By that time the Cude household was strained. We were both tired. We were both on edge, having had several close calls where we thought we were losing Gabriel.
"I need to get away for just an hour," I told Ben, who had been in and out at work and running errands for the last week. I'd managed to get out of the house a couple of times but had otherwise hardly put Gabriel down. It was the longest ten days of our lives.
"Maybe I should just leave," Ben retorted.
"No, I mean it. I need a break. I'm losing my mind." But he stormed off that Father's Day, leaving me alone with Gabriel. Like mothers do, I just did. I just took care of him, like I had been. My mom came over and we gave Gabriel his first and only bath that night. I'd been too afraid of shocking his body, already super sensitive because of the defect to temperature changes, to do more than wipe him with a warm cloth once in a while, but that evening we spread out a towel on the kitchen counter and soaped Gabriel up with Johnson & Johnson baby soap that Kat had given us. He fussed and squawked in protest, and generally acted like a baby that night. Smelling of baby lotion, his skin glowing healthily, Gabriel ate better than he had the last couple of days.
When Ben returned several hours later I set Gabriel on the couch to talk to Ben. There, in front of our terminally ill child we had one of the worst arguments of our marriage before Ben disappeared to the bedroom for what had become our nightly routine, where he would sleep for a few hours at night before he would relieve me to sleep for a few hours in the morning.
That night as I held Gabriel tightly, I silently prayed to God that if He were going to take my son from me anyway, that He take him soon, before my marriage had been damaged beyond repair. I didn't think I could stand to lose both Gabriel and Ben.
The next morning Gabriel started to seize and for nearly five hours I watched him struggle to breathe. He cried out loud, making the most noise I'd ever heard from him. I pled with God to take my baby boy from his suffering.
The feeling, even the memory, of asking God to take your child's life is indescribable. Some people might say its an act of selfless love, loving someone enough to know that their time here is over. But it doesn't feel like love. It doesn't feel selfless. It feels like desperatation. It feels like helplessness. It feels like shame that the thing my son needed, a skull cap, sat securely on my own head but it was useless to him and useless to me while I watched his face turn blue as he gasped for breath. It feels like someone is holding your pumping heart in front of your face and squeezing it, stilling its life-giving beat as you stare on with your hands tied. It feels like you're watching your son die. And you're not sure how you're going to keep living.
I'm not ashamed to say that I would trade Ben for Gabriel in a heartbeat today. Trying to reason with the unreasonable, associating my prayer on Father's Day with Gabriel's death the next day, only leads to something more unreasonable. If I was bargaining with God, why did I offer my son instead of Ben? I guess because I thought someday Gabriel would leave me - to go to kindegarten, to go to college, to get married himsef - anyway, and I needed to preserve my relationship with my chosen life partner.
I remember leaving Victoria on her first day of day care, aching, knowing after we'd spent the last three months together that I was trusting her to the care of a stranger. Knowing I wouldn't see her until that evening. The ache is dull in the wake of the cutting pain of releasing my son, giving him the freedom to go, knowing I wouldn't see him for the rest of my life.
I burn with fury now when I think of Ben and that night. I could explode when I think of him driving away in that U-Haul one year later, bound for divorce and South Carolina. How dare he? How dare he walk away? How dare he leave when we had both already lost more than any person should ever have to lose? Did we not owe each other our lives after we watched our son lose his? How dare he allow our marriage to become what I prayed it wouldn't, damaged beyond repair? And how can I ever forgive him?
Tonight I'm hiding in a bar, dodging the children who are undoubtedly knocking on my door for a trick or a treat. I can't face them. I wish they would't look at me. I wish that little boy last week, who smiled and giggled and forced me to meet his gaze and smile back to his mother's amusement, had just walked on by. I wish I had never seen the little boy in the elevator today, who grinned at me as he reached for his mother's hand. I used to wish to be that person that children were just drawn to, and now I wish I could escape them. What's left of my heart can barely take it.
Tomorrow I will go to Mass for the Feast of All Saints Day, the annual and universal celebration of my son's soul. But today as people walk aroundin costumes and masks I think I've got the best disguise of all as I parade around as a woman who isn't missing a piece of herself.