Every twenty minutes
he asked us to stop,
the dark circles around eleven-year-old eyes
the thing that convinced the woman in Georgetown,
behind bulletproof glass with the Marlboros,
to let him use her bathroom.
But he kept asking all the way up 95.
We thought we could appease him
by switching drivers more often, but it didn't help;
we handed him bottles, but he blushed;
pulled over on the shoulder to try to make it better,
and still it was every twenty minutes.
Those numbers don't lie.
I asked him what the meter said
with fingers crossed behind my back,
and he didn't know enough to lie,
just said, "323".
And I asked where our sisters were
to keep from coughing despair into his eyes.
I met the driveway for gasping,
met my sister and lied through my teeth from her shoulder.
"Everything's going to be fine, it's all going to be fine."
And while I was sharing a forty in a smokey basement,
she met my mother in the driveway
and they ferried him to emergency room shortened breath,
and the last sister sobbed into me ear from far away
while I clutched fence posts
and tried not to redefine panic.
She was trapped, a car accident, I was trapped,
we were all counting down and getting distracted:
none of us could stay,
none of us could save any of the others.
I had forgotten what it felt like to pick up pieces.
On the way to the hospital
I took the turns from faded memory,
trying to recall the love that brought me here
the first time.
I counted through CD tracks,
sang as loudly as possible to keep tears back.
Parking garage gave way to front desk,
and then elevator,
and then I saw him.
So much smaller in that folded up bed,
tubes and wires leading away from his too-thin arms
trying to call back the weight that melted away with each summer month.
My mother and I walk to Starbucks, counting steps,
trying to reassure each other while he slept
in a pool of numbers,
the things he would have to remember
when they'd let him go
and the numbers would be his to hold,
the minutes to count between needle and meal.
I sat in the window
and counted back to the age of six,
the last time summer gave way to calculation,
to search and rescue,
to asking for bathrooms too frequently to be well.
I counted back to the couch in the trailer park,
to the minutes before his sleep
when I sang until it seemed
like numbers couldn't possibly matter.
And then, they really didn't.
I'd like to blame the number of exits
for the number of times her asked us to stop driving.
The number of hours, the number of bottles of milk he drank,
but now I can only thank
the number of clicks
that will keep him from having to count too high.
But i can't help wishing i could take all the numbers away.