Friday, December 30, 2011

to my pea

it was the coldest night anybody in middle georgia could remember. our red geraniums the size of cantaloupes just that morning now bowing under the frost. i felt swollen the size of the world, my nine-month's pregnant body ricocheting emotion all over our tiny house.

it was just four days after Christmas. the tree had been up since Thanksgiving, and two days before we had stripped its almost bare limbs of our meager ornaments and tossed it out with the wrapping paper. the washer, housed in a shed attached to the house had frozen solid, so i hadn't been able to wash the sheets. and though i had hired a woman to clean our house because i could hardly bend, she didn't show that day, so i spent most of the day mopping and vacuuming, knowing my mother would be coming soon.

as i crawled into bed exhausted, i couldn't keep the tears from coming. i lay in the dark, unsure of why in the world the young man who snored softly beside me had even wanted to marry me in the first place. there were so many more beautiful women out there besides the beached ball of me. i woke him with my sobs, and i probably meant to. i missed my parents, having spent my first Christmas away from home. i missed the body i had known, however imperfect. and i was scared to pieces about what was to happen soon in my life and if i'd be able to step up for the first time in my life.

my husband is a wise man... even at 31 he was. he woke, hugging and assuring me through my sobs that nobody on the planet could capture his heart like i had done. he soothed me to sleep with his words. 

i don't know how long i slept. maybe an hour. and then i felt punched in the stomach, but from the inside.

i didn't want to wake him. surely this was not IT. i walked across our tiny hall to the bathroom, and as soon as i sat down, there it was. a gush.

it took two calls, about four minutes apart, to wake him. it's time. better get up. make yourself a sandwich. i wish i had chosen to make him something other than egg salad.

i showered, scratched the dog's ears, talking talking talking as i recall, and he (my husband) never once asked me to stop.

my coat wouldn't even fit around me, but he'd warmed up the car, and as we drove away in the dark, the dog stood on the sofa, looking out our picture window. we had never left him in the dark before, and my heart broke a little. i looked at the geraniums, so full and red just hours before, now limp and dark, sad. was this a sign?

it took 30 minutes to get to the hospital in our little ford escort which i never liked. a few months before we'd traded in the mustang my father had given me in college (not a '68, but still), for a more family-friendly ride. and now, we were about to be parents. parents?

the whole drive i talked and talked, though i can't remember about what, i am sure my words were full of dreams. and fear. and prayers.

within an hour, the nurses had laid me out on a gurney, measuring my swollen belly — which was wobbling and waving as if this baby i carried couldn't wait to get out.

my husband, ever the patient concerned spouse what seemed like minutes before, disappeared, as character ned allyen would later say in Shakespeare in Love, for 'the length of a Bible.'

indeed. good thing he took his egg salad sandwich with him.

if you are not a reader of this blog, you don't know that my husband was a reporter back then. i was not progressing fast enough for him apparently, so he wandered over to the newsroom to pick up a first run of the paper, and to tell everybody there that he, HE was having a baby. (why are you here? the crusty reporters working the overnight shift asked him... apparently even they thought he should be at the hospital with me.)

meanwhile back with my feet in the stirrups and my abdomen doing flip turns, i wondered if he had left me in mid-contraction for that attractive artist type he'd met at the mall while framing a picture for our house.

turns out, he hadn't. around daybreak he returned, (one of the nurses apparently had told him it would be awhile), newspaper in hand, and neither of us knowing how long this baby would take to arrive, he settled with me into the labor room to watch the Waltons. as i watched john boy and his siblings negotiate life with the Baldwin sisters and Ike and his store, i found myself wondering how in the world in just eight years, i had gone from playing mary ellen in the church Christmas play to having a baby, i mean, how did this happen?

finally, just before noon, in a frenzy that baby did come. a girl whose great blue eyes searched the florescent lights of her new world as the orderly led us out of the labor room and into recovery. it was as if she couldn't wait to get to know the great wide world she had just entered. i promised her a lifetime feltman brothers dresses as i remember, though at the time i wasn't thinking beyond the first year — and an education at Carolina (lord heaven not georgia), and because i was just a baby myself at the time, nothing else seemed to matter. 

(as i grew with my child, i would add that i wanted her to make a new friend every day, and to treat everyone in her class kindly, even if they weren't kind to her, and as far as i know, she has taken those instructions to heart.)

two days later we left the hospital on another frigid day, me wearing a maternity dress borrowed from my sister-in-law and a blouse from my wedding trousseau, greatly uncertain about how i would raise up this baby. but as she grew, i dressed her up in those dresses i'd promised — she was baptized in white organdy with tiny tucks at the sleeve  — and in ribboned bonnets and sailor dresses (prophetic, come to think of it). and we figured it out somehow, me making plenty of mistakes along the way.

she grew to have gigantic brown eyes (which turned when she was 2), and an absorbing spirit that is exactly the same as when she took in all the lights in her first few minutes of life. she never made it to Carolina as i had planned but she did one better, and i marvel on this, her 29th birthday, at what a remarkable young woman she has become despite this small shortcoming and my many, many mistakes.

we have spent the past few days together over Christmas, she and her husband an elegant pup. last year, when she left me for the lights that draw her back to the city, we stood in the driveway and wept, hugging just the way we always do. and i looked into the light of her now brown eyes and saw that she holds a little bit of me in there, too. this year, we parted ways in front of her in-laws, and i didn't want to embarrass her with my ritual weeping, so though the tears hung at the corners of my eyes, somehow i held them in.

another year gone by for my pea and me. and another birthday has rounded the corner for her. this morning i said prayers for her, that her life and her marriage continue to be strong, her smile bright and her ties to home unwavering. and i did also, selfishly, pray that this year might be the one when her little family moves a drive away instead of a plane ride.

just about now, on that cold day in 1983, the nurses brought my clean and bright-eyed baby to my husband and me, and we were frightened and in love and enchanted and wondering just how we might do right by her.

happy birthday, my pea. we didn't do so bad after all.

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