I’m thinking about having a memory quilt made which required a visit to the box of my son’s last belongings. Two boxes actually. It’s still hard to believe a whole 20-year life is reduced to two boxes.
My plan is to look through all the clothing to determine which shirts and pants might make good quilt pieces. I smother my face in his little blankie, his scent long gone but the softness of him still wrapped in its essence.
Visits to the boxes can be like knives to the heart, or it can feel like a link to my youngest child. It just depends on the day.
This was a knife-to-the-heart day which means a short visit.
I wasn’t up to sorting through the clothing and I’m still wary of the brown bag that has his last articles of clothing, that which he was wearing when he killed himself at age 22. I’m not sure I can use that shirt or pair of pants for the quilt. The outside of the bag elicits a violent visceral response on this particular day so I don’t get near it. It’s still surreal to me.
Near the top, under the blanket, I find Charles’s little toddler cast. I could never part with it because I thought, “One day maybe I would show it to his future wife and I’d tell her the story of how he broke his foot.”
But that won’t ever happen. So I’ll tell you all the story.
Charles was 22 months old with white blonde little boy hair and he was a hugger. I was walking down our back staircase and I remember how he was holding me that day and laying his head on my chest when my foot slipped out from under me and we both fell down the stairs. Struggling to keep myself face up and not pitch forward with my child risking a head injury, I inadvertently got his foot trapped under my bum.
We rested at the bottom of the landing in shock and there was a rush of relief that we didn’t fall forward and that he looked OK. He wasn’t knocked out and his head was safe which took something of a contortionist move to avoid. I was rug burned, shaken, sore, and bruised.
A quick body scan reveals he looks fine and a feeling of gratefulness washes over my face before tears burst on the scene. We had been headed downstairs for me to park him in front of tv show, Sesame Street, so I could take a shower. I get him settled in his little rocker to watch the show and run upstairs to take my shower. As I’m stepping out to grab the towel and dry off, I hear a toddler’s piercing scream of pain and I tear down the stairs like a madwoman on fire.
Charles is hobbling around crying, unable to stand on his foot. Barely dressed in my robe and on the edge of panic, I find the phone to call the doctor. When I was about to head upstairs to get clothes on, Charles raises his arms pleading with me to pick him up.
He was afraid of the stairs despite the fact I was actually holding him when we fell. He trusted me, not those stairs. A pang of regret nicks my heart.
It was my fault and that crushing sense of responsibility for his hurt foot made me feel like the worst mother alive. As we walked upstairs carefully, he pats my back as he often did to soothe himself. It soothes me, too, and reminded me what a loving little boy he was.
The doctor agreed to see us right away and the whole time I’m driving there I feel intense shame and then a jolt of fear that they might think this was abuse. Would they?
When I walk into the doctor’s office with my blonde toddler clinging to me, the tears erupt and the stress of the accident leaves me barely able to eke out what happened as I try to explain between racking sobs.
That orthopedist was the kindest doctor I ever met and immediately put me at ease. An x-ray reveals his little foot was broken and he’d have to wear a cast for several weeks. While I’m asking the doctor how it would hamper his movement, Charles hits the floor running around as if the cast on his broken foot is a one-legged cowboy boot.
I had thought he’d be an invalid for several weeks and the next thing I know he’s doing everything but jumping rope.
In the picture above, you can see the duct tape on the cast that had to be applied because he started to wear out the bottom of the cast from running outside on it. It didn’t slow him down at all.
For weeks (I can’t remember how many), we had his foot propped up outside the sink with a plastic bag wrapped around it when bathing him. When it came time to remove it, the cast saw made the hair stand up on the back of my neck but Charles was fascinated with this painless process and his eyes were fixed on the instrument which would free him of the plaster.
It was the first time I felt the sting of having failed to protect my baby boy. Not the last.
On this visit to the boxes, I just held that little cast embracing the memories and glad I’d kept it. Visits to those articles have been infrequent still. I guess it will always be hard and a process I approach gingerly.
In the one-minute video below you can see Charles running after his brother on his second birthday in his little cast.