The rectangular box is barely big enough to cover one quadrant of the table on which is sits. As if it is playing a silent childish game of pickle-in-the-middle, it is equidistant from both Jason and me, daring us to look inside. The bold black words atop the stark white cover tells us to remember, love, and treasure. Her tiny footprints stamp the lid, claiming this vessel as her own. Dotted with white, a pink ribbon embraces the box, securely belting the parameter. From inside the cover, poetry sings us pretty words such as “angels”, and “footprints”, and “heaven”. Within the cardboard shell, her keepsakes lie beside and on top of one another, comforting each other as they if they are the lone survivors of an apocalypse. Upon a glittered clay heart, the bitty mold of her hands reach out to us, begging for a cold, crumbly hug. Each curve of her finger displayed, each fingernail indented, each bend chronicled. This box is her nursery. This box is proof of her existence in this merciless world. This box holds her treasured belongings. This box holds all her belongings. This box is our consolation prize.
“The discharge papers are complete. I’ll just have to go over a few things with you both before you leave.” Having returned to the maternity floor, nurse Angela’s celestial presence has once again descended upon us. Her wrinkled, middle-aged hands artfully crafted Sophia’s box. The compassion her eyes exude a comforting mixture of sympathy and pride. Sitting down by me, she opens a folder brimming with papers.
I hope that folder includes instructions for how to live our lives now that everything is messed up.
“There are some forms in here that explain aftercare for yourself, and what signs to look for in case of infection. If you get a fever or have chills and sweats, you should come back to the ER. Otherwise, take Tylenol for pain relief.” Nurse Angela lowers her tender voice, along with her thoughtful eyes, bridling any enthusiasm that might escape, “In case you wanted to know, since it is New Year’s Eve, it is okay if you wanted a glass of champagne to celebrate. You should indulge in that if you like.”
The words “New Year’s Eve” bewilder my slow cognizance of the onward march of undiscerning time, the unstoppable revolutions that carry us through life, as willing participants or not. The world carried on during our hospital entrapment. Perched at the event horizon of our dizzying black hole, I painfully look toward our warped, newfangled future. I had memorialized the last drink I had before Sophia, at a wine tour during a weekend getaway. I secretly loathed watching others enjoy alcohol once I could not. Once counting down the days until I would reunite with my beloved margarita, the guilt now obliterates the imagined pleasure of such a libation. Mentally bartering every drink for the entirety of my life to have Sophia back, I detest my selfishness. My hurried swipes at the salty drops are not fast enough, many of them escaping to a freedom away from the sadness and guilt prowling on the other side of these impenetrable walls. With their release and quick death on my lap, they capture the very thing that I am unprepared to readmit into my life: I am officially not pregnant anymore.
Sensing we need a gentle push to leave the hospital, nurse Angela prods, “Do either of you have any questions?” Met with silence, there is nothing left to say. Officially ending our time at this humiliating death-filled resort, I sign the discharge papers. Each fluid pen-stroke rips away our white-knuckled hold on the buffer from our new lives. Just an hour earlier, this now barren and ghastly room was filled with my parents and sister, here to simultaneously meet and say goodbye to the newest family member. Nurse Angela graciously lead them out of the room, down the hall, to an invisible place. Not knowing where she is kept, I strived to keep it that way. Upon returning, their smiles clashed with newly reddened eyes, mirroring my own staggering love engulfed with heartache. All the preparation in the world could not dilute our harsh new reality; this first exposure of life outside our bleak retainer provides barely a glimpse of our new destiny. Leaving this suffocating cubbyhole after their brief visit, the family awaits us at home; the comfort of knowing we will not be returning to an empty house softens the harsh impossibility of leaving without Sophia.
Tidying up her folder, nurse Angela gives the push needed to catapult us away from all that has transpired in this place, and into our unavoidably contorted life. “I’ll let you have a chance to get out of your hospital gown and get ready to go home. When you are all set, I’ll get a wheelchair and escort you downstairs.” Jason and I are left to ourselves. Left to put on real-life clothes. Left to pack up our belongings, just as if a tropical vacation ended. On the first round of the room, we scrounge up toothbrushes, contact cases, and glasses, stuffing them haphazardly in our bags. Double–triple–checking the bathroom for phantom items in a desperately negligible way delays our departure nominally. Seizing up the meager property we are to leave with, Sophia’s box is hugged between our overnight bags. Ming the panda finds consolation in his new friend, Angel Bear, as the zipper closes over their noses. A cautious breath cannot slow the inconsolable tears drowning my face. A deep sob forces the air out faster than expected, exploding in a blustering wail. Wrapping his arms around my shaking shoulders, mine around his slender waist, the unrelenting tears dampen the fabric of his collar. Grasping handfuls of his shirt to steady my heaving body, the audacity of the situation directs my next fear-filled words.
“It may be time to go, but how do we leave without her?”
The soft glow of the overcast sky dimly penetrates the clear porthole separating us from our awaiting, distorted future. From our static embrace, we play a dismal game of chicken, neither of us wanting to be the first to move. Finally, Jason’s face backs away an inch from my own, and whispers, “I don’t know.” His dispirited eyes lift to meet mine. Usurping a minutiae of courage, Jason grabs our bags, the digging straps unnaturally pleating his sleeves, and hands me Sophia’s box. Clasping my hand, we forge a path to the door, turn off the light, and with our steadfast eyes point-blank, meet nurse Angela at the awaiting wheelchair.