Just as the doctor had promised I was able to take Cooper home. Discharged with paperwork that spoke of his illnesses, and what to expect, but I couldn’t bring myself to read. None of it mattered now. I had watched helplessly as my son fought years of cancer battles, listened to him cry, and watched him struggle directly after the treatments. I had held him, kissed him, and prayed for him. But all of the prayers I gave went unanswered. I knew what Eli would have said, all those years ago when he was still the Eli he had once been. How he would have blamed me, and then himself for our son being so ill. The child wasn’t meant to live. Right from the start he had tried to leave me, to go back up to heaven with the angels, but I hadn’t let him.
I had had hope that he would survive, hope that the chemo treatments would work, and that his life was meant to be saved, but what was all that suffering for now? If he was meant to die before he even so much as knew what school was. He couldn’t even ride a bike without training wheels, or know what it is like to drive a car, have a girlfriend. He would never know anything but the short painful life he lived now. He was only three years old. He wasn’t even going to make it to his fourth birthday.
I was silent most of the way home, but I insisted on sitting next to Cooper. I had had my arms around him, and was snuggled as close as could be. I couldn’t tell him just yet. How do you tell a child they are going to die? I couldn’t. Not yet. So instead I had stroked my fingers through his hair, and whispered that I loved him more than breathing, more than my own life. More than my brother’s.
I carried him into the house in something of a daze, whilst Eli ran out to fill the prescription. We had been there all day, and all night. The morning sun was beginning to rise, and though I should have been exhausted, all I felt was numb. Numb with shock, numb with grief. I couldn’t do anything but contemplate how much pain I had to endure in my lifetime.
“Do you need anything?” Anna’s solemn voice was behind me as I began to carry Cooper up the stairs towards my bedroom.
“Just to be alone with my son.” Was all I could manage, and she nodded. Guiding the other children towards their bedrooms. They were far too tired to be confused, or curious. Most of them looked half ready to drop themselves since they hadn’t slept much. Even little Hope was nearly conked out in Anna’s arms.
Cooper was drifting to sleep in my own, and I placed him down on my bed, before climbing into it beside him. He instantly snuggled close to my body, craving the warmth, since his skin was almost always cold. He smiled softly up at me, and for a little flicker of a moment I could see Eli in his eyes. The way he was trying to make it so that I wouldn’t worry. Even at such a young age he held a compassion that I couldn’t quite comprehend. No other held such maturity at such a young age. Maybe it was the illness that had forced him to mature, or maybe it was just his personality. He had Eli in him after all.
“Mama, why are you crying?”
I didn’t even realize I still had tears leaking from my eyes, I had long since ceased my sobs. I was now wholly silent in my misery. I reached up to wipe the tears away.
“I just worry for you, Cooper. I will always worry for you.” I breathed, and leaned down, pressing a tender kiss to the side of his head. Wanting more than anything to keep him alive. To make it so that he could grow up alongside of his siblings, and he would be happy, and healthy.
I heard the sound of the door pushing open, and thought it was Anna, but when I turned I saw that it was only Trouble. He came in, and jumped up on the bed, slowly curling up alongside Cooper as he did every night. But he seemed to know, perhaps he had known before even I did. I reached out and gave him a few rubs behind the ears, before leaning down to kiss Cooper’s forehead.
“I don’t like it when you cry, mama. It makes me sad.” He gave a slight hum, and I tried to hold it together for his sake.
“I love you, sweetheart. I love you so much.” I whispered into his hair.
“I love you too, Mama. Always and forever. That is what you and Daddy say sometimes.”
I froze slightly when I heard those words emerge from his lips. As clearly as Eli himself would have said them a long time ago. I forced my teeth into my lower lip, and nodded, fighting back further tears. “That’s right, Baby. Always and forever.”
It was three days of laying in that room with my son, barely eating, but making sure he did. Giving him his pain medicine, and occupying him with games, and movies before I was able to emerge, and actually communicate with anyone else ( especially not my mother). Eli was there with me of course, it was his son too, but we didn’t speak. I couldn’t possibly think of anything to say, and I didn’t want to talk about what was to come. I could see that Cooper was worsening however. His eyes held dark circles beneath them, and his lips were a pale blue color. His heart must have been acting up again, to top it all off, but he was trying to be strong. For me.
“Can we go out on the beach today, Mama? Please?” Cooper asked with a soft expression as I sat soundlessly staring down at my cereal, my other children looked up hopefully as well.
It couldn’t hurt him at this point, nothing could. So I nodded, “Of course we can, sweetheart. All of us can.”
That response got cheers from my other children, even Hope joined in though she wasn’t completely aware of what she was cheering for. She was only happy that she was allowed to be next to Cooper again. She was close to him standing next to his chair, with a wide smile on her lips.
“After you finish eating!” I warned as Gabe began to try and sneak out of his chair, to head towards the door.
