Yesterday morning I woke up with a slight nosebleed. It's happened to me once before, when the kids were little. I'd been sitting at the kitchen table talking to a friend, then a splitting headache and blood. Then I was at the ER. A volunteer held my arm while the nurse tried to insert an IV line in my wrist. Every time the nurse would jab me, the volunteer would suck air in hard between her teeth with a sharp hiss, and I'd jump, and the nurse would miss the vein. This happened five or six times before the volunteer said, "Oh, this tooth is killing me."
I told the nurse to just stop and leave me alone. They left, and I burst into tears. The neurologist came in while I was crying and began grilling me. He said didn't believe that the migraine could possibly be painful enough to make me cry. What happened before you came here? he kept asking me. What's going on? There's some emotional aspect, he said. I denied it.
I realize now that he suspected my ex of bloodying my nose. It still shocks me that he picked up that I was abused, even though he was wrong about the nosebleed.
Fast forward 15 years, and Jesse is in the hospital because his nose was bleeding uncontrollably for no apparent reason. A cut on his arm wouldn't heal but wept clear liquid lymph. Leukemia. Greek for white blood.
And I looked in the mirror at my bloody nose yesterday, and wondered if there's something in my blood that he inherited, that wrung the red out of his blood. Something wrong that I had passed on. Epigenetic? I grew up a few miles from Fernald, the nuclear munitions plant in Ohio that poisoned the aquifer in my town and others around it. And I think of all the things that could have been, might have been wrong, that could have caused this one mother cell to switch one chromosome. And that was the beginning of the end. Nothing I did from that moment on could have saved him, but that won't stop me from trying to figure out another way. A way to blame myself, a way to conquer death, as if I believe somewhere deep and childish, that I can go back in time with the answer, and still fix everything.
I remembered the moment after he died, as I began my closer acquaintance with death; turning his hand over to see the pooled blood under the skin of his lifeless arm. Exactly where I'd heard it would be. No longer his enemy.