Keeping Things Alive
There was a routine to nursing my father through the final days of his life. Smooth out his balled-up fists, swipe balm on his chapped lips, dissolve crushed pain pills in water and administer the dose into his mouth with a syringe.
Since that week of my twenty-third year, I’ve become deeply adept at keeping dying things alive. Relationships, jobs, animals—if it’s doomed, I’m a moth to its fading flame.
Last month it was a hypothermic newborn lamb cradled in my lap with a bottle of colostrum placed to his blue lips; my figure curved into the familiar sense of knowing that descended as I massaged his freezing tongue and throat. Once his jaw went slack, I watched a thread of white liquid weep down his chin and rocked his stiffening body sobbing, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry…” like an invocation.
A response the following day: two more lambs plunged placenta-first into hypothermia. I positioned them in front of a space heater on the floor of my living room, fed them electrolytes and colostrum hourly through the night. The pull of sleep was no match for my ill-fated routine, perfected.
But as dawn tipped a wash of pink onto their steadily breathing forms, I inhaled the lanolin scent of their unblemished fleece and blinked unwittingly at the curled-together proof of my capacity for tending something into existence. A new skill, unfamiliar.
Fifteen years after his passing, a medium relayed a message from my father. “He knows the things you saw at the end changed you. He’s sorry. He’s so sorry, he’s so sorry...”
The persistence of life frolics in the back pasture alongside a field where death’s testament will be laid to rest. The ground will thaw, the twins will look on as I dig a small hole. An apology will echo in the ears of the living.