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stories >> 1998 - 09 - 17

Butterfly McQueen

    I woke up this morning, and I as lay sleepy in bed I stretched back and looked out the windows and saw, for the first time in weeks, the clear sky winking down like the great blue eye of God. Tropical storm Frances has been dumping water on Austin for days and days, and it's been tough getting to work without getting soaked. But now there's nothing to be seen but a bright blue day, and some lazy scrap of Spanish floats up into my mind: no hay nublado. It's not cloudy.
     [For my dad, who's been reading Cold Smoke lately, and doesn't speak a stick of Spanish, you pronounce it "no eye new blah dtho." :)]
     Hmm, hmm. It's been a big week.

Ultraman, Ultrasound
A shadow in a sonogram in a vison I once saw: January 21st, 34 weeks ago, and one of the very first pages on Coldsmoke.
     Jamie's was due to deliver her baby early in September. It's now, of course, mid-September, and the doctors tell Jim and Jamie that it's time to take matters into hand and induce the labor. They're going in on Wednesday to have the "pre-induction", whatever that is, and they figure they'll actually start the labor on Thursday morning. Jim starts off explaining it all, but I can't follow it, and frankly it's all a little squeamishly biological, so I just nod my head a lot. I pick up the phone to call Jamie, and repeating an old running joke, I ask her "I just called to make sure that you're okay."
     Wednesday comes, and Jim's useless for the few hours he actually shows up at work. He's gone a 1:30 and I promise to call before too long.
     Around 5:30, I get a call from Jim with the update. They're going through a second round of pre-induction, whatever that is, so they're going to be here until at least 10:00 at night. Knowing my Leper-less state, and due to the serendipitous fact that I live 200 yards from the hospital, he asks if I need a ride, and I tell him, "Sure. Give me about an hour and I'll call back."
     An hour later, I call him. The connection is terrible, and I ask what's going on. "I'm in the truck and I'm on my way down there already." Sweet. Jim shows up, gives the obligatory answers to the obligatory questions that everyone in the office has, and we hop into the truck and strike back north to Seton.
     Jamie's mom has come into town, as has Jim's sister, to provide a cheering squad and moral support. We park the truck next to Jim's mom car (which is a cool ex-postal Subaru, with the steering wheel on the right hand side) and come in the back way of the hospital. We're in a twisty maze of hospital corridors, all alike, and I tell Jim that he must have been here a long time if he's learned all these back routes in only one day. Jim starts laughing and tells me, "Yeah, I guess I have."
     We get up to the room, and the girls are all there. Jamie's strapped up to a machine (which appears to be a HP Viridia Fetal/Maternal Monitor), that measures both fetal heart rate and "Uterine Activity" (as well as a host of other things: blood pressure, Jamie's heart rate, percent oxygenation of the blood...). Jim explains that Uterine Activity basically means whether there's a contraction or not: it hangs out a baseline of 20, and as it shoots up in the more or less regular eight minute cycles, it means we're seeing a contraction. Jim tells me that it's his job to watch the UA number, and as it starts to come down, to tell Jamie that she's through the hardest part of the contraction. He invites me to try guessing when the contractions are done, and later on that night Jim and I will be like two crazy acolytes, staring at this machine and murmuring to Jamie "It's coming down, it's through the worst part."
     I find out pretty quickly that contractions hurt. A lot.

