Pink Eye

Monday, January 23, 2012


Time for bed. Business as usual. She walked up her step stool in front of the sink, reached for her toothbrush, and froze.

Oh no, she said, suddenly tense. I don't want to look in the mirror. I WON'T.

I handed her her toothbrush, and she brought it to her now quivering lips. Ever the patient mother, I took her brush and nudged her mouth open. Sure, babe. You need to brush.

I CAN'T she said, now starting to cry. I don't want to look in the mirror. I don't want to see the pink!


The pink? I asked. I put the toothbrush down.

The pink, it HURRRTS, she cried.

The pink like the pink on her weirdly flushed cheeks? A few hours earlier, her face had started to look unusually rosy, her cheeks so brightly pink so that she looked like a kewpie doll. A kewpie doll with possibly some bizarre rash that needed to be googled. Google sent me photos of miserable babies with torsos that looked they had served as picnic grounds for an army of ants. I should know better by now.

The pink thing in my eye, she cried. I see it EVERYWHERE.

I turned her to face me.
Is it on your eye? NO
In your eye, here? NO! IT HURTS!!!!
Do you see pink when you look over here? NO
What about when you look in the mirror? I'M NOT LOOKING IN THE MIRROR.

Alrighty. I got her into her pajamas, tucked her in with stories and our usual ritual of describing the coterie of animals, circus performers and ninjas hired to work security detail under her bedroom window. No more mention of The Pink.

Cuh-RAZ -ee I reported to her father downstairs, the pot calling the kettle black and settling into watching her DVR.

* * *

2 AM

I WANT TO PUT THE COFFEE IN! she screams, her usual morning greeting except for the fact that it is dark and cold and 2 in the morning. She's run into our room, and Caleb scoops her up. It's not morning time, he soothes her, but she is now screaming crying, coffee forgotten.

MY EYE! My EYE! It HURTS!!! Caleb glances at me as he carries her into her room. Oh God. This shit just got real.

Annnnd now the baby is awake and screaming. I stumble into his room, giving him the dregs of a bottle while I contemplate The Pink. Thanks to Facebook, I knew a classmate of Harlow's had just been sick, her symptoms mirroring scarlet fever until they learned it was strep. But was this scarlet fever? Was this what the victims saw before their eyesight vanished in a pepto-pink smear? Scarlet Fever! The virus that Helen Keller contracted that made her go blind and deaf and dumb yet she still managed to write a memoir!


I tiptoe downstairs, desperate to Google. Glaucoma? Conjunctivitis? Google sends me more sad babies with scales and things that drip. Why in God's name do people put these photos on the internet? Why in God's name do I seek them out? I truly should know better by now. I hear her whimpering upstairs.

We call her bedroom the Pink Palace, a 10 x 12 box of now hideously ironic pink stripes. And now it was a Poe short story come to life, a wan, limp heroine doomed to be swallowed whole by the very color she demanded be on her walls and socks and baby dolls. I joined Caleb at Harlow's bedside where she was delicately daubing at her eyes, her hands shaking. It hurts to touch it, she wimpers. Is it a sharp pain? I ask her. Pressure? A hallucination latently brought on by some terrible genetic cocktail? This is my fault, right? MOM, I DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT, she demands, shutting us down. I'm at a loss. We search her clear, non-pink eyes and each other's. What the F -? my eyebrows ask him. Why don't you come get in bed with us, Caleb asks. She nods, her eyes wide and serious.

3:30 AM

She lies between us, staring up at the ceiling. I meet Caleb's eyes, and then we both return to staring at her.

I'm looking at the fireworks, mommy, she tells me calmly. Up on the ceiling. They are so beautiful.

Jesus Christ. It's starting. I watch her watch the ceiling. Do they make walking sticks for five year olds, I wonder? At least she won't be able to see the pitying looks. She will grow into a stunningly beautiful blind woman, men drawn to her looks and later awed by her commitment to forestry and dexterity at handling power tools despite her disability thanks to her father's patient tutoring. They will want to save her and she'll be too proud to be saved, and she will trip over an ottoman carelessly left out of place and she will curse her God and one of the Dakota Fanning tribe will play her in the movie.

It's exhausting, the parenting.

I fall asleep. When I wake, she is back in her own bed, her eyes clear. She is in the mood for granola.

Caleb and I sit her on the couch, both desperate to make some sense out of the night before.

Do your eyes hurt now, sweetie?

Nope, she says, busy coloring a fairy on a piece of paper.

Was the pink something you felt? No.
Can you see it now? No.
Was it a pressure like - she cuts us off. I don't want to talk it about, mom, she says. She is not crying but eerily calm, poised. Adult. Caleb tries to extract information, gently, and she rebuffs his efforts at well. She's not talking. End of story.

This is not from my playbook. There is something wrong? A hint of maybe something wrong? We are discussing that mother into the ground. Caleb knows when to let it go, and he leaves to make some coffee.

I look at her eyeing my laptop.

Hey Harlow, I say, casually, nudging my computer toward her. Want to play PBS Kids?

YES, she says, bouncing over.

Ok. Tell me what the pink is and you can play it.

Her face falls but I know I have her. She takes a deep breath and gulps.

I prepare myself. Did she stare into her flashlight, or the stupid pink light she insists on leaving on while she sleeps, her retinas now seared permanently pink?

There's this kid at school, she starts -

And he showed her something horrible. Something inappropriate. Something that will require meetings and therapy and awkward encounters at birthday parties and school functions and what is WRONG with kids these days and -

...and when he rubs his eyes, she continues, it gets all pink and I don't want to look like that. Ever.

She looks like she is about to puke, just at the thought.

I stare at her for a long moment and then gather her up into a hug. I thank her for telling me but she's already turned her attention to Curious George and the birthday present game. I give thanks for her perfect health, her openness to bribes, and I say a special thanks to the College of Dramatic Arts that will be accepting her in the Fall of 2024.


  1. That. I wasn't expecting that. Not at all.

    What a ... wonderful tale. And now I must go and lie down.

  2. what an amazingly accurate depiction of the crazy inner monologue that goes on inside a parent when their child says something hurts! brilliant, melissa.

    (p.s. sorry about the scarlet fever scare!)

  3. @Karen That makes two of us!

    Hi Katrina! Amazing timing how I just happened to catch that mention of your baby girl with the scary symptoms (Sorry you had that scare, too, and SO glad she's better). Ay yi yi what we do to ourselves!

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  5. OMG, I was laughing so hard when I was reading this I almost had wine shooting out my nose.