The Things We Remember

The Things We Remember

The longer we live, the more we experience, the less things feel memorable. What you had for lunch, or the specifics of a conversation become hazy mere hours after experiencing them. One day seamlessly blends in with the next. And the small victories, which for some of us may be the only thing that keep us moving forward, just start to feel unremarkable; their memory fading so quickly from our minds that we can barely recall if they had ever occurred at all. However there are those instances that make a  powerful impression on us.  Moments that help shape and even define who we are or who we strive to become.

I’m standing in the hallway of the Labor and Delivery ward, accompanied by my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and Dr. Metta. I’m feeling rather tense, and incredibly uncomfortable. We are witnessing my wife Jess being carted off past two big swinging doors that lead into the operating room. I’m dressed head to toe in a surgical scrub that was made for someone who is 50lbs lighter. I’m doing my best to suck in the gut as much as possible without causing myself any major internal injuries, out of fear that I could rip through the scrub like Bruce Banner Hulking out. The In-laws are surprisingly chill at the moment, which I find it entirely out of character, especially for my mother-in-law. Ever since I’ve known her, she has always seemed like a neurotically tense person who always seemed to be nervous about one none existence crisis after another. So for me to see her standing there so relaxed at the site of her daughter being carted off made me feel as if I had entered some alternate universe. I don’t know why she was so chill; maybe she was hiding her nervousness for my sake. Or perhaps the fact that she had been present for the birth of all her other grandchildren made this scene feel like part of the course. All I know is that unlike for my mother-in-law, everything taking place that night was new to me; and new things always managed to make me feel immensely uneasy.

Dr Metta, a miniature Indian woman, in her mid 50’s, with a noticeable Indian accent, and thick hair that has been dyed a muddy dark brown, looks over at me with a friendly smile. “Are you nervous” she asked; the smile on her face lets me in on the fact that she already knew the answer. I force my lips to crack an awkward smirk and utter a sheepish “Yeah, a little.” “Don’t worry” she said trying to put me at ease, “your wife is in good hands” she assured me. I return her friendly smile with a bit more confidence, but not totally convinced. Dr. Metta is called in by one of the nurses that is helping the Anesthesiologist prep my wife for the C-section. She excused herself and made her way through the two large doors.

God I remember feeling like a wreck that night. My back and neck where aching from sleeping on a narrow couch in Jesse’s birthing room for two nights in a row. My stomach felt like it was being dragged out of my bowels by a kaleidoscope of butterflies. But as bad as I had it, I knew damn well that Jess was feeling ten times worse. We had been in the hospital going on 50 hours. I had brought her in because she had been scheduled to be induced since our little baby was in no great rush to greet the outside world. By that point in time, all the pulling, poking and contracting that Jess had to endure had pretty much exhausted all the excitement out of her. Poor Jess was so worn out by the whole experience that a couple of times she couldn’t help but breaking down. Her mother and I would take turns gently caressing her hair and wiping her tears. We encouraged her and repeatedly reminded her of what a great job she was doing; how proud we were of her. I’ve always known my wife for being a physically strong person, and witnessing everything that she endured for those two days only served to increase the admiration I have for her strength.

Making matters worse was the fact that Jess wanted more than anything to have a natural birth. This was important to her; after all her sister had managed to have 3 children without the aid of epidurals and cutting. So Jess really wanted to be able to claim the same.  To add a bit more self-induced pressure my mother-in-law was convinced that any pain killing medication could have an adverse effect on the baby, which in turn made Jess very leery of using pain relieving drugs. I didn’t see it like that. My mom had worked in labor and delivery as an O.R. tech for over a decade. I understood there was always some risk to any procedure, but my mother had made it clear to me that the epidurals were relatively safe, and would spare Jess from experiencing a boat load of pain. Thankfully, 35 hours into the deliver, Dr Metta managed to convince Jess that getting an epidural would help ease her pain, and that it might just relax her enough to get her body to dilate further. Jess agreed to go through with the procedure, but the epidural caused her blood pressure to drop, and it took two big bags of fluid to stabilize her. The sudden influx of fluids into her body made her feel so cold that she began to shiver as if she was outside naked in the middle of a blizzard. Her teeth clanked together loudly and I was afraid she might chip a tooth. Finally after another 10 hours of general discomfort and more fatigue, Jess developed a low grade fever, which was when we all agreed she had just about enough; it was time to evict the little fella from Jessie’s belly.

