What I Want You to Know About Blood

The blood flows everywhere. It drips into the sink and onto the floor. It soaks into paper towels filling up the trash cans in the bathroom and the kitchen. It dribbles down onto your shirt.

You stand on the toilet and lean out over the sink so you can see yourself in the mirror that’s above it. You rush to the kitchen to grab more paper towels. You sprint back to the bathroom to spit in the sink. You hop on the toilet so you can look again in the mirror.

You have lost a tooth, and this one is a gusher.

The first two teeth you lost were on the bottom row. Those ones held on until the very end, clinging to your gums until the adult teeth finally claimed their permanent residence. But this one, like the other next to it that you lost a few months ago, is a total bleeder. It has dangled for weeks, loose as an egg in a nest, but once you finally tear it free it bleeds and bleeds.

When all that bleeding finally abates, you ready the incisor for the tooth fairy. You stuff it in an envelope, which you carefully place under one of your stuffed animal’s arm. You leave a helpful note, not wanting the tooth fairy to despair upon looking under the pillow and finding no tooth where one should be.

The next morning, you wake up early and race back to your room from my bedroom, where you have ended up. You call out to me to come look. The tooth fairy has stacked your stuffed animals and left your money on top. She has left her initials in a very familiar script and has drawn a crude picture of a tooth.

I’m not too impressed, to be honest. It looks like something I could have done.

But I tell you how awesome it all is, and I delight in your delight. I take pictures and send them to our family so they can share in the excitement.

If only your mom was here, I think to myself.

It’s not just that I wish your mom was able to share in the joy of it all, to laugh and take pictures and tell you that she can’t believe how big you are getting. It is that, to be sure. But it’s also that I can sense you are moving farther and farther away from the boy you were when she last laid eyes on you.

The last time your mom saw you, you had a mouth full of baby teeth. Four of those are now gone, and there are two-and-a-half new teeth filling their place. You are just getting started.

You and I got haircuts this weekend. The barber snipped away hair that has grown since after your mom died. She never saw any of the hairs that now stick out on our scalps.

I trim your nails every few weeks. I collect those pieces of you in the small garbage can and they get tossed away with the floss and empty tubes of toothpaste.

I sweep the floors. I collect the piles of debris, which is mostly Ozzy’s hair, but there are pieces of you and me there, too: skin cells your mom once saw and touched that our bodies have sloughed off.

I put Band-Aids on your scrapes and watch as skin grows anew under the scabs.

I scratch marks on a giant ruler hanging on the wall to show how much you have grown over time.

You are the same boy your mom saw in June 2020. You are not that boy at all.

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously said, “You cannot step in the same river twice.”

I first heard that saying in my freshman Honors Philosophy class. What Heraclitus meant by that, according to the memorable Jesuit professor who taught us, was that the river is never the same between two moments, and neither are you.

Indeed, anyone who has spent time on a river or stream knows it is ever-changing, the sand and silt always moving with the current, or displaced by the steps of a wading fly fisher or the frantic swish of a tail of a trout that’s been spooked. Around a lazy river bend, a cattail head bends down from a broken stalk and diverts the water. A boy tosses pebbles and small stones from a riverbank, then writes his initials in the dirt. The river swells in the spring and grows muddy from all the snowmelt run-off. It slows and dries up during a late summer drought. The river constantly changes.

People change constantly, too. You don’t need to pay private college tuition to learn that. Having a kid will teach you. If nothing else, you learn every fall when last year’s clothes no longer fit and you have to shell out for some new school uniforms.

Another piece of Heraclitus wisdom, according to Plato, was, “πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει,” meaning, “All things flow and nothing stays still.”  Whether we like it or not, all of nature grows and changes over time.

Yes, everything flows like a river, or like the blood coursing through your veins that spills out after losing a tooth. I know this.

Your body changes. You grow. A different you steps into a different river every time. I grieve the loss of the old rivers. I grieve the loss of the old you’s.

But I also know this: A river stays a river by flowing. Only with new water constantly moving from its source to its mouth does it remain a river at all.

And so it is with you. That part of what makes you you is the changing and the growing, the constant replacement of older parts with newer ones.

And I know this, too: The blood that flows regularly throughout your body, which sometimes gushes forth from the gap where a tooth used to be, was first given to you by your mom in her womb. It was her body that first guided yours throughout all the changes necessary to transform you from an idea and a hope into a human being, our son.

So, as you trade baby teeth for adult teeth, as you add inches to your height and outgrow all your old clothes, and as you develop new interests or learn new skills, you get farther away from the version of you that your mom last saw. After all, nothing stays still, least of all children.

Still, I take comfort knowing that this also means that, like her light and her love and everything else, her blood flows ever on in you.

2 Comments on “What I Want You to Know About Blood

  1. You know, a baby’s adult teeth form during pregnancy, and will last a lifetime. So do some other things– bones, of course, and neurons, the lenses of our eyes, and much of our heart muscle. So even as everything you wrote above is true–we’re constantly changing, growing, losing pieces of ourselves, generating new ones– Evander will always physically carry some of Jaime’s handiwork with him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Leave it to a poet to say better in three sentences what I could say in the whole post. (And leave it to a scientist to actually understand human biology.) Thanks for the wise words and the affirmation. 🙂


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