“Awwww…” He whined, before returning back to his breakfast. Eli was eating silently too. He didn’t seem to be much in a talking mood himself, and I could understand why that was. He had only known Cooper for a few months. Barely long enough to get to know the first thing about him, and now he was losing him just as quickly. It must have been hard, but I didn’t talk to him about it. I didn’t dare try.
Once breakfast was finished, and we were all headed out towards the beach, I carried Cooper, whilst Eli carried Hope. Once we spread out a towel, we let the children run free. Even Cooper. I couldn’t force him to be away from his siblings any longer. They deserved this precious time with him as well. I knew that my lack of conversations with them about what was going on was troubling them. But I didn’t know how to tell them. They were far too young to understand what it meant to die.
Eli and I were seated on the blanket, watching them run back and forth. Playing like children were meant to, and Trouble was running back and forth with them, panting as he did. They dipped their feet into the water at times, but they knew better than to go all the way in without one of us. Hope followed them around, copying anything her siblings did.
“What are we going to do Eli? How will we ever tell them?” I asked him, my eyes lingering over towards his. He had still been quiet throughout all of the time that had been lost to us, and I knew he also didn’t know what to say.
“I don’t know…but we can’t pretend that Cooper is going to be just fine. They should have a chance to say goodbye. Just like we do.” Always the wisest words falling from my brother’s lips, and I knew he was right. He was always right. But that didn’t mean it made what I had to do any easier in the long run. In fact it probably made it all much more difficult.
“Why do we always have to be cursed, Eli? Why? Was what we did so bad?” I hated that I loved him. I loved him more than anything, and I had fought for him, lied for him, had his babies. The whole nine yards, and now I was paying the price for it all. It was painful to know I was always going to pay the price.
“We weren’t meant to have children, Belle. This is our punishment for having them.” He cut through me like a knife at those words, and I flinched slightly.
“I know Eli, but we didn’t try to have them…it just…it happened.” I breathed out, clenching my eyes shut.
“No, but it’s still our fault, I suppose. We are sick, aren’t we Belle? I mean…everyone keeps telling us that we are. Our mother stopped being with her brother…maybe you should stop being with me too, Belle. Maybe then god won’t take any more of our children from us. Maybe then we will be safe.” He was looking at our children as he said those words, not at me.
Moving slowly I straddled his lap, forcing him to look at me. Maybe he was right, but I wasn’t my mother. I would never be her. I didn’t want to be anything like her. “We have tried to be apart Eli. It has never worked. Not once. Look at what happened every single time we have parted. I was raped the first time, the second you tried to kill yourself in an accident, the third I nearly lost you to smoking, and depression, and the fourth…” I couldn’t say anymore, and he turned his eyes from mine.
He didn’t need any further reminding about the things he had endured in that asylum. Every time that we were apart bad things seemed to happen. However now that we were back together an even worse thing was happening. I knew I would probably never know the full extent of darkness that lived within my brother’s mind, but I tried to hold myself together, knowing he would tell me everything when he felt he could.
“I know what being apart caused…but being together, has also caused so much worse.” He breathed out, and it was truthful.
Our children were made from love, but Cooper had suffered his entire life because of our love for one another. Something that should have never been. Of course there was no changing what we had done, or how much that we needed each other, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what would have happened if neither of us had ever asked for this in the first place. If we had both continued to keep our mouths shut, and dated other people. Loved other people.
“Us forcing ourselves to be unhappy won’t save our son. Nothing will save our boy.” I admitted with her eyes downcast slightly. “Cooper is beautiful, and a blessing…but he will soon be lost to us either way.”
“I know, Belle…” was all he managed to say to those words.
“And I won’t get through it, if I don’t have you by my side, and in my heart. You keep me strong, Eli. You always have. You make everything better, and I can’t imagine going through both losing our boy, and you at the same time.” I breathed into his ear, “Please don’t make me go through it. Please.”
I knew I had crawled beneath his skin, chipping away at the pieces of him that felt for me. It was dirty, and so cruel, but it was working. It was saving what we had together. He was slowly beginning to open his heart to me, to want what we had again.
“If you desire my arms, and a space in my bed, I won’t deny you it.” He finally gave in to my words, unable to argue any longer, and I wouldn’t see another side. Not after all we had already endured. I couldn’t let his heart stray from mine again. Perhaps it was selfish, and I was holding on too hard, but I had lost enough already. I wouldn’t lose his heart again.
“Thank you, Eli.” I whispered, before leaning in to steal a kiss.
“EWWWWW!” Gabe, and Annabelle giggled as they spotted us, and we quickly came apart, feeling a flush heat our cheeks, but we began to laugh with them, before I got up off of Eli’s lap, and began to chase our children around the beach, laughing, and catching them playfully in my arms. It took only a small bit of encouragement before Eli was doing the same.
And just like that, all at once, we were a beautiful picturesque family, and perhaps from the outside we looked unflawed, and perfect with no pain, but on the inside we were falling apart at the seams. Soon to be torn in a way I would never fully recover from.