     We stay about an hour, then wander outside to get a sandwich. We joke around with the sub guys, telling them how their sign's out and that the two of use were scared to walk through the darkened parking lot to come up here. I tell them that Jim's having a baby, and they laugh and say, "You must want a philly cheese steak! Every guy who comes in here who's wife is in labor, 99 out of 100, gets a cheese steak and a beer." Jim doesn't want a cheese steak, but the beer sounds great, so we hunker down with our sandwiches and a beer a piece and bullshit about the home run race and whatever comes into our heads. We sit there taking a long deep, draught of masculinity, getting ready for the rest of the night.
     Back up to the room, and Jamie's mom Melva and Jim's sister Kymberli take off for dinner. Jamie's in no mood to talk, so Jim and I chat quietly, watching the monitor and talking to the nurses when they come in. When Jamie gets up to go the bathroom, we'll stand there trying to take each other's blood pressure or measuring our heart rates with the temporarily idle machine. It produces a continuous hard copy output, one long tape that's about five inches wide, and I joke with Jim telling him that he could use this as a border in the baby's room, wrapped around the walls right about the chair rail.
     Melva and Kym come back and Melva instantly falls asleep. I'm getting sleepy myself, but I start thinking, "Alan, you sleep pretty much every night of the year. You can stay up just a little longer." And I think back on those triathlons, and how your focus shifts to the problems that are immediately at hand and not how much farther you have to go. I smile a little as Kym quietly falls asleep. Jim and I keep up, helping Jamie shift occasionally, trying to convince the nurse to give us all a shot of Demerol, and watching the monitor whispering, "It's over, it's coming back down."
     Some time after two, Jim tells me, "Dude, I've got to get some sleep."
     Long past midnight, Jamie wants to sit up, so I shift her up and around and sit down on the bed with her, holding her hand and listening to the soft thump of the baby's heartbeat on the monitor. After one particularly strong contraction, Jamie turns to me, smiles and says, "So, is this your first baby?" We both laugh, and then settle into those long quiet three AM hours.
     My mind wanders off, and it sticks, of course, on that last girl I dated. She always had a special fondness for babies, so I'm really thinking about her right now. I start to feel a little sick anger in myself, thinking how shitty we were to each other and how shitty the breakup was. But then I feel Jamie shift a little next to me, and I start thinking, "What the heck am I thinking about anyway?" I'm not a huge believer in karma, but it seems that we're working on bringing something new into the world, something untainted. This is the wrong time to be thinking bad thoughts. So I quit thinking about whatever happened between her and I, and I think instead about how much she loved babies, and how happy she would have been to be here right now. And my mind slowly wanders off of her all together, and it's just Jamie and I and this monitor, listening to the heartbeats and the quiet tick of the pen on the graph paper and the occasional hiss of the blood pressure cuff inflating.
     Kym wakes up around four, I go for a walk at five or so and talk to the nurses on duty, and I come back and talk to Melva until about six. When the nurse comes out to where Melva and I are, Melva asks her, "So, are we fixing to have a baby?" The nurse smiles and tells us, "Well, not this morning." I can't see straight anymore, so I go back in and tell Jamie that I'm going home for awhile. She squeezes my hand and I tell her I'll be back before I go to work.

     The two hundred yard walk takes me through the hospital and I keep thinking how much more busy it is than when Jim and I went out for that sandwich. And I realize that it's 6:15, and that there are a legion of normal folks who are actually starting their work day. I make my way home, send a quick email to work, and fall into bed for four hours of sleep.
     I get up about 10:30, take a shower, and walk back over to the hospital a little after eleven. When I get there, Jamie's been hooked up on the epidural, and she's in a dreamy drugged state. She smiles at me, we talk a little, and Kym and Melva point out Jim sleeping on the couch. He's looking pretty beat up. Melva grips my arm and whispers to me, "They told him that he should eat before noon." I take my cue, give Jim a shake, and say, "Hey dude. Are you hungry?"
     Jim gets up, mutters a little, and stares around at everyone with sleepy eyes. He drags the brush across his head as I ask about how Jamie's doing. She's dilated to seven centimeters but you have to get to ten before it's show time ("ten centimeters!" I keep thinking), so they're thinking five o'clock. By now Jim's mobile and we walk down to Kerby Lane for some pancakes and nachos. As we walk out of the hospital, I give Jim the keys to my apartment and tell him that if he wants to take a shower or anything to go ahead.
     As we sit at Kerby Lane, I tell the waiter once again that Jim's in the middle of having a baby. Jim says something about the fundus (which, I had found out earlier, is the top of uterus) and our waiter beats a hasty retreat.
     Jim says, "That guy doesn't even know what a fundus is."
     I tell him, "That guy thinks you said FUNGUS, and thinks you're giving birth to a mushroom."
     We laugh, and when the waiter comes back we quiz him, and indeed he tells us, "Yeah, I thought you said fungus."
     We pour an extra cup of coffee. Jim's trying to relax, and tells me, "Dude, I know that the baby's not coming out while I'm sitting here for an hour in Kerbey Lane..." He trails off and looks at me, "BUT WHAT IF IT DOES?" We laugh at his nervousness, drain off the last of the cup, and head back up to the hospital.
     Once back, Jamie's dilated another centimeter. I give work a call, and there's some hot project to work on, so I tell Jamie and Jim that I have to go again. I ask them to call when there's news. As I walk out, Jim catches me and gives me the keys to his truck so that I won't have to catch the bus.

