“Fine,” you say, you’re doing fine. Are you really fine? Unlikely. It’s hard to tell, your face is impassive.
“How’s school going?” Fine again. Your mom pipes up. She says you got an “A” on your first engineering assignment. She’s beaming with pride, but her eyes don’t smile with the rest of her face — they lost their joy years ago. An “A,” that’s amazing! Engineering is such a tough subject, but if anyone has the brains for it, it’s you. You shrug, but I catch the hint of a smile — I can tell you’re proud too.
You tell me you’d like to be an engineer one day. You hesitate after the words “one day,” like you’re reconsidering the phrase. I want to tell you not to, but I can’t find the words.
“And how’s the pain?” I ask instead. I’m hesitant to broach the subject; I wish we could stick to talking about school forever. I’m not surprised when you answer, “Fine,” but the look your mom gives me tells me everything I need to know. You’re quick, though. You catch the look too and roll your eyes.
“What on Earth happened to your arm?” I ask, though I already know the answer — I’m trying to sidetrack you, and it works. This question wins me my first real smile of the day. The scratches are from those kittens you foster. You’re updating me on their antics, and you’re starting to get animated; your face lights up as you name each little rascal in rapid succession. Now it’s your mom’s turn to roll her eyes, but she is smiling too, her shoulders relaxing for the first time.
I nod and laugh at all the right moments, hoping you’ll go on forever. Hoping you’ll keep talking so there will never be a moment of silence for me to interject to tell you that this time you’re dying, that your PET scan lit up all over once more, that the drugs won’t work a second time, that you might never become an engineer, that you might not even make it to your next birthday. No, please never stop talking about Tiger and Coco and Bella and Daisy…