I sat in the car with my mom and watched a little kid who was sitting next to the shelter. He had a pair of peddle-pushers on; they’re what my cousins in Philadelphia call clam-diggers, and he was playing around with the rocks that made up the train tracks bedding. I used to sit there when I was small just like that kid and fool with those dirty rocks; pretend that they were my buttons I had at home. One rock was the boss rock — he was God — I was God. And the rest of the rocks had to do what I said or they’d be pretty damn sorry. I’d throw them onto the track when I heard the train coming just to show them that they can’t fool with the God rock. They wouldn’t get squashed or nothing, but the suction of the train coming over them would scatter them all around. They’d get lost among all the other plain old train rocks so nobody knew they were anything special, and that was worse.
When my dad’s train finally came, I’d run up to him as soon as he got off. He’d give me a piece of teacher’s chalk and one box of Chiclets, the kind with two in a box. But that was enough. Then he’d kiss me a few times and ask me how his little Monina was. Monina, that was me. Well, I’m really Ramona but he always called me that. It’s kinda cute really. But now I’m eleven, and kids that age can’t expect their father’s to carry them around, you know.
I leaned forward against the front seat and began to pull hairs out of a pussywillow. They grow wild right there in the lot where we park. When I was little I used to talk to them, but now I just pull their hairs out.
I saw my mom take a pack of cigarettes out of her gigantic pocket book. My dad says they brought me home from an A&P in that bag. He said they weren’t in the market for a baby but figured they just couldn’t leave me in the potato bin so they brought me home. Of course I don’t believe that stuff now. I’m not exactly sure how people have babies, how women get pregnant. Julie has this book and it tells how a man sticks his thing in you and that’s how it happens. Only I don’t believe that either.
I looked over at that little kid again, he was getting up and walking down to the end of the platform. I knew then that my dad’s train would be here soon. And I knew exactly what I was gonna ask him as soon as he got into the car. I was gonna say, “Daddy, will you please, please, please take me and Julie riding this weekend?” I was pretty sure he was gonna say yes so I had already told Julie it was set. I mean, if he did say no, I had this plan. You see, I understand fathers. If he said no, then I would wait till Wednesday to start. I’d climb on his lap after dinner and mention what a crummy father poor Julie had and how I was glad we do stuff together alot, in between asking him how he liked the way I made the cucumbers in the salad into stars. Later that night, after I’d taken a bath, I’d dump on a bunch of that Cashmere Bouquet stuff. Then I’d come running down the steps into the living room where he’d be, acting like a shy Senorita, flashing a folded newspaper in front of me like a fan. After that I’d ask him to smell me and then giggle the way girls are supposed to when your father says you smell good enough to eat. He’ll probably start chewing on my ear or fingers. That’s when I’d hit him. “Oh Popasita, I beg you please take Senorita Julie and me riding this weekend. You are the greatest horseman in all of Spain . . .” I’d say it with a Spanish accent and really ham it up. By then, he’ll say something like, “Why Senorita, I’d be delighted!” He always plays along when you start pretending like that.
“Hey Mom, where ya going?” I saw my mom jump out of the car. It was my father. She was going to him. He was staggering towards the car. “Oh no, my dad is drunk and in front of his kid and all!” I started to feel sick in my stomach, I just couldn’t believe it. I just sat there in the back seat, watching my mom load my father into the passenger side. He was all relaxed and went with the motion of the car, like the way I do when I pretend I’m asleep. I leaned forward trying to smell any beer on his breath. I never saw him drunk before. The only time he drank was on Sunday afternoons when it was real nice outside. He and my mom would take the chaise lounges under the big maple tree in the center of the backyard, the one I’d never sit under because spiders would always jump on me. They’d sit and drink beer and eat Planters till just before dinner and then that was that.
I watched as a man in white reached for my dad and put him into a wheel chair. He gave in his arms like the old bolster on our studio couch. The one with the stuffing coming out. His right arm dangled freely over the side as he was pushed up the ramp and into the open door. My mother trailed behind. When everyone had gone, I climbed in the front seat where my dad had sat.
