Dr. Simmons studies the results of our daughter’s blood tests. “Mr. and Mrs. Jacobsen, I’ll get right to it.” Glenna leans forward. I try to squint away the words I don’t want to hear. “Your daughter has Byrd’s Syndrome.”
The weight of his diagnosis lands on my chest. My wife gasps.
Chris goes to the window and looks out. “I guess we don’t have to fuss about college anymore.” Glenna and I had been arguing with our daughter about where she would go next year. She wanted to attend a top out-of-state school, easily had the grades to get in. But we couldn’t imagine her so far away. Our choice was a local college where she could live at home. We told Chris we couldn’t afford out-of-state tuition. Suddenly, it didn’t matter.
“There must be some way to cure her,” Glenna sobs, taking the words and whimper from my mouth.
Dr. Simmons pats my wife’s hand. “Don’t think of it as a sickness to be cured,” he says. “Think of it as a transformation.”
Have my blood and organs. Give everything to my daughter. I won’t let this happen. “We’ll beat this,” I say.
After our appointment with the doctor, our daughter’s appearance changes rapidly … almost as if the diagnosis has accelerated her metamorphosis. I’ve heard it’s like that sometimes. No matter how much we give Chris to eat, she continues to drop weight and shrink. When her lips begin to indurate and taper, we take her to a plastic surgeon. He assures us there’s nothing to be done. Her hair grows into a tuft. Every morning, Glenna snips it. Every evening it’s back.
We see specialists. They all shake their heads. I’ll quit my job, go to medical school, find a cure myself. Whatever it takes.
One day I come home and hear Chris shrilling in pain. I rush into the bedroom and find our daughter prone on the bed. Glenna is sitting on her and plucking the nubs of feathers that have begun to sprout from her arms.
I gently take the tweezers from my wife’s hand. I can’t be angry with her. I’d thought about doing the same thing myself.
Chris sits up and rubs her arms with her hands. “I don’t want these.” I hope she’s talking about the feathers, fear she’s referring to her arms.
Chris, Glenna and I stare out the window. “Dad, Mom, what will happen in winter?” My daughter’s voice chirps with alarm.
“You’ll be cozy in your nest,” Glenna says.
I’ll climb to your nest and warm it with my breath till I die. I’ll find a way to return from the dead, and warm your nest with my ghost. I’ll protect you, darling girl. “You might fly south,” I rasp.
Chris shifts her weight from foot to foot. “And thunderstorms?”
My wife and I look at each other. “Your nest will … the tree will …” Glenna’s voice trails away.
I’ll join a lightning rod to your tree, to every tree on the planet if I don’t know where you are. I’ll electrify the earth till the magnetic poles reverse. I won’t let anything happen to you. “I read where a bird’s nest insulates them from the shock if lightning strikes.” The lie tastes like copper on my tongue.
“And I’m so small. What about raptors?” I feel her toes clamp my shoulder. I can’t speak. Can’t think.
“It’s time,” Glenna says. “We have to turn her loose. This isn’t right.”
“No, she’ll get used to it.” I cradle Chris in my hands. As I ease her into the cage, she pecks my knuckles bloody.
A noise wakes Glenna and me at dawn. Chris is flying around the house, banging into the ceiling and walls. Apparently, my wife or I left the cage door ajar. “She’s going to hurt herself,” Glenna shouts.
I creep toward Chris. “Come, Sweetie. Back to your cage.” I’ll make an aviary of your room, install sun lamps, stream music, pipe mist. When I make my finger a perch, Chris streaks away — into the picture window, shattered glass a guillotine that finds our daughter.
Glenna and I blame ourselves, mainly me. We barely speak for months. I’m thinking we couldn’t feel worse. Then a letter swoops in from the out-of-state school. The news clutches my heart like talons. They’ve awarded Chris a full-ride.
I believe sorrow and guilt thinned my immunity, and that’s why I’ve contracted Sambucus Syndrome. I’ve refused treatments, which slow, but don’t stop, its progression. Already my hair leafs green, and tiny flowers blossom from my fingertips.
When the time comes, Glenna will plant me out back. Bluebirds, cardinals, doves and more will sing in my branches, feast on my fruit. Oh, soul of my daughter, I’ll be waiting for you.