The moment our mother and son dance began, a flashback of memories moved in perfect synchrony to the steady rhythm of the music. Brandon took my hand and led me across the floor. All eyes were on us, but the years of hardship that wove our hearts together enveloped us in our own little world. He looked at me with his ocean blue eyes and said, “I love you, Mama.” When he took me in his arms, my heart slid back to the autumn morning of his birth, and a tidal wave of emotions gripped my heart as I held him close in the first few steps of our sacred dance.
Brandon came into the world without a cry or even a whimper. The cord that gave him life for nine months was wrapped tightly around his neck. The blue pallor of his skin sent images through my mind I didn’t want to process. Eventually, his cries swelled throughout the delivery room, and when the nurses placed him in my arms for the very first time, he opened his eyes and looked at me through the haze of newly seen light and into my heart. He knew me; he knew I was his mother, and my joyful tears fell on his bruised, yet beautiful, face.
During our dance, Brandon squeezed my hand and sang the song’s lyrics in my ear, “You were there to love and care for me when skies were gray.” I felt a sob well up within his chest. The vibrations sent me back to the night he nearly died, the night God saved his life.
My strong and healthy football player complained for an entire weekend about pain in the right side of his abdomen. My instincts told me it was his appendix, but the doctor said he had mononucleosis. For weeks, he battled the pain and high fevers. He didn’t return to school for five weeks. One night, Brandon told me he would rather sleep on the couch then go upstairs to bed. I put my hand on his cheek, and he was hot to the touch. His 103.5 temperature sent me into panic mode, but my husband told me not to worry. I couldn’t shake the feeling mono was not the culprit. A mother knows. I went upstairs and said a silent prayer for wisdom. I knew I needed to call the doctor, who in turn told me to take Brandon to the hospital as soon as possible.
Within hours, my son fought for his life while my husband and I prayed. He had a ruptured appendix and perforated bowel. Worst of all, his appendix burst at least 48 to 72 hours before our arrival at the ER. The attending physician said if our son had gone to bed that night, he would have died in his sleep. While he fought for his life, I fought for faith, the evidence of things not yet seen.
The surgeon left my son's abdomen open to purge the poison from his body. Three times a day, even after he came home, nurses removed the gauze, cleaned the wound, and put in more sterile dressing. It was an excruciatingly painful procedure for him to endure and for us to watch.
One night, as Brandon struggled to sleep, I could see the fear wash over his tired eyes. I turned off the light, laid a pillow on the floor, and held his hand while he slept. I would be strong for him because I was his warrior mom. I had to be.
As we twirled around the floor with less than ease, gratitude overtook me because I knew dancing was difficult for my son. His staccato movements and shuffling gait were evidence of his third near-tragic demise.
A year after Brandon’s second near-death experience, he retreated to his bedroom. Darkness invaded his room as he pulled the shades and closed his curtains. His severe headaches and neck pain transmitted a high-frequency alarm on the mommy radar screen. Once again, we headed for the emergency room. The pediatric attendee diagnosed him with depression and sent him home. Two days later, Brandon stumbled around the house and could barely speak. We were off to the ER again, a different one. After two lumbar punctures, the doctor diagnosed him with aseptic meningitis and the infection spread to the adjacent brain tissue, which explained his speech and motor skill deficit. It took months to heal, but my son was a fighter, as he had been his whole life.
As our dance came to a close, I remembered the baby I held tight in my arms, the teenager I helped through the most traumatic events in his life, and now the man who was giving his heart to the woman he loved. I clasped his hand one more time as he looked into my eyes. “Thank you, mom, for everything you did for me.” His words reflected my appreciativeness to God. I was thankful He spared my son’s life, so I could share a treasured dance with him on his wedding day.
Guest post written by Kathy Otto Buckert. Kathy holds an M.F.A in Creative Writing from Goddard College’s low-residency program in Plainfield, Vermont. Her work has appeared in The Blue Hour, Black Mirror Magazine, Silver Birch Press, Cheap Pop, Carnival Literary Magazine, Muddy River Review,Bookends Review, The Effects of Grace Anthology and other publications. She is an adjunct assistant professor at Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York. She is currently working on her novel, Jacob’s Vow.
Photo by Lydia Takeoka.