“Daddy died.” She didn’t even wait for me to close the door. I stood there for what seemed a real long time. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. What do you do when your father dies? I ran into the living room and threw myself on the couch. “No! No!’’ I kept crying and crying, I felt like everything from deep inside was coming up. I turned to my mother, she was just sitting at the other end of the sofa with her face in her hands. I got up and went into the kitchen for something to clean my vomit up with. When I came back with a towel she was still sitting there. I couldn’t tell if she was crying or not. “I’m sorry about this,” I said as if I were in church. I didn’t know what to say.
I lay there in the dark, listening to my mom on the phone, hearing the same words over again. “Jose died . . . a heart attack . . . no he wasn’t sick . . . a small one, he wanted a small one and no wake . . .” She went from relative to relative and I brought her vanilla ice cream in a dish.
I got out of bed again between phone calls and went downstairs to heat up some spaghetti. We were supposed to have that for dinner last night when my dad was alive. I took out the plates and set the table but I only put spaghetti on his plate and sat down to eat. “Now Ramona,” I said, “I want you to know I love you still and some day we’ll eat dinner like this in heaven.” Ramona was crying and he wanted to hug her but God said he was only supposed to talk to her and eat. “Oh Daddy, I want to die too!” she cried. But suddenly I saw him smile at me, like he thought this was all very funny. He didn’t care about me, he wanted to leave. “I hate you! I hate your guts!” I picked up my plate and threw it at him but he was already gone.
I looked through my parents’ bedroom window and watched them filing in. My fat Aunt Vi plodded down the driveway. I could see all this sweat on her forehead even from way up here. She was always sweating. It made her black hair hang straight as licorice whips. Her sisters called her Fats. But they didn’t mean anything by it, she just was. She was dragging her kid, my cousin Robin, with her. He is a wierdo. Once he tried to make me take all my clothes off in the linen closet. I didn’t though. My Aunt Dot saved me. My Uncle Raymond, Mr. Encyclopedia, was following behind shouting at Robin to throw his shoulders back. I couldn’t believe he even came because my dad never liked him. My dad never liked any of them only he was too nice of a guy to admit it. He was probably up in Heaven right now, trying to make excuses to God for them. Trying to explain why my Uncle Raymond has to suck his fingers after he eats, even if it’s something like lima beans. Or how Fats really does send me a birthday present in the mail and how it really does get lost every year. And God would probably laugh because he knows all of this already, of course. He knows you shoveled out your mashed potatoes and filled them in with peas even if your mom doesn’t.
I got off the window seat and peeked out the door into the living room. I could hear all those relatives talking about what a great funeral it was. They kept saying stuff to my mom about how it was a shame and how heartbroken they were over the loss. But they kept on popping olives into their mouths while they were talking and Aunt Sally pulled an ice cube out of her drink and stuck it down Uncle John’s back and only my mom and me cried.
“Come in.” I kept eating my tunafish. Lately, I liked to eat it off a saucer with my fingers. I looked up at my Uncle Raymond and then back at the TV. The TV was in my room now. My mom put it there out of respect for my dad. I was allowed to watch though, cause I was a kid. “Will you please turn that TV off and look at me.” It was a rerun of the Beverly Hillbillies anyway so I didn’t mind. “Fine . . . I want to talk to you. Now that your father’s passed away —” “Dead, he’s dead!” I said. “Yes, well . . . I think you’re aware of how this has affected your mother.” He looked like he wanted me to nod. “Therefore, since we’ll be leaving tom . . .” He saw me. I thought I could slide it out of my nose without him noticing but it sort of snapped back on my finger. I tried to wipe it on the bedspread but it wouldn’t come off. I just kept rolling it around into a little ball. “Will you pay attention! Perhaps you haven’t fully realized what’s happened or how this has affected your poor mother, but you, young lady, are going to have to help your mother as best you . . .” I started to hum but not outloud, just inside my head. It got louder and louder till I couldn’t hear him. Till he wasn’t there.
