The Blue Boy and The Cricket

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Sometimes in the middle of the night, I wonder if God hates me.

– By Anne-Marie Heckt

I sat on a rock, with a cricket for company and the sun a halo over the mountain, and thought about blue. The blue of mountains, the blue of ocean, and the blue of my son’s face the afternoon he came a wingtip brush away from death, two months before.

I could speak the words, “My son almost died,” but it was an academic discussion. Only here, in a fold of the mountain, in the heat of an August day, could I feel it. And write it.

The poem rolled out strange, in many parts. Everyone said, “Hmmm, it’s lacking … Maybe too long?” They said it gently. I wondered how I could trim each foot-beat that tattooed out my grief.

Then I went into the kitchen and hid over the sink, peeling potatoes. My poem hadn’t worked. There were many master poets there, the teacher both a master teacher and a master at life. One of the best in Canada. I didn’t want to be asked to read.

The door swung open. The poet propped himself on the drainboard next to me and asked, “Did you write something, up there?” and nodded toward my hill. When we were asked to write something, I’d needed air. I’d felt the pressure pushing out the middle of my breastbone – the part that ached every time my child tried to get air into his lungs. The part that just about cracked when he asked his dad, “Am I going to die now?”

My chatty kid went silent in the ambulance, and I didn’t know if we’d make it this time. That lovely air that billowed and blew around Rivendell, the retreat center on Bowen Island where I’d come to be a poet, but found that I was still a wounded mother.

“Well, I wrote something,” I admitted, setting the potato in the colander. “But it’s long, sprawly and just…not right.”

He didn’t ask to read it. He just looked at me and said, “It’s a good poem. Don’t change a thing. Just put a number in front of each section. Come in now.” He said, gently.

The man had grown up in a poverty stricken mining town. Children who’d played with him one day, gone the next, killed by their fathers. Then the families would move, and the memory of those children would sink into the ground of the place they lived so briefly, and into the souls of the other children. He’d grown, like many of them, to be an early alcoholic, suicidal. He’d finally found a sober life, a rich one.

I hadn’t said what I’d been through, but I think he recognized it in my face.

So, I gathered my pieces of paper, inhabited my empty spot in the circle. Patrick said, “I think Anne-Marie has something,” And I read it, part by part, putting a number in front of each few sentences, each stuttered piece of heart. And all those pieces emerged into the room.

The response? Silence.

I thought, “It’s terrible!”

It wasn’t. It was wonderful. They all asked me later, “How’d you do that? How’d you write a poem in so many pieces and make it whole?”

I didn’t.

I wrote the pain; those beats you experience in any life and death situation and remember forever afterwards.

The boy says, “I need help!” He gasps like a fish, he turns a metallic blue, we use every medicine possible – nothing works. We call 911.

The phones are all down.

I stand on the grass in the yard, after running in and out of houses, trying to find someone with a cell signal and cry out in my heart, “Really God? Is this it?”

Hanging over his crib in the dark, near the other sleeping children and anxious mothers, I’d felt deep in my bones the whisper, “Your son will live.”

And he did. After that awful moment, he got so much healthier. We even took a trip to Europe last year.  It’s been five years since that Spring. Every Spring leading up to it, he’d had a worse attack. And then, after the one that so nearly took him, everything turned around.

Still asthmatic, still food allergic, still so small. But able to ride bikes and play tennis and go places. No attacks.

Until this year. He’s been sick for months, on heavy doses of the growth-impeding meds. Missing so much school which makes it almost impossible to reach his goals, and he has goals! Let me tell you. Archeology, Entomology, world travel…

We’re going into his dangerous season with a hinky pair of lungs and no protection from the pollens, and this morning? He woke with a new cough, the kind that makes my shoulders ride up. Too sick for his shots, and running out of time.

I keep trying to generate normal: The normal growth curve, activities, maybe a social life for a sixteen year old boy? Trying to get off the meds that inhibit growth and weight. But what I received was not a scientific set of steps, but a promise. I am trying to hang on in faith to that promise, and live richly in the moment I now have.

This boy is a delight and a treasure. He is a blessing. Affectionate, loving, quirky bright. Today. We’re going to chuck the homework (Calculus, Chemistry….) and eat popcorn on the couch, take naps, and dream about finding monsters in Lake Okonogan. We used to dream about traveling overseas and it seemed impossible.

Last year our trip was a wonder. The top of Gibraltar, the inside of Paleolithic caves with ancient drawings, the top of the London Eye. And it was even sunny and warm. Imagine – London in the sun! We tend to get these gem-like moments of perfection in between the long months of weary battle with weak bodies and tired hearts. They’re the gifts – the gorgeous, mouth watering tidbits we survive on in the dark months.

