It was the morning after the election. And like most minorities, young people, or anyone else that wasn’t comfortable with the idea of Donald Trump having the nuclear codes, I woke up that day feeling like if I was in mourning. Trump spent the better part of eighteen months spewing xenophobia, misogyny and being an outright dick to anyone that dared to have an opinion opposite to his, yet America chose him to lead the country into right-leaning direction. As I walked out of my home to make my way to work, the middle class, multi-cultural neighborhood that I live in was quiet, with the only thing stirring being the torrent of dry leaves that danced and swirled through the air by the forceful breeze that shed them off all the surrounding tree branches. So although in my heart it felt to me that I had just phased over into the darkest timeline, the world around me, looked like any other day. The sun rose, the birds sang, people went about their business. Life moved on.
I made my way north up from Berwyn, through the lower-middle-class neighborhoods of Forest Park, and Maywood, until I reached the shopping center sector of Hillside, where I exited the local roads and jumped on the 294 tollway. From there it I traveled about 25 miles north until I reached the Willow exit, where I get reminded daily how folks on the other side of the track live. After going 8 miles due east, I reached the uber-affluent town of Winnetka Illinois. The town itself is sixteen miles north of Downtown Chicago, and according to the 2010 census, is 94% caucasian. The median household income hovers somewhere around the low 200 G’s, and the average median value for homes is a smidge below two million dollars. I believe our current billionaire Governor; Bruce Rauner has a residence in Winnetka, and the house that Kevin, from Home Alone, transformed into a burglar death trap is just down the street from my job.
I parked my car across the street from a large, but aging mansion, that had a small work crew of Polish carpenters working away at improving its weathered facade. I summarized the home dated back to the 1920’s and was about four times the size of the quaint, two bedroom home I owned 32 miles south in Berwyn Illinois. Even in it’s less than pristine condition, this was the kind of house that barely middle-class folks like myself would gladly sacrifice their left testicle for. Its spacious yard and the capacious sunroom covered more ground than I would know what to do with and served to remind me every morning, how unlikely I or anyone I know would ever reach the heights of success necessary to afford such a home.
As I cross the street, heading to the office, I kept my head down, but my mind gazed out into an unfamiliar horizon. My life, one that has only known what is like to survive, instead of thriving, was suddenly presented with a new fear. What would a Donald Trump presidency mean for my family and I, as well as all the other families in this country that are one lost paycheck away from being sent into depths of utter despair? Some would argue that Trump would do precisely what he promised, that he would make America Great Again. But not once did I ever get the sense that he meant that all of America’s citizens would bask in America’s rediscovered glory. No Trump and many of his followers want to bring America back to simpler times. To a time when dirty Commies, radicals, hippies, angry minorities, godless atheist, and bra burning feminist got their just deserts instead of getting a seat at the table. I also wondered what this would mean for my job.
You see ironically I work as a Housing Intake Specialist for a nonprofit organization that protects tenant rights, tries to help families save their homes from foreclosure, as well as fight all housing-related discrimination. So in laymen terms, I work for an equal housing organization that promotes inclusion, which so happens to be located in the middle of the most exclusive, and least racially diverse town in probably the entire Chicagoland area. Nearly half of our funding comes from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development also known as HUD. And if there are any major cuts in the grants that the organization receives from Hud, not only would we have to drastically scale back on the help we give hundreds of people a year, but it would also mean that I could receive a drastic reduction in pay, or simply be laid off; two prospects that I seriously couldn’t afford.
Two days later, tired of hearing all the pundits talking about what came next for America, and my kind hearted co-workers sense of despair, I took off during my lunch hour, for some much needed alone time. I got into my car, and drove down the affluent streets of Sheridan Road, with its multitude of million dollar homes, to take a breather in the quietest spot in all of the Chicagoland, the beautiful Baha’i Temple, located about 3 miles south in Wilmette. I parked my car and walked up the handicap accessible ramp that led up to the temple gardens. During the spring and summer months the garden is filled with an abundance of vibrant flowers, and beautiful reflective pools, but now that the fall had arrived in earnest, the garden was subdued with the sort of floral arrangements, that would seem appropriate for a funeral.