     I work from two until six. As I'm walking out the door, figuring that I'll head back up to Seton, Aj, Joy, Julie, and Tina work me over to go to happy hour down the block. I waver for a few minutes and give in. "It's only one drink" someone lies to me, so I convince myself that it'll be okay to go.
     Down to Ninfa's and we're all drinking the Aj special: Herradura silver, Cointreau, extra limes. We're telling stories, joking around, and Clapp and Kristen show up. Another round down, some queso, a couple of people drift away. We waver over the fourth round, and it's pushing eight o'clock now, so I call up Jim's mobile. Jamie's mom answers: they delivered via Caesarian at 7:15 that evening.
     Oh my God. Oh my God. We go ahead with the last round, and I'm just thinking, "Wow. Wow. Wow." As we head back to the cars, Julie asks if I'm going home to get rested for our seven AM run. I tell her, "No, I'm going to the hospital." She looks at me and says, "Do you want a ride?"
     So off and up to the hospital, pushing ten o'clock at night and talking about how these things make you start to think about your whole life. We park at Seton, and we walk in and Julie tells me that she's never been in a hospital before. And I tell her that all I remember about hospitals is from seeing my grandparents in them, and that this is the first time that I've ever been in one for a good reason. As I show Julie the way through the halls, she tells me, "I'm glad you know where you're going" and I smile to think about Jim and I having the same covnersation just the day before.
     We go up the stairs to where I last saw Jamie, and I ask our nurse from the night before where she is now. They point me down the hall to the right place, and we find the room. Julie waits outside while I softly knock and open the door. I see Jamie on the bed and Melva over by the wall. I walk over, and on the other side of Jamie is Samuel, tiny squirming purple nursing baby. Jamie smiles up at me and says "Hi" and behind me I can hear Jim booming, saying hi to Julie. I whisper to Jamie that Julie's here as she and Jim walk in. Jim's wearing a surgical gown with two tiny baby footprints over the left breast. I shake his hand and give him a hug, and we walk down the hall to talk while Julie stays with Jamie.
     I keep telling Jim, "It really floors me to realize that everyone, everyone was a baby once. Everyone's got parents. All two hundred pounds of you and I was just nine squirmy pounds at one time." I think I'm as dazed as Jim is. We talk a little while, staring at the walls and trying to understand what's happened. Then we walk back down the hall to see Jamie again.
     As Julie and I get ready to go, I wander off to the bathroom around the corner. When I come out, Jim's motioning me back. I walk back around the corner, and I see Julie holding Sam and walking up and down the hall. "Do you want to hold Samuel?" Jim asks. Oh my God, how can I hold a three hour old baby? But I look at Jim, and he's smiling that big smile, and I breathe deep and smile back at him, a smile so different from that Rage Smile we've smiled at each other so many nights and so many times, and I tell him, "Yes." I put my arms under Sam's head, and I can't believe that I'm holding something that's just three hours into this world.
     That night, I send the note to the company telling them that the baby's here, and I write that "Holding a three hour old baby can definitely change the life of a 27 year old ne'er do well."

     And as I write it about now, I remember waking up this morning, and thinking no hay nublado...


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