Wednesday, June 10, 2020

As It Is In Heaven: Part 2

   "Where did you say the bottles of formula were?" the doctor asked as he searched in vain through the medicine room behind the nurse's station on the pediatric floor.
   "Now I know you Internal Medicine docs don't treat kids," Jessica, one of the pediatric nurses, joked as she moved over to help. "But even you should be able to find these."
   She reached into an unlabeled box behind a stash of infant diapers and immediately produced a couple of pre-filled formula bottles.
   "You'll need these, too," she added as she reached into a separate area to find the disposable latex nipples.
   "You do know how a bottle works, don't you?" she smiled as she handed him all of the necessary equipment.
   "I know just who to ask if I run into any problems," he responded as he returned her smile.

   The empty pediatric room smelled like a mixture of clean linen and baby powder as the doctor eased into a rocking chair sitting in the corner. Lydia, still wrapped in her police blanket, was close to the end of her stamina and totally off schedule, but she continued to show her previous courage in spite of all that she had been through. She suddenly seemed to catch her second wind when she saw the formula bottle and her glassy eyes opened wide in anticipation.
   "Hang in there," the doctor encouraged. "I know I'm slow, but we're almost there."
   He placed the bottle close to her mouth and she reached out instinctively to clasp the bottle on both sides with her little hands.  She guzzled the first bottle in record time and was halfway through the second when her eyes again grew heavy and formula began to drizzle out of the corner of her mouth.  He then gently placed the bottle on the bedside table and cradled Lydia in his arms as he continued to gently sway back and forth in the rocking chair. Her fingers soon found their way to her mouth and she sucked on them noisily as she grasped his little finger with the other hand and drifted off to sleep.  He leaned his head back against the rocker as the toll of the day began to weight heavily upon him as well and it was not long before the tranquil scene lulled him to sleep.

   He was awakened some time later by a soft stream of yellow light cascading through the opening door. Momentarily, Jessica's head appeared through the opening.
   "Sorry to wake you," she apologized. "I was just checking on you."
   "No problem," he responded, sleep still heavy in his eyes. "It's been a long day for both of us."
   Jessica slipped into the room and quietly pulled up a chair and sat with her back to the door. Jessica was a gifted nurse and he had always respected her, even though he did not get the opportunity to visit the pediatric floor very often. Especially in that uncertain situation, he found her presence very comforting and he began to respect even more the comfort that she undoubtedly brought to her patients and families. The light scent of her perfume was not an unwelcome addition either. She crossed her legs and placed her hands on her upper knee and he noticed, as he had on other occasions, that she wore no wedding band.
   "Just never found the right one," he had heard her explain to the other nurses on a previous occasion.
   She remained silent for a moment as she watched the young child sleeping. The doctor in return studied her facial features as her brow furrowed in concern over this little life that she hardly knew.
   "I heard her mother didn't make it."
   The Doctor shook his head.
   "What will you do, now?" she whispered.
   "I'm not sure," he responded. "I guess the best answer would be that I'll do whatever is in her best interest. There's just so much that I don't know. I'll get some information from the authorities tomorrow and see if a case worker was involved or something like that. That way I can make a better decision."
   The nurse nodded with understanding.
   "Do you work tomorrow? Or, I guess it would be better to ask if you work today now that I look at the time."
   "Thankfully, no. I have the next couple of days off, which I'll need to figure all of this out."
   "It's almost morning now," Jessica reminded him. "We don't need this room now, so just stay here with Lydia. Before you leave tomorrow, remind me and I'll give you an older portable crib that we don't need  anymore. You can keep it for as long as you need it."
   "Thank you."
   "Anytime. I'll let you both get some rest."
   As quietly as before, Jessica silently left the room, the soft stream of yellow light disappearing as the door closed behind her.

   The bright morning sun caused Lydia to squint as the pair crossed the hospital parking lot the following morning. Upon reaching his truck, he placed the portable crib in the bed before placing Lydia back in her car seat. She was understandably fussy after such a traumatic night but at least her  stomach was full.
   "Alright, little lady," the doctor stated as he finished buckling her in. "I wish I could tell you that your day today will take you back to some sort of routine, but that probably won't be true.  But, you will get to meet some good friends of mine while I sort some things out."
   Climbing back into the truck and starting the engine, he left the hospital behind and drove across town passing multiple schools and playgrounds as he did so. He glanced at them through his truck windows before glancing into his rearview mirror as if Lydia could see him.
   "Don't worry, I haven't forgotten," he whispered.

