Last Wednesday was a special day. Not because I had a doctor’s appointment. My life isn’t that boring, yet. No. It was my friend’s forty-seventh birthday and I needed a present. Almost as good–it was the first time I’d been out in about two weeks due to a nasty recurring flu. The sky was gray with heavy dark clouds but I was up and moving; that was what mattered. I walked the five blocks to a bus stop and twenty minutes later, I checked in with Debbie, the medical assistant.
“I’m so sorry, Terry.” She said. “Your appointment is at 11:30. Can you get a coffee or something?”
Wait. They apologized to ME. I smiled politely. “It’s okay. I got the time wrong, not you. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”
Being a writer—yes, I’m brazenly calling myself that–I go everywhere with my phone, notebook and a few pens. I don’t mind sitting quietly and writing anywhere. Travel taught me years ago that queuing up is necessary in this modern world. It is annoying and painful, especially if my back is acting up, but even worse if I get all worked up about it. Without losing a beat, I chose a chair and pulled out my paraphernalia.
I passed two contented hours this way during which time I read the new posts on Laura’s Roadmap blog and wrote comments too. This was only interrupted—to my delight—by a steady stream of mothers and toddlers on their way in or out of their pediatrician office. I always enjoy children and yacked with several Moms. We laughed and marveled over those little alien beasts who drop in on you and change everyone’s lives forever—their budding personalities, varied sizes and shapes, and at birth, their degree of baldness or, for others, how badly they needed their first haircut.
At last, I was free and made my way down the steps and outside the clinic. The sun had finally broken through the heavy, brooding clouds. I stopped and closed my eyes. The warmth against my eyelids felt fantastic. As I strolled, intent on taking my time, I even hosted an inner debate. Do I drop into the bookstore or not? Everything is too pricey there but they could have a nice card and small gift to suit my purposes. Take the time. Go in.
Inside, my eyes scanned the rows of books, prompting what I was sure would be another shameless literary binge. Yes. I settled in and wandered, an aimless traveller not bound by any group of the Dewey Decimal system. I do appreciate digital publishing, but still prefer books I can actually touch, hold, and gauge the weight of in my hands. When more naïve than I am now—and trust me that is saying something—I imagined that each extra ounce transformed the words within to prose more compelling and vital. I enjoyed browsing, loving the book covers for their varied colours, textures and graphics. My curiosity took over and I indulged in it all. I still needed a birthday present.
What’s that? I spotted brown burlap bags the size of a cereal box in a woven basket on the floor. Reaching for one, I discovered they were kettle-cooked potato chips. Strange. I moved on and caressed a leather-bound travel journal, which I found hard to put down. Great. Two greeting cards seemed to jump off the racks at me. Now, what can I buy? It all costs too much. Chocolate! That was the birthday girl’s favourite. Godiva. It was just right. Milk chocolate—as she didn’t like dark. For some reason, I still hesitated.
“It’s really good!” a voice said. I looked up to see a tall thin elderly woman in a green Aussie hat. “You can’t go wrong,” she added. I thanked her and she walked away, while I took a mental note to get one of those hats.
At the front of the line, I paid for my items and let my eyes wander. There was another cash register beside me a few feet away, where I saw yet another mother and baby. She was young, short and slight with dark hair and her baby boy, a charmer, wore blue jeans, a number seven baseball shirt, and soft white moccasins on his feet. His Mom carried him on her shoulders and he had wrapped his short legs and tiny hands around her neck. She cupped her right hand over his. For some reason, this brought to mind the woman in Moore, Oklahoma, who threw herself on top of six children at Plaza Towers Elementary school, while the tornado raged outside.
It bothered me that Mom wasn’t holding him with both hands. With her left, I saw her lay her wallet down on the counter, retrieve a credit card and pass it to the cashier. A mini-alarm went off in my head. The baby had lots of energy and wriggled around, jerking his head and body off to the left. “Wow! He really wants to see everything.” I smiled at the woman.
Did I mention he was a small baby and looked only six months old? In my opinion, he was too little to carry that way. No. I would never presume to know better. I am not a mother. I would speak up, however, if I saw something abusive–violence or a child being berated or ridiculed by someone. That was not the case here. Mom was confident and at ease so I turned back to the front.
He did it again! I turned my head in a half-second.
“What a live wire he is,” I said, before I could stop myself. Quit worrying, Terry. He’s just fine. With both cashiers, there were three other adults to tend to him. Again, I cast off my worries. I grabbed my bag to leave but stopped. There was no line behind me so I took another moment. “Could you tell me how much time is left on my membership?”
In an instant, there it was. My worst fears came true. As I write this now, what startles me is that a single breath could be so expansive a period of time—that one can measure, dice, and package it in the way I seemed to.
One–my eyes caught something in my peripheral view. Two, my gut screamed: Something awful is happening! Three, I turned.
My God. Mom had lost her tenuous grip on the boy, holding him by then only by his right ankle. The baby was falling head-first, propelled fast toward the hard brown floor. He slid more than halfway down her back. She did all she could by bending forward, elongating her body to create a table of sorts with her arched back.
Four, my brain registered it in a blink. My left arm shot free of my side and moved toward him. My right sprung into action more slowly, but formed a ‘cradle’ to catch his tiny body.
I caught him!
The baby screamed and cried. The mother quickly took him in her arms and laughed nervously. She did not show any obvious distress. We all let out a long, deep breath.
Nobody said a word. Tick. Tick. Tick. We stood there in an awkward silence, until we didn’t. I got my bag, said thank you, and left the store.
On Granville Street again, I was in shock. I sat down on a bench to calm my shaking and wait for a bus. Again, from the corner of my eye, I spotted her. She was bending over his stroller–where he safely sat, thank God–chatting to him in soft tones. Suddenly, I was mad as hell. I got up and paced back and forth, wanting to go up to her and say something. Anything. He was too small for that. He could’ve had severe head trauma and died. My adrenalin was pumping fast.
The bus pulled up a few minutes later and I got on. I didn’t look back. My job was done. I was just so happy and grateful I was attentive enough and available when the universe had a need for me. Could it really be that my small presence in this world evokes a blip. A difference? It seems so.
At home, I sipped on a cup of hot black tea. The whole scenario was on replay and it rattled me to the core. It was scary.
The thing is: my right arm has been numb and tingling every day since last November. What if it had failed me? What if he slipped thru my haphazard safety net? The thought was terrifying.
I don’t tell this story for praise. I did nothing special. It was pure fluke that I was there. Closer to the side he fell toward.
Attention? Yes, but not in the way one might think. The horror of what might have been is still there. I can hear the sounds, screams and cries of something that didn’t happen. No doubt, I am remembering a violent scene from somewhere in the past.
I wonder if I am blowing this out of proportion but somehow think that Mom doesn’t think so. Hopefully, she won’t do that again until he’s much bigger.
Tonight, my hope is that writing this out will give me a peaceful sleep. Free me from whatever old memory this event evoked. It should. Besides, I just shared the first draft of this story that was burning to be told.