It’s spring break. Andy’s phone registers an early text, but he ignores it. Work has been slow as of late, and it seems likely he’ll be home with us for another little while. It’s not ideal, but we’ll take it. This morning I’m happy to find him here next to me and I scoot closer in search of cuddles. The kids are still asleep, and morning light slips between the slats as we fall back asleep.
Due to the nature of Andy’s job we spend half of our lives missing each other. He works offshore, spending his time just a hair to the right of center on the various caliber of steel hotels doing his part to ensure the prevention of the next grisly oil spill.
Meanwhile, I play single parent. I cook. I clean. I tend to fragile hearts and tenuous sleep schedules. Though too often it seems I’m primarily working to reign in my anxiety that threatens to spill into their days. On a forever quest to provide them with a sense of safety that I seldom experience myself.
The kids arrive in our room with snuggles and proclamations of hunger. We assure them we’ll be there shortly and offer cartoons in the interim. They skip from our room, already arguing about what to watch. I wonder if Andy will make us pancakes. He checks his phone and bolts out of bed. “Shit. Robert wants to know if I can take a job. It means leaving this afternoon.” he announces, resigned. I’m incensed.
“They couldn’t have called you yesterday?”
“Not sure if they knew yesterday. Someone’s grandmother died.” He’s pulling on his pants, distracted.
“They didn’t know she was dying yesterday?”
I throw back the covers and stamp both feet onto the floor, purpose unknown, then fall back into the pillows. He looks at me pleading, and begins packing his bag. I know the burden that this is for him and I attempt to tamp down my anger. But now my brain, fragile and sorely in need of rewiring is all lit up in the wrong places. It’s searching for the danger, for the thing that needs fixing, and it feels like the tipping point of a roller coaster. Little feet shuffle toward our room, and a pajama-clad bear arrives in the doorway. “I feel like I’m gonna throw up,” he says.
Anxiety, in a sense, is a predictable beast. It shows up during periods of high stress, rapid change, and intense joy. It is fed by hormone changes and lack of sleep, and by this odd family rhythm that my body and soul have never fully accepted.
Andy gathers his wallet and keys and wakes Maeve to accompany him on a trip to the FedEx office. He needs to pick up his new work computer, and I need to accept that my normally supportive husband has necessarily checked out, unable to deal with my meltdown in addition to the demands of his own day.
I sit on the bed waiting for a boy to puke into a bag, remembering all of a sudden the night before when we’d watched Mary Poppins together on the couch. He’d dosed off, but then kept waking, jerking, staring, and out of it. And I’d wondered about those bunnies we’d rescued. How many weeks ago was that?
The bunnies had been maybe a few days old. Our giant dumb dog had disturbed the nest and run off their mother. We’d heard their cries of hunger and cold and opted to bring them inside. I’d wanted to deliver them to them to the local wildlife rescue, but the kids had cried, so Andy had taken them all to the Tractor Supply to procure kitten milk replacer and some sort of feeding implement.
We’d spent a couple of days working to get it right before settling on an art dropper with bunny swaddled in a paper towel arrangement that seemed most effective. Andy had gone to work a week in. “Don’t kill my bunnies” he’d joked.
I know my anxiety well. We’ve been aquainted as long as I’ve been a mother, so the day the bunnies died, when I identified the seedling of worry that threatened to become an unruly, strangled asshole of a weed I’d attempted to pluck it.
I checked out the CDC website. “Small mammals such as… rabbits and hares are almost never found to be infected with rabies and have not been known to cause rabies among humans in the United States.” I called the pediatrician who had me call animal control.
The man on the phone was reassuring. “We don’t worry about rabies in rabbits. We don’t test and there is no need for rabies prophylaxis in this case.” Naturally, I also called the wildlife center where the woman who answered reckoned our doomed bunnies have died from malnutrition. She too declined to test them.
Now, with my little boy retching next to me in bed, I google what I fear the most. The incubation period for rabies is, on average, sixty days. The time frame fits perfectly with my deranged theory. Incidentally I also discover that only three people per year die from rabies in the United States. The statistic does not bring me comfort. Nor does the aforementioned knowledge that bunnies are at low risk of transmitting the disease.
Holding my son, miserable and feverish, I imagine the rest of his little life racked with pain and delirium, parched with thirst and pleading for his Mama to help him. It feels like the most real thing there is, so when Andy sits across from me, his hand on my leg, and breaks the news to me that he thinks I am having an obsession it sounds like there are cotton balls in my ears.
The sound of blood rushing threatens to drown out his voice, though I can hear myself pleading with him to make an appointment with the doctor. He does. Then his ride arrives and he hugs me, promises it will all be okay and disappears around the curve at the end of our street.
I spend that afternoon and evening checking bear’s temperature at close intervals, and quizzing him on his symptoms even as he perks up and devours a meatball sub. I invite him to sleep in my bed, and when he wakes up multiple times with night terrors I believe I am witnessing the first neurological symptom of rabies. I lay down next to him and hold his hands, close my eyes and feel for spasms, and when I finally fall asleep I dream that my children are all on fire.
The following day a nurse practitioner looks my son over and declares him healthy. He doesn’t even have a fever. She explains that she’d never be able to justify testing to the insurance company. She is relaxed, smiling, and she takes extra time with me to recall stories of her own childhood spent in the country, noting that she never could keep the baby bunnies alive.
I gather myself together and prepare for my month flying solo. We visit the grocery store, then the carwash, and I work to get on top of the laundry. I do the mundane things that must be done alongside the anxiety until the episode starts to lessen in intensity. This particular fear will not leave me fully for some months. Still, Bear sleeps in his own bed.
A little later in the week he complains of a tingling in his left hand and I feel the terror begin to rise up. At age six he still has trouble communicating. If he were having nerve symptoms would we even know? Did the NP take his deficits into account?
For a moment I’m back on the roller coaster. The bar is lowered with a series of clicks and when the carts pull forward my head snaps back. The adrenaline burns in my cheeks and the physical world becomes less so. This time I demand to get off. I refuse to ride this fucker again. She never could keep the bunnies alive.“You just leaned on it weird,” I tell him. “It happens to me all the time.” But he’s forgotten he cared. He’s already pulling on his little red shoes and heading out the door, and I realize I am talking to myself.