Even today I study Douglas’s sleeping face. Eleven years old, sleeping late onSaturday mornings, he rarely sleeps in his own room with its crooked Snoopydecorations. A boy could live forever with the Peanuts gang. I’ve watched himsleep since he was six months old after his lengthy hospital stay fordehydration.
The way ghosts float around in hospital air, with itsheavy and sanitary stench, has always amazed me. I have not always seen thephantoms: When Doug was admitted, my only frame of reference of hospitals hadbeen visits for routine physicals. I thought the doctor’s office was “pee ina cup and a finger pin-pricked.” These illusions were swept away, andreplaced with the notion that dreams are merely a function of something greater:sleep.
After three days in the hospital, Douglas was doing worse. Thedoctors had said he would be “in and out” of the hospital, but now hewouldn’t accept food and had to be sedated and fed intravenously.
In hisroom, my brother lay still in a crib, mobile overhead. I stared at him frombehind my parents. He looked like an albino imp, half-naked and sleeping. The IVdangled above his head, entering his arm. So that he would not remove the needle,his arm had been bound to the crib. In his sleep, he shook a bit, spasming as onedoes after a long time outside in the snow without mittens. Close to the door, aTV hung from the ceiling. Later that night, my father would watch CNN, and thenight after my mom would watch the local news. They took turns staying to watchthe baby sleep.
After a week, the doctor finally released my brother. Hehad to rest for the first few days home, an order I found irritating: if he weretruly better, shouldn’t he be able to act his usual self?
Somehow, Iloved him more after his rehabilitation. While he slept, I would peek at him. Itmust have been strange that my youngest brother was the focus of so much of myattention, but I hardly cared. When my brother sleeps, he always makes this face:His eyes are loosely shut, as to make the eyelids nearly translucent. His mouthinvariably remains half-open with his top row of teeth pensively suspendedmillimeters above the bottom lip. It looks as if he is in heated conversation,waiting patiently for a break in the dialogue so he can explode the revelationthat rocks nervously on his pursed lips. My brother goes to therapy for anauditory processing problem. I frequently become frustrated with his inability toarticulate:
“Doug, where is Mom?” No response; he sits andstares as if in suspended animation, his head tilted slightly to theright.
“Doug, where is Mom? Where did she go?”
“What? I couldn’t hearyou!” he awakens.
“Have you been listening?”
Perhapsit is only when he is asleep that this impediment washes away, and he listens sowell that his discourse develops at the utterance of a syllable. One day, I wantto feel that I live on the brink of explosion: I will be so involved in thedialogue of the world that I will be incapable of restraining myself.
Ioften fear that when Douglas grows up, no one will understand when he’s havingtrouble listening. I wonder what he will be like, and what he’ll be. The acuityand compass of his memory are so well developed, but where will that take him? Heonce memorized a book on dogs and could recite the average weight and lifeexpectancy of any breed after only a moment’s hesitation.
“Douglas… what’s a French Bulldog?”
“Um, 14 to 16pounds”
Sometimes I wonder so much about my brother and his futurethat I want to throw up my hands and yield to destiny. I want to beg the fates togive me the answer, to please let me stop guessing. I know now how awesome andfrightening uncertainty is, but I’ve learned so much from watching him sleep. Iknow now the importance of living in the moment and actively participating in thepresent. The rest of life’s demands hardly matter. Right now I need only bepatient, and watch Douglas sleep.
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