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In the Storm

They do not recognize the mommy on the couch, the one cradling her stomach with both hands and moaning at the ceiling fan. The one who has run errands for him and her the last several hours and who, now home, cannot rise to meet their whims.

And so they come to me, unknowing. First him. Breathless and hungry. Hopeful. Can he have a spoonful of peanut butter. And I do not think–just nod. Whatever satiates.

Then her. The heels of her barefeet pounding the wood floors, like hammers to my head, the slam of the back door, the final nail.

And then I can feel it, whatever is in–bloating, squishing, agonizing–must come out. And I make a stooped dash to the bathroom. The first of five. Before I do not return to the couch but crumple in the hallway with a towel.

Business Husband announces he is headed out.

And I panic. And plead. I raise my head from my towel and whimper,”Please don’t leave me. I’m too sick to take care of them.” But what I really mean is I’m too sick to take care of me. Business Husband turns in acknowledgement, and I hear him say into the face of his phone, “I won’t be coming in.”

At his desk, Husband makes a conference call. Ten feet away I cling to a red pillow, curled with my warring guts. Husband chatters. I writhe. Run. And return. But just to the doorway.

My little boy who has brought me water with a straw, kneels in his red shorts at the door jamb. He is in no hurry, just strokes my arm like I have his a thousand times and says, “it makes me want to cry when you cry.”

Only now I am crying. Not before. And I tell him I think mommy will be all right. And he nods.

Business Husband is done and rises. I whisper, “you need to make the kids dinner.” And like that he becomes Dinner Dad and I hear the emptying of the freezer. At 8 p.m. kids eat hotdogs, and I hurl yesterday’s breakfast, lunch and dinner into a towel.

Night time offers no favors. No reprieve. I have made myself a bed on the floor, so I can crawl with my head down to the bathroom. But my hips and the floor cannot come to peace. Not for a moment. And my stomach promises doom. After midnight, my boy with a nightmare collapses into my arms and I hold him to me on the floor. Will I tuck him, he wants to know. And I will try. We part at the bathroom. And I promise him, “Mommy will be just a minute.”

There can be nothing left. And yet there is. And so as my body sweats the coming, I lean unready from the toilet and drown the towels at my feet.

He is still waiting for me. Frightened child. And the nightmare persists until we pray the name of Jesus over his bed and his mind. He whispers with his arm around my waist, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” trusting my instruction. And we are calm.

The morning light brings hips, like Barbie dolls, torn from the socket. I flag my daughter in the hallway. “Crackers please,” I say. And she brings them. Four and a third saltines. The end of the bag. All of them stale. Bendy. And yet I am licking the bag, pinching the salty crumbs with my fingers. Grateful.

And as the empty cracker sleeve slips from the bed, I know it. I. know it.  It is how I want to be in all seasons. Flat out. Or in full health. With much. And with nothing.

Grateful.

Oh, God. Yes. I want to be grateful.

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