On Monday Wally got progressively sicker through the afternoon and fell off a cliff in the hours after we put him to bed. He was too miserable to sleep, a pitiful, hacking, moaning, puddle. By the time morning rolled around, Caroline and I were battered. It’s kind of stunning how much damage a single, disrupted night can do.
In the morning, through slit eyes, we began to triage. Caroline had to teach that afternoon; I had a story to file by lunchtime. Everything else, we figured, could wait until tomorrow if need be.
And need did be. Wally can usually tolerate a fair amount of television on his sick days, but yesterday he was too far gone to do anything on his own. He and Caroline napped together through the morning while I wrote. At 10am he awoke with just enough energy to sit on her lap and eat a few spoonfuls of raisin bran. At noon it was back down to sleep, in the guest room with the blinds half open, curled up against my chest.
I slept, too, and woke up a little while later to find my left arm pinned beneath Wally’s waist. He’d fallen into a deep sleep. His breathing was sharp and quick on the exhale. On every inhale I could hear the congestion crackle in his nose.
It had been awhile since I’d found myself trapped by a sleeping child. As I stared up at the ceiling, I confronted a list of regrets, familiar from the years when Caroline and I had been more instrumental in the boys’ sleep: regret that I hadn’t fallen asleep in a more comfortable position; regret that I’d left my book in the living room; regret that I hadn’t gone pee before we’d started our nap.
Wally moaned a few times and shifted slightly before settling back down on my arm. I tried to get a look at my watch, but I couldn’t raise my wrist high enough to see it. Across the room the screen on my computer had long since gone black. In the room around us, there was an intense quiet, the kind you get in the middle of the day when everyone is off doing something else.
Under other circumstances, I might have chanced pulling my arm from beneath Wally, but he was so tired and so pathetic, I didn’t want to risk depriving him of any more sleep. As I lay there, I recalled the story of a hiker who’d gotten his arm pinned beneath a boulder, and eventually resorted to cutting it off himself. I thought about the container of leftover empanadas in the refrigerator, and how I’d be happy to eat one cold.
Wally slept on and I started to make some calculations. What were the odds he’d wake if I tried to move my arm? How much marginal value did he get from each extra minute of sleep? How long until my fingers started to die from lack of blood flow? I’d almost worked it all out when outside I heard the whine of a large vehicle braking, and then a chorus of chattering kids. Was it that late already? The sound, I knew, was a school bus, releasing kids to the afterschool program at the park across the street from our house.
I thought about how as a kid, home sick from school, I’d picture my friends moving through their days: now they’re in math class, now they’re at lunch, now they’re getting ready for gym. I’d loved that sense of suspension from the world. And on those days, I’d never liked it when the school day actually finished. I’d hear kids walking home outside my house and be reminded that the reverie of a sick day doesn’t last forever.