My younger brother Alex recently slept in a room in a house where a bat was later found. The room was a hideaway, unnoticed in the kind of drafty, multi-floor house that twenty-something artists rent for cheap after college in post-industrial towns. He said they’d found the bat hiding underneath the stove, that they held a blanket up to the door, that Moh, who lived there, swore he saw the bat fly out of the window and escape.
Alex has been considering a rabies vaccine ever since, and every day there is more conversation about it. We all take different sides. What we’re weighing is, of course, the price of safety of mind: the vaccine going for over $2,000 on the market, the likelihood of Alex having rabies less than .5%, and the risk being death – a slow, mind-numbing one that cripples your brain and then your body.
What would you pay to assure yourself that someone you love has avoided such potential death? My mom, of course, is adamant; we pay the money, and Alex undergoes a series of painful shots over the course of the next month; she sleeps through the nights. Alex, who my grandmother thinks is too skinny, who dove to catch a frisbee last winter and ended up breaking his collarbone, who recently came to the conclusion, “all my stuff isn’t nice because I only shop at thrift stores,” thinks spending $2,000 on a vaccine is ridiculous.
“You could die!” my mom shrieks in response.
“It’s been a great 24 years,” Alex says, shrugging, which only makes my mother shriek more. “How are you going to feel about joking now when you DIE later?!”
Maybe it takes a village to calm a mother. Every day that passes there are more phone calls – more people to weigh in on the decision.
Alex gestures forward with open palms, goes back to downloading an audiobook on her iPhone (a technological undertaking beyond my mother’s expertise). Alex is the one appointed to these types of tasks in our family—phone maintenance, moving furniture, taping down the corners of the living room walls for painting, unloading groceries from the back of the car. He does them without complaint. Sara, our sister, called our parents sexist for this type of task management. I’m somewhere in the middle of it all – the supposed sexism, the vaccination, the family.
The doctor and the pharmacist disagree on issuing the vaccine; logically, the chances are just so rare, one says, while the other questions, if it was my son? and lets the silence follow. Maybe it takes a village to calm a mother. Every day that passes there are more phone calls – more people to weigh in on the decision – and the window of time shrinks, as only two weeks can pass between the bite and the intervention. My dad stays out of it, refusing to take a side, saying only: “don’t tell your grandmother.”
My mother needs allies: turns to me, commanding: “Laura?! Don’t you agree?!”
I’m in the middle. I can still see Alex in his boyhood, can still see his boyhood in him. Alex is just too alive, too aloof, for me to consider him near-death, and yet, my mother is frantic, adamant, disturbed by our collective nonchalance.
How much would you pay for peace of mind? Is there even a price, my mother would insist. Or, as Alex considers, what’s the cost of throwing caution to the wind?
Nonetheless, my mom calls her sister, a doctor, who has no children, shrieking: “Wouldn’t you do that for YOUR child…hypothetically?!” Her sister, who explains that the medicine isn’t really something you want to put into your body, that it’s painful, that it’s such a drag, that you literally have to get the shots injected into your butt…finally accepts and says, “Okay…order it.”
“See?!” my mom, finally gratified, shrieks again, to us all, “see?!”
I do and, yet, I do not. I’m waffling in the choice of believing whether or not something I know to be hidden has escaped, still measuring the hypothetical cost of it all.