A father's worst nightmare.
I’m standing over my son’s bed, and I start crying. I think: he’s alive.
It’s a weird emotion for me.
My wife and son were in a car accident today coming home from school. Everyone was okay. The car wasn’t.
People lived, items didn’t. It worked out how it was supposed to. But my seven-year-old is scared. He’s waking up as soon as he falls asleep. He’s crying because he’s scared. "I want Momma," his voice cracks.
"Momma’s got to sleep too," I answer. "She was also in the car accident and she’s hurt too. You both need to rest."
My wife is as hurt as my son: shaken, scared, but alive. An airbag deployed. Her arm is red. Her chest is red. She’s alive.
My son said that the gas the airbag put out choked him. His ribs hurt. His stomach hurts. His airbag didn’t deploy.
But he’s alive. He’s alive.
I’m standing over my son’s bed, biting back the tears, taking shaky breaths in. I don’t know how long I’m supposed to stand here. He’s alive, I think. People die in car accidents. Parents stand over empty beds the night their kids die in car accidents. My kid’s alive. I’m no good at this.
"I feel sad that the other woman has to pay money," my son told me before trying to sleep the first time. He’s sweet. He’s innocent. He doesn’t know why anyone has to be paid for anything. "She’s sorry," he tells me.
"Sorrow won’t make the car come back," I answer. I explain, in the simplest of ways how when you don’t follow the rules, in this case, the rules of the road, you get punished. I explain that she’s lucky that for not following the rules, she’s only paying for a car, and not for more. I’m lucky too.
I don’t know what my son needs. He’s tired. He’s scared. He’s whispering half sentences, and I get him water again. He asks me not to be mad, but that he might need me to stand there next to his bed longer.
"I'm not mad. I'm here as long as you need me."
My hips are slowly swaying because the only time I’ve ever had to stand this long next to his bed was when he was a toddler and I’d pick him up and sway slowly to get him back to sleep. It’s muscle memory. It's, I think, what I'm doing to comfort myself. Life's been pretty easy so far, I think.
We have our problems, my son and I. We fight about homework or about rules, and some nights I get mad when he's not tired and calls me into his room over and over without reason. Not tonight. Even if he’s stammering, in and out of sleep, I'm not mad.
He's alive. My wife is in the other room sleeping. She's alive. They're lucky. I'm lucky.
"What do I do," my son asks me. I don't have an answer. I lie: "You just think about the weekend. Tomorrow we'll play video games. Think about those." I know he can’t stop thinking about the accident. It all happened so fast. Every time his brain can, it revisits it. I know it does.
There’s no way to tell him not to think about it. He’s a kid, his life has been simple. He asks, half asleep, what if it happens again. I say all of the right things about how cars are made to crash and made to save you.
But it could happen again tomorrow and I just stand there, looking at his ceiling fan, slowly whirring in the darkness, and think: it could happen again. It could be worse. His airbag didn’t deploy. It could have been worse. My breath skips a beat and a tear spills down my cheek.
Tomorrow, I’ll drink more coffee than normal. I’ll be tired at work. But I’ll still be lucky. I didn’t spend the night standing over a hospital bed. I didn’t spend the night sitting at the foot of an empty bed wondering why. I’m lucky.
“I’m ready to go to sleep now,” his little voice says. My breathing is choppy as I sniffle a bit. “Okay,” I answer. “I love you.”
I put my hand on his head. His hair moves between my fingers. His eyes are closed, his breaths are heavy. His fingers are gripping his blanket up around his neck. He’s going to dream about the car accident. Again.
He’s going to wake up. He gets to wake up. He’s lucky. I’m lucky.
And that’s why I’ll be back as many times as he needs me.
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