Part Three – Dirt bikes in the mud

The Trip

Part Three: Dirt bikes in the mud

The drive from the capital to Playa Limon was long and hot and soon took us into paths least taken, outside of cities and even large towns and along small dirt roads. We passed small fruit stands and vendors who sold miscellaneous meats that they wrapped in tin foil and handed to you with a plastic fork. They were the last benefactors of the road, offering whatever they could to those who had made it this far along an isolated path. Soon we saw remnants of the rain storm from the night before, deep potholes lined the unpaved streets and Leo’s low-riding sedan maneuvered around the muddy craters with professional ease. At least at first.

It was around this point, as the roads got muddier and muddier that both G and I seemed to remember a key passage in the description of the isolated beach we had convinced my Uncle and family friend to drive us to. The book had said something along the lines of, and I’m paraphrasing: after it rains, it’s nearly impossible to get there. Leo swerved to avoid another divot and revved his engines to muscle through a shallow pool of still water and we knew we should say something. Somehow admit that we had led them on what may end up being a fruitless enterprise. An adventure that was over before it began. We didn’t. Another pothole and another sharp swerve from Leo. The bottom of the car scraped noisily as it jostled up and over small dirt hills. This was a city car, perfect for the paved roads of a busy downtown. Off-roading was not something this car was familiar with. Or did well.

Finally we made it to the last turn off before we were supposed to reach the beach; a three or four mile stretch of dirt road, framed by foliage on either side, that the rains had turned into a sodden, muddy mess of earth ready to swallow up any foolish mid-sized, low-riding vehicle that tried to traverse it. God bless Leo, he tried. We know he tried. And after a few minutes of nearly getting stuck in the uncompromising ground and looking off into the horizon for any sign that we were making progress, he stopped the car, turned and looked at us in the backseat and shook his head. This was as far as the car could go.

We all got out of the car one by one, feet slipping on the wet ground, faces trying to hide the frustration of having come so far only to be stymied at what was literally the finish line. I remember seeing my Uncle walk off around a bend, trying to see if the road got any better ahead, and coming back with a look of resignation etched into the wrinkles of his face. Our shoulder’s sagged. Our spirits dampened. We wondered if we could just make the messy hike to the beach, our backpacks slung tightly on our backs. I wonder if we would have done it, walked the rest of the way. I don’t know. Because at that moment we heard the low rumbling of a motor somewhere behind us. And then sliding over a dirt mound came a large Dominican man on a small dirt bike, making his way towards the coast and finding our somber group in his way.

G and I took some steps back, moving out the way so that the man could go on but my Uncle had another idea and instead stepped into his path. The bike skidded to a stop, the man looked around at our faces and at my Uncle who seemed taller than he had been just a minute earlier and smiled. What else could he do? My Uncle smiled back, putting a friendly hand on the man’s shoulder and said good morning. In that moment my Uncle looked like the kind of man who had friends in every town, knew every ex-soldier or policeman we passed and who could convince you to stay at the bar for a few more drinks instead of going home for the night. The man on the bike said good morning back, extending a hand out which my Uncle quickly took and shook with the familiarity of a politician.

“¿Oye primo, hazme un favor?” (“Listen cousin, do me a favor?”)

And that was how it started.

My Uncle handed the man some cash, let him know that he was a cop (the ex conveniently left out), that we were his nephew and niece and that we were trying to get to the beach. A few more handshakes later and we found ourselves on the back of the dirt bike, holding on to both the large driver and our bags with a nervous grip. G sat between me and him, arms tight around this stranger we’d only just met. I sat at the back, one arm tight around both bookbags and the other holding up my leg by the pants since I had no where else to rest it. And then we were off.