I was ready to begin. I cut every other button off my dad’s work shirts. They were round and white like the hosts at communion and I sang a little song to them before I put them in a sock: “Holy buttons in my hand, lead me from this foreign land.” I started looking for this alligator shirt I bought for him last Father’s Day. “What are you doing here? What’s going on!” said my mother’s green Christmas sweater. “Who are you? Who are you?” cried my father’s bowling shoes. I continued. The last button I took was the one from his winter tweed coat. I held my face against it, feeling my dad’s beard. I tore off the top button and walked out of the closet. I could hear the clothing crying over not knowing what they lost.
I went downstairs and found a clean ashtray and some matches. Then I slipped under the folding table. No one could see me cause the table cloth hung so low. I took the envelope out of my pocket and double checked the address: “To — Mr. Jose Alvarodiaz, c/o God, Heaven, The Universe.” I felt satisfied and went on to read the letter inside:
No one understands how much I miss you but I have some buttons in a sock God made magic for me and I am coming to be with you in eternity.
Love, your daughter, Ramona
I put it back in the envelope along with eleven match heads. I looked over and saw my Uncle Raymond and Aunt Jean sitting on the sofa. I was remembering the plastic. They had plastic on their sofa, their rugs, they even had it running up the walls across from the banister. The noise is what I remembered. It sounded like you were walking across the Sunday paper. I was pretty sure it was his idea, not his wife’s. One time he was eating dinner at our house when a little water spilt on his pants. Well, he got so upset, he jumped right up and started rubbing his napkin over the spot till it was all shredded. Finally he excused himself and went upstairs. He didn’t come down till the next day.
No one said anything. When they finally got up, I put the envelope and all into the middle of the ashtray and lit it. As I watched the sides curling up like the bellies of toad stools, I kept thinking about this napkin I found last summer. It was lying in the gutter with some food on it and millions of ants were eating the stuff. I took out these matches I had and lit fire to all the edges of it. The ants started pushing towards each other piling up higher and higher but they couldn’t get away: They just kept running faster and faster towards nothing.
“Ramona! What are you doing playing with matches! Aren’t you old enough to know better? For Christ sakes!” My Uncle Raymond crouched down beside me. He must have smelled the smoke. “I don’t think this is the proper thing to be doing at a funeral luncheon, do you? Well, do you? . . . Answer me!” I just smiled and reached into the sock for a button. I held it close to my eye and looked at him through the holes. I could see him real well but as I moved the button back further, he got smaller and smaller till I couldn’t see him at all. I could hear his voice as I began placing the buttons around me in a large circle. Every time he asked me to come out, I would lock another into place. One of the shirt buttons got scared when they heard him yelling. “Hold fast.” I whispered. I leaned over to the black, leather one from my father’s overcoat, “Be strong.” I heard him getting up and walking back over to his wife. “She doesn’t understand what’s happened.” He said, “She’s playing under the table. Can you see her? Her father isn’t even cold in his grave and she’s playing with stupid buttons!” I could hear his voice too begin to fade. I put the last button into place, leaned back and disappeared.
In the early Fifties, when I was a young boy, my family would drive over the Grapevine Pass from our home near Los Angeles to my mother’s hometown of Taft, an oil town near Bakersfield, where my grandfather worked as a chemical engineer for Standard Oil. As we approached Taft, the oil wells would proliferate. Derricks broke into a skyline otherwise dominated only by sagebrush and the brown hills of Kern County. The oil pumps were like giant grasshoppers dipping and bobbing towards the earth.
Oil was clean then. The service stations sold it by the quart in glass jars that were refilled after use. Oil was organic and natural. The smell of crude oil drifted in the air through Taft. I saw it pooled in the ground. I didn’t know oil as a prepackaged commodity, with additives and special ingredients. As a young boy, an awareness of the profit motive had not yet entered my consciousness.
Chapel Hill, N.C.