I made my way around the brown brick path, the sound of flowing water coming from a fountain located somewhere on the grounds could be heard. A single white male, with designer shades and a $75 haircut took several seconds trying to take the perfect selfie. The temple grounds were serene and quiet. From my elevated vantage point, I could see a pair of women jogging together on the quiet street that sat across from the Temple grounds. I could see the lake stretching itself out until it blended with the equally blue horizon. I was standing in a pocket of the universe where no matter what turmoil was affecting the outside world, it seemed that it just couldn’t penetrate the insulating bubble that has protected the well to do people of this town for decades. The good people of these affluent towns, with their generational wealth, didn’t need to concern themselves with the worries of the outside world.
The temple itself is one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture that I have ever seen. It is surrounded by nine fountains, which then lead up to a set of stairs that surround the entire dome complex. At the top of the stairs, there are nine entrances, separated evenly allowing people entry into the temple from virtually all directions. Above the entrance, there are another nine sides, adorned with elaborate designs and elongated windows that stretch upward until you get to the bottom of the dome. The dome itself is round, but have nine protruding concrete slabs that curve near the top giving the structure a look from above of a king kong sized orange squeezer. I made my way into the dome, where about five people were seated quietly, disperse through the room, on faded red chairs. A young black man sat quietly wearing a black turtleneck. He sat there in silence, never once seeming to look in any direction but straight ahead. He also happens to be only the 3rd black face I had seen up in these neck of the woods since I started working up there almost two months ago.
Above each entrance, there are several religious proverbs, written in gold letters. Nearly all of the proverbs were partially obscured from the angle that I was viewing them, due to the way the nine-sided temple is shaped inside. The only one that was fully visible to me said “All the prophets of God proclaim the same faith. But as I stared directly at the dome ceiling, and the interlocking nine circles that made the dome look to me very much like the tunnel of light that people that had suffered near death experiences have described, I felt no divine presence. No sense of inner peace or tranquility. And absolutely no renewal of faith. All that I could feel was the persistent, and overwhelming sense of uncertainty that has been constant since election night. Perhaps, my overly anxious mind is just getting the better of me, as it often does, and all my current worries will be all for not. But unfortunately for me, unlike the residents of Winnetka, and Wilmette, I can’t afford not to worry.
When I wrote my first post, some three years ago, I was at a perplexing point in my life. I was in my mid-thirties, working for a Fortune 500 company, married, and living in a humble little home outside of Chicago. If I were to compare my life, to the usual standards that so many of my family members had set for themselves, I would have considered myself a success. And yet I was not at all happy.
I hated my job, I was afraid of becoming a father, and I was feeling overwhelmed with the responsibilities that come with home ownership. Then there where the anxiety attacks. I would get them once, sometimes three times a week. If you have never suffered from an anxiety attack, let me tell you, it is overwhelming and draining. The feeling of my own heart beating so hard that it feels it is desperately trying to break through my ribcage to get itself free, while this overpowering sense of impending doom consumed me, left me feeling both drained and a little crazy.
I knew I had to make some significant changes. I couldn’t stick with the status quo because it apparently wasn’t making me happy. I was going to need to be proactive and do some things that I found intimidating. But I felt I had no choice. Because I was getting too comfortable just always feeling down.
I guess this should be the part of the post where I tell you how I managed to do miraculously a complete 180. Well in some ways I did succeed in turning some aspects of my life around. I went from not being able to picture myself as a father to loving almost every single aspect of fatherhood. My son will soon be two years old. And to my great surprise, I have found that fatherhood suits me. I love spending time with my boy, and playing with him, and making him laugh uncontrollably. My boy is this little adventurer who makes life so much fun and is the most charismatic person I’ve ever known. He fills our life with more joy than I could ever put into words.
I still work at the same crappy place, but after nearly a ten-year hiatus, I went back to school. I am currently halfway through my senior year at Southern New Hampshire University. And if everything goes well, by this time next year I will be working on my MFA. So hopefully, I will be making a living doing something else sooner than later.
My anxiety attacks have decreased significantly. I suffered my last attack a few months ago. I get a bit anxious from time to time, but thankfully I have been able to keep myself from going all freakazoid. The trick is not to fight the anxiety. Now anytime I feel the wave of panic coming, I simply let it wash over me, and pass. I accept it. Because Anxiety is about the realization that we have so little control over things.
So yeah, in many respects, my life had changed a lot since when I first started the blog. And yet I still find myself asking old questions disguised as new ones. Are we financially ready for baby # 2? Will I find a job once I’m done with school? Do I have any idea of what I am doing?
