the slice: installment three

Somewhere in my mind, lay the things I did not think of. The things I could not think of: the depth, the breadth of the happiness and heartbreak ahead. The baby belly laughs and bath time. The bursts of brainwaves on the EEG. The phone calls from family that passed along kisses to you. The phone call from the pediatric neurologist that sank its teeth into me. I didn’t think about the things you would give to me or the tears I’d have to hold back for you. I couldn’t think about gaining so much or losing so many things I never had. I didn’t think about my heart expanding and all my organs losing gravity to clog up my throat. I couldn’t think about what would really happen after you were born.  I could only think of the details around me that were unfamiliar, like I was to myself at the time.

I thought about my Canon EOS Rebel T6i camera. I thought about adjusting the aperture or the ISO settings instead of leaving it in automatic mode. I thought about how the battery strength indicator on the camera didn’t support the generic batteries I had purchased from Amazon. How would I know when they were going to die? What if I missed a meaningful moment because I had decided to cut corners or save a few bucks? I thought about the memory cards I had stored in compartments. They, themselves, ready to store so many memories of you. But what if they didn’t have enough storage space left to create new memories? What if I didn’t have enough left in me?  I couldn’t think of it. I focused on the cards themselves. Some 16 gigs, a few 64s. Black and blue with white letters: Sandisk, PNY. Then I focused on the camera itself, but I didn’t know it well enough as I had purchased it so recently to capture your lives.

I thought about how my glasses kept fogging up because of the goddamned SARS mask they made me wear. I kept pinching the wire that was clinching my nose. I was breathing hard and heavy at this point and the condensation in little bits of breath clung to the lenses like blood to a blade. The water molecules moving from vapor to liquid to solid over and over again. I couldn’t see clearly right then. Everything in front of me was blurry, no matter how often I tried to wipe it clean. I couldn’t read the letters on the IV bag hanging over your mother. I couldn’t see deep enough into her eyes as the anesthesiologist administered the epidural. I couldn’t see what our future might look like. I couldn’t think of it. Instead, I used the thin, coarse fabric of the cheap, hospital-provided scrubs to clear a path and I focused on physical details in the room as best I could - until one of the very things that had kept me alive, the air from my lungs, obscured my senses again.

They moved your mother into the room where you would be born. I waited in the hallway outside and felt like a school kid being punished. All of the knowledge and the novelty, the passion and the permanence, on the other side of the wall. I couldn’t think of it. I focused on the nurses, the techs and the surgeons, diligently washing their hands. I focused on the hands of the surgeons and proceduralists as they washed them - trying to think of the things they did when they weren’t carving into people.  There were wrinkles, small, faint scars, pedicures and fingernails mangled by stress and time. I imagined the obstetrician that delivered you, Dr. Johnson, in a garden at her large Georgia plantation home - growing things like your mother had grown you. I imagined the hands of the RN first assistant wrapped around a liquor bottle the night before, now compromising her judgement and precision. What if she made a mistake cutting or suturing your mother's flesh during the procedure? I couldn’t think of it. I looked down at my own hands and remembered placing them on your mother’s stomach as you grew inside her womb. No one's hands were familiar.

I thought of the signs that I had seen in restaurant bathrooms reminding the cooks and waiters to clean up after taking pisses and shits. I thought of what it would be like to eat your placentas. I hadn’t arranged it. What if I had  already missed out on an opportunity to connect with you? I thought of what it would be like to slice and dice your umbilical chords. I hadn’t arranged it. What if I already missed out on opportunity to set you free? I couldn’t think of it. I felt sick - felt like I had eaten my words, my thoughts. I tried to focus on the sink, but it didn’t look anything like the one we had at home.

Then a nurse called me into the operating room. I glanced around, and quickly noticed that it was full of instruments, lights, clocks, monitors, machines, metals, thin, blue fabrics and people. Again, my attention turned toward my camera. I snapped a few photos of your mother. The corners of her eyes were red with blood, like a subconjunctival hemorrhage - from all of the pressure, love and tears. I knew she was excited and terrified, like I was. In between pictures of her, I snapped one of the floor just to make sure the camera stayed on it's toes. In the moments before you were born, I looked at the photos I had taken of your mother on the small digital camera screen and noticed the photo of the floor. I didn't delete it. The focus in the photo was on a metal bar that supported the bed your mother laid on. The metal was badly marred by harder metals and the fingernails of women. Or perhaps, these scars were from supporting so much life and death. I couldn't think of it. I advanced to the next picture on the digital screen and then looked back up at your mother.  I sent all the love I could to her, as we locked eyes for the last time before the splice.

"Here they come," said the anesthesiologist at your mother's other shoulder. I stood up and peered over the thin, blue curtain. My knees felt weak and unsteady, until they locked into place as I saw you come into the world. Every detail of that morning had felt so terrifying and unfamiliar, but it was all so clear and visceral now - because there, in front of me, was everything I thought of, everything I could think of: the depth, the breadth of the happiness and heartbreak ahead.