Sarah endures days of contractions, pain shooting around inside her — muscular, interior, burning, grinding, all at once — until the hospital staff turns over at 7:00am and a new doctor-and-nurse team administer an epidural, after which Sarah experiences intense relief. From then onward, all is mostly smooth sailing, at least compared to the night prior. Amplified via monitor, the baby’s heart rate soundtracks our wait (how weird to sit there listening to our daughter swim!) as we watch monster contractions graphed as vertical spikes on a screen. Reflecting afterwards, under the influence of the epidural, on the discrepancy between her expectations going into the labor and the sheer pain of it: “That is not,” Sarah says, “how I imagined it at all.” A loud echo reverberates through the delivery room. Thinking of the baby as the sound’s origin, J. replies, “I imagine her pushing off the side of a wall, as when one is swimming in a pool.” As Sarah continues to dilate, the three of us watch calming footage of sea turtles swimming in the deep. As for me, I picture the baby as an angry Al Pacino, fist in the air, shouting “Attica! Attica!” as in Dog Day Afternoon. And then, without further ado, she arrives in all her glory.
We’re here, we’ve arrived at the projected due date, little one carried full term. And according to the doctors, all is well. But Sarah hasn’t yet entered into active labor — so the wait continues. I pass the time by sitting in the yard listening to outdoor sounds, birds and squirrels, drinking a can of pilsner. ‘Tis enough, sometimes, to just yip and squawk and tweet.
A dream: Sarah and I ride with our friends S. and M. in the back of a FedEx truck stuffed with packages. Soon students join us, as if we’re all traveling somewhere for a field trip. Several students consume mushrooms. Part of me wants to partake, but when they offer, I decline due to personal and professional obligations. Eventually we arrive at a house. Some guy from the truck begins to chat with me in the basement about a wild trip of his and a course he teaches at the Center for Integral Something-or-Other. Buffalo emerges as a shared point of reference, at which point Sarah peeks her head down the stairs. “The kids have arrived — time to come upstairs.” I wake to find Sarah lying beside me, breathing through a series of contractions.
House brought back up to fire code and documents prepared for an impending job application, we’re ready. Any hour now, baby, any minute. A cardinal sang to me this morning, moments before the rubber-suited knights of the local fire department trooped through the home. A kindly bunch. They identified the problem and we thanked them. Time to read William C. Schutz’s Joy — those first pages especially, where he describes the birth of his son.
How does one read Dante’s Inferno here at the ass end of 2019 without concluding A) Dante’s a vindictive prick, B) the universe is a cruel joke, and C) thou art that? Not to be Doug and Wendy Whiner or anything — but man, what a slog. The only good thing, I suppose, the only thing keeping me reading, is the fact that at the end of it lies Purgatorio and Paradiso.
Ornaments adorn the Christmas tree — several beauties. Stars, birds, balls with bands of colored chrome. And out the window beside the tree, sunlight catches in the bare upper branches of a neighbor’s elm. We’re storytelling beings, you and I, as we wait for the arrival of another. In these next few days, we become parents — ontologically transformed.
Neighbors across the street waste the entire day — a day of blue skies and sunlight — leaf blowing. Imposing that sound, inflicting it on the neighborhood, the ones doing it thinking themselves “improvers.” They’re the ones fucking with the planet. That used to be a source of rage on the street where I grew up. An old man who lived down the street from my parents refused to stop leaf blowing, so an angry dude who lived next door stormed out, tore the device out of the old man’s hands and beat him to the ground with it. Police had to intervene. That was my parents’ neighborhood. Meanwhile I sit here passively in my present neighborhood, feeling the role of the one angered — but trying to breathe and relax my way through it, knowing it too will pass. Go for a walk, I tell myself. Wait it out. The angry guy across the street, Mr. Vigilante Justice of Tough Guy World: he, to me, is the embodiment of toxic masculinity and the authoritarian personality. As an environmentalist, I find myself viewing people like him as the Enemy, the Adversary. As one such man blows leaves, another wipes out a stand of bushes with a chainsaw. This is Trump’s America. Drive elsewhere and men buy records and walk dogs. Continue around a bend and there are cops blocking off streets, cars hogging streets, people out in the streets for a parade. Neon letters appear lit from within. The sound of my baby’s heartbeat. We are where we are. Perhaps it’s time to stop eating animals. How about books? Should we buy and read books? If so, which ones? Rebecca Solnit’s book seems interesting: Whose Story Is This? In general, the books in the “Current Events & Politics” section seem terrifying. But perhaps we’re not where they think we are, whether they be white men or journalists for Teen Vogue. What is one to do to overthrow fascism here amid a world thinking itself animated by the Christmas spirit? Perhaps it’s time to read Dante’s Paradiso. Everything I pick up at the local bookstore seems intensely allegorical — sometimes uncannily, frighteningly so. Yet in it all, I sense a spirit of benevolence.