I don’t have any clear answers at the moment, which makes me feels both uneasy and frustrated. It is exhausting to always be worrying about something. Especially things that are in many ways out of my control. And I still find myself asking if there will ever come a day when I can live in the here and now, and not allow myself to worry obsessively about the future. Hopefully, I will get to that point, sooner, rather than later. In the meantime, I plan on reviving my old blog and post here more often. I probably don’t have time to write one to 4 thousand words post, like I did back in the day (I write enough for school), but it may help me work through some self-doubt while honing some of my creative nonfiction skills. Anyway, allow me the opportunity to welcome you back to Lost Around the Block. I hope to be seeing you all more often.
With the arrival of our first child looming over the horizon, Jess and I found ourselves wondering aloud how our lives would be transformed once we brought Seby home. I will say that there were a lot of naive fantasies being shared between the two of us. I, for example, kept picturing for myself all these images of us having an idyllic family life, not unlike the kinds you see in commercials, where everybody is smiling, sharing lots of laughs, and hugging at all times as if their lives where dependent on it. You can’t blame a cynic for wanting his life to be a bit more picturesque; I just wanted something different that I had experienced as a kid. We foresaw frequent trips to the Brookfield zoo, long walks parading our son and his his two fuzzy sisters, Pixie and Dory, through the neighborhood, and stops at the local ice cream shop for a shared tasty treat or two. We imagined big family gatherings, vacations to Disney World, and birthday parties filled with more presents for our son than we would know what do with. Jess especially enjoyed teasing me with the idea of her Mexican family buying our son a few Tex-Mex cowboy suits, with matching boots and cowboy hat. Naturally, the thought of Seby dressed like a miniature member of a Mexican Banda horrified me. So I would counter her terrifying scenario by painting a picture of her nightmare, which was that of our son wearing some ghetto fab outfit , with matching sideways New York Knicks cap and do-rag. Off course we were both being silly about it. Imagining your life with your unborn kid is one of the few things that is fun when you and your partner are expecting. And yes I know we where being a bit too idealistic for our own good, but we were excited, and we were already madly in love with our unborn child, so we just couldn’t help ourselves. However our excitement was blinding us to the actual realities that came with raising a child, how it would alter the life that we had grown quite accustomed too, and more importantly, how Jess and I would view each other.
Let’s flash forward two two weeks after our son Sebastian was born. My wife and I had brought in Seby for his first initial checkup post his release from the hospital. Jess was holding our son in her arms as we sat patiently in the pediatricians office, waiting for the Doc to make an overdue appearance. Jess took this rare moment of relative downtime to play with our son. She cooed and hugged him and gave him the occasional tender kiss on his chubby cheeks. She was going on and on about how cute she thought Seby was and she repeatedly told him how much she loved him. I sat back quietly and took in the site of their shared interaction. It was a tender moment between mother and son. It was probably the happiest I had seen Jess since she was released from the Hospital a week earlier. Things around the house where different since we brought our little man home, which was something that we had naturally expected; but the reality had turned out different that what I had envisioned. There wasn’t that overwhelming sense of Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy flowing through the house as we had fantasized in conversation. Not that we weren’t overjoyed about having our son home, mind you, but there was a certain level of stress that made it difficult for us to just appreciate the moment for all that it was worth. There was the financial crunch that we were feeling from all the medical bills. Jessies was frustrated over still being limited to what she could do physically as her abdomen healed from the performed C-section. Emotionally, Jess was working through some issues too. She hadn’t quite been herself since getting back home from the hospital. Looking back now I see that there was this underlying sadness that spilled into everything she did during those first few week that Seby was home. And I had failed to see all the signs because I had my head to far up my own ass dealing with my own emotional hangups.
Jess and I heard a gentle knocked before a smiling face peeked through the door. The face belonged to Seby’s Pediatrician, a very pleasant, middle aged Filipino gentleman with a naturally jovial demeanor. He apologized for the unusually long wait while giving us this look that simply said “Oh well, what can you do”. The doc wore a bleach white lab coat with the customary stethoscope that hung loosely around his neck. The darkly tanned gentleman had a not so recently shaved head that kinda reminded me of a fuzzy kiwi. As our baby’s pediatrician went through the usual introductory spiel that I’m sure he gave all his new patient’s parents I couldn’t help but notice that his mannerisms, and manner of speaking, was what I best would describe as slightly effeminate. I suddenly couldn’t help picture John Leguizamo in “To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar”.