   Pulling into the familiar drive in the wooded suburb, he could already see well-known faces greeting him through the front windows. He pulled to a stop and hardly had time to step out of his truck before little feet pattered up to him. Looking up at him were two bright faces full of excitement almost as if it were Christmas morning.
   "Can we see the baby?" they cried in unison.
   "Alright you two," a stern but loving voice answered before the doctor had a chance to respond. "You kids give them some space. That baby is not some toy and she hasn't had the easiest of times recently, so let's back off."
   "Thanks for looking out for her, Jim, while I meet with the case worker."
   "No problem. I'm glad you called. It's the least we could do with everything she's been through. Listen, just don't leave her here too long, though, You know how Leigh is. You leave the baby here too long and she is gonna to want another one."
   No sooner had the words left his mouth than Leigh rounded the far end of the truck and looked directly at her husband.
   "I heard that," she said with a fabricated frown.
   "Puppies can only only relieve baby fever for so long," Jim responded.
    Leigh ignored the comment and looked inside the truck .
   "Oh my word," Leigh said as she stretched out her arms to scoop Lydia from her seat. "She's beautiful."
   Jim let out a long sigh.
  "Alas, 'tis already too late."
   The doctor chuckled.
  "Thank you all again. The bag in the back seat has all of her supplies that the hospital gave me and there's a portable crib in the bed of the truck. I'll be back as soon as the meeting is done."
   "I'll get the bag!" the oldest child exclaimed as they all leapt forward to quarrel over who was to help first.
   Driving away and seeing Lydia in his rearview mirror produced an emotion that the doctor was not expecting. Hardly twelve hours before then and he would not have even known who she was. Yet, even after such a short time, he missed her. She was too young to speak, and yet she needed no words to soothe the loneliness of the last year. He had not seen it before, but he, in fact, was not saving her. She was saving him.

   The case worker's office was near the police station downtown and it was about a twenty minute drive from Jim and Leigh's house. Arriving a few minutes early, the case officer nonetheless introduced herself and invited him into her office as she was not involved with anything pressing at that particular moment. He sat down in the straight back chair and studied the pictures of the case manager's family  arranged neatly upon her desk.
   "So, I've spoken with the officer that you met last night," she began after finishing the usual pleasantries. "And he has filled me in on what happened."
   She paused for a moment as she studied the man in front of her.
   "I'm just curious," she began. "Has anyone asked how you're doing?"
   He had not given the question much thought.
  "No," he responded. "But I'm alright."
  "What you saw last night was not easy. It has to weigh on you."
  "What I see everyday weighs on me," he responded truthfully but respectfully. "But it's what I signed up for. I cannot hide. Mankind has become my business, and I see it in all its ugliness."
  "You must have someone you can talk to?"
   He shook his head slowly.
  "I don't tell my secrets. No one would understand. And who would be made better by the telling? I can't bring myself up by telling others what would inevitably only sadden and disappoint them. About myself and others."
   The case officer remained silent.
   "People ask me sometimes why I tend to listen to melancholy music," he continued. "It's not because I'm depressed. It's because somehow it bridges the chasm between the hymns on Sundays and the devils that walk through my dreams at night. If only for a little while."
   The case manager let out a long sigh.
  "Are you a poet?"
  "You should give it a try. You express your thoughts beautifully. I see a poem in there somewhere."
  "I'm sorry. You asked me a simple question and I turned it into a counselling session."
  "Don't apologize. You've already told me a lot. Regardless of what role you end up playing with Lydia, she is going to need someone who understands the darkness. Someone who has walked through it."
   The doctor nodded. The case worker then opened the file on the desk in front of her.
  "Did Lydia's mother tell you anything last night?"
  "Not much. She had very little time. She only told me that she had no one to care for Lydia and to not let her be lost to the system. She told me how hard she had tried."
  "All true," came the compassionate response. "Lydia's mother had come through the blackest of places. All of her family was either dead or in jail. But somewhere along the way, she decided that she did not want to follow that same path. I believe it was right after she became pregnant with Lydia. So, she got a job. Began to save and was able to buy the car that was in the accident. Joined a little country church and, I suppose, found a family that she'd never had."
  "What about Lydia's father?"
  "Her mother didn't know who the father was. She had no idea where to even start looking. Like I said, she had just come through a dark time."
   The doctor pondered her words carefully.
  "So, you see, Lydia really has no one. It's possible that her father could step out of the shadows one day to try to claim her but that seems very unlikely, especially given the nature of the circle of friends that her mother associated with prior to her change."
  "So, as of now, Lydia would go into foster care?"
  "Unless someone steps forward, yes."
  "Then I step forward. I promised her mother."
   The case worker paused for a moment.
  "You need to give this some thought. With your occupation and the hours you work, will you be able to manage all of this?"
  "I won't be alone. And neither will she."
   The case worker nodded in understanding as she closed the file on her desk. The physician then rose to leave.
  "Tell me one thing," she asked before he had a chance to leave the room. "In spite of all you've been through, I sense that you are a man of faith. So, why would a loving God take the life of a girl who was just getting her life together? She was trying to do the right thing. Trying to give a new life to Lydia. So, while all of her unsavory friends continued unmolested in their pagan ways, she died alone on a deserted road."
  "She wasn't alone," he responded. "I was there."
   He paused, letting the silence settle for a moment.
  "I've stopped blaming God for the storms of life and started always looking for the hope that He always throws our way. I was on that road at that time for a reason. And Lydia was that reason."
   Lydia's feet were kicking excitedly in her car seat as he pulled his truck into the playground. Taking her out of the back seat, he placed her car seat on a nearby picnic table so that she could watch the other children swinging joyfully and sliding down the bright yellow plastic slides. She was mesmerized by the scene in front of her.
  "I see why your mother liked to bring you here. You love watching everything going on.You just wait until you're a little older and can actually play with the others."
   With Lydia's attention occupied, he began to scribble in a notepad that he had brought with him.
  "We have a sad goodbye to say tomorrow, Lydia," he spoke out loud as he continued to write. "But maybe we shouldn't see it as goodbye. This is not the end. I've been here before."
   Having finished his writing, he closed the notebook and watched the children with Lydia.