I was scared. Scared for Jess, scared for the baby, scared for what the future had in store for the three of us. This was the start of an entirely new chapter in our lives and I didn’t have a clue about how things would play out over the next few hours, days, weeks, or years. The only think I was sure of was that I would now be responsible for a life. One that had never known emotional pain, that hadn’t been tainted by years of disappointment or an overabundance of heartbreak. But as a man that hadn’t had fatherly figure in his life since the age of 15, and I can say with the utmost confidence that I never had a fatherly figure that was actually good at it, that was at the time a very scary prospect. I wanted more than anything to be a good father, but would I know how?

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When I was 13 years old, my dad got the bright idea to pass on to my 10 year old brother, Paul, and I his version of some good ol’ fashioned fatherly advice. Now I’m sure you are probably thinking, well what a nice thing for him to do. After all is it not traditionally the father’s place to teach his sons in the ways of the world? And perhaps if my father had been a bit more  like Lorenzo, the dad portrayed by DeNiro in “A Bronx Tale”, then maybe today I could sit here and say “why yes, it was rather kind of him to do.” Unfortunately as I’ve stated more times than I care to count, my father was not the most conventional fella around.  He was a rage-a-holic, had a bad coke addiction, and when he wasn’t high, well he could be a bit of an asshole.

My brother and I sat patiently by our fathers side, in the living room of our Elmhurst, Queens apartment. My father had his legs crossed and his arms folded, doing his damndest to come across as being as serious as “a heart attack”, something that he was pretty fond of saying. Our father was about to drop us with some serious 411, the kind that my brother and I would not be able to find in the latest volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica; or at least he thought so.  He started with what, looking back, now sounds like a bit of a disclaimer, “You are my boys. I love you both very much, and I want nothing but the best for you”, which I guess was his way of saying “I’m sorry but I’m about to ruin your day pretty royally”.  He continued on, “I just want to make sure that you two don’t end up making the same mistakes I did. It’s important that you learn this. Because I don’t want some greedy bitch out there to trap you boys in a situation that you can’t get yourself out off.” The longer he spoke, the more animated his gestures became. He reminded me of a third world dictator that hypnotizes his audience with big broad gestures, while his tongue spews seeds of hatred.

The moment my father used the word bitch, I knew that in some way he was referring to my mother. They had been arguing all week long about the kinds of things that they had been arguing about for over a decade. No money, lack of love, being stuck in a relationship barren of understanding, and how each one felt that they were being manipulated by an unsympathetic monster. I looked over to my brother and I could see that although he was there sitting by my side, he had already managed to mentally checked out of the conversation. The little bastard couldn’t have done me the common courtesy of at least taking me with him. My father proceeded with his lecture, “I just want you to know that children will ruin your life!”

Now if I had been as smart as Paul, I would have taken that moment to mentally check out as well. Or better yet I would have just gotten my ass up and simply marched out of the room, you know like any moody teen worth their weight in salt. But I didn’t have the will to do either. I just sat there like an overstuffed sack of rocks. I don’t know why I couldn’t motivate myself to do something. It’s not like I believed my father’s words held any merit. Perhaps I was looking for more reasons to hate myself.

“Having kids will kill your dreams boys” he continued. “They will drag you down and keep you from doing what you were meant to do.” I will confess that hearing my father say that to us did hurt me a little; I mean who want to hear that sort of thing coming from the lips of one of their parents? But to tell you the truth, the prevailing feeling for me that day was one of anger. I kept asking myself why the fuck was I allowing this man to put me through this nonsense? I kept picturing my fist making really hard contact against his face; knocking a tooth or two out in the process. It wouldn’t the first or the last time I would fantasize about it. The lecture went on further. “Don’t let it happen to you, don’t go looking for a good time and get yourself in the kind of trouble I did. Because I promise you she will dangle that baby before you and hold your life hostage for as long as you live. Don’t do it boys. You understand?” I totally understood where this conversation was going, and the message that he trying to convey. Because in the end this wasn’t about us, this was entirely about him.

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One of the Labor and delivery nurses came through the door and alerted me that I could now enter the operating room to be with Jess. My sister in law Christina smiled brightly and wished us good luck. I smiled back, thanked her and then made my way passed the swinging doors, still self-conscious that the scrubs that I was wearing would rip apart at any second. I walked into the operating room that was drowning in a sea of blue scrubs and white walls. Poor Jess was laying down on the operating table, with a surgical hat on that kept her thick curly hair from escaping. Nearly every square inch of my wife’s body was being obscured by a large blue tarp. I can’t remember if the tarp was hanging from the celling or some kind of harness, but it made it impossible for me to see what was taking place from her collar bone on down. Her jaw was chattering repeatedly, and she complained, in a very sluggish manner, that she was feeling very cold. Now this is the one detail my wife and I remember differently. I recall that her blood pressure had dropped again as they were prepping her for surgery so they had been forced to give her another two bags of fluids to stabilize her. According to Jess the reason why she was shivering so much was simply because the surgical room was cold. Then again my wife was high as a kite at the time, and can barely recall anything that occurred in that operating room that day. So I’m sticking with my version.

