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