After exchanging pleasantries with the Doc, he asked us to bring the baby over to the examining table. I stood up and took little Seby from Jesse’s arms and brought our little man over to him. The pediatrician took a quick look at Seby’s face, placed both hands on his own cheeks and said “Well hello my little Gerber baby.” We were all in agreement, Seby is a remarkably cute child. Ever since he was born, it seemed to us, that all that the nurses in the Labor and Delivery ward could do was compliment us on how cute our little runt was. And they weren’t saying it in a patronizing manner either. The compliments always felt genuine and heartfelt. I looked over to Jess and we exchanged smiles.
The doc proceeded to run our son through your typical run of the mill check up. He shone a light in my sons eyes, then he took a peek at both his ears, and then he takes a good listen to little Seby’s lungs with his stethoscope. This is when things took a twist for the odd. The doc says “ lets remove his diaper to check his little parts.” I unstrapped the diaper and remove it off my son, and then, and I shit you not, I see a goofy smile come across the mans face as he looks over to me and proclaims, “Oh my goodness papa, your boy here is very blessed.” I couldn’t help but laugh a little. That was not exactly what I was expecting to hear hear from our pediatrician. The doc then apparently felt the need to direct the complement directly at little Seby, “Why look at you. My little Gerber baby. Arent you a blessed little boy. You will be impressing someone when you are grown up.” I look down at my little naked son who was blissfully unaware that he was, or at least his member was, being complimented so thoroughly. The doc then walk over to the cabinet, pulls out one of those little tape measures that all newborn parents seem to have laying around the house, and proceeded to measure my sons penis. I looked over at Jess again and gave her a half smiling, have confused look that basically was asking if this was all copacetic. Jess smiles and shrugs her shoulders as if to say “don’t ask me.” The doc looks up at me after measuring the family jewels and tells me “He is well above the average Papa, you should be proud.” I nodded yes, but what I was really thinking was why should I feel proud, it wasn’t like it was my Johnson that we were all marveling at here.
Once the doc got tired of praising my sons manhood, he gave me to the ok to put Seby’s clothe back on, and then had me sit down next to the wifey. He wanted to take a moment to see how we were handling having Seby home, and give us a quick run through of what we might come to expect during the coming weeks. He looked over at Jess and in his best, concerned doctor voice, asked her how she was feeling. Jess naturally lied. She told him that she was a little pained, but overall she was in good spirits. I off course was in no place to call her on her bullshit because I hadn’t yet noticed that she wasn’t in a good frame of mind. He flashed another, genuinely friendly, smile and simply said how happy he was to hear it. But he still felt compelled to add “just remember your body went through a lot. Sometimes mom’s get down after pregnancy. Postpartum depression is perfectly normal, so its important that you and Papa here keep an eye out for the signs.”
If Jess had been inclined to be a bit more open about her feeling she might have chosen to use that opportunity to voice how overwhelmed she had been feeling since she had left the hospital. She might have, with tears streaming down from her eyes, confessed how the the 51 hours of delivery and the nearly one week in the hospital had taken a physical toll on her body that no amount of reading material and motherly advice could have prepared her for. It’s funny that I’ve never had to much of a problem getting my friends, and even strangers to open up to me about stuff that they wouldn’t normally talk about with anyone else, and yet with my own wife that had never really come easy. We’ve been together 12 years now and yet there are times that I feel I am totally clueless about what is going on in her head. She will smile and joke, and she can be short and moody, but I find it increasingly difficult to decipher what exactly is driving her moods, because she has never been particularly open about her feeling; not with her family, not her friends, and not even with me. This is partially why I couldn’t read how guilty she was feeling about being unable to get herself to feel utterly happy about giving birth to the perfectly healthy and beautiful baby boy that she was now holding in her arms. So Jess, being her typical self, simply looked at the doc, nodded her head in agreement, returned his friendly smiled, and said simply, “ok”.
I don’t remember the doc asking me how I was feeling. Not that I expected him too. It’s rare when someone actually bothers to asked me about my emotional state, beside the customary, and mostly patronizing, “well how are ya?” But the doc did make a point to bring up the topic of my physical needs, which was not at all expected…but totally appreciated.
