I’m meeting Kim’s mom and Kim’s aunt Mary Kay for breakfast this morning to celebrate Elena’s eighteenth birthday.
It almost didn’t happen.
We had snow forecast and it didn’t make sense for Geri to drive over here after she goes to mass. She invited me to meet her at Bob Evans for lunch. I said no thank you, that I’d go to Big Al’s by myself.
There’s nothing wrong with Bob Evans.
There’s nothing wrong with celebrating Elena’s birthday by going to breakfast by myself.
There’s nothing wrong with it snowing on Elena’s birthday.
All three take me back to the day she was born.
Kim and I dropped Maggie and Tara, our black lab, at Kim’s parents house around ten on the night of March 2, 1999. We visited a while and then headed to the hospital.
Kim had gone in earlier but they sent her home telling her that if she checked in after midnight she wouldn’t waste one of the days covered by insurance.
So we checked Kim into the hospital at midnight and were taken to a room. Kim was made as comfortable as they could make her and I was given a pillow and a blanket for the reclining chair next to her bed.
They told us it would be a while.
We quietly talked and napped now and then. We must have napped because I remember the nurse coming in the room the next morning and us both blinking at the light and looking at each other.
I loved looking at Kim first thing in the morning.
I loved looking at Kim just about any time – but there was something fresh and unguarded about her first thing in the morning.
Nine months pregnant, uncomfortable as can be, she smiled at me and said, “Morning, honey. Did you sleep at all?”
“A little,” I said. “You?”
To me, that’s a marriage. It’s not filled with momentous pithy quotes. It’s filled with little conversations like that.
The nurse checked on her. “It’s going to be a while,” she said.
Someone brought in a breakfast tray for Kim. She sat up and ate it.
The nurse stopped back in and asked if I wanted them to bring me coffee. I glanced at Kim. She shook her head slightly back and forth.
“No thank you,” I told the nurse.
The nurse looked at me, “you should go get breakfast, walk around. She’s going to need you later. Not now.”
I looked at Kim. She nodded. “You go, I’ll be ok. You’ll feel better if you go.”
So I drove over to Bob Evans and had breakfast alone. It was only snowing a little then. I finished and went across the street and bought Mille Borne. Kim had always wanted to play that. I took it back to the hospital and we played for a while until she was tired. She napped.
Elena wasn’t born until after ten that night.
Some test showed that there was a risk if Kim delivered naturally so she would need a C-section. She was so disappointed but realized it didn’t matter. Soon she would hold her baby and none of it would matter.
They asked if I wanted to be in the operating too.
Well maybe not of course. I was prepared for a natural birth but hadn’t really thought about being there for an operation. But, I told them, my wife and new born baby were going to be in that operating room – of course I wanted to be there.
I can’t believe they’re both gone. I remember that night so well.
They wheeled Kim out to the operating room and gave me clothes to change into so that I could be in the operating room too.
They brought me in as they were intubating Kim. The next time I would see Kim intubated was as she lay dying six months ago.
It’s like everything is somehow coupled together in my head.
They gave Kim general anesthesia which meant they had to work fast. They didn’t want the drug to get to the baby. I watched as they cut Kim wide so they could deliver the baby quickly.
Kim would feel that cut for the rest of her life. She said her stomach never felt exactly right. She never felt that the muscles completely healed.
I remember my focus shifting from Kim to our baby as soon as Elena was born.
One set of doctors checked on Elena while another set put Kim back together.
“How is she?” I asked – meaning Elena.
They told me everything looked great.
“Do you want to hold her?” one nurse asked.
I wanted to hold her then and more than anything I want to hold her today. I want to say, “Happy Birthday baby – how does it feel to be eighteen?”
A couple hours later, Elena was in the nursery at the hospital and Kim was coming out of recovery. Kim blinked the anesthesia from her head and looked over at me.
“She’s beautiful,” I said.
Kim asked to hold her baby. The nurse said “no”, that Kim was too tired, she’d see her later.
“No,” I said, “she’d like to hold her baby now.”
The nurse made a call and someone brought Elena in and handed her to Kim.
Kim in a hospital gown with post-op hair that would have made her cringe holding our baby. As beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen.
I hate talking about Elena and Kim in the past tense.
You know what I’d like more than anything today? Even more than the more-than-anything I just said?
More than anything I’d love to see Kim give Elena a big hug today and say, “Happy Birthday baby – how does it feel to be eighteen?”