The next ten minutes were both the most fun and most scary of my life to that point. We fish-tailed and skidded and slid and zipped up and over and back down muddy hills, racing over puddles and potholes while mud and water splashed up around us. The driver, for his part, didn’t even seem to feel us hanging on behind him. He sped up inclines and danced back down them at an angle, gaining and losing and gaining purchase with the practiced ease of someone used to riding over this sort of terrain. We went in silence, with only an occasional and involuntary yelp of shock each time we came down a particularly steep hill, zigzagging towards the next one.

By the time we made it to the beachside hotel, our legs were covered in grime; our faces plastered with shocked smiles we hadn’t even known were there. The driver, we never even got his name, stopped the bike just outside the building, helping us untwine ourselves from him and each other. We stumbled off, legs wobbly from the thrum of the motor, windswept tears making their way down the sides of our faces. We shook hands, gave thanks to our unexpected savior and parted ways as a hotel worker came ambling by. Our dirt bike riding hero sped off back the way we came towards parts unknown, with pockets a little more full and hopefully a story of his own to tell his friends. We could only follow the hotel worker back towards the front desk, open on one side to the sound of the ocean just beyond the trees, welcoming us to Playa Limon once and for all. We had finally made it.

Within fifteen minutes we were in our room, a sparse light blue single with a queen bed, ceiling fan and bathroom that boasted a giant tub and shower but no door or curtain. It was perfect. We threw our bags down on the floor and I went to go clean off the last half hour from my legs. G just sat and cried, half happy to finally be here and half still in shock. I was supposed to call my Uncle, let him know we’d made it safely but instead I wiped mud from my calfs and G sat on the bed. The beach was calling to us. It beckoned to us to keep on going, to take the short walk to its shores and finally feel the spray of salt water and freedom on our faces. So we dumped out one of the backpacks and starting packing up some supplies for the water. It was time to explore.

(continued in Part Four: Beach guides and coconuts)

The Trip – Part Two: The Arrival

The Trip

Part Two: The Arrival

My family is originally from the Dominican Republic and I still have a lot of family and family friends who live there. I’d been two or three times before when I was younger but only really remember eating mangoes in my grandmother’s kitchen and going to the beach. A lot of my childhood memories involve mangoes I’ve found. While trying to figure out where we wanted to go for our next big trip, we picked the Dominican Republic primarily for it’s opportunity for island themed adventures but also because we knew we’d have a base of operations to work from while we meandered and explored. My great aunt had a house in the capital where we could stay, and unbeknownst to us at the time, an awesome cook who wound up feeding us some old time family favorites like mangu or mashed plantains with onions, and sancocho, a hearty and awesome meat stew.

Prior to the Guatemala trip we went out and bought a Lonely Planet: Guatemala guidebook as a means of preparation. I’m not sure why we went with the Lonely Planet instead of any other guidebook brand but I know it ended up being a great idea. G loves to plan and work out potential side-trips when we travel, so many evenings were spent pouring over the various maps and route suggestions that the book offered. For the DR trip, we decided to do the same thing. And we weren’t disappointed. We decided early on that we wanted to fit in some sight seeing, some family dinners and some exploring, which of course meant quality beach time. What better place to explore than the beach. And there was one beach in particular that we wanted to see, for no other reason than it’s seeming isolation from the more touristy areas along the island’s east coast. The entry in the lonely planet was only a few sentences, but I remember it mentioned how those lucky travelers who found themselves along it’s coconut tree lined shores could enjoy idyllic views of the Atlantic ocean, taking one back to before Columbus first set foot on it’s sandy coast. Well, maybe that’s not what the book said, but that’s how I like to remember it. Whatever the actual words were it triggered in us that explorer’s spirit that lies dormant for most people and only emerges at key times in their lives. We would go to this Playa Limon, and we would get away from our hectic lives, and we would bask in the naked sun.

And what a sun. Here’s a tip. The Dominican Republic in the middle of August is hot. Like, “hand of Satan on your back” hot. We learned that quickly and brutally upon arriving. Now, we currently live in Phoenix Arizona so my understanding of what a hot summer means has significantly shifted since that time around 2008. But even with this new found perspective I can say, with no exaggeration, that we wilted in that sun like the sage plants in our back yard. That is to say, quickly. It’s hot.