The doc dove into the unsuspected sex talk by giving us a bit of marital advice. “Parents often dedicate all their energy on their children, because of course they love them…” , but he delivered that in a way that made me know that a big “but” was going to follow, “but they forget that kids grow up—they leave. And when that’s happened, it will be just you’s two. Then what? You just spent the last 20 years focusing on your kids and now you realize you no longer even know each other.” He paused for a moment, I’m sure for dramatic effect, and he concluded his thought with “So always put each other first.”
That wasn’t exactly the type of counsel that I was expecting to hear from our son’s pediatrician. Because out all the welcomed, and at other times, unwelcomed advice that we got during the 9 months leading to Seby’s birth, not a single one was in regards to how Jess and I were to maintain a healthy, loving relationship post pregnancy. And I gotta admit that up to that moment I hadn’t put any real thought into it, and I highly suspect that Jess hadn’t really either. I’ve thought about it a lot recently, now that Seby is demanding more and more of our time. But our son is such a good, funny, goofy, and oddly patient child that all we want to do is spend every possible minute we can with him; especially since we both have full time jobs and long commutes that eat into our bonding time with our son. So we pretty much have fallen into the trap that the doc warned us about. Seby has become the center of our universe and at times is does feel like we forget that our significant other is also a part of it. In our attempts to become the best parents possible, we have, in a way, regressed at being a good husband and wife.
“Mama”, the doc said while addressing Jess, “We know that YOU are restricted from having sex right now. I’m sure your doctor already told you that”. The doc once again emphasised and stretched out the word “but” in order to hammer the next point home. “Buuuuuuuuut Papa here doesn’t have the same restrictions.” For a split second there I thought the doc was going to be foolish enough to recommend that my wife should allow me to sow my wild oats with another woman while she recovered. Thankfully, for both his sake and mine, his recommendation was much more rational, and a lot less sleazy than my male brain had pictured. “Don’t forget Papa, here. There are things that you can do for him that don’t involve intercourse. ” Once again my male brain jumped the gun and immediately took the doc’s vague, yet purely monogamous suggestion, to mean oral sex. I was immediately sold on the idea.
Things in the coming weeks would get worse for us before they would get better. There would be no oral in my future, which trust me, was a pretty big let down. Jess and I would, increasingly, have a harder time seeing eye to eye; which only served to make Jessie’s postpartum depression gradually grow worse. And finally I would be setting myself for a rather rude awakening on the day that Jessie’s maternity leave ended and it was left to me, and me alone to, to watch over our son.
End of Part I
Next Week: Big Boy’s and Little Joy Part II: Motherhood
A couple of years ago my wife had dragged me to one of her biannual trips to a Catholic Church. This is not the sort of thing I look forward to doing because I’m not a fan of the way that some in the church choose to demonize gay people. Then there is that little global sex abuse scandal that the church likes to sweep under a rug. However Jess grew up in a household where the church held a central role in her family’s life. Her parents are still very devout Catholics, and so every now and then Jessie feels compelled to go to church because its what her family has always done. So I chose to set politics aside and tag along for the ride, because doing things that you hate is what marriage sometimes is all about.
I found myself sitting in the pew alongside Jess situated somewhere near the back of the church, as a middle aged Mexican gentleman with his Sunday’s best on was reading a bible verse before the entire congregation. The priest, another middle aged Latino male, with a pudgy physic and a slicked back hair-do that made me suspect that he frequented the same barber as I, was sitting to the side of the altar facing 2 alter boys that were seated across from him. Every time I find myself in a church my eyes wander around the ornately decorated room and at some point become fixated at it’s main center piece; the image of an oversize crucifix. This particular church, which is situated in one of the more pleasant neighborhoods in Cicero, had its crucifix with a copper colored molding of Jesus nailed to it. It was raised prominently in all it’s glory up on the ceiling above the altar for all to see. A crown of thorn adorned the top of Jesus head. There was a faint look of longing on his mostly relaxed face. I find it so strange that for us (I was born into a Roman Catholic family too) that the most powerful symbolic image our religion is that of a 1st Century torture device used to execute prisoners and enemies of the Roman empire. I often ask myself if any of the other great religions feature such somber imagery, and perhaps in a sign of my ignorance, none ever really come to mind. I half jokingly wondering what would have happened if Jesus had been executed during the French Revolution or in Jim Crow era Alabama. Would we have the a small guillotine hanging on our chains, or would we all be staring up at the image of Jesus in a chain gang prison garb, strapped to an electric chair?
