kicked in the head

When I came out of the bedroom, where I was nursing C., I saw blood. It coated A.’s hands.

I put my hand on the dining table to steady myself and locked eyes with my aunt. Sunlight filtered through the windows and A. was bent over at the waist near the kitchen island.

I didn’t have to say anything.

“He was helping (7-year-old) M. zip-line, and her boot caught the side of his face. It looks deep — he might need stitches.”

“I’m OK,” A. said, his voice muffled.

It was about noon on New Year’s day and we were visiting my aunts and uncles and cousins in Atascadero. We had just returned from a walk to the neighbor’s, where we stared at about 20 big-eyed alpaca, and my cousin’s two girls and A. were excited to jump on the zip-line in my aunt’s backyard.

And then A. got clobbered, which quickly ended the fun.

My aunt, who’s a nurse, followed A. into the bathroom. I decided to stay back until A. was cleaned up. My aunt applied Steri-Strips to the gash above his left eye. Once clean, he looked fine, just tired.

But then, as we were standing in the kitchen debating whether the cut was deep enough for stitches, A. said, “I’m seeing a light. It’s hard to explain. It’s in both eyes.”

That was all we needed.

In that rushed, quiet, serious mood that can fill a room, I packed the car. My aunt assembled a bag of waters, peanut butter sandwiches, fresh-baked muffins, banana, oranges and apple sauce for a long day in the hospital.

So, instead of our traditional pork chops and sauerkraut New Year’s dinner, A., C. and I spent the afternoon in the sterile Twin Cities Community hospital in Templeton.

C. kept the patients entertained, toddling around, saying “Hi,” and flashing his two bottom teeth to anyone who would give him attention.

A 6-foot-tall great-grandmother slumped in a chair with a limp left arm — her horse had kicked her — and she called C. “darling.”

A man with a graying mustache in a muscle T-shirt showing off tattoos leaned back in a wheelchair and laughed at C. “We should pay you for the entertainment,” he said. It was unclear what was wrong with him, but he reeked of smoke and a young hospital worker angrily walked over and admonished him: “We have rules for a reason,” she said. “You’re not only putting yourself at risk, but you’re putting everyone else at risk, too.”

A young Latino woman holding a bundled 4-week-old was there by herself. She smiled at C. “I hope that baby is OK,” A. said to me.

A.’s vision was altered for the 15 minutes at my aunt’s, and then it was normal. But we were at the hospital, so we continued to wait as the sunlight softened. When we finally saw the doctor at 3:30 p.m., he confirmed that if A. wasn’t disoriented or didn’t have memory loss or a killer headache, he probably didn’t have a concussion. Just a nasty cut and an eventual black eye.

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We left the hospital and drove up to Paso Robles to have dinner at the Odyssey World Cafe. C. slept in the car seat at our feet while we quizzed each other with Trivia Pursuit cards, ate soup and I fueled up on a latte for the 4-hour drive home. “It feels like a date,” A. said.

A. kept apologizing for spending the day in the hospital, but it also didn’t surprise me when he said: “You know I love this.”

A. loves adventure — and to be inconvenienced. He feels like he’s living if he runs out of gas or falls into a ditch or gets kicked in the head. He makes light of difficult situations. It’s one of the reasons I married him.

“‘How are you?” I asked as we left the restaurant.

“I’m good, just tired,” A. said.

And so I drove my two sleeping babies east along a two-lane highway, singing to the Avett Brothers, and looking out at the brilliant California stars lighting the way.

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