say from the dark on his side of the room.
I wheel around, “You threw up? When?”
“It wasn’t a big deal,” says Murphy. I can just make out his blonde curls glowing faintly in the streetlight sliding in through the window. Spencer inches down the ladder behind me.
“Spence, why don’t you go into the living room and start getting ready,” I say, without turning to him.
“Ummmmph”, he says, which is a preteen affirmative.
I lean down and touch Murphy’s forehead. It is hot. Very hot. Unmistakably hot. He coughs. It is a phlegmy, chesty alarm that trumpets in my brain, “NO DENTIST TODAY!!! Now you are going to have to pay thousands of dollars for dental work because you wanted to test Pat to see if he really was going to be more responsible after the last time he disappointed you!!!”
“Honey, can you move to the couch?” I ask Murphy as gently as I can. “You will need to have some medicine.”
What am I doing? Why don’t I let him fall back asleep? Because I am still hoping that I can bring down his fever and mask his cough in time for him to see the damn dentist so that I can prove to myself that I am not the most selfish bitch-mother on the planet for making my kids’ health a wedge issue in my marriage.
Murphy sits up, pulls his blanket around him, and swings his legs off the bed. I trail him out the door, his blanket dragging like the cloak of a boy king. A sick boy king.
Spencer has already gotten himself some cereal. My throat tightens. I usually do that for him. I quickly remind myself that I need to start letting him do things for himself anyway. He’s a remarkably responsible kid who could probably run a country more efficiently than I manage my writing career.
Murphy crawls onto the couch, adjusting his blanket as I grab medicine from the bathroom cabinet and sit on the coffee table. He watches me pour the gelatinous, cherry flavored elixir up to the right line on the measuring cup.
“Hold on, I’ll get you some juice,” I say. He always needs a juice chaser to erase the taste of the medicine as fast as possible.
I jump up and head to the kitchen, hoping that my dark purpose is isn’t showing itself in the quickness of my gait or the sharpness of my speech. My sole mission is to get Murphy well enough to see the dentist today.
Part 2 will be posted next week.
Part 2 will be posted next week.
|Murphy, when he isn't sick|