There is this washcloth, white and with a textured wave pattern, that we accidentally stole from the La Quinta in Portland one spring. Z was teething and had tiny, spiky pigtails, and S was having his second brain surgery.
The night before the surgery, in the unfamiliar hotel bed, S and I had talked about having another child but did not take the chance. They had to keep him awake during the procedure again to make sure he could still move and speak, but they did not shave his head. This time there was already a titanium plate in place of saw and bone dust and skull. Easy access, we joked.
I pushed the stroller up the hill each day from the hotel to the hospital. I don’t remember what the washcloth was for—for Z to chew on, to wipe her face clean in the cafeteria, for a game of waiting room peek-a-boo—but I found it tucked in the back of the stroller some weeks later. It was not ours, and it took me some time to place. Now every time this washcloth circulates through the laundry, I pause and handle it with a reverence similar to that given to his ashes, her first lost tooth, the wedding band on my right hand. Then I fold it and put it away like the rest.
Sarah Kilch Gaffney is a writer, brain injury advocate, and homemade caramel aficionado living in Maine. You can find her work at sarahkilchgaffney.com.
A version of this essay appeared in the Forge (2017).