Another long day comes to an end. I put Ellie to bed and now was settling in to watch some news before going to bed. My days of being a journalism student in college still catch up to me. The urge to keep informed about what is happening in the world. Another Presidential election over. The infotainment that is cable news has to find some new thing to milk into the ground with the fact-free reporting that they do. The modern Fourth Estate is a joke. I truly do believe in what it was supposed to represent, but now it is just a shadow of what the great journalists fought for. When Edward R. Murrow took on Joseph McCarthy, when Walter Cronkite took on the government over the Vietnam War, when Ted Koppel took on the government over the Iran hostage crisis, they fought for what the news was supposed to mean. But they were gone. Sorry if I preached, but I still think about things like that, even now.
They said that becoming a dad would totally change me. Sure, it changed my routine and how I look at the choices I make, but it didn’t magically turn me into a curmudgeon who is uber-conservative and believes that liberals are stupid. I still believe the things that I believed then. Only difference is that now I get to try and be the best dad that I can be while believing what I do. I have taken a hard stance that I want to impart my values in a way where I give all sides their due. I wasn’t going to teach my little girl what to think, but rather how to think, and let her come to her own conclusions. Sure, it meant that for a while there, she believed that her deity was Santa Claus, but now she is at the top of her class and is the smartest child I have ever met. Makes me wish she could see her. I look at the pics on the wall, and my mind goes back.
I met her when I was in college. The two of us immediately clicked. Our weirdness meshed so well, and we were fast friends. For a few years, life was good. We would go out, have dinner, go to movies, see random things that happened in town that got both of our attention. Was even dragged to a couple cultural festivals by the girl. I was always a little apprehensive about going to things like that. So different and random. Really was my father’s son. He hated new things, and would complain up to the point that he actually was there. After that, once he was in the middle of whatever it was, he was enjoying himself. Made for vacations where my mother would have to put up with him complaining all the way there, but I could tell that she knew that it would be worth it once he was there, just as excited as the rest of us.
One night, at a Japanese culture festival, the two of us were sitting and eating some noodles. It was fantastic. There was music playing and I didn’t want to be anywhere else. That’s when I look over, wanting to say something to her, but she is already looking at me. A look in her eyes, telling me that she had been looking at me for a while. We just look into one-another’s eyes, and I don’t need to say anything else. Her hand goes to my cheek, and I move in closer. Each movement brings new rounds of butterflies inside that are driving me crazy, but I don’t stop. Then our faces are so close. When did this person who was nothing but a friend to me become something more? I didn’t know, and I didn’t care. Everything about this moment felt right. Our lips met, in a soft embrace that I never wanted to end. It was the first night that I felt like I was living since high school, where my last relationship ended.
It’s five years later. We’re at the church that she grew up in. I’m not a religious person, but she is. I can put aside how I feel about it all, because this makes her and her family happy. I’m saying “I do,” and tears are going down her face. We embrace again, and everything is wonderful.
Two more years later, and we are pregnant. She is so excited. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t scared out of my wits. We both have good jobs. Money isn’t something to be afraid of. We made sure that we were ready before taking this step. But even with all of that, I’m still scared to death. What does it mean to be a dad? Both of my parents have advice for me. Hell, everyone has advice for me. The entire fucking world is suddenly an expert on having children. Not helping. Not one bit.
We are sitting in a room, listening to a doctor. She is telling us that my wife has cancer. Due to the pregnancy, it is making her immune system weakened. It just happened to come in at the right time. My wife is scared for the baby, but the doctor said that it hasn’t gone to her reproductive system. Facing her own mortality, the first thing she thinks about is the baby. Admirable. I wonder why. I just want to save her. The options we have are limited. We can’t do chemo with the baby in there. We’d kill it. By the time the baby is done, it might be too late for more radical treatments. It’s already in the second stage. My wife is crying. I think I am too. Hard to tell. My whole body feels numb.
It’s just after dawn when she goes into labor. I get her to the car and drive like a bat out of hell to the hospital. It’s not close. She looks terrible. The treatments for cancer that are safe, along with the progression are making her so sick. So scared that delivering the baby will be dangerous. Told her to do a c-section. It’s safe, easy, and then it’s over. She says no. Wants to deliver this thing the normal way. Stubborn woman. Stupidly stubborn. What’s the point of doing things that way if it’s an unnecessary risk?!
Being right never feels like a victory, for me. I am watching as my baby is being wheeled away, while they get the crash cart. Over and over, they attempt to restart her heart. It doesn’t work. Holding my newborn daughter in my arms, I watch my wife die. What should be the most wonderful night of my life is when my heart is breaking. I have so much that I have to do, only difference is that now I have to do it all on my own. Never have I felt more alone.
My eyes open, as I see a light at the top of the stairs. Down the stairs she comes. Sitting up, I see that the TV had turned itself off due to inactivity.
“Dad, you up?” a voice calls.
“Yeah, in the living room.”
In her flannel pjs, I see the girl coming over.
“What’s wrong, sweetie?”
The look on her face, it’s concern, but awkward. “I heard a noise, from down here. I think you were talking in your sleep. Heard you calling out to mom.”
A feeling of shame. “Oh. Sorry if I woke you.”
She sits down in a chair across from me on the couch.
“It’s okay.” There is something more there. “Can I, ask you something?”
Parent moment – she’s just shy of middle school. The talk is coming. Anytime I hear that question, I know that the big one is coming.
Looks down at the floor, then back up at me. “Do you blame me, for happened to mom?”
It hurts. I am physically hurting because of that question. Not because it offends me or something, but because I have to wonder how long she has been carrying that question around in her head. The girl was always eager to please, her whole life. Anytime that I wasn’t at work, she would be where I am, doing whatever I do. To this day, she still is like that. Part of me thought that it was just a kid bonding with their parent, but maybe it was her trying to atone for what she feels like is her fault. Maybe this is a talk I should have had with her a long time ago.
“Never! What happened to your mother was not your fault. Cancer can happen to anyone, at anytime. Lady Luck just didn’t shine on her, is all. It happens to all of us.” Was that the right way to say it?
Tears started flowing down her face. “I hear you, but you kept calling out to her, over and over. You said, ‘don’t leave me.’ How can I not think that you don’t at least blame me a little for what happened to her?”
I motioned for her to sit down next to me. “Now, don’t you go thinking that way!” She got over and I put my arm around her. “You coming into my life was the greatest day of my life. Your mom was willing to risk getting sicker just so she wouldn’t have to put you in danger. She told me that if the worst should happen, to promise that I would take care of you. And I did. With all my heart, I said that I would be the best dad that I could possibly be. Not a day has gone by that I regret it. Not one. It was the hardest few months of my life, adjusting to taking care of you without her with me. I needed a lot of help from grandma and grandpa. But you are the greatest thing to ever come into my life.” A gripping at my heart. “And with you here, in a way, it’s like she never left us. She’s with us both, right now, because you survived and are still here. Never have I blamed you for what happened to her. Not one time. I miss her every day, but it’s not your fault. Okay?”
All she could do is cry and burrow into me. I held her close for a long time. Then, I picked her up and carried her like a big cat upstairs. Thank Groj I am such a big guy and have worked to take care of my body. Hefted the big kid like she was nothing. Laid her down on the bed and pulled the covers over her.
“Good night, baby-girl.”
“I love you, daddy.”
“I love you too.”
I don’t think there is a harder question in the world I could have been asked. Suddenly, that other talk seems a hell of a lot easier.
Until next time, a quote,
“Grief is like an ocean; it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” – Vicki Harrison