The room is dark save for the pink Barbie Christmas tree on the nightstand that illumines one corner but leaves the other three in blackish confusion. I step carefully around the stuffed animal that’s been kicked from her bed and over the squeaky floorboard near the dresser, pausing to admire the newest piece of art thumb tacked to the wall—a turkey and a pig wishing each other a Merry Christmas.
I stoop over the bed and, as softly as I can, hunt beneath the blankets for a hand. Either of the two will do; it makes no difference right or left and is usually dependent upon how she’s sleeping. I pull out another stuffed animal and part of her Tinkerbell blanket (“Tink’s my favorite,” she says, “because fairies are real enough if you believe.”) until, finally, I unearth a palm.
Her fingers close in on my hand, gripping me as she did almost eight years ago when we first met. She was smaller then, though just as loud. And much more innocent. It would be four years until the claws of this world sunk into her.
I turn her hand palm side up and spread her fingers, holding them as close to the tinkling lights on the tree as I can. I draw my eyes close, squinting to find which of the five are the least scarred by the day’s jabs. Ten, to be exact.
It’s been a long day.
I pull her monitor from my pocket and slide a test strip into the slot, then pull back the white plastic tab of the pricker. The spring loads with a click. I set the business end onto the top of the whorl in her thumbprint and press.
It isn’t the ensuing click! that makes her jerk, it’s the feeling of the jagged piece of metal pressing through her skin, drawing blood. I hold her hand tighter, not only to keep her steady but to let her know everything’s fine. The end of the test strip soaks up a drop of blood, and I wipe the remainder off with a cotton ball.
The backlit screen on the monitor counts backward from three in a manner I suppose it’s meant to be soothing but is in fact its antithesis. I would rather have it over with—321—than with the gut wrenching, patronizing way its program dictates—3…2…1…
I let out a soft exhale that is part desperation and part fatigue. Midnight is known to some as The Witching Hour, that part of night when ghosts and demons supposedly prowl. Until three years ago, I never believed that. I believe it now. Except in our house it comes an hour early. Every night for the past four years.
I turn the monitor to face me, half praying and half willing for cooperation.
3…(it’s going)…2…(to be)….1…(okay)…
The screen blanks, adding to the drama, and then reveals her glucose count in its typical ta-da! manner.
68, it flashes. Printed on the bottom is Time for a snack?
I lay her hand down and she instinctively pulls it under the blankets and curls. I leave her there to thirty seconds of rest, then return with a glass of water and fifteen Skittles.
“Hey Punkin,” I whisper, “can you eat a snack for me?”
She huddles deeper into the bed and mumbles a “No, Daddy.”
“Please? I have Skittles.”
“Kay,” she says.
I help her up and hold my hand out. Greens and yellows and reds and oranges, mixing with the tree light.
She leans her head onto my shoulder and plucks the Skittles one by one from my hand, softly crunching down on them. Her blond hair settles between my lips and itches my nose, but I don’t move my head. The only motion is the gentle rocking back and forth that I give her, hoping to keep her closer to sleep than wakefulness. She’s not aware, but I am. I am aware of everything. Every bite, every crunch. The pock marks on her fingers and the knots in her arms and legs.
And I am aware of the ghosts and demons who visit our Witching Hour, those of doubt and grief who claw at me from the inside out.
I decide then, in that warm bed by that warm Christmas light, that if there is a hell upon this earth then it resides in this room, where there is so much joy but not enough to rid ourselves of the pain, and where there is love abounding but not enough to make my daughter well.
It is a hard fact, but a fact nonetheless. Sometimes in the darkness all we can do is huddle and rock.
This post was written for the blog carnival hosted by Peter Pollock. To read more stories about Grief, please visit him at Rediscovering the Church.