— for my grandfather
Because of his rounded belly, the age behind his burning wire rim glasses, his white hair of drifted snow, and the way the oak-leaf fire bounces and shines off his woolen clothes in the dusk of the autumn he tends to, He, my warm thick grandfather, is the Buddha of my childhood, the maker of my maker. With smell of burning leaves and heavy smoke in the air he leaves me with this image, his image, unchanged through time, and bad weather and death which, like these trees I rake under, sheds itself and leaves only bones to see.
Tetons • Yellowstone ’58
Like everyone else from everywhere else, we waited hours to see the famous geyser erupt. It did. Right on time. How boring! It was more fun seeing bears break into cars and eat boxes of cereal and crackers. At Jenny Lake we fed trout bread crumbs from a small wooden bridge. The water was amazingly clear, not anything like old Hog Creek back in Ohio. Dad motored up in a boat. I remember it more by the home movies. The clean air. Everyone’s hair swept back. My operating the outboard motor. My mother looking worried. My sister as usual upset. Blue water. Granite mountain background.
We landed at an isolated beach for lunch. My brother and I played some kind of baseball, running bases out into the water. Laughing. Cute pictures of Mom and Judy, finally smiling. Then Dad sneaked around some trees and took long footage of me crapping behind an old, rough log. On the way home Dad let me drink my first bottle of beer in Joplin, Mo. while the All-Star game was on b&w TV. I was only eight. We didn’t make very good time the next day, stopping all the time because my diarrhea was so bad.
For My Mama, Marie
Birth was given me by one mother but I was reared by another, one large, gentle and very black woman. When my mother was off to the country club or played bridge with the “ladies,” or when she was involved in Girl Scouts or volunteering at the hospital, Laura Marie was there to cook for me, feed me, clothe me. She lived in our basement for a while after she came up from the South in ’52. When my parents went south in the winter, she stayed with me and my brother, eating huge bowls of popcorn and watching Jackie Gleason and Red Skelton, and on Wednesday nights she took me to church, where her husband, Revel, played the cymbals, telling everyone I was her baby boy. When I drank Clorox on laundry day, fortunately spilling some on my shirt, she howled Oh My God!, made me drink raw eggs and then she called the doctor. When I needed her, always she was there, a black angel at my side, soothing me, calming me, singing sweet gospel to me, telling me everything was going to be all right, Oh Sweet Jesus, everything was all right, Hallelujah.
My great-grandfather died when I was six. Aunt Ruth stood at the foot of the stairs and told me I couldn’t go up to see him.
“No,” she said. “You mustn’t. He’s waiting for the angels.”
And I remember being scared by the possibility of angels being so close at hand. That they would soon be upstairs, right there in the room with my great-grandfather, was too much for me to comprehend. So I sat back down in his favorite chair and tried not to be afraid. I thought about his bushy mustache that tickled when he kissed me goodnight. And about all the stories he had told me. And about the time when I had helped him in his garden, but had pulled up all his carrots thinking they were weeds.
And I tried to imagine what the angels would sound like when they came for him. And I thought of a thousand seagulls’ wings, and of the great gasp sometimes heard in theatres when something scary happens on the screen.
But there was no sound. No wings. No signal of the angels’ arrival. Only the sound of my grandmother coming down the stairs, crying.
“He’s gone,” she said.
And I remember running over to the window and trying to catch a glimpse of Grandpa and the angels. But there were only clouds outside, drifting slowly across the sky. White and fluffy, like an old man’s bushy mustache.
(In the early 1900s, my father was a Methodist minister whose duties often took him far away from his family. He traveled long distances by train to serve as a District Superintendent in the Holdredge district of Ohio.)
Life without Father was not easy for Mother.
Most of all I think she dreaded chopping the head off a chicken. With one foot on the fluttering, squawking bird to hold it on the stump in the backyard, she would raise the hatchet with both hands, sometimes having to try more than once to hit the neck. The hen would flop around awhile before all the life was gone out of it. Then Mother would wash the blood from the stump with scalding water from the teakettle. Never a pretty sight; blood on the snow in winter was even worse, I thought. Then followed the plucking and singeing.
