The early 80's found my siblings and I, like so many of our peers, trying to survive the shrapnel and explosions of a family in crisis. Divorce itself wasn't new, but it became much more widespread during those years as American society accepted the false notion that what was best for the parents was, in the end, also best for the children. Also accepted was the idea that if two people couldn't manage to coexist peacefully, severing ties with one another would alleviate the co-morbid symptoms of depression, isolation, anger, and spite-- and usher in a new peace for the individuals involved.
As subjects of this social experiment, we spent a lot of time with a neighbor babysitter. Each day we went to Sister Wilson's house, along with a disparate bunch of other snot-nosed refugees of their own families' domestic warfare. We were latchkey kids without a key, and for a nominal fee, Sister Wilson would take us in and provide us with all the cartoons, trampoline time, and peanut butter sandwiches we wanted. While we waited for Mom to come get us, for toast to pop up, for ourselves to grow up, and for life to somehow make sense; Sister Wilson played solitaire and read romance novels.
If I remember right, among the other urchins under Sister Wilson's care, there were a brother and sister who spent a lot of time there. One day they showed up with Chicken Pox. After learning that Chicken Pox was an illness that you only got once, and that in all probability I was going to catch it someday anyway, I insisted that the boy breathe directly into my mouth. My seven-year-old logic dictated that it would be best to just get it over with.
Soon we were all covered with sores. My brothers and sisters and I itched together, we picked scabs together, we scarred together. It was painful, but it got better. And knowing that that particular pain would never ever come back to any of us was a small measure of comfort when the rest of the world was exploding completely out of our control.
I was thinking about this experience today as I contemplated the recent news that someone very dear to me-- someone who shouldered his bayonet beside me all those years ago in the trenches of the War of Our Family-- has been diagnosed with cancer.
I know he's going to get better. He will. But I also know it's going to be hard on him.
And I wish I wish I wish Oh I wish he could breathe it directly into my mouth.