Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Birthday Story in 4 Parts

Part #1: 6 Stockings
We are at the most wonderful baby shower, Zoe and I.

Finally he is arriving, the child they have been expecting for 9 years. It is a small gathering, a happy one, but also a nervous one.

The baby could come at any time, which means Mom and Dad – two former soldiers who left the service after—well, it’s not my story to tell, and I haven’t told it, but it’s not a secret – Barb, in fact, would greet you with a warm hug and tell you herself if you were lucky enough to meet her one day.

Rob and Barb's young children Ryan and Rachel (along with their grandfather) were killed in car accident in 1999.

Since that night my friends have survived. They sleep, they eat, they go to Walmart. And their family has grown to include a daughter -- Marina from Russia -- who has brought joy, laughter, and thousands of doctors visits. They adopted her from an orphanage that had no medical history, no story of prenatal care.

As long as I’ve known Barb, she’s been wanting another baby.

We discussed this over wine the first night we met, back in August 2005 sitting on a blanket in my living room. I told her I was an accidental and begrudging parent who loved her children as people, “but the whole responsibility of socks? And meals? And butt wiping? No, those don’t play a role in my ideal life.

She shook her head, “It’s wonderful raising a family. And putting socks away and taking care of them, and the looks on their happy faces when you feed them…

Soon after that, we got up and went outside so she could smoke. “Rob won’t let me get pregnant until after I quit smoking.” It made sense, we agreed.

She smoked while pregnant with her first two children, and both came out extra early, extra small.

Over the next three years of our friendship, I watched Barb speak about her children several times, (http://laughingmelissa.blogspot.com/2007/03/tick-tock-draft-1.html), quit smoking, and survive multiple rounds of medically invasive, expensive and emotionally devastating fertility treatments.

In mid-2008, Rob and Barb signed up with an adoption agency, and I hardly saw her for months as she had home visits, wrote letters and filled out forms.

By Fall, a birth mother several states away also signed up with an adoption agency and wisely selected Barb and Rob to adopt her child.

On the December Sunday of Sean's Baby Shower, Barb sat on her screened porch, smoking, as Zoe and I walked up their long driveway, swinging presents and holdng hands both wearing long Royal blue dresses (she copied me, and if she tells you different, show her this article).

“You two are overdressed,” was her welcome, just before she hid her cigarette behind her back and hugged me with one hand.

Overdressed? No way! This is the most important and wonderful party we’ve ever been to, if I had a ball gown I’d be wearing it!

As the party settled from standing to sitting, Zoe and I found a place next to the wall where six stockings were hung. Zoe counted out in a polite whisper, “Rob, Barb, Marina…. Mom, why do they have two, each?”

My attention pulled back from the jalepeno cheese square on a ritz cracker as I counted the stockings then remembered, “Zoe, baby Sean gets one…” she nodded, “And who else?
Zoe shook her head.

“Their other two children?” I offer.

“Oh! Ryan and Rachel….I see, Oh Mom, where’s our gift for Barb?” Her voice drifted off, she stood up, and joined Marina rearranging the presents in front of the room.

Part #2: Bichos Malos
I am alone with my Blackberry, watching Zack play made up superhero games with a new friend at the park. Ass Zack and his new friend traverse a bridge in front of me, I take a picture with the phone and send it to my Mom.

The day doesn’t feel as warm as I thought it would, and I am thankful for my red shawl. A brown squirrel runs right in front of me, pursued by an albino one, and I follow their pursuit up a fat-trunked tree, half bald, draped liberally in Spanish Moss.

The Blackberry buzzes in my pocket where – unlike the phones before it which died awful deaths – it is snuggled safely in ruggled holder.

Mom replied to the picture with a text that began, “In the ER with Papi…..”
My first thought was not something I am proud of. I am not ashamed of it either, but I am surprised by how quickly it popped up. “No way, there is NO way this will happen again. He had a heart attack on my 30th birthday, and now on my 40th? Please don’t let my last visit be my last visit." (From November: Goodnight-abuelo & Everywhere-now)

Of course, I know better.

It isn’t about me, it’s about life, and love, and my mother who has heaved herself from the depth of grief this year, and stood there with a lifeline for him so he wouldn’t drown in grief of his own.

I texted her back, “Tell him his heart is still under warranty from ten years ago. And remind him about ‘bichos malos’”

She didn’t reply until several hours later, but I’m sure she passed the message on, and fully understood it.

It’s from a Spanish saying: Bad bugs (bichos malos – also meaning, cranky mean people) don’t die.