It also took grim determination to keep the fire going in the furnace. Shoveling coal was heavy work and an endless chore in the winter. The fire had to be kept going and sometimes with the blizzardly wind blowing it was impossible to really warm the house. Many days we lived by the fire in the kitchen range, Mother, the cat and I.
After bathing in a tub there at night I would go upstairs to her bed, carrying a hot water bottle for my feet, hoping she’d come soon. I think she bathed in the kitchen, too, after banking the furnace fire and the one in the range.
But candy making was more pleasant work. Cousin De Ette said her family of brothers and sister always looked forward to the box of candy that came from Aunt Ella at Christmas time. Divinity was her specialty; I helped by digging kernels from black walnuts and chopping preserved fruit.
Boxes of candy, stuffed dates or cookies went on special occasions — to Mary and Elder, often to Elder in his laundry case when it was returned to him. Most of the college boys sent their dirty clothes home for their mothers to wash. The cases were sturdy boxes with canvas covers and straps that buckled. The tin containing a treat would come back empty ready to be filled again.
Fire in the kitchen range made it cozy in winter but something else in summer; then cold meals became very popular.
To this day when I hear the humming of a sewing machine, it can lull me to sleep. Maybe because when we were children that was what we heard when we were trying to fall asleep, and many mornings when we woke up. Mama kept the machine in the kitchen which was right next to our bedroom. Also, in the winter, the kitchen was the warmest room since that’s where the stove was. And in the summer the window to the back courtyard gave off a little breeze.
The reason Mama sewed so much was because in that era, there were limited job opportunities for women, especially one with four children and few skills.
Mama could have worked in the “sweat shop” like many of the mothers did at that time, but that meant her leaving her four young children home all day. And of course, that’s where Mama drew the line. Since we didn’t own a car, Mama had to take the EL (Elevator Line) to the factory downtown, and hours later would come home with two heavy bundles under her arms. Some of us would be waiting at the station for her, and carry the packages home. Thinking back to that time, I am amazed at how she was able to even carry them up the long (three flights) elevator steps. Once we got the bundles home and Mama started to sew, we all knew that the extra money Mama would make meant special treats for us all. Like fruit, coal, shoes, and Saturday movies. So when Mama was at her machine, no one ever bothered her for little things.
You see, this work was referred to as “Piece Work.” And the name explained it all. The more you sewed, the more you made, simple as that. And in the season, Mama often worked through the night to get the work done on time.
Sometimes she would let us turn over the belts. That meant that she sewed the long thin belt, closed up one end and we would take a broken broom stick, slide the belt on it inside-out, gather the belt and then slide it out, right-side out. Of course Mama was wise enough not to let us think that this was work. So she pulled a Huckleberry Finn trick on us. First we would gather around her and she would stop her sewing and reach out for the pile of belts that she had accumulated, and proceeded to turn them. When we would ask if we could help, she called to our attention that this was real work done by people who earned money doing this. But . . . if we really wanted to earn two cents, then maybe, if we did it good, then she would allow us to do some, each one of us taking turns to earn the extra money. I can still remember running in from play to ask if it was my turn next. (After all, two cents was two cents.)
On cold winter days we would sit and listen as Mama sewed and sang. She had a clear, soft voice, and the songs that she sang were always in Yiddish. We didn’t understand the words, but the melodies were nice to listen to. Sometimes she would translate the words into English so we could understand. Mostly they were about things that referred to “the old country.”
Mama left her family at the age of 16 and crossed the ocean to marry a man she’d never met. She missed her parents, sisters and brothers. And in her heart she knew that she would never see them again. Turned out she was right; they all met an early death. So when Mama sang those songs we knew enough not to interrupt her. Just seeing that far away look in her eyes was sad.
Then there were the stories; they were the best. We would all squat on the floor, and watch her feet peddle the machine, and listen. With the hum of the machine, and the hypnotism of watching her feet peddle up and down, we often fell asleep before we heard the end of the story. But that was fine with us, since we’d heard them any number of times.