The anesthesiologist, a tall, lean, middle aged fella with an arrogant air to him that made me sort of dislike him from the moment I had met him earlier in the day, was sitting by a computer kiosk monitoring what I gathered to be my wife vitals. He pointed towards a ridiculously short bar stool that was positioned just left of Jess’s head, and ordered me to sit on it. The stool seemed so low to the ground that I felt I was better off just sitting on the surgical floor. After following the anesthesiologist instruction I focused my attention on Jess by gently caressing her head. I could hear Dr. Metta talking to some of the other nurses somewhere behind the tarp, but I couldn’t hear what the topic of their conversation was over the thumping in my chest. At no point do I remember Jess making eye contact with me, but she repeating how tired and sleepy she was feeling. I felt the rush of anxiety coming over me. I had this irrational thought that kept trying to invade my headspace; that something bad would happen if I let Jessie for asleep. So I kept talking to her repeatedly saying “C’mon babe, look at me. The baby is almost here. You hear me? C’mon babe, stay with me.”

During moments of great stress I can’t help but let my mind wander off into some dark corners. What would I do with myself if something bad happens now? What would I do without Jess, without my unborn child? I did my best to wipe the thought away as best I could and tried to focus on the task at hand, which was to get Jess through this. “You are doing great hun. Just a little longer” I told her. I could hear what sounded like a miniature wet vac sucking up something moist. Later on I would learn that Dr. Metta was using the little vac to get the baby clean after apparently he decided to take a bathroom break while he was still in the placenta. Moments later I heard what sounded like a faint cry. Our son had finally arrived. I could feel my eyes well up with tears.

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Twenty two years earlier my father was on the verge of wrapping up what he thought qualified as sage advice. I remember feeling pretty despondent by this point. I had tolerated my father’s long winded lecture that felt like a never ending series of slaps to my chubby face. I wanted to get up from the sofa and tell him angrily that “We get it, ok! You wish we had never been born. You can stop hammering us over the head with your point!” But I still had a smidgen of respect for my father, and a healthy amount of fear. It would be another couple of years before I would grow angry enough to openly challenge him.

It was at that moment that my father decided to end the conversation with a final piece of advice that was so unexpected that I have never managed to forget it. “If you do happen to get a girl pregnant” my father started, with his nose flaring wide like a dragon ready to breath out fire, “Then you make damn sure to kick her in the stomach!” I looked at my father indignantly. Even Paul who for the most part had been looking down at his feet and nodding his head occasionally just to give my father an impression that he was actually listening to what he had to say, looked up at me with a look on his face that basically asked “Is this nigga’ for real?” I know that my father partially said it in jest, but if you had looked at the man’s face as he uttered that line to us, you would know that there was more to it than some politically incorrect joke. My father really believed that having children should be avoided at all cost. After all he had asked my mother to abort me while I was still in the womb some 13 and a half years earlier. If it hadn’t been for a well-timed kick from me while my mother sat in the reception area of the doctor’s office, waiting to get the procedure done, I wouldn’t be here today to tell you my story.

My father then concluded the talk by adding the proverbial icing on the cake, “and if that don’t work” my father paused for dramatic effect” then just trip her down the stairs.” He chuckled a bit at what he thought was a clever quip. He then flashed a smiled at the both of us that told me he was rather proud of his self-perceived sense of warped humor

I don’t remember much else about that day. I doubt the conversation ended on a high of a note, but whatever happened after his “trip her down the stairs” remark  had in no way made the kind of lasting impressionable as what had come before  it. Even at 13 I knew that my father’s words where full of shit. That this was the advice of a broken man who was at the start of a long and grueling death spiral that would culminate with his death, alone, in a hospital bed, paralyzed from the neck down from a tragic fall some 14 years later. But what he said to us did manage to have an effect on me regardless. I’m sure it is partially the reason why I waited till I was a 35 year old man before I dared to think about having a kid. Not because I thought having a child would ruin my life, I was afraid that I would in some way ruin theirs.

