“A Memory of Christian,” New Era, Apr. 1986, 49
From the moment I walked into the preschool room, I was in love. I saw how much I could give to the children there, and I knew they needed me. I had never worked with severely handicapped children before, so this was a new experience. A feeling of love that I hadn’t felt before began to grow within me.
I was told that any one of the children in that room could die at any time, but that didn’t upset me. My experiences with death had been few, and I had never felt the sting it could bring.
One day as I walked into that room, before going to my assigned room, I noticed a new face. I find it hard to explain what he looked like. His face seemed to light the entire room. Never had I seen such clear blue eyes, and I wondered what went on behind them. I asked Trudy who the new boy was, and she told me that his name was Christian and that he was three. I felt so drawn to him that every moment I could spare I was next to him.
After school one day Trudy asked me if I could possibly take Christian home in my car. He lived only a short distance away, and after receiving instructions to his home, I carefully bundled him up and carried him to my car. I was so afraid I might hurt him that I kept checking on him to make sure he was all right. He never did make much noise; even his cries were so faint that they would have been muffled by the blanket.
Upon reaching his house, I set him carefully on the couch. His father thanked me, and as I turned to leave I said, “If you ever need a baby-sitter I live only a short distance away, and I’d enjoy sitting for you.” I scribbled my name and number on a scrap of paper and left.
That was the first of many times when I took Christian home in my car. Each time I felt very lucky to have the responsibility of getting him safely there.
I didn’t hear from his parents about baby-sitting, but I saw him almost every day anyway. The year passed quickly, and soon school was dismissed for summer break. I thought about Christian, though, and looked forward to September when I could see him again.
One night, shortly after school was back in session for the children, I received a phone call. The woman identified herself as “Cindy Marx,” but I didn’t recognize the name. She said she needed a baby-sitter desperately, and since they had my number her husband said she should at least try to reach me. Suddenly I remembered Christian, and in less than 20 minutes I was sitting in their small apartment with Christian and his baby brother, Lance.
I fixed them dinner and fed both of them. It took about 45 minutes to feed Christian. I sat him in his little yellow chair and fed him slowly. I had to mix the eggs with applesauce to disguise their presence. Cindy had told me that Christian would eat anything mixed with applesauce.
Bedtime rolled around and suddenly I was in the middle of bathing the boys. I couldn’t bear to leave Christian alone on the front couch, so I put him back in his little yellow chair and sat him by the tub. Lance rolled around for a while and then I gave him his bottle and put him to bed. As I undressed Christian I noticed how skinny he was and how his ribs protruded. Somehow it didn’t seem fair that I had to slap him on the back so often to clear his lungs. Soon I got him dressed, and we were sitting on the front couch while I combed out his hair; it was so soft, and he didn’t cry—not even once.
After that I tended regularly for the Marxes, and I always enjoyed it. There was something in the way Lance treated Christian. Even though he was only seven months old, he seemed to treat Christian with dignity. Sometimes he would just look at his face, as I often did. Was it possible that Lance knew Christian was different?
One night Cindy called on short notice and asked if I could come to baby-sit for a couple of hours. When I got there she led me into the bedroom, where I saw baby bottles, diapers, tissues, and medicines of all kinds. She turned to me and said, “Christian has been sick. He hasn’t been to school this week.” I had been so busy with my own work that I hadn’t noticed Christian’s absence. I looked at him, lying quietly on the bed. Even my thoughts were gentle when I was near him. I could see that he looked weaker than usual, and I noticed a rocking chair had been moved into this room. After I put Lance to bed, I gathered Christian up in my arms and sat in the rocking chair. It was rather awkward at first, because his legs were so long, but soon we were comfortable and I started to rock him. I don’t know how long we sat there rocking, but soon I heard sounds of Cindy and Brad returning from their evening out. They thanked me, and I went home.
The next day was Saturday, and Cindy called me to come again right away. When I arrived, I saw many of their close relatives—aunts, uncles, and grandparents. They left, and I began to play with Lance. As I did so, Christian started to smile. I don’t know why, he just smiled, and I smiled back and talked to him. I reached over and slipped my finger into his little fist, and then realized how cold he was. I felt just awful that I had let him get cold after he’d been so sick all week, so I found a blanket and wrapped him up, until only his little face was showing. Lance played happily and quietly on the floor until their parents arrived.
I sensed a feeling among them when they saw me with Christian all bundled up on my lap, and Lance playing happily there on the floor. They had accepted me, and somehow that was important.
The next week I was so busy I hardly had any time to stick my head in the classroom to see Christian. Once, as I walked by, I saw him, sitting by the door in his little yellow chair. I remembered how gray he looked. His little head lay limply against one side of the chair, and his eyes just watched in an unwavering gaze. All that day I wanted to go in and hold him, but my responsibilities didn’t permit it.
The next day a friend and I were leaving the library when she turned and said, “One of the kids at the center died today. He just stopped breathing in his mother’s arms. I don’t know what I’d do if one of the kids in our classroom died.”
I felt sad that one of the children had died, but I didn’t ask who it was. She continued, “I don’t know any of the children in the preschool room, but I still think it’s hard knowing that one of them won’t be coming back tomorrow.”
The preschool room! I paused. “Who was it?”
“Christian,” she said. “I think his name was Christian.”
Christian! Not my Christian! “Are you sure?”
She was sure. But I couldn’t believe it. All I could see was the picture of Christian in my mind, sitting in his little yellow chair, looking so very gray. I could almost touch that picture. I wanted to.
Angry, frustrated thoughts pounded in my head. “Oh Christian, why did you have to die, and why couldn’t I see that you’d be leaving us soon?” But I couldn’t find the tears; they just weren’t there. I was angry with Christian for dying. I don’t know why, but I was. And I knew I couldn’t go back into the preschool room. I just couldn’t! Suddenly I knew that all those children were going to die, and I couldn’t face the thought of all that empty loneliness.
The day after the funeral I walked into the office and found my supervisor gazing at the picture of Christian that had appeared on the funeral program. I sat down and told her how I felt. I said it wasn’t fair that I should give all that love and then lose it. She then turned to me with tears in her eyes and told me something I will never forget.
“Tracine, you can’t stop loving people simply because you are afraid of being hurt. All of us here take that gamble when we love these children with everything we have. We can learn through our love for Christian, and the memory of him will always be a very special part of us.”
I think that was when I felt my heart break and all the bitterness leave.
Christian, can you run now? What would you say if you could talk to me?
Yes, I have the memory of him while he lived, and I know he now lives. I know I loved him, and I’m not afraid to love anymore. Loving is for now, and you can never really lose that love. It can’t be taken away. It just becomes more precious than before.