One spring day as we stood our guard at the station, we saw Mama come down the steps . . . without the bundles. Strike . . . a new word in our vocabulary. Mama explained to us that the people who worked in the shop were striking for a living wage, better working conditions, and benefits. She also told us that some of the “home workers” did take the work home but she wouldn’t. She explained that if the home workers continued to do that then the bosses would fill their orders and never try to settle with the workers. And she felt that the men who were striking were family men and they were fighting for survival. And no matter how much we needed the extra money, she was not going to be a . . . scab. (Another new word in our vocabulary.) The strike lasted through the spring. That meant no new shoes for the holidays, the winter, that meant not enough coal, and of course, no extras that we used to look forward to.
Mama did not live long enough to see the end of the strike that she supported for so long. She died at the age of 39 (of cancer) still holding out. Ten years later, I was working in a union shop, with a 40 hour week, overtime, vacation, and pension plan. The day the union sent me with the delegation to Washington to represent our local was the proudest day of my life. I was continuing the fight that Mama helped start.
Rose Safransky Scheinberg
By the time we get there, the pains have changed in regularity, the tempo jumps pitch to a higher notch. Throughout the day, Jane had been propped up, wrapped in pillows, surrounded by blankets, near the window on the floor, gazing out over the ocean, and turning back to be with Jim when the labor sucked again. Now when the sun is gone, she lies in bed, prepared to meet her Maker and to make a new one of her own. Inge, an Americanized Swedish midwife, is radiantly delighted to administer her aid, comfort and support.
My sister is five years older than I, of the same texture, but a variation on a theme. She was the boss growing up, the one who was always in command of her tasks and duties, who directed how the rest of us should help our Mom. When she talked, I always had to listen because she knew what was happening while I was only still learning.
Never catching up, I barely got to high school and she was graduated before I was used to bumping into her in the hallways. In college she was a force removed, a face who appeared only on the big holidays, and then talked about world harmonies, using words and phrases I didn’t understand and cared nothing about. If I had a problem, some slight confusion about whom to ask to the prom, I jotted a few words on a paper and received a few days later more words, wonderful encouragement to ride out the storms.
When I was involved in my own collegiate antics, she had moved across the country, and loved a man I didn’t even know.
The birth progresses, the energy is thick with love, so full of support for the hard task ahead. Jane’s eyes ripple heavenly pools on the verge of Motherhood, then bulge with the surge of the next contraction. Her movements are walrus-like, her swollen body so docile and slow. As another one comes, she takes long breaths, lets the wave wash over her and pass away into the night. She takes so many of them with a cool forbearance, she belies what I had imagined to be a gigantic pain.
But when it gets too rough, she pants “Out-out-out!” barely subsisting.
Jim cuddles her and coddles her, breaks ice and slips cubes into her mouth, stares deep, deep into her eyes to transmit his total empathy. Inge mops her, turns her, holds her, wades with her through the hard spots. Suzanna bathes Jane in every way, soothes her with a sweetly spiritual compassion, a sisterly love. Young Victoria rubs her friend’s feet and falls asleep at the foot of the huge bed as the laboring wears on. Little Faith is thrilled with curiosity, watching Jane, fascinated to meet her new playmate.
My sister and her man, after much searching of land and soul, found an incredible ledge, designed a house and asked me to come help them build it. Just out of school, and not having accomplished much in my spare time besides learning the slopes of a ski bum’s life, their offer struck a resonance in my sense of adventure which had me packed in no time and on my way across the country. For six months we lived in tents and cooked campfires on the edge of the Earth, on the regal side of a mountain rising straight up out of the sea.
Without a car or extra money, living and working in an isolated, albeit beautiful spot, I was reliant on their good wishes for my entertainment and companionship, even a little resentful when the fringe benefits were not quite what they could have been. But in addition to the sound of our blazing hammers and the constant study of the coastal view, I had my guitar and Jim a good voice. Voracious readers and contemplative fellows, we were quiet enough, in short, that we managed quite well to get along in the close quarters of our simple camp.
