12:01 (Part 2)
Part 1 is available here.
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The operating theater is surprisingly cold. I feel the skin stretch tighter across my chest and rise beneath the paper-thin barrier of my scrubs, adding an odd sensation of physical pressure to each uncertain breath I draw through my mouth. I am working consciously to push air out and pull new air in, trying to keep a steady rhythm as a way of exercising some control over a situation well beyond my control.
Near the center of the room, my wife lies supine — her arms spread wide in something approaching mock crucifixion. I watch as they bind her swollen wrists in place, her swollen fingers clenching and unclenching in response to sensations I do not and will never know. Tubes and wires wrap her arms like ivy. She is earth, restless with new life. Her teeth clench with pain or exertion or anxiety, and suddenly there is nothing in the world I have ever wanted more than to help her waive away the terror of this moment.
A nurse draws to my side as others draw a low screen across the top of my wife's chest. "You can sit here," she says. Pointing to a low stool, at the northeast station of the cross. Between her right arm and her head. "Don't touch anything," she says. "Stay out of the way." I nod, because I'm damned sure not touching anything. "You can hold her hand, of course. Just don't knock loose any tubes." I nod again. Holding her hand. I can do that.
As I step carefully through the room and make my way to the stool, my wife catches me in her peripheral vision and looks over. "Hi," she says. Relieved to see me. We are the only ones we know in this room. Surrounding us are strangers, and without hesitation we hand them our lives. Be gentle, we think, or dare to hope. "Hi," I say back, and sit down next to her, and take her hand in mine.
A nurse - it may be the same one, or a different one; I cannot tell - tells me I'm welcome to watch as they perform the C-section. I glance over the short screen, and see them bathing her abdomen in antibiotic. That is the last moment I will look in that direction, I decide, and look back into my wife's eyes. "No, thanks," I say. "I'll just keep my eyes up here."
There are some things you can't unsee.
A foot or two behind her head, an anesthesiologist is busying himself in preparation for the procedure. He is the same surly son of a bitch who delivered two unsuccessful attempts at an epidural during the previous hours. He had seemed angry that they had not taken, as if my wife were somehow being disobedient in failing to go numb. I had restrained myself from saying anything, because there are some things more important than letting people know they are wrong and you are right. I needed him to be focused more than I needed him to be wrong.
In some senses, this all feels surreal, as if in dreamstate. The flow of time feels slippery, and unlike that of any world I've known in conscious life. And at the same time: this is so fast, so very, very fast. We were not here, and now we are here, and before I've had the chance to do much more than offer a couple of stupid, half-assed comments to my wife in an attempt to make her laugh and briefly take her mind off the seriousness and intensity of the moment the moment arrives and they say, "We're going to begin," and the doctor - not our doctor; a member of the practice but not one we've ever met before - describes what will happen, how she will feel pressure and it will feel strange but it will take a few moments and then my wife says, "But I don't feel numb yet" and I see - we both see - the doctor glance up at the anesthesiologist, who says something about how he's got her on something and she should be fine and
and she is screaming, she is howling, she is crushing my hand in hers and her face is twisting in agony and I look up at the anesthesiologist who is throwing himself into sudden motion and I yell at him, "What the hell is going on here?" and he says he is working on it and a part of me wants to... I shut it down: my place is here, focusing on her, willing her strength, wishing I could lift this pain from her, and she is crying out "oh my god" and I know, I know, I know this is not the way this is supposed to be happening but this is happening and
there is motion and movement and people stepping in and out to my left, across the bridge of my wife's arms, and they are practicing their arts and moving in quiet symphony to do what must be done and monitors are beeping, tracking the thrum of my wife's pulse and the pressure of the blood still coursing through her and measuring the erratic beat of that other, the one within her, the one whose name we have chosen but have never spoken aloud, keeping him abstract and hypothetical as a function of magical thinking and self-defense, and I hear wet cloths dropping onto the floor and hear them talking to each other and my eyes
my eyes stay on her face, on this impossible pain and this impossible experience she is experiencing, and the work continues and there is nothing I can do but be there and keep telling her, "I'm so sorry, it's going to be okay, just a few more minutes, I'm sorry, I love you" and none of the words matter but I am there and it is all I have to offer and so that is what I do: I am there.
And the work continues.
I do not know if, at some point, the anesthetic begins to take hold in some fashion, or if she just becomes accustomed to the agony, or the time stretches to the point where it becomes irrelevant and all that matters is pushing through to the end, and I keep mumbling love to her and wishing this were over, and half-paying attention to the surgeons and the nurses and waiting and wondering when the moment will come that I hear the cry - just the way I have in the movies, hundreds upon hundreds of times, I know how this is supposed to happen because I've seen it and know what to expect - but I do not say anything, I do not speak anything other than love and I sit on this small, metal stool and watch as these strange currents flow over and through this woman I love and wonder and then stop: I will not wonder if they will pull her away and
at some point I hear them say: "We're almost there. He's coming out" and then, "He's here. You have a boy. Congratulations" but
my eyes stay on my wife, because he is still abstract and he is in their hands but she is in mine, and I will not let her go.
(I do not realize it, but these are our last moments together, as just the two of us. I spend them in quiet terror; waiting for them to close her up, to tell me she's going to be okay.)
She tells me: "Go see him." I tell her, "I will. In a minute. But right now I need to be here." And she says, "It's okay. Go tell me what he looks like."
I nod, and stand, and for a moment the world sways around me and then I step away from the stool and the room regains its balance and I wait for someone to lead me where I need to go. And a nurse takes my arm and leads me carefully back and away and then around the periphery of the room (at the edges of my vision, I see small piles of clothes rich with deep reds - only for a fraction of a second - and then I shut that down. closed.) and then:
there he is. Naked, pissed off, covered in something disgusting. Shivering and cold, because the room is cold and he is suddenly exposed, unprotected, lying alone on this scale as they take his measurements and weigh his measure and I remember enough to ask, "Apgar score?" and someone says, "Perfect" and I nod, because I'm getting good at nodding and because I know enough to know that perfect is good enough for me and then my wife asks from across the room, "How is he?" and something inside me thrills, at the sound of her voice asking a simple question, and I answer, "He looks kind of pink and angry. I think he looks like you" and then they wrap him in a blanket and hand him to me and
What? What the hell am I supposed to do with this?
and they lead me back over to my wife and I present him to her and the nurse says, "Congratulations. 12:01am is the official time of birth" and we both laugh - because it is funny, because today is his due date and because he arrived perfectly on time - and then we say his name. Aloud.
And that's how it begins.