Beyond the Three-Month Memory

At some point in June, Sierra’s goldfish Goldy will forget that it ever had a friend.

But it did. Copper – Isaac’s goldfish and Goldy’s bowl companion – died on Wednesday, a loss that we commemorated Cosby-Show-style with a toilet-bowl funeral and the promise that it was on its way to fish heaven (via the sea).

Because the memory-span of a goldfish lasts up to three months, Goldy will eventually forget he ever had a fellow swimmer; for our son, it could take longer, but he too will forget. Children forget things. They always will – that’s part of growing; our memories fade, our ideals change, our lives move forward.

Most of the time.

The Accident

If this was the only traumatic thing that’s happened in the past week, we’d be lucky. Instead, we’ve been working through two weeks of surgery, pain and doubt – the result of an accident that left Isaac with a lacerated tongue and a distrust for medicine.

The story is long and tangled, but it involves an errant trip to urgent care, a non-healing tongue and two separate surgeries. It involves a 45-minute fight to take a sedative, two IVs, a week’s worth of chocolate milk and a throbbing tongue that’s been sewn together twice.

It also involves a lot of crying. A lot of night-waking. An awful lot of fighting back, of communication dissonance and Isaac’s refusal to admit when there’s a touch of trouble, his mind wary of anything that might send him back to surgery, back into the gaping maw of sedation, anesthesia and sutures.

I’m afraid it will eventually involve a lot of memory, too. Children forget things. They always will.

But if it’s something traumatic, sometimes they don’t. They’re not goldfish, after all.

Remembering the Trauma

I remember the time, when I was five, when some moron kid on a bike didn’t see me and ran me over. I remember the roll, the smack, the pain. I remember being several states away from my parents – on vacation with my grandparents – and I remember being scared. I remember having to show the tire tracks on my leg to exonerate my grandparents from abuse, because kids don’t get run over by bicycles. I remember the picture my grandma took to document the process.

Later, I remember sitting in a doctor’s office, my lungs racked with pneumonia, refusing to take the medicine I was offered. I remember someone – my father? The doctor? – say that they’d “need to take me to the hospital” if I didn’t take the medicine, and I remember crying so hard, long after I finally took the medicine, long after the scare tactic worked, so afraid that I’d be hooked up to machines like they do on television.

I remember this all, still today.

My hope is that Isaac forgets this entire ordeal. But logic assumes he wont – that the Great Tongue Laceration Incident of 2013 will live on.

I will remember it as a time of great strength and bravery, when we saw the kind of stoicism a three-year-old can exhibit. But also as a reminder of why the human body cannot be trusted. Why healing isn’t as easy as it sometimes seems.

He could remember it as a weird time of straws and ice cream. Or, he could take it on as anxiety – an irrational fear of doctors, or a sudden hatred for the Lorax Soundtrack (which has played in the background of these last two weeks like some kind of poppy Musak). He could forget. Or he could pack it away for later.

I just hope he takes it all in stride. God knows I haven’t.

This was lovingly handwritten on March 8th, 2013