I don’t remember when he comes in, the little one. He comes every night with small hands and cold feet and worms his way under the covers on my side. I make my arm his pillow, always – a holdover from the days I nursed him and feared losing him over the edge.
Those days are long over, that chapter in my life closed. He’s four now, five next spring. But not too old to come searching for my arms each night. And so I open them gladly, knowing this won’t always be. Though my hip aches and my shoulder numbs.
But embracing one means turning my back on another. And so my partner is without comfort when the nightmare begins. I am torn. Still attached to the little one, I reach back with my free arm, feel around in the dark until I find the man’s spine. Then I rub. Up. Down. I cradle one and massage the war out of the other.
It clings, this one. He shakes, whimpers, thrashes. The war lingers and so I am stuck in this in between, awkwardly straining backwards to nurse the past, while not letting go of what’s in front of me.
Finally, gratefully, the fitfulness ends and I am free. And I know what I must do.
The little one, he slides from under the quilt at my whispering and stands, wobbling. His voice cracks. “Mom, will you carry me?” So I scoop up the babe and walk under his weight with my own wobbly legs, turning and inching carefully sideways through doors.
I stop at the bathroom because, this little one, he wets most nights and I slide his feet to the floor. He fumbles with his pajamas and then misses the toilet almost entirely. Thankful it’s not sheets, I usher him back through the doorway. I do not bother with the mess. Tomorrow.
Finally I make my way back to the soldier, the sufferer. He has adjusted in my absence, slinging one long knee across the shared middle. So I mold myself to fit the open space, to fit him. Though my hip aches and my shoulder numbs.