O, that’s what troubles me, papa. You want me to live so happy, and never have any pain,–never suffer anything,–not even hear a sad story, when other poor creatures have nothing but pain and sorrow, all their lives;–it seems selfish. I ought to know such things, I ought to feel about them! Such things always sunk into my heart; they went down deep; I’ve thought and thought about them.
-Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Ch. 24
Sometimes, I lay awake at night worrying. When I first brought you home, I would worry about your breathing and check your nose for signs of jaundice, approximately every five minutes. At 10 months, I started to become sincerely concerned that you’d open the bathroom door and drown in the toilet bowl. And then at one year, I took you to the hospital for your first surgery. As I laid you on the bed in the OR, the nurse asked if I could sing you your favorite song to keep you calm until the anesthesia took effect. I tried, but all that came out was a few chokes. But I clasped your hand so very tight. It was all I could do, and I felt like I had failed you.
You see, I’m usually on the opposite side of the OR doors, but I discovered that the waiting room is much more terrifying. There was a clock on the wall in there. I can recall the bright colors on the face and how the hour-hand was stuck on 9, but the second-hand kept ticking. I remember your father trying to distract me. But when I revisit that room in my mind, I can remember only one sound and one sight: the clock. The thing is, darling, I’ve been losing a lot of sleep recently. When I lay in bed, all I can hear is “tick-tock, tick-tock,” but it’s not just that waiting room that I think of. It’s my own clock and its sound has seemed so ominous lately, like the ticking of a grenade. It’s been a few months now, but I still haven’t found my way out of that waiting room. I’m still tortured by that ticking.
You’ve already noticed that mama is a little different. Now that “tummy” is your new favorite word, you’ve become obsessed with mine. But each time you see mama’s tummy, you touch her scars and look up, as if though to say, “don’t worry mama, I’ll rub these until they go away.” You notice that sometimes mama disappears for a few days, or that it’s often nana who ties your shoes or combs your hair. Even when you were first born, Evangeline, it wasn’t mama who first held you. It wasn’t mama who changed your first diapers or gave you your first bath. And ever since I left you in that room, on that table, I haven’t been able to wake up from this horrible nightmare. I’ve been consumed by a crippling fear of not being there for you. Of missing your first bus ride, or your first crush. Leaving you on that table symbolized all the other times that I know I am going to let you down.
Mama is often sick, Eva. In fact, she’ll always be sick. But you need to know that I’ll always do what’s best for you. Back in January, leaving you with those nurses and surgeons was what you needed. On New Year’s, you needed to be with your nana and grandpa while mama healed her body, once again, in that hospital room. But also know that what is best for you is not always what your mother wants for you. I never want to miss out on one bath, or one smile. But part of loving you is accepting that I can’t always be there for you. My mind is so determined, it’s just my body that isn’t always on board.
Which brings me to your namesake. You were named after literature’s greatest little heroine. A girl that was so true, so uncompromising, so strong. There are going to be times, Evangeline, that you will need to look to this little girl and take some of her boundless empathy, some of her depthless fortitude. What scared me so deeply about bringing you into that OR was the possibility that, one day, I won’t be strong enough to be the person you need me to be. So, Evangeline, instead I gave you a strong name and I will raise you to be a strong girl. Because one day you’re going to be the one in that waiting room. And you’re going to need all the strength in the world to find your way out.