We built a good life out of hard and honest work. We cultivated a crop of friendships with our neighbors and discovered happily a bountiful harvest. Out of piles of wood and buckets of sweat, we created a Home . . . although just as the house was finished, it burned up in a ghastly fire.
A unity of purpose shimmers between us while we wait, treading the tides of Life and Death, between contractions. The light is soft to match the night. The land is still and calm, and the sea rubs its moan around us just as we mere mortals massage the womb to relax the baby.
When Jane braces herself for the latest onslaught, we circle her, wash her in our love. Her long, slow breaths against the hurt mesmerizes our breathing in stride beside her. Driven to chant, we accompany her, our outward cries sounding more emphatic, unchecked by the actual pain which she endures. She makes contact with one or another to constantly reassure us that our aide is a Godsend. Or if an attempt fails to ease her pain, she still conveys an appreciation for the effort which makes us gladly desist.
A month before the fire, our good friend and neighbor died suddenly, leaving his family behind to patch the horrible rip in the fabric of our lives. Scarred but healing from the tragedies, I stuck around to rebuild before moving on. Tired of my tent and sleeping bag, I moved into Suzanne’s home to lend my aide and support while the Phoenix arose, and to leave my sister and her man alone.
It was a difficult time. Long days pounded nails into wood for the second time. Each board raised into place was filled with the memory of its predecessor, charred and ruined, hauled down and thrown on a bonfire after having been placed with such love and care. Then at night, I was forced to deal with the realities of a much greater loss, an irreplaceable gap in a wife and children’s security.
When Conception was discovered, we had finally a light to shine the Way, a new and wonderful reason to finish the job and get on about our other businesses of living. The deja vu still appeared, but now we had new life to balance the death and destruction.
We hold with her as she pulls and pulls and pulls on the strings of an penultimate patience, riding out the storm. But still the babe won’t come. For seven hours, she works to open herself. The babe waits to make the squeeze. Inge catnaps to preserve her strength. Suzanna, Jim and I surmount our exhaustion to keep up with her.
Each time the pain gets worse. Every couple of minutes a peak of out-out-outs follow a slow heat of low pressure growing ever hotter. Her breaths get me breathing, her pants start me panting. I rub her feet, massage her cheek, hold her head, always breathing, trying to ease this thing I can’t understand.
But the babe won’t take the dive, and Jane can’t loosen one spot. It gets harder and harder to bear. We calmly discuss the alternatives each time the out-out chants subside, and decide to go to the hospital.
Trucky flies up the sleepy road, doesn’t see another car along those thirty miles. Every groan which coincides with a bump, every extra minute, seems like my responsibility, and I want to get the burden quickly off. They whisk Jane away in a wheel chair, she is swallowed up before I can park the car.
I see Inge once through a window through another window, then feeling useless, am directed by a wary nurse to wait in the lobby. Suzanna sleeps, curled up on a couch. A couple of expectant grandmothers smoke and chortle as excited for me and our babe as for themselves and theirs. But I am glum, not very sociable.
What is this pain that she must endure, that rages in and out and around her until she loses control and forgets that it will be rewarded in the end? She doesn’t even care about the baby anymore, just wants the pain to stop. There seems no sin which could justify this punishment.
The world caves in around me in that lobby at five in the morning (couldn’t we at least suffer at a decent hour?). People die, houses burn up. The television roars with a thousand new tragedies so that we don’t even cock our ears when the sirens go off. We spend our lives searching for answers, rise up only to get knocked down again. Or at best, to come home empty-handed.
A little more than an hour after Skye was born, his proudly overwhelmed parents bring him home. He lies wrapped in blankets between them on their huge bed, exhausted from the labor to get him born. Dawn splatters against the window, so real and peaceful it hardly feels like the cliche it represents. Suzanna, Victoria and Faith are silent and awe-struck around the tiny new life. When there is a need for words, whispers suffice.
Christopher de Moll