Our Family on the Run
Everything organized around Cal in his wheelchair. He can’t walk and I can’t carry him far. We’d have the wheelchair van, as long as we could find gas. Simone in the side seat, Craig and me in the front.
Maybe spray paint a Super Soaker metallic silver to look like a real weapon?
Load the car up with cans of enteral food for Cal’s g-tube. Maybe a six-week supply, plus a go-backpack full of cans, extensions, spare Mick-E button. Three days of food for the rest of us. We’ll find water.
Sleeping in the front seats, taking turns on watch. Simone curled up next to the gas can and ziplock of batteries/cords/chargers, with her one stuffed animal we have to worry about something happening to, her only toy.
And what if we lose the car? Running on some side road to—Pennsylvania/airport/Atlantic/evacuation center/relocation camp/as yet unknown. Trying to buy a blow-up raft for four people. Can’t take the wheelchair.
Our stack of euros to buy four plane tickets: can’t take the wheelchair.
On foot, trying to get to a friend’s country home, promise of a bedroom. No way to call the friend for directions. A compass one of the kids got at a birthday party wound up under a car seat. Lucky.
Lucky too Simone can walk—though she gets tired and I’d want to hoist her on my back if I didn’t have to save my energy to carry Cal when Craig’s legs give way, his back out.
Cal, four foot six and sixty pounds of tween, who must be carried if we somehow lose that wheelchair. Or the wheelchair breaks, or is stolen, or gets a flat tire, or rusts.
It’s red, a color Cal chose by smiling when we said “red” in a list of colors. No expression when we said blue, green, black, purple or pink. Big smile when we said red. He had his choice and he made it.
How strange that the color of his wheelchair ever mattered enough to anyone to offer him that handful of options.
Simone is hungry. I give her a Clif bar (that 24 pack I bought for rushed mornings) and she drops half of it on the dirt road, which is covered in, what, bone dust or atomized drywall?
She grabs what she dropped and stuffs it into her mouth before I can stop her. Why would I stop her?
The side of the road is the well-known gutter of desperation always included in stories about wars where many people have to move on foot to the next terrible place.
No matter what the emergency, whenever people are forced to flee you find, piece by piece, how their understanding of their situation changed.
If you read the stories, you’re supposed to find abandoned photo albums, suitcases, babies. The useless things cut out by survival’s swift knife. Dead weight, long gone.
You never find food, bottled water, working flashlights, live batteries, short wave radios. It’s true, what all those stories said, it turns out.
Eventually out of water and arms shredded, I carry Cal, Craig carries me, and Simone carries us all. Almost seven years old, she is so strong and has some Clif bars stuffed in a bag. The notebook with all our information is long lost.
She knows where she’s going. How does she know that? She runs ahead and carries us, her heart pounding and breaking with the weight and strain of all of us in there.
From The Octopus Museum (Knopf 2019) by Brenda Shaugnessy. Copyright © 2019 by Brenda Shaugnessy. Used with the permission of the poet.