When I was eight I spent a lazy Saturday lying on my front porch watching a spider spinning his web across the threshold. He climbed up the frame a foot or so and dropped, catching the breeze across to the other side, glimmering silk flowing out behind him. Dropping to the bottom, he attached another strand and then climbed back up, ’til he had a lopsided triangle. He did this over and over, each time adding new thread and attaching it with a quick little hook of his back leg. In less than ten minutes, he had himself a fair home waiting for a bug to fly through for lunch. What he got was my mama throwing open the screen door and asking if I was going to fritter away the day like some privileged kid or go weed the garden like she’d asked me twice.
I never took much time to reflect before now, but all these hours in the hospital since Ashely’s diabetes diagnosis, and without laundry and dishes and chauffeurin’ people around, I got lots of time to think. For some reason that spider from my childhood comes to mind several times. I think we all ain’t nothing but spiders, spinning a web across a doorway. All we see is the living we’re building for ourselves, not realizing that at any minute the world might throw open its door and walk right over us. And all we’ve made is lost.
And what I think is I never noticed how fragile life is before this drive home. I’m suddenly waiting for the inevitable wrecking of my life. We’re one crazy driver away from a crash. We’re one Luby’s away from a gun-wielding lunatic. We’re one flu away from disease, one miscalculated donut away from death.
Even with the hospital in the rearview mirror, I can’t believe we’re going home. I can’t believe we passed the tests. For three days we calculated the carbs in Ashley’s food. We figured the insulin needed. We learned how to put new lancets in the insulin pen Ashley will use for three of the four shots a day. We successfully poked the orange. They patted us on the back, handed us a fistful of prescriptions, and sent us out the door.
Still, I’d have stayed in the hospital another year for the security of knowing someone would be there if ’n we messed up.
I let Ashley pick out the music, and she enjoys the freedom of sitting in the front seat and flipping through the stations. She finds one playing country and settles back to listen, staring out the window all quiet-like. The dry grass fields pass like a memory, and we drive without talking, aware of our tentative hold on life.
She breaks the silence with a question. “If I’m on a plane that goes down over the ocean, you know, like on that TV show, I’m going to die aren’t I? Because I need insulin. I won’t even have the chance to eat bugs and build a fire to try and survive, will I?”
I’ve been expecting the reality of living with this disease to hit her eventually, but this ain’t the question I expect. I expect something along the lines of, “Can I still eat pizza with the kids in the band after football games?” I expect, “If I don’t eat the mashed potatoes, can I have the Oreos, ’cause they’re the same amount of carbs.” I don’t expect no plane crash.
“I think that’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard,” I say. “If you’re on a plane that goes down over the ocean, you got bigger problems than insulin.”
“But what if I do?”
I want to point out that livin’ in the middle of Texas with no water closer than Town Lake ain’t likely to get her over the ocean, but I realize she’s seen her web too close to the door, too. “Well,” I say, twisting my face into a serious expression, as if I’m really considering this. “If you go on a plane trip, maybe you make sure you take extra insulin on board with you. That way, if you go down, you’ll have enough until you’re rescued.”
This seems to satisfy her for a few minutes. She watches the fields fly by out the window. Then she says, “What if I want to be a cheerleader?”
“You hate cheerleaders.”
“That’s not the point. What if I decide I want to be one? Can I do that with diabetes?”
“Do you want to?” I look at her sideways and wonder if the disease has affected her brain. Will she be a different person now? Has this changed who she is?
“No way.” She looked out the window instead of at me, which is good because I almost snort in relief. “But if I did. If I changed my mind.”
My heart aches with the squeezing of her life into something smaller than the world she knew a few days ago.