“I’m hurt, Mom,” said Cosmo, my eleven-year-old son, when he opened the front door. Blood seeped from his ear.
“I ran into a sharp tree limb.”
With a wash cloth and hydrogen peroxide, I slowed the flow of blood.
“Is he gonna lose his ear, Mom? Omg, he’s gonna be like Vincent Van Gogh,” said his older sister.
“I don’t think so, Shelly. But go to the neighbors for help.”
When Vicki arrived I asked her if this warranted a trip to the emergency room. Vicki is a painter of watercolor landscapes. She examined his ear, and with a mother’s artful strokes, looked into Cosmo’s eyes. “Honey, this is what I know about getting stitches. The shot will hurt this much.” She spread her thumb and forefinger apart. She showed him scars, a small one like his would be and a long scar on her stomach healed with staple stitches. “When you get back home,” she said, “I want to hear all about your stitches.”
At the hospital, a nurse addressed Cosmo’s fear of needles. She administered three shots quickly, refusing to listen to his protests. “When you fight,” she told him, “even the muscles in your ears tense up.”
Cosmo’s scarecrow legs, feet turned inward, stretched out in front of him on the gurney. I stroked them and felt his tension release. “That wasn’t so bad,” he said.
A physician stitched his ear with a needle that looked like a fishhook, her thread thin and gray as a fishing line. To get the job done, it took eight even stitches, her steady hands and her fine motor control.
Three women that night portrayed for my son how to confront pain and live moment by moment through unpleasant unknowns. His older sister stood by to dramatize the event. I did what parents can do. I held his hand, and when the pain increased, withstood the pressure of his grip on my fingers.
When Cosmo and I returned to the hospital for removal of his stitches, a soft-spoken nurse worked so carefully, he was free from pain until we were alone again in the car.
“Well, Son, we got through that. It wasn’t so bad, right?”
Cosmo smiled. “Look, Mom,” he said. “I took these. They are so cool.”
If he hadn’t been quicker than me, I would have grabbed him by his ear and dragged him back inside the hospital. Instead, my words became the sharpened stick I needed. With reddened faces, we returned to the main desk of the hospital. The receptionist looked at me. I faced my son and waited for him to speak. He swayed on his feet and remained silent. Quietly I said, “My son made a mistake.” He opened his hand, put the once-sterile surgical gloves on the counter. I nodded when he smoothed them out neatly. The receptionist and I waited for him to say something. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled. It was a sorry I’m-sorry-apology, but all the same, a reckoning of responsibility. He and I turned around, walked out, shoulder to shoulder, our ears red. “You did the right thing,” I said.
Back then, I wondered if the next generation’s statistics would improve for single moms raising children. Would Cosmo become a parent? Would he look back with gratitude? Or as a dad would he be missing from the table, physically, emotionally, spiritually? Would he teach his children or neighborhood kids how to grow up strong? Would he tell the story about the time when a neighbor, a nurse, a physician and his mother helped him through pain? Would he do the same for others?
Now I know the answer, attached as we are through the invisible umbilical cords of our hearts. Cosmo is a nurse’s aide for people with physical and mental disabilities, many of them in wheel chairs. Sometimes he takes clients into the hospital for emergency care. He grabs a couple of sterile surgical gloves before he lifts them onto the exam table and removes their adult diapers. He’s also a parent of a son and daughter who call him Poopa. I would have loved to have known back then, how proud I’d be of the man he’s become, giving care every day to a circle of folks who depend on his strength.