Slivers of light sneak through the blinds and catch my eyes. My arms drift above my head as a stretch tackles my body. I pull myself from the couch and realize the time. 2:18am. A smile slips across my face; I forgot about the time change. I forgot about the flight. I forgot how I got here, why I’m here, all of it.
My phone sprays light across my face as I check my banking app, the direct deposit for $20,000 glows bright. My fingers trace my forehead as a smile spreads my face and I breathe, “I can’t believe I won!” I’m published and people like what I wrote! I mean, sure, I was published before...in college...in the on-campus literary arts journal...that no one reads. Woof.
I decided after I won, I’d travel to Shanghai and see Huangshan Mountain. I’ve heard it’s a sight straight out of movies. Too perfect to be true. Not to mention the waters. They’re supposed to be healing and they’re...thicker than...other waters...supposedly.
I brought my mom and my baby with me, it’s like a mini family vacation; minus the 18 other family members that wanted to come along. Just a small trip, I tell myself, a quick trip up the mountain and then back home. Back to reality. In the morning we leave for the mountain. There’s a live-in hospital for those too sick to go home. Or even go outside.
My daughter was born with congenital heart disease, she’s only two months old. She’s too small for a surgery and we’re trying everything to keep her healthy and growing for as long as possible, so she can get as big as possible and become eligible for surgery. We’re here to test the healing waters on her heart.
At 9am, I roll out of bed and get ready to go get our train tickets up to the mountain. On my way, I notice someone who reminds me of a guy from my hometown. But why would he be in Shanghai...all the way from Michigan...at the same time...? I notice a little black book poking out of a hole in his backpack. The edges are worn and tattered and the pages are stuffed so full, the spine is splitting and starting to fray. Wow, that book looks like one of my old journals. I snap out of imaging the spine unravel and step in line behind him. His reservation is under ‘Chad’ and I start at the similarity. ‘Chad’ turns around and I blurt, “Hey, Chad!”
I get my train tickets in order and realize Chad is going to the same mountain. We ride up the mountain together and I catch my breath as we step off the train. The mountains point straight to the stars, and yet, they’re rounded at the tips. The clouds drape the mountains and flow around them like water over rocks in a stream.
The hospital is the brightest, whitest stone structure that I’ve ever seen. And the windows! The windows facing the mountain make up the largest panoramic wall of windows, they curve around the lake at the top of the mountain. We settle into our spots in the lake, and the water flows to the edge of the mountain and blends in with the clouds like an infinity pool.
The lake is full of these floating rock-like structures that people lounge all over. Not that they need to, the water is thicker here! I am floating effortlessly, yet I can move in any direction without falling too far beneath the surface. I swim to the edge of the mountain and gaze down. Everything is draped in gold as the sun sets below the tips of the mountains. The fluidity of the clouds, everything dressed in a sparkling aura, a bokeh effect seems to fall inside my mind and everything I see reflects in tiny mirror dots along the edges of my eyes.
I look back at the hospital and see the panoramic window. I see the patients sitting and laying inside, in one giant room, all together, and I wonder what it must be like to be resigned to staring at something so beautiful, so unattainable. My mom appears next to me with Emerson and we watch the sun set below the mountains.
I wake up on the train and see Chad rummaging frantically through his bags. Bits and pieces are flying left and right. Once he hits the hole in the bottom, his hand shoots through and he tears the bag in two. He moves onto the rack above his seat, muttering something that I think is “...little black book, little black book, little black book...” and he goes on and on, a hail of objects fall around me and one hits me dead in the nose.
I shoot upright, “WHAT is your PROBLEM?!” I demand. Chad jumps and runs off the train as the doors open. I dart after him, “Chad! Stop! You’re going the wrong way! We have to get back on the train!” I hear the dinging of the train behind me and watch as the doors swing shut. My mom is screaming for me to come back, but Chad is quickly becoming a blur in the massive amounts of people around me. I take off after him. As I get closer, I hear “...little black book...little black...” and I grab his shoulder as he ducks passed a cyclist. Who hits me in the gut. Ooof. I catch my breath and push forward. What is going on?? I wonder how bizarre it is that I am halfway around the world with someone I haven’t seen since I was 18, and he’s having some sort of mania for a black book. Just get a new one! I grumble to myself.
I realize that I’ve lost him, and I start ducking down every alley and sifting through every intersection. Finally, I hear him, he’s whispering to himself again, I turn to my left and see stairs leading to nowhere. In the empty stairwell, I see him.
Chad is soaking wet, even though it’s not raining, and staring at the stripe spray painted on the stairs. I get close enough to hear “Melanie...” and instantly, everything settles into place in my mind. Melanie, Chad’s yellow lab, passed away a few months ago and he must’ve had her collar tag taped inside of his little black book.
I sit beside him and wait for the rain inside to subside.
I think about Emerson and her heart, her little body, her lungs, the conditions unforeseen...I think about Melanie, about my baby girl, the thought of her no longer existing, no longer breathing, no longer near...drives me to my feet, Chad in tow, and to the train station. We catch a train back to Shanghai and I wrap my baby in my arms.
Our souls intertwined, wrapped so tightly together, my breath catches in my throat and I bury my face in her little neck. She smells like a mix of me, my mom, her dad and something I can’t quite place. I pray that the waters worked. I pray for her heart, the four holes inside, the arteries that are combined...I pray she will stay alive, stay breathing, stay, stay, stay forever with me.
My daughter, Emerson, was born 12/26/2020, only 25 weeks along. We were both slowly dying due to a condition called eclampsia. I was experiencing multiple organ failure. My daughter was diagnosed a week later with congenital heart disease. She has not left the hospital yet, she is in the Neonatal ICU, continuing to grow and gain weight. The rest of the story is a dream that I had while visiting the hospital to see her. She will remain in the hospital until she has open heart surgery to repair the conditions she was born with. (there are 5 conditions that she deals with) She has doubled her birth weight, but we are still waiting for her to be big enough to have her surgery :)