How to
Care for
A Boy
By the time Crow Dog was done, Awee was asleep.

Crow looks at me. "What do I do now, Daddy?"

He calls me that when all the walls are down. "You hold him. I will get his pills. He will take them. But he will not remember."

Big silent blobs start welling up in Crow Dog's dark eyes.

"He's dying."

Again and again.

"Slowly, honey. Very slowly."


We took his clothes off. "Same drill as before," I said. "It doesn't change too much."

"He's smaller."

"Yaaaaa. Put him on the toilet. Let's hope he doesn't have diarrhea but he might."

"What happens if he does?"

"Then we have to bathe him, put antifungal cream on, dry him, put him to bed."

"Will he wake up?"

"No. He'll wake up around three. The ice picks in his feet will bother him. I have some antibiotics he has to take then anyway."

"What are the antibiotics for?"

"Bactrim for pneumonia. It will be pneumonia, you know, in the end."

"Pneumonia? I don't want him to have pneumonia."

You could hear the traffic outside the window. The coming and the going in the liquor store across the street. The barbershop would be closed.

"It's a blessing in a way," I said. "The pneumonia just slowly cuts off his ability to breathe. The oxygen does not get to his brain. It's the body's way to die without enormous pain."

He was a small naked thing in his bigger brother's stronger arms.

I was getting worn from lifting him. It hurt a lot.

Crow set him on the toilet. Awee's dinner just poured from him.

Crow was lost."I will draw his bath," I said. "Just wipe him with toilet paper, okay. You'll get used to it. Don't be afraid to touch him. It is not a sex thing. I know how it feels at first. There are some rubber gloves in the cabinet. I will get them for you. Crow, look at me."

He did. His face was in agony. He was biting his lower lip. Hard.

"I want you to wear them."

"I'm not afraid."

"I want you to wear them anyway."

"I thought you said he is allergic to latex?"

"He is. And you are about to see how when we brush up against his skin, his skin is going to rash. But we won't wear them long. Only when we have to clean his pottie, okay, that's what he calls it. We try not to say shit in this house. It's important, okay?"


"We have to clean him well before we put him in the tub. One time I didn't do it too well, and the bacteria in the tub went just a tiny little bit into his pee hole, and the infection in his urethra almost did him in."

"Why the bath?"

"The fungal infections are almost constant now. They won't give us the medication until he has an outbreak. It starts around his rectum, creeps up, and his testicles turn the color of wet beets. Then it gets into his foreskin, and we don't want to go there. It's not pretty, and it leaves him in such pain he can't sit, he can't lie down, he can't stand himself. But we've worked out this routine. They have great soaps now. Then, we put him in his pajamas, and he'll be fine."

The twelve-year-old smells nice when we are done with him.

"I want cowboy pajamas like he has," Crow said.

"I'll buy you some. Wal-Mart sells them. They might not have extra-extra-large though."

We were exhausted.

"I just don't understand how you thought you were going to do this alone. I could not do this by myself. There is no way."

---From The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping
©2003 Ballantine Books

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