In the midst of preparing for Shleisel to have her baby, I received a facebook message from a girl I’d known in middle school: “I’m so sorry to hear about your house. My Dad said we have an extra turkey if your family needs one this Christmas.” I had no idea what that meant—I was living on a couch, I didn’t have a house. I also didn’t have a cell phone, which meant I couldn’t call anyone to find out what she was talking about. Instead, I googled the address of my childhood home, where my parents—whom I hadn’t talked to in 6 years—were still living. Apparently it’d burned down the day before.
Shleisel and I did the only reasonable thing and drove out there to look at it. It was as though the universe had seen how hard I’d tried to burn bridges and was trying to one-up me. We peered through the windows and walked into the cavernous living room with it’s charred roof and blackened furniture. My Mom walked up out of nowhere and gestured at a bowl still sitting on the ruined table.
“I keep wanting to put that in the dishwasher, but then I remember… the dishwasher melted.”
I found myself wondering who my Mom might have been before she’d married my dad. I wondered how different she’d expected her life to be and how Shleisel’s life as a mom would turn out.
Embracing uncertainty, Shleisel had neglected to open her copy of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” even once over the last 9 months. The night before the birth, we flipped straight to the chapter on labor. Shleisel’s sister and our friend Jolo took turns reading aloud while the father of the baby devoted the entirety of his attention to the Xbox in the other room. Shleisel packed her overnight bag and seemed less than thrilled with all of the trivia she was learning about her cervix and afterbirth.
“I think we’ve read enough.”
Most everyone went to bed early so we could be at the hospital by 6AM. Shleisel’s sister and I had different plans– It was December 21st, 2010 and the one time in our lives when the winter solstice would coincide with a full eclipse of the moon. We pulled the living room rug out onto the back patio, made tea, and stared at the sky. Life was about to change and the entire world was staying awake with us.
The next morning was surreal. We drove to the hospital in a caravan and watched as Shleisel was hooked up to all manner of tubes, wires and machines. Chemicals dripped into her body as we listened to various beeps, making references to TV shows and pretending to resuscitate her out of a Code Blue.
Everything seemed to be going okay until the doctor decided her labor wasn’t moving on at a convenient enough pace. With a swift motion of his gloved hand he manually broke her water– Her cry of pain was the worst thing I have ever heard in my entire life. In that moment, I went Street Aussa and got into the father’s face. “YOU NEED TO HOLD HER HAND, NOW.” He’d been sitting in a recliner in the corner of the room, playing with his cell phone. “You’re the one she wants on that side of the curtain, so that’s where you’re going to be.”
A few hours later, the baby was finally here.
Naturally, he was the most adorable thing I’d ever seen and within 3 days he’d convinced me I was the dumbest human on earth. I couldn’t snap a row of buttons to save my life, and that was after I’d spent half an hour trying to snatch his wily little leg and straighten it long enough to stuff into a footy pajama. He had this tricky little habit of peeing just enough to warrant a new diaper and then baptizing you with a golden shower the second you took the initiative to change him.
For the first 6 weeks, I lived on Shleisel’s couch and took the night shift. She wasn’t able to nurse, which meant I could sneak into her room every 2 hours and feed him on the schedule I’d so meticulously plotted out after obscene amounts of research. Bizarrely enough, he kept to that schedule, eventually becoming the most easy going, laid-back child in existence. Shleisel may want to take credit for this but I’m pretty sure it’s because of all the hours he spent in my arms, watching Grey’s Anatomy. Of course, if he ends up going through an incredibly Emo phase in early adolescence, we’re going to pretend like he wasn’t wide awake while I watched “Black Swan.”
Though they tried a few times, things didn’t work out between Shleisel and the baby’s father. Despite promises to the contrary, she became the epitome of a single Mom. Some days were better than some months and some months were better than some years. All along the way it seemed as though there were an elusive happy ending waiting in the wings, teasing and running off just as soon as we thought we’d caught it. There was plenty to celebrate but sometimes you can’t see how good or bad something is until you look back in hindsight.
I told Shleisel I was going to write about all of this, starting with our misguided decision to live life on our own terms and ending with The Hovel Baby. Her response was apt.
“Well, it’s quite a story.”
She’s read these posts at the same pace as the rest of you and has yet to call me out on any historical fabrications or exaggerations of the depths to which we sank. We were texting the other day and she summed it up well:
“I can’t believe all that actually happened, it feels like reading about someone else’s life.”
I feel that way about most every story I tell, though they all seem to eventually work their way around to a happy ending. It always seems like life has sunk to the lowest and darkest it could ever get– and then the universe laughs and rains an even shittier circumstance down upon you. Still, somewhere beneath all that shite and angst and trauma, there are subtle hints drawing us toward an eventual feeling of gratitude that is too humbling to fully comprehend.
Last month I watched that same little boy take his Mom’s hand and walk her down the aisle to marry a man he’s come to know as “Daddy.” Seeming almost oblivious to the impact of the moment, he stood between them as they said their vows, staring up at their faces and clinging to their legs. When the “I do” was said and the kiss was had, the three of them walked back down the aisle as a family. Though this story has plenty left to be told, I think it is safe to say that sometimes the happy ending sneaks up on you, and when it does it usually punches you in the face.
What’s the most surprising happy ending you’ve experienced? Do you ever feel like the universe is toying with you? Would you trade the difficult circumstances that brought you to the place where you are now?
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