I understand now that my father, Thomas Gonzalez Jr, was a sick man, and I don’t mean it as in he was what some people might call crazy. I mean that he had a disease. Addiction had warped his sense of reality. The life my father he envisioned for himself as a young man slowly, but surely, comes apart at the seams and he needed a scapegoat. He needed someone besides himself to be held responsible for the way things turned out for him. Owning up to his failings would have only served to make the pain of disappointment all the more unbearable. Pointing the finger to someone else, be it, my mother, or my siblings and I, probably made things a little more tolerable for him. Like I mentioned before, for some of us, it’s the little victories that keep us going.

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Sebastian Thomas Gonzalez was born on May 1st, 2014 at around 11:00 PM, a full 51 hours after we had walked into the hospital. He was a healthy 6lbs 5oz, 19 and half inches long. Seby, as we have since nicknamed him, was still somewhere behind the tarp being attended by Dr. Metta and the other nurses. I was still feeling ubber nervous because I hadn’t gotten the thumbs up from Dr. Metta that everything was ok with the baby; and Jess looked to me as if she was ready to take a nice long nap. I did my best to keep Jess from falling sleep; I wanted her to at least meet Seby first. “Hey babe,” I told her as I caressed her head, “don’t knock out just yet. Wait till you meet Sebastian.” One of the nurses walked rather quickly passed me with what I imagined was Seby. He was bundled up pretty good, so I didn’t get a good glimpse of him. I looked back and saw the nurse placing the baby on a small raised crib with a heating lamp over it. I was very low to the ground so still had no clue what Seby looked like, but I could see a pair of miniature feet kicking up in the air as the nurse wiped him down with a towel. I smiled and turned back to Jess. I told her with hint of amazement in my voice “Sebastian is here babe.” But poor Jess was halfway to dreamland by this point.

I heard the nurse, who was standing behind me cleaning off Seby, call me over. “Come and meet your son, papa” she said, with the majority of her face still hiding behind a surgical mask. It was the first time that I would be referred to as someone’s father, and I was overjoyed. I smiled and caressed Jess head one more time before I excused myself. I got up, this time not caring one bit if the scrubs were still in one peace or torn up like confetti. I was finally going to meet my boy. It was all that mattered at that moment. I walked up to the nurse; in her arms was little Seby wrapped in a small blanket. She gently placed the little guy in my arms. I looked down at his small face, puffy from being submerged in amniotic fluid for 9 months, but beautiful still. He looked and felt so fragile in my arms, that I was a bit scared that I would break him. His little hands became visible to me and I was amazed at how tiny they looked. Everything about him was dwarfed by my 350lbs frame.

I proudly walked Seby over to meet his mother. “Hey babe, look who it is” I said brimming with happiness. Jessie opened her eyes, and let out a faint “awwww”, which is exactly how she responds anytime she is looking at a picture of a cute puppy or some other equally cuddly animal. Jess, still groggy from all the medication and utter lack of sleep, wearily said “Hi there Sebastian.” I know she had managed to say a few more words to our newborn, while I held him less than a foot from her face, but what those words were completely escapes me. What I do remember noticing was the look of relief that had come over her face. The baby was safe. The worst was over. She had made it through, bruised and exhausted, but relatively ok.

I can’t quite put into words what it was like for me to look down upon my boy’s little face for the first time that night. It was this odd mixture of pride, joy and a dash of melancholy. The melancholy was coming from the realization that my father would never get a chance to meet his grandson. I know that maybe I shouldn’t have felt that knowing full well how much suffering he had managed to cause us growing up. But my dad wasn’t an cold monster, just a very sad and broken man.  Knowing my father the way I did, I think he would have been ecstatic beyond belief at the idea of being a grandfather to my baby boy. Who am I kidding; he would have been over the moon. After all the Gonzalez name was going to live on, which is important to men like my father. But most of all I would like to think that my father would have turned out to be a wonderful grandfather, just like his father, a man with a troubled past turned out to be with me. Perhaps my father would have seen Seby as a second chance to make things right. Sadly I will never know if that would have been the case.

As I write this my son Seby is sitting in the middle of a circular walker in his nursery. He holds a little pink rubber pig in his hands as he repeatedly flashes me a smile that never fails to melt my heart. It has been nearly 9 months since Seby was born and I honestly can say that I feel like my life has just started in earnest. For some men, the idea of children means a ruined life, but for me, having a child has only enriched in the most profound way possible. His birth is without a doubt the most important event in my life. And I will never forget it.

Jess, Sent & I, on the day we left the hospital.
Jess, Sent & I, on the day we left the hospital.