at last, he’s asked for it. that might mean–after a long stretch of nights on the bathroom floor, after middle-of-the-night calls to the doctor when his hot little body started to shake and could not be stopped, after two rounds of mean nasty medicines–he’s finally coming back with the living.
(i should mention right off that this has nothing to do with the ol’ easter story–that most recent mention around here of a return to the living; rather, this is simply the tale of a boy and a bug and a box that seems to hold magical powers.)
it’s the get better box, and it lives on a shelf in his bedroom. way up high, where only a mama on tippiest toes can get at it, where she’ll blow off the assemblies of dust, lay it down at the side of his bed, or the couch if that’s where he’s stretched.
it’s a box that comes out only on days when there’s nowhere to go, and not much to do, except maybe to gauge the rise and the fall of the mercury there on the stick your mama keeps shoving under your tongue.
it’s a box that in our house is the nearest thing to wizardry, imbued as it is with the pure healing powers of trinkets and bits and thingamajigs. like the doctor’s black bag of long long ago, whatever’s pulled out from its shadowy insides is certain to fix you, or at least to distract you till the fever retreats.
it is all part of the witchcraft of healing a child. four tablets of fever-fighters, washed down with the voodoo of playthings reserved for the sickbed.
whatever it takes, is the mantra of grownups charged with the curing of limp, pallid bodies. of mouths that won’t open even for ice cream, mouths that seem only to moan. of foreheads so hot you worry whatever’s inside will be singed.
why, we wring washcloths and lay them on heads. we draw baths at 2 in the morning. we soothe and we coo and we rub. and all that we get, often, is more of the groaning.
until, at last, at our house, at least, that box is unearthed from the highest of heights.
if you cracked open the lid, peeked just into the shaft of light you’ve let in, you would see there before you an inventory of the ordinary: stickers, and play-doh, and puppets to slip on the tips of your fingers. you would see pencils the size of a toothpick, in a rainbow of colors. and small slips of paper to fold, or to scribble upon. you would see a stone rubbed smooth at the edge of a lake. and a feather or two, plucked from the trees, where a disrobing bird might have left them behind.
what you would not see is the incandescence its contents bring to the face of the boy who, at long last, looks up from his pillow with the faint light of joy there in the black hole of his eye.
it is the first sign of hope, and it comes from the box, i swear on a Bible.
just now i hear humming, clear from the couch. where the boy is at play with a whole troupe of puppets. it’s been nearly a quarter of an hour since he last called my name, which given the most recent days in our house, is quite rather a miracle.
the idea was not mine, nor did i have such a cure-all when i was a child. a dear and wise mother i know, one whose charm was, in good measure, the make-believe world she built for her children, she gave me instructions long long ago, and assured me the powers the squat box would bring.
and then, leaning in, she whispered the part that mattered the most, she insisted.
“when your little one’s better you must, together, take it outside, lay each ingredient in the sun, and explain that the ills are escaping and pure healing sunlight is being absorbed. it is the ritual, as much as the rarity of the box, that makes it so special,” i remember her saying.
ever since, it’s as much a part of our sickdays, as is the rubberband on the glass of the afflicted, and the folded-up washcloth there on the brow.
i can hardly believe i once wore a nurse’s cap on my head, but never had heard of the get better box. only once admitted to the ranks of motherhood, did a mother i love whisper the surest cure in the books. one so certain to cure, it’s not written anywhere.
the sad truth of the get better box story is that the mother who first spelled out its magic is now nursing a daughter with very bad cancer. not all the get better boxes in the world seem to be working. so on this day, when her magic is casting its spell here at my house, i wish and pray i had something to offer to her. i send love. i send light. i send prayer. what healing rituals did you grow up with, or have you birthed for your little ones?