   Later in the morning the next day, the doctor dressed Lydia in an outfit he had bought the previous day and drove with her to a small country church about eight miles outside of town. He had called to find details regarding Lydia's mother's service and he felt that it would be inappropriate not to attend. The small brick building stood in a grove of pines which swayed gently in the morning breeze. A few cars were parked outside and he pulled in next to them. Placing Lydia on his hip and adjusting the small pink bow in her hair, he walked through the doors of the church and was warmly greeted by the only family Lydia had ever known. Even in such a somber occasion, there was joy in the faces of those who poured out their love on an orphaned infant and a widower.
   While Lydia was being reaquainted with her church family, the doctor walked to the front of the sanctuary where the simple casket lay, Lydia's mother clothed in a beautiful dress and with a face finally at peace.
   "I gave you my word," he whispered. "I won't leave her."
   He then drew a small sheet of paper from his pocket, the final product of what he had written with Lydia at the playground. He then moved to one of the attendants nearby and handed him the slip of paper.
  "What is this?" the attendant asked.
  "Heeding some advice someone told me recently. If you and the church feel it's appropriate, could you put this with her?"
  "I'll be glad to ask them."
   With a smile of thanks, the doctor then returned to rejoin Lydia and the rest of the church. Unable to contain his curiosity, the attendant opened the paper to read the following lines:

                           As the stirring of the morning breeze
                             And the scent of roses long past
                           So brief was your time with her
                             And never intended to last

                           But leaving the host of heaven
                            And as constant as the tide
                           You leaned on Me in the darkness
                            And I never left your side

                           Words left unspoken
                             And tears left undried
                           Both did I hear with an unseen ear
                             And wiped gently from your eyes
                           So, come to Me now
                            And rest from the agony of life
                           From the constant uncertainty
                            And never ending strife

                           Close your eyes, come and rest
                             To a place no poet can pen
                           For in only the twinkling of an eye
                             You will see her once again

   Lydia giggled as she watched a young girl swing higher and higher at the playground the following day. The doctor had brought his notebook with him once again and was scribbling down several lines as they surfaced in his thoughts. As his pen passed over the paper, he became aware of a shadow above him, temporarily darkening the page. Looking up, he saw Jessica's familiar face.
   "Didn't expect to see you here," he said with a smile. "Heading home?"
   "Yep," she responded. "I just finished up and was driving home when I noticed your truck. Couldn't resist seeing her again so I thought I'd drop in and see how things are going with little sweet pea here."
   She tickled the bottoms of Lydia's feet, much to the child's delight.
   "We're doing good."
  "Is that your professional answer or the truth?"
   He chuckled quietly.
  "No, we're really doing well. Don't get me wrong, we have a ton to work through and I'm sure we'll have our days. But we're going to  make it."
   She smiled and nodded in approval. Her gaze suddenly shifted to the notebook in front of him.
  "Are you writing poetry?"
   He quickly closed the book.
  "Uh huh. Well, if you were to decide to start, some would consider that a romantic quality."
  "That depends on how good you are at it," he responded.
   Jessica laughed.
  "Maybe so."
   She then stood to leave and straightened Lydia's blanket as she said goodbye.
  "Well, I suppose I'll leave you two to enjoy your morning and for you to continue not writing poetry. We'll see you around."
   As she turned to go, he suddenly felt something that he had not felt in quite some time.
   She turned to face him.
  "I'm off this Thursday and was looking forward to trying the new coffee shop downtown. If you can, I was wondering if you'd like to come along?"
   Jessica paused only momentarily.
  "Sounds good. I can do that."
  "Oh," he suddenly responded and touched his forehead as if forgetting something of utmost importance. "I need to tell you that I will most likely be accompanied that morning by a much younger woman. I hope that won't offend you."
   Jessica smiled as her glance shifted to Lydia, still enjoying the sounds of the playground.
  "I think I can handle that. See you then."
  As she walked away, the doctor opened his notebook and began to write once more, the sounds of the morning inspiring his thoughts.
  "So you will."

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