Our first stop after arriving was to my great aunt’s house, and we were picked up at the airport by a family friend and my aunt’s de facto driver, Leo. Leo’s low riding sedan would end up being are main mode of transportation for our duration in the Dominican Republic, the man himself acting as a Greek chorus of sorts to the continuous narrative G and I painted from the back seat of his car. Leo. He gave us his phone number, told us to call whenever we needed him and always drove us around with a smile and a friendly word. That he was taking time out of his private car service business was never lost on us and we made sure to do our best to compensate him for his efforts. What I later found out though was that my dad had called Leo up before we got there and told him to keep an eye out for us. Because if there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that no one trusts a Dominican less than another Dominican.

As totally convenient as it was being able to rely on Leo for rides, we still had that intrepid explorer calling to us from inside our bodies demanding that we go out and explore, putting ourselves in the maws of the beast that is Santo Domingo. It didn’t help though that at every turn we were told how incredibly dangerous that might be for some Americans like us, no matter how authentic I thought I looked with my aviator sunglasses and NY Yankee baseball hat.

Though we couldn’t wait to head to Playa Limon, we would have been remiss if we didn’t first visit some of the historical sites of Santo Domingo, a city incredibly rich with history and culture. We saw the city’s Casas Reales, strolled through the Alcazar de Colon, sat in the aged pews of the Catedral Primada de America, and saw authentic Dominican cigars rolled in shops along the Zona Colonial. Any trip to the Dominican Republic’s capital city would be incomplete without these, and many other stops we made and despite the incessant heat that followed us without remorse, I am so glad we made the time to make them.

When it came time for us to finally make our way to Playa Limon, Leo was there, ever the willing co-conspirator of our Lonely Planet based exploits. Also there, sitting shotgun with eyes that pierced the waves of heat and still sparkled with a youthful devilry was, My Uncle.

My father’s older brother, My Uncle was an old army man who also used to be a cop and still traveled with a pristinely kept silver automatic pistol at his hip. I believe he ran a private security company at the time and I remember that the night before we went on this beach trip, he put a shot gun and security uniform in the trunk of his car so that he could drop if off with one of his employees while we were on the road. I can close my eyes and still see G’s face as the man she’d only met earlier that day immerged from a back bedroom with a large firearm and a smile, as nonchalantly as anyone ever did anything. This was a man who seemingly knew everyone we passed from the Capital to the countryside, either from his days as a young rogue or his time in the military. It was a long drive, leaving the city and heading out towards the isolated shores Columbus had visited during his first trip to the new world. We stopped for gas, for food, and for reasons I still don’t know; My Uncle simply disappearing down a street to say hi to an old friend. We also stopped once or twice for cold Presidentes.

The ride was long, the conversation entertaining, the air conditioning struggled to cleave through the space between the front of the car and the back where we sat. But we could feel the adventure that lie ahead, the unsuppressed excitement of soon discovering something new. We were close to our isolated beach and the very reason we decided to go on this venture. But we realized, as one often does on the precipice of finally getting what they’ve long desired, that as close as we felt, there was still a long way to go.

(continued in Part Three: Dirt bikes in the mud)

The Trip – Part One: First, some background

The DR Trip

Part One: First, some background

Let me start by saying, I have not always been a well traveled man. I would never have considered myself such before I met she, who I will further refer to as – G. I’d been a few places, on some plane rides, traveled with school or family and enjoyed the very basic, structured vacations one becomes accustomed to by a certain age, if they’re lucky. Disney World. Check. Niagara Falls. Check. Great Adventures. Check. Growing up, my parents did their best to schlep three rambunctious boys of varying ages around and I have always been thankful. But it wasn’t until I met G that I knew trips could even be adventures, not just something immaculately organized by my parents. I never knew one could survive with only a well packed book-bag, a good pair of sneakers and a willingness to walk the unