When It Hurts So Bad
by Bassey Ikpi
The day began like any other. I woke up at 7 after going to bed around 3 or 4. I stayed in bed staring at the ceiling, waiting for Boogie to wake up before I dragged myself up. He had gone to bed later than usual as well, so there were no signs of him stirring. I replayed in my head all that I needed to do that day. Get up. Brush my teeth. Get him up. Get him dressed. Wash his face. Brush his teeth. Make him toast. Get his coat on. Manipulate him into the car. Answer every question he can throw at me between the driveway and the 10-minute drive to his daycare. When I got home, I needed to do laundry, get showered and get ready for my noon meeting at Busboy's, then pack for—
"It's sunny outside, mommy!"
My son's voice broke me out of my haze. Boogie was awake.
"It sure is, baby. That means . . ."
"SCHOOL!" he yells.
"Yup. Let's get upstairs."
Boogie and his penguin pajamas raced down the hall towards the stairs. Right before he was about to scramble up on his own, he turned to me and raised his arms: he universal "carry me" sign. Ordinarily, I would have said, "No. You're a big boy. Big boys can do it by themselves." But today, I bent over and lifted my baby boy into my arms. He wrapped his arms around me and buried his face into my neck. "I'm smelling you, Mommy." I didn't trust my voice to stay even, so I just squeezed him tighter and nodded.
My son was dressed in his green winter coat and clutching a piece of toast. We were running a little late and I couldn't find his backpack.
"Boogie, where's Diego?"
"It's not here. I can't find it."
"I know, but where is it? Where did you see it?"
"I can't see it."
"Baby . . . Where. Is. Your. Back. Pack."
It took every ounce of strength I had to keep my voice steady. This was not the morning for this. I was doing all I could to hold it together. One broken string could send the entire thing tumbling, and this was not the morning for this.
"It's on the chair."
The breakfast table chair. The chair right behind me. I inhaled deeply and closed my eyes. "Just a few hours," I said to myself.
In the car, Boogie began his daily ritual of narrating the trip to school.
"There's a man. There's the gas house. There's a car. That's a tree. That's another tree. And another... And another... Mommy, can I have a car?"
I listened to him go on and on, answering questions between the pauses. Not sure how to tell him what I needed him to know. When we pull up to his daycare, I turned off the car and just sat there.
"Get out of the car, mommy."
"Just a second, baby."
I decided to talk to him on the walk to the front door. The quicker, the better. I wanted this to be painless. I never really know what it is he understands.
We walked up to the door and took his hand.
"Boogie, you know how sometimes I go away for a little bit?"
"And Kebe gets you from school? And you sleep with Grandma and Grandpa?"
“And then Mommy isn't in the house, but I call you every single day?"
"On the phone!"
"Yes! On the phone. I talk to you every single night before bed . . ."
"Well, Mommy's going away for a few days. Do you understand?"
"Yes . . ."
At 3, Boogie was already used to me traveling for gigs and shows. When he was younger, he used to come with me. He's been on more planes before the age of 2 than most adults. As he got older, I wanted him to feel rooted to something, so I enrolled him in daycare.
At the door, I kneel, so that we're big pair of eyes to bigger pair of eyes, his adorable face a little sadder than before.
"I'll be back very, very soon. And Kebe and everyone is going to play with you, and you'll have fun. And then I'll be back!"
Boogie nods quietly, and I ring the doorbell. His teacher, Ms. Dea, opens the door with her unbridled enthusiasm. I've spoken to her already, so she knows the situation. She smiles sympathetically at me, then turns and offers my son a great, big “GOOD MORNING!"
Boogie spots his partner in crime, Z. Z was a year older than Boogie and from the second they met, they were friends and co-conspirators. She was a gorgeous little girl, reminded me of a mini-Lauryn Hill. I need to get used to my baby rushing off and forgetting me for some girl already. I sign the sign-in sheet and remind Ms. Dea that my brother will be picking him up this evening. She nods.
"Boogie . . . Can I have a hug and a kiss?"
His coat already off, my son steps towards me with his lips puckered. I bend over and kiss him. He then throws his body towards me embracing my legs. I blink back quickly to avoid what I know is coming.
"I'll see you soon, baby. I love you."
"Ok. I love you. I miss you."
That does it. I wipe away a renegade tear and turn to leave. I give Ms. Dea a nod and jog back to the car. I turn on the ignition and melt all over the steering wheel.
On the drive home, I want to call and cancel this Noon meeting. I'm not sure if I can sit through it and act professionally. But if I cancel, she's not going to want to work with me, and I need to get this career moving again. The last 3 years have been frozen with just bits of moments. I need it full swing again. I know she can help do this. I need to get it together, at least for a few more hours.
My cell phone is on the kitchen counter, where I left it in a rush to get out the door. The green indicator light is blinking. My anxiety starts, not knowing who or what it could be.
It's Megan asking if we can move the meeting back a few hours. I feel a bit of weight drop off my shoulders. I text her back and explain that I have somewhere to be this afternoon, but we should definitely reschedule for next month. She tells me to take care of myself. I know she means it. I tell her I will.
I've been sitting on the couch staring at the TV. I'm not sure what I'm watching, but I do know I need to start the laundry so I can pack. I gather the clothes I might need. I'll wear the jeans, so that doesn't need to be packed. One sweatshirt, 5 t-shirts, 3 pairs of socks, pajama pants, sweatpants... The sweatshirt I want to take and my two favorite pajama pants need to be washed. I run upstairs and throw them in the washer. I don't know where my black Puma bag is, but I've decided that's the only thing I want to take with me. It's big enough to hold the stuff I need, but small enough to tell the universe that I don't plan on staying long. This is how I think. This is probably why this trip is necessary.
I find the Puma bag in my son's room. It's filled with all his books, a Batman slipper, and about 30 Hot Wheels. I find another bag to dump all his contents in, but keep one of the Hot Wheels. Before I head to the basement, I transfer the laundry from the washer to the dryer. I push the button and run downstairs. Now that my meeting is canceled, I feel like I can leave a little earlier. Now that my meeting is canceled, I start to have second thoughts about going.
My sister and various friends remind me why this is important. I tell myself that I will leave here by 1. I pack the clean clothes and a few books. I also pack the journal I bought New Year's Eve. I don't like writing by hand. I have the penmanship of a 9-year-old boy with no fingers. Plus my brain moves too fast for my hand. Typing is the only way I can keep it. I know I can't bring my laptop with me, and not writing is not an option, so the journal it is. Before I've even packed the clothes, I realize that the bag is already too heavy. I have to remove a few of the books. I take out all the ones I've already read and choose two I never even knew I had. The author and I share a book agent, so I figured it would be inspiration to get my proposal done.
The View is the black hole of daytime TV. I don't even like the damn show, but I sat down just for hot topics and then that Hasslebeck reached into my chest and stole an hour of my soul. I was just about to go up and check on the laundry when I remembered the Wendy Williams Show was on. I need something completely ridiculous before the hard part starts. I can leave at 2.
I haven't showered yet. For someone with no real set time to get there, why do I feel like I'm running late? Because I'm always running late. And I forgot to pack my toiletries. I'm going to need my own stuff. My own soap and pouf and toothpaste and toothbrush and moisturizer and lotion and body oil and deodorant. I run around the bathroom, collecting the items and tossing them in the bag. I remember the clothes in the dryer and run upstairs. If I get those in the bag, I can still make it out of here by 2.
I forgot to turn the dryer on. I thought I'd pushed the right button, but I forgot to set the timer, so the clothes are still damp. I can feel the heaviness in my chest. This isn't a big deal. You still have time. Just do it now. I wipe away the first tear and try to concentrate on getting it right this time. I ignore all the noise and just do it right this time.
The shower helps everything blend. You can pretend the wet is solitary. I hope it stops when I get out.
It doesn't. I feel like I'm hyperventilating. I can't stop crying and I can't breathe. I'm afraid I'm going to drown on dry land. It would be just ridiculous enough to have it happen to me. I'm starting to panic. I can't do this. I won't do this. I can take care of it on my own. That's what people do. They deal with this on their own.
I call my sister to tell her that I can't do this. That I won't. That I'm fine. She tells me that this call just proves I can't. You need to go. Everything will be fine. Forget the money. Forget everything. Just go. I nod. Yes.
I'm sitting on the bed with one leg in my jeans and one arm in my shirt. I tell this to the friend on the phone. She says she wishes she had a picture of this. I laugh for the first time and I mean it. Then the panic and tears start again.
"What if I can't do this?"
"It doesn't matter. You're doing this. We're going to do it together."
This helps. I think about the one who doesn't call. Wouldn't answer the phone if I did. I push him out of my mind. He doesn't matter anymore. I don't care.
My brother drives deliberately. Not quite sure where it's located. He turns in one direction, then another, and finally spots it. My heart beats a little faster.
"You okay?" he asks, his face a mask of stoic concern.
"Yeah. I'm good."
He maneuvers the car through the parking lot, and I tell him not to park. He doesn't have to wait. I'll walk myself in.
"You sure? Because I can park . . ."
"I'm sure. I'll just ask someone when I get inside. Besides, it's almost time for you to go get Boogie."
"Okay. Well . . . good luck. Call when you know something."
"I will. Thanks for driving me."
"No problem, sis'."
I stand outside for a few minutes and watch my brother drive away. The entrance doors look huge. I'm probably all the way on the wrong side of this massive building. A Latina woman with a soft, kind face and a badge walks by.
"Excuse me, ma'am." I stop her.
"Yes, sweetie . . ." She has the softest, sweetest hint of an accent.
"I'm looking for the emergency room."
She smiles and says, "Oh, easy. Just go through these doors and follow the signs all the way around to the other side."
I finally found the emergency room. I look around and scan all the people anxiously waiting for news about loved ones. There's an old man perched on the edge of his seat. He's not interested in the TV or the Glamour magazines next to him. Before I can approach the desk, he stands quickly and says, 'My wife... I just need to know about my wife." There's a woman sitting behind the help desk. She is heavy set, but not too big. If this was the Deep South, she'd be plump and charming. Her blonde bouffant hairdo adds to this. She takes the man by the hand and leads him to the back. I hope his wife is okay.
I stand around, not sure if I should sit down or leave, or wait for the plump blonde bouffant to return. I decide to do both. But just as I'm about to take a seat, she returns with a huge smile on her face. I can't help but think that this smile would be more at home at the hospitality room of a Best Western somewhere than the emergency room of a suburban hospital. I approach her cautiously, not sure what I'm going to say.
"Yes, Sugar?" She smiles. How'd I know she was going to call me sugar?
"Can I help you? You lookin' for someone?"
"No." My voice comes out in a hoarse whisper.
I clear my throat and try again, 'No . . . " I decided to add a "ma'am" to compete with her "sugar."
She smiles as she waits for me to finish.
"I'm here for the Behavioral Health Unit." My voice is thin. "I think that's what they call the psych ward now."
"Who are you here to admit, darling? And why?" She has her pen poised to fill out the forms.
I bite my lip to keep from sobbing, haphazardly brushing the stubborn tears off my face.
She asks again, "Who are you here to admit?"
"Me. I'm here to check myself in. I need help. And I’m afraid that I won’t make it alone."