March 11, 2004

in the next booth

When Damian got home tonight, he ran up to me with a big grin and told me he wanted to go out to eat. He wanted to go to his favorite restaurant and it begins with a C. It also has a P and the last letter sounds like “kkk” but isn’t C. It’s K. So we went to California Pizza Kitchen. What can you do when a child smiles at you so winningly?

As we walked to our booth, I saw something strange: a man and a woman sitting across from each other, both talking on their cell phones instead of to each other. “How LA,” I thought, and slipped into the booth next to theirs. Where I shamelessly eavesdropped.

The man’s voice was penetrating, it wasn’t hard to hear most of his conversation. He was talking about someone having an MRI, about tests and diagnoses and prognoses as yet unknown. That’s when I understood the woman’s haggard face, the way they spoke, not to each other, but each into their phone, their lifeline, their way to communicate to the people who needed to know. I’m guessing that these two weren’t close, that they were brought together by this crisis and their mutual feelings for the person in trouble.

It was a baby. He was talking about a newborn baby. The mom was spending her days back and forth between the hospital and the hotel across the street where she would catch a few moments of sleep. “Don’t try to stop a lactating woman!” the man said on the phone.

I remember photographs of Damian’s cousin, born just two months after him but so fragile, with a damaged heart and lung. The only photos we saw were of him in the NICU crib, tubes running from every limb. Big eyes, tiny baby. He didn’t survive, though they tried everything. At the time, with a little one of my own, I felt almost guilty but so grateful for his health and vigor, for his coos and cries.

And this baby, the one I heard about tonight, is in the very hospital where Damian was born. His birth was precarious, dangerous. Horrible, if you want to know. I haven’t talked about it here. Even after nearly six years, it’s still too raw. We were so lucky that he was healthy, that he had no meconium in his lungs, and that his heart was beating regularly after the stress of that birth. I feel sick to my stomach just thinking about it. Imagining life in the NICU for that unknown baby and his family.

The oddest thing, though, was the man in that booth. As Dan commented, the guy seemed relaxed. He had a healthy appetite. I think he was the father, I’m pretty sure he was. The way he talked, about the money issues involved with the hospital stay (“Money’s not important at a time like this”) and about the mom, it sure seemed like it. But he was far more detached than I could have been or Dan could have been. I make no judgments. I know everyone responds differently to intense stress. It could be that he’ll fall apart six months from now. It was just a singular moment, a glimpse into someone else’s crisis. You can’t help imposing your own feelings onto them, like a mirrored reflection of your mental state and your memories. But though we can overhear all we want, we know nothing of the reality in the next booth.

Posted by Tamar at March 11, 2004 10:03 PM

Hi Tamar! I know I'm a stranger to you, but I was hoping to ask you a favor anyway. I fairly recently discovered your Hidden Laughter website and I admire you so much... I was hoping to ask you to join my personal Board of Directors. I won't go into details here, but if you'd e-mail me at the address above, I'll tell you all about it. I'm not asking you to invest in anything or trying to sell you anything-- I'm just trying to work on being the best person I can be and I'm reaching out to a few people that I really admire to see if they would keep me on the straight and narrow, so to speak. I'm babbling cause I feel like a weirdo asking you, so I'll stop now.

Thanks. shauntelle

Posted by: shauntelle at March 12, 2004 09:55 AM

Wow... I would have been listening closely too, in your circumstance. I was extremely lucky with my kids - about as lucky as anyone can get. Both kiddos were fat, strong, healthy, born within days of their due dates... it was all so uncomplicated. So I've got no experience with this.
Yet, I think if I'd been in the father's position, I would have sounded much the same as he did. When I'm under stress I get terribly practical. I don't fall apart, I put things back together. When dh had to be rushed to the hospital and almost died, I washed everything in the house and scrubbed all the floors. I didn't cry. I don't cry about things like that at all. I just talk a little louder and a little faster and I laugh a lot. I get hyper. Sometimes I go mildly OCD.
I've never fallen apart, not six months down the road or ever.
Different people react to stress in very different ways. I really feel for the people in your story.
It's interesting to step outside of your own perspective, sometimes.

Posted by: darby at March 12, 2004 10:57 AM

You're right, Darby. Some people may never need to fall apart. I think it's quite possible this guy was in the hyper mode too. Or in hyperdrive "dealing with it" mode. I'll never know. It was just such an extraordinary moment of eavesdropping.

And I feel for them too, very much so.

Posted by: Tamar at March 14, 2004 11:48 PM