Part 3: Sean Arrives
At the baby shower, I bet Rob $20 that Baby Sean wouldn’t arrive until after January 1.

“He’ll be born on a Tuesday, I know it,” Rob said, firm and quiet.

On Tuesday, December 9, Sean Busby entered the world, tumbling from the sky through a kind woman’s body and into the arms of his real parents.

Barb texts me the news of his arrival from their car as she and Rob tackle the thirteen hour drive to where Sean has been born.

I call her back.

She has not yet held him, but the attorney emailed pictures to her.

For the first time since I met her over three years before, Barb is downright giddy.

The next day she calls again and describes his face, his gestures, his perfect eyes and face and soul.

We do not talk again for a few days, but I see her online where she uploads celebratory pictures to her Facebook.

I cannot remember the specifics of phone tag that ensued that week, but I know when she and I actually talked next.

It was the morning of December 15, and I was on my way across town, heading back from campus where I had cleaned my office after submitting final grades.

“Do you have a pen?,” she asked, and said no, that I was driving, so don’t make me write anything.

Instead, she explained what exactly had been found to be wrong with her baby Sean’s heart, that he was facing open heart surgery, and that he might go on the transplant list.

Not once did she say, “Why me?” or “This is not fair.”

And, for the record, you should know that she didn’t say, “I can’t do this, it’s too hard.”

She did say, clearly to me and the universe, “I will not bury another child. I will not do it.”

The conversation continued. I said, once, “I’m sorry.” But then continued, “I mean, I’m so glad that he has you to take care of him, and I know everyone is scared, but I’m sorry you didn’t get immediate blissful joy you were expecting and so deeply deserve.”

She sniffed. I asked what I could do, and she told me, “Call me. Just keep calling me. If I’m in the NICU or with the baby or whatever, I just won’t answer.”

And so I did.

I called and texted her Tuesday. No answer.

Again on Wednesday. No response at all.

My stomach sank.

On Thursday I tried again, not too much, just a little so she’d know I was thinking of her – only good things, of course.

Part 4: My Birthday
On the morning of my 40th birthday I woke at 5:00am to write my 1,000th blog.

I want it to be a good one, but I am not sure what it will be about. I start writing the story about the 6 Stockings and about baby Sean, then write about my Mom text about my Abuelo.

Around 6:45a I stand up to stretch and find Zoe sprawled across the sofa. Sing me happy birthday, I command, and when she doesn’t, I pull her on my lap and tickle her mercilessly while singing it to myself.

Soon enough Zack hears the commotion and snaps his fingers while strolling to us, wearing his black and yellow SpongeBob jammies, hair standing straight up in the air.

When neither of them can produce a single present for me, I sing happy birthday to myself while tickling them both at the same time.

After I drop the kids at school, my mom calls to sing me happy birthday.

I let her, and laugh, and then she tells me how lucky I am to have my grandfather here to sing to me on my 40th birthday.

She passes her phone to him and he sings to me, “Happy Birthday to you, you are my number one, I love you Missita, Happy Birthday to you.”

I clap my hands and he laughs at our little party. “You know I was your age when I left Cuba and had to start all over?”

No, I tell him. No, I didn’t know that, and I hadn’t thought of it.

I’m just so glad you’re here, today, I tell him, and I guess a doctor entered the hospital room, because I could hear a bunch of people talking and then the phone went dead.

After that, I called Barb while driving across town to my office where I needed to fetch some books on early Spanish Empire and land grants.

She answered with a choked up voice, “Let me call you back in 10.”

I turned down my car radio, tucked the Blackberry between my knees and prepared myself for the worst.

I imagined that if he passed away, she should not have to tell me. Or anyone.

In preparation for her call, I switched lanes, avoiding the highway in case I needed to pull over and cry.

She called as I passed the Walmart where I get my oil changed.

“Critical. But stable. He had open heart surgery yesterday.”

I laughed involuntarily and banged the steering wheel happily, “Best birthday present EVER!”

Barb didn’t laugh with me.

She exhaled with a sound that sounded much like she might be smoking a cigarette, standing outside the hospital, probably wearing a thick coat because where she is can’t be nearly as balmy as Tallahassee is this week.

“I said critical but stable, don’t have a party yet.”

“Are you kidding? Sean is alive. My grandfather is alive. They’re both here, and it’s my birthday. It’s a great great day.”

An hour later, I was back home and finally able to finish my 1,000th blog, happy again to have found another slice of something wonderful to write about.