tales of a girl in the city

juin 05, 2004

What I Want

Someone today asked me what I want in a relationship, so I told them this story.

The day my friend had her first baby was also the day that her brother died.

She got the phone call about Thomas's death early in the morning: a heart attack, sudden, unexpected, unexplainable. Though still two weeks away from her due date, the shock made her go into early labor, and when she got to the hospital, they recommended that she be induced rather than given drugs to stop the contractions.

I had never had a close friend have a baby before. In my head, the day was going to be so happy--Christmas times ten thousand. Sure, there'd be some nervousness about the delivery, but other than that, nothing but unwrapping cute baby-sized hats and pajamas. Nothing but smile after smile.

Instead, the day was about tension. Presents were awkward to offer in such a silent room. And, instead of nerves, there was real fear.

At 42, there were already risks for her. And the labor alone would've been exhausting, but to do it in that condition; I had never seen her eyes so still. Her body was swollen and heated, but her face was just limp, like something left too long in the rain.

We stayed through the night. My friend's husband, taking breaks in the waiting room before the labor started, told the story of their first date. We all smiled about her stubborn streak and their unconventional courtship. He told stories about all the things he loved about her, and it made us laugh. We worried for her and the baby, which made us cry. While he went to be with her, we sat, we left, we came back.

I understand, now, about waiting.

Sometime the next afternoon, the baby was finally born. They named him Thomas, and we loved him all the more for his dramatic, heart-breaking timing. He was perfect, and tiny, and a wailing, squirming example of all the things that life can be.

There was a moment when, slowly recovering her senses, my friend was sitting in bed, talking to me and holding Thomas. Our conversation was about what every conversation in maternity rooms is about: his baby smell, his baby hands, and his perfect, small baby feet. Our smiles stayed on now--how could they not, with those ten tiny little toes?--but our voices were still strained. We understood with particular clarity the truth of the world we were welcoming him to.

As my friend talked to me, she was suddenly, I assume, hit with some physical pain. Without saying a word, without so much as a noise or even a look, she held her hand out to her husband. Though he was also in the middle of a conversation with another friend, he reached over and took her hand. She was too weak to move on her own--still too swollen and ripped apart. So he helped her sit up. Neither of their conversations ever paused. Their eyes never met. They both continued talking, as though nothing had happened.

I sat in my chair in the corner, and knew I'd remember that moment.

You'll never see them in a Hollywood movie. Her arms were purple from bruises. Her eyes were bloodshot. She wasn't pretty. And he was grey with worry, and unshowered from nights of waiting. And they had a squalling baby instead of Dom Perignon and a suite filled with rose-petals.

But his hand was there almost before she knew she needed it.

And that's what love is.