I knew sleep wouldn’t come for me when my wife said, “Your face is melting.”
It came easy enough for her—she rolled over right and was gone in seconds, before I could even reply. Which I suppose was a good thing. How could I have responded to that? The only thing I could have said was roll over and get some sleep, which she did.
It’s unsettling to hear something like that from an otherwise rational person—“Your face is melting.” And it’s downright fearful when it comes from someone who only hours before had been in surgery to have an organ removed.
Thanks to modern medicine, these days few patients actually stay overnight in the hospital. I learned that today. I also learned that the things doctors and nurses tell you when you’re taking that patient home can scare the living bejesus out of you. They said to watch for leakage from her bandages, cautioned me not to let her toss about in bed, said there would be pain and a bit of mental discombobulation. They did not say it would appear to her that my face is melting.
So I knew sleep wouldn’t come. And now, four hours later, it still hasn’t.
A lack of weariness has little to do with why I’m still awake. I’m tired. And I’m not still awake because I need to make sure she’s still breathing, even though that’s what I’m doing. I know that sounds ridiculous, but in those small hours of the night what is ridiculous has a funny way of becoming what is important.
No, I’m awake because I’m afraid. Pure and simple. And just as being afraid is a choice, so too is my decision not to sleep.
I will be awake all night. That isn’t a problem. I’m a writer and a father; sleepless nights go with the territory. I have a pot of coffee in the kitchen, some chapters to edit, and reruns of Frasier on the television. I’m set.
I’ve prayed. I think there’s a validity to the notion that God hears the prayers of the desperate a little clearer than anyone else’s, if only because those supplications spring forth from a sense of helplessness and humility. I prayed that there would be no leakage, that she would not toss, that her pain would go away and that she would not get sicker. But those words tasted like pennies in my mouth. I suppose that’s a symptom of fear as well—when you pray, it’s not to ask for good things to happen but to ask that bad things won’t.
She’s still breathing, still keeping still. Frasier has just lost yet another in a long line of loves. That he did so in a humorous way doesn’t make me laugh as it usually does. I just see his loneliness and know what a powerful thing that is, and I know that life isn’t the bulwark we make it to be. It is fragile and can be snatched away at any time, and that is why I am afraid. It is a choice that does not feel like a choice.
The problem is that I want to sleep. I want to close my eyes right now and wake in the morning to find I’ve stopped writing mid-sentence, because then I will know that I chose faith over fear. That I let God and his angels tend to my wife and not my worry.
But I can’t.
My son said this evening that he’s happy his mother his home. He said there are angels here. He’s seen them. He’s said once he even heard one. He said the angel didn’t talk so much as sing, and that it sounded like a wave pulling back into the ocean over a million tiny shells.
I wish I could hear that song now.
Maybe I can. Maybe I just have to sit here and listen hard enough. Maybe the point isn’t to never feel fear, but to see fear for what it is: the large shadow of a tiny thing.
Maybe it’s enough to know the angels are here and God is here and—