After brushing away my silly musings I allowed my eyes to take in the rest of the congregation. They are made up of a mixture of bored young Mexican couples with their figgity children, and older, silver haired Latinos with slightly bent backs, and life worn weary faces; who I imagine have been coming to mass every Sunday since they were children. It only takes me a moment to see that there is a contrast between the two prevailing age groups that makes up this congregation; and I’m not talking about the obvious age gap that exist between the two groups. The older followers are mostly there unaccompanied. Many of them don’t appear to me that they are following along with middle aged gentleman that has sought out the honor to assist the priest in giving today’s homily. Instead many of the older folks appear to be facing down, eyes closed, muttering private prayers that nobody can hear. I imagine many of them, especially the women are holding a rosary, but I can’t really tell. These folks are devout believers. They are here to plead with God to answer their prayers. Some are obviously asking for good health and a positive break in their financial situation, others probably are asking for guidance and forgiveness. But no matter what these folks are muttering, I get the sense that they have faith that someone is up there listening to their prayer. On the other hand I don’t get that same sense from the younger crowd.
I notice a young couple sitting about two pews ahead of where Jess and I are sited. They have two young children with them. One of the kids, a boy, no older than one years old, is in his mothers arms, trying to squirm his way out of her grasp. A young girl,around 4 years old, is seated closely alongside her mother. The stringy little girl with long brown hair that is tied in a ponytail, is better behaved than her baby brother; however every few minutes the little girl still finds a need to tap her mother in the arm to get her undivided attention, and then whisper something into her ear.
The young mother, a twenty something Mexican woman, with long brown hair that clearly illustrates whose hair the daughter inherited, is sitting there holding the energetic baby close to her breast. I can’t help but give the young mother some credit, because although I can’t quite see her face yet, her overall body language doesn’t show a hint of frustration, despite the fact that her attention is seemingly being pulled in different direction by her children. Eventually I get a good look at the profile of her face when she turned to look over at her husband, or at least that’s who I figured he was, who was sitting at the same pew, but about 3 to 4 spots to her right. If it wasn’t for the fact that I had witnessed the little girl slide across the pew to whisper in his ears on several occasions, I wouldn’t have known that he was with them at all. I notice that the mother appears to be very tired. She had darks spots under her eyes that robbed her face of its youth. Her skin tone was a light colored caramel, which made me wonder if somewhere in her bloodline there was a Conquistador that forced himself upon an Aztec ancestor.
I never observed any other types of emotions coming from the young mother. She didn’t seem angry, she never flashed a smile, not a hint of frustration. All there was to see was a weary, joylessness on her face that seemed almost permanent. She looked over to at her husband multiple times as if looking for something, perhaps an acknowledgment from him. But for as long as I was there, I never saw her get one. He just sat there looking at something in his lap, perhaps a cell phone, or looked around aimlessly, appearing as if he just wanted to get the mass over with. The same could be said for all the other young folks in church that day. Most, if not all who were below the age of 40, were just going through the motions. We weren’t inspired by the homily, the well wasn’t being replenished of faith. We were in a way doing exactly what we all figured was expected of us, because that’s the way it had always been.
It was then that I realized that I, like the young husband that was sitting before me, hadn’t bothered to acknowledge my own wife. I peeked over to the side to see Jess still sitting there listening to the lecture, looking half bored. I guess she got that feeling that we all get when we sense a pair of eyes are on us because she turned her head towards me. She gives me this have quizzical look and mouthed if I was feeling alright. I give her a quick smile, nodded my head and mouthed back that I was ok. She smiles and sticks her tongue out at me like a naughty 5 year old before rising up on up to her feet, along with the rest of the congregation, as the priest came up to the podium.
That day I found myself in church because I was trying to be a good husband. My wife was there simply because she wanted to be a good daughter. All the young folks attending mass with their young children, were probably there because they wanted to instill in their children the types of traditional values and customs that they themselves had grown up with. And the elders, who had been coming to mass since the light of the sun was dawning on their lives and not setting on it, wanted to be in good graces with God. A god that to them was just one silent prayer away. We were all trying to please someone else in order to feel like we belonged. What each of us wanted to belong too may have differed, but in the end we were all their just trying not to feel alone, just like Christ did while he was up on that cross.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.