Thursday, November 5, 2015
Probably time I told this story. If for nothing else, I'm afraid I'll forget it as I get older and lose more of my mind.
My wife and I met at a rough time in our lives. We'd both walked away from jobs that we (for the most part) enjoyed and found ourselves running an outdoor theatre at a small charter school in North Phoenix. She managed their human resources; I taught drama. She hired me, actually. We fell in love over a phone call. I wonder if that could still happen today. I think we would've texted and smartphoned our way to love, regardless.
She was still married to her first husband at the time. I never met him. They were high school sweethearts, and things didn't work out. They grew apart, I guess. I kept my distance (as much as I could) while she went through her separation. I remember taking her to sign her divorce papers and holding her as she trembled in my arms and told me it was the most difficult decision she'd ever made.
Anyhow, a few other guys started showing interest in her, so I figured I'd better get off my ass. I invited her to meet my family for dinner the weekend we produced our first play together (a melodrama, no less). I'd made the mistake of not inviting her over for Thanksgiving a week earlier, much to the anger and frustration of my big brother and big sister-in-law. This was December 1998. Believe it or not, it snowed on our opening night. Enough to cancel the show! I lived in Phoenix almost 20 years and only remember one other snowfall.
We spent the holidays together that year. We first held hands while crossing a Costco (probably Price Club, at the time) parking lot. We attended a Christmas party where I sang an Elvis song. We moved in together and were expecting our first child by Easter. We found out the week my niece was born but sat on the news for a bit so as not to steal her attention. And, of course, we weren't married yet. And my wife's divorce hadn't gone through. Yeah, there was that.
By June, I proposed. I spent $300 on a ring (poor schoolteacher wondering how in the world he'll be able to afford a family) and $9 on a suit from Goodwill (that still hangs in the back of my closet). We planned a Labor Day wedding, figuring the divorce would be final by then. It wasn't. Our minister dropped out, of course. "What?! She's pregnant?! And she's married to another guy?! I'll take no part in these shenanigans!"
So we hired a fake. Yes, the whole wedding was a sham. An enjoyable one, at that. If you attended and still don't know - Ha! We fooled ya! We're fucking theatre people, after all. The day after her divorce finalized, we went to the local courthouse and said our vows to a video camera presided over by a judge who reminded me of the one Herman Munster played in My Cousin Vinny (minus the Southern accent). This was late September 1999.
My wife had been gravely ill during her pregnancy. She spent most of that summer in bed or sick in the bathroom. I bought her a bulldog puppy to keep her company. We named her Babe after my late grandfather. The one I'm named after. He was a Mack truck guy. (If you read my shit, you know all this already.) I get choked up just thinking about how much I loved that dog. She saved my wife in so many ways. I could never repay her. I'm glad she lived almost a dozen years.
We had a few false alarms. The baby didn't want to wait. The hospital kept sending us home. My wife got weaker and sicker. On November 4th, the pain became unbearable. We rushed to the hospital (I stopped off on Northern Avenue so she could vomit in the desert darkness) where she mustered the strength to tell her doctors and nurses that she wasn't going home without her baby.
The next morning, my mom kept my wife company while I ran last minute errands before the doctors induced labor. My parents were going through their own divorce by then, and I think having my mom bedside during the delivery helped her at a time when she was most fragile. Keep in mind, my mom lost a baby girl in utero during the early 80's. I hoped to shake that awful memory (if only for a moment) by giving her a chance to witness the gift of life.
Labor lasted a while. My son looked like a gray fish when he was born. Like a miniature Creature from the Black Lagoon. I wanted to cut the cord but couldn't because both my wife and son needed immediate medical attention. The staff ran my mom and me out of the room. I called my dad and cried hysterically. "I want to kiss my wife! I want to hold my son! What the fuck do I do?"
"You wait, Tommy. That's what we used to do." You wait.
The wait for me wasn't nearly as bad as it was for my wife. They kept our boy from her for a couple of days. She later told me she thought he'd died during delivery but we were keeping the news from her until she recovered. I'm sorry for that.
Anyway, I changed his first poop diaper! I was so proud. I know I'm not the best father, but fuck, I try. We had a little girl a few years later, but that's a whole other story (with just as much excitement and equal parts miracle). I'm nuts about her.
I catch myself wondering what the fuck this all means, what life means. I get down on myself. I think I have it so rough sometimes. Fuck that. Fuck me. I got everything.
You waited, Tommy. It was so worth it.