Here’s a picture. I wish the lung treatment weren’t in the picture, but that’s our picture today. The book? What he wanted for Valentines – a mega compilation of everything about Ants. He’s in love with them: thorax, colony, queen and larvae, and the gorgeous nests they weave.

Sometimes in the middle of the night, I wonder if God hates me. It’s dark, and the difficulty just doesn’t seem to let up. Please don’t explain to me that’s not true. I know God doesn’t hate me. In the morning, after my coffee and bible reading, my soul reorients to true north, and I’m embarrassed by my night-time rantings. But they are a valid part of it. Even King David said in a lament, “What good am I to you dead? “ My translation, “I’ve kinda had it, could you please let up a bit God?”

To me, the Psalms are like my poem. They’re the placing and orienting of the wicked strong emotions and reactions we have to this life – intense, often beautiful, sometimes appalling. 

I’m going to try not to fear, and trust that this long sickly bout will be no different than all the roller coaster moments before. God sees all the stanzas of my life, and He isn’t drawing red ink through a single phrase. God is helping me order, label and number them. And some day, I may get a chance to read them, and there may be silence, and I may just have a moment of hearing the awe over what has been lived, and how beautiful it is, and whole.

The Blue Boy and the Cricket

1.
Where is the cricket
who leapt from the patio stones
wings flashing in silver air.
Where is the boy
who lay on cushions
stones for lungs
solid as the mountain before me
blue as receding hope.

2.
That day we held rice
in our hands, rinsed it
with vinegar, added the sweet
sealed the Nori seaweed
with the salt of tears yet to come.

3.
I cannot write about a blue boy
waiting on cushions
for the ambulance to come,
his face bloated, his eyes
two wild dots racing
from his father’s face
to mine, saying when
will the next breath come?

4.
On the crust of the mountain
it is cold. Trees block the sun
shadows cover my knees.
Just over the hill, I trust
a cricket jumps, still
from stone to stone, a blur
of yellow wing, flashing
when loft begins to fail.

5.
I try to write of a cricket,
a mountain gets in the way.
I try to write of a blue boy,
an ambulance stands in the way.
I try to write a child before me,
a rag stands in the way
I try to write wheat,
the wind stands in the way.
I try to write of the day, the blue, the breath, the wind
stopped, no hope, no sky, no color,
only skin fading, all fading to gray.

6.
I want to write
of the blue, blue mountain
on the horizon, but moss
tickles my feet, buttons black on green.
I want to write of the cricket
but it hops away, and leaves only
tall grass waiting in the pause
between afternoon and even.
I want to write of a pool
iced by a slow-slung glacier,
but my shoulder burns
in the August sun, skin answering
light. Birds call, the wind
swirls dust into my ears, irritates,
and the boy who almost left us
for the other side of silence
yells at me in the cricket’s beat,
in the moss that fills cracks
in the shadows, in blue wings
beating on a dragonfly bush,
in the red burn that blooms
around my shadow,
as water chafes the rushes
and the cricket lands at my feet.

If you are living in a similar season, I wish you grace, truth, the support of those who love you, and some kind of promise to hang on to, and the perfect place to listen for it. I hope you hear the word that sustains your heart in the long, dark hours.

_________________

About Anne- Marie:

When not scrambling eggs, I manage a community garden which grows veg for a food bank. I’m a full time mom of two almost-grown boys. Saturday mornings you’ll find me at the Farmer’s Market, religiously. Goals include extending my rollerblading distance to marathon length and getting the courage to quit picking at my novel and publish it. A scary re-emergence into paid work may need to happen soon. Eons ago I taught ESL at a community college. Farther back, I taught in China and worked at a church in Mexico City. Childhood included a confusing mix of Spain, military bases and a tiny town in Washington State. What I would really love to have is not a job, but a puppy. I live north of Seattle and somewhere east of organized with a husband, our younger son, and a turtle.

_________________

Image credit: Mountains, Sky

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Anne-Marie Heckt

Anne-Marie Heckt

When not scrambling eggs, I manage a community garden which grows veg for a food bank. I’m a full time mom of two almost-grown boys. Saturday mornings you’ll find me at the Farmer’s Market, religiously. Goals include extending my rollerblading distance to marathon length and getting the courage to quit picking at my novel and publish it. A scary re-emergence into paid work may need to happen soon. Eons ago I taught ESL at a community college. Farther back, I taught in China and worked at a church in Mexico City. Childhood included a confusing mix of Spain, military bases and a tiny town in Washington State. What I would really love to have is not a job, but a puppy. I live north of Seattle and somewhere east of organized with a husband, our younger son, and a turtle.
Anne-Marie Heckt
Anne-Marie Heckt

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