The When

By Aviva Gat

When? It was always a question of when. Today, I saw my son’s eyes pop with crimson veins and his tongue sag so long it fell past his chin; I got the answer.

From the moment my son was born, I knew he wouldn’t make it to adulthood. He had too much in common with the adorable kids in newspapers next to stories about lives that ended too soon. The perfect student hit by a truck on his way to school. The promising athlete who fell and hit his head just so. Their pictures always showed a happy kid. So smiley. So naïve. Just like my son.

I’ve been always looking for the moment it would happen. The turning point when my life would start the inevitable next chapter. When I’d no longer be the happy mother of three perfect children, but rather the sad mother who lost a child but had to go on for the other two. Because that is part of the tragedy, isn’t it? You can’t die with them. You can’t say, all right, well, I tried, I’m done, I give up. You have to somehow explain to your other children that they won’t have their favorite wrestling partner anymore or that no one will tattle them or smack them behind your back.

With my son next to me, candy stuck in his throat—candy I never should have let him eat in the first place—I feel relief. I can stop waiting and wondering when it will happen. I no longer have to fear every car that drives within six meters of him. Or worry about him leaning a little too far over the edge at the top of the slide. This is how it happens.

My son is gasping for breath as I hold him. His violent last moments full of fear. I’m already picturing telling everyone. His preschool teacher will start crying. She loves him so much. He is her favorite, but really her favorite, not like every parent thinks their kid is the favorite.

Somehow I’ll tell our friends, who have children the same age so we’re perfect partners for day trips. We will pretend to be real friends for a little longer and then slowly drift apart as it becomes more and more awkward while their son gets older and ours doesn’t.

My husband grabs him, and I look away. Heimlich. One. Two. Three. Then, he rotates him horizontally and starts to shake him. “It’s out!” someone shouts. “He’s OK!” I face him. Even though I’ve looked away, I saw everything.

His cherry red tongue slides back into his mouth. His eyes, still bloodshot, retreat into their sockets. I stare at him. He is alive. He’s safe. Thank God.

But now, I begin to wait again.


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