I drive to the Emergency Room with William. I know the route now, due to Penny's ER visit and subsequent hospital stay last spring, so I no longer have to worry about the unmarked roads and whether I'll make a wrong turn in the "bad" part of Trenton.
I drive past housing projects. I don't see anyone outside. I wonder whether my car, a black Prius, is conspicuous. I don't lock my doors. I wonder if I could be friends with any of the women inside those bleak buildings.
When we arrive, we are fourth in line. We are the only Caucasians present, other than the security guard. He strikes up conversation, since he has a seven-month old son. "Get ready," I say, pointing to William's bloody ear (bloody on both sides. He fell on a bench that cut all the way through), noting the scabs on his forehead and chin. William wriggles out of my arms and runs away. A man with a "Kingdom Church Volunteer" T-shirt, holds out his hand, slows William down until I can catch up.
I am the only mother who has brought dinner for my child. William gnaws on a piece of bread, some cheddar cheese, blueberries. A young girl vomits on the floor nearby. A family walks in, with pizza and Skittles. Their daughter has a bruise over her eye, from falling down Nana's steps.
Another woman is there with her son. I watch them most closely, as her son looks to be between two and three, close to my children's age. "You get over here or I'm'a whoop your ass," is the first sentence I hear. She proceeds to scoop her son into her arms, and they giggle together. I feel my shoulders relax, watching them together. Then she says, "You the one sounding like a retard."
She thinks he has pink eye. They called her home from work to pick him up. I assume they don't have insurance, and how could they? I assume she doesn't know how hurtful her words are to me. I assume she isn't thinking about what she has just taught her son. They giggle again as she kisses him on the head. I assume she loves him very much.
We are called back to see the triage nurse and get checked in. "We have Noggin," I'm told. I don't know what Noggin is. "The TV," they explain. "To keep him distracted."
But William has rarely watched TV. He shakes his head no. He is much more interested in the tools used to examine eyes and ears, in running into the hallway to wave at other patients, in sitting on my lap and leaning backward to see the world upside down.
Five stitches needed, as it turns out. It takes two of us to hold him down, and forty minutes of screaming to do the stitching. He falls asleep in the car, as I drive back through that "bad" neighborhood to our protected community, safest place to live for miles. We get home a little after nine, four hours after the accident, and he sleeps for ten hours without a peep.
I lie awake for a while, thoughts swirling, with no place to go.
A few miles down the road, there are women and children, women and children just like me, on the way to the ER with their kids. So many questions with no resolution. The health care debate. The "R" word. Books and television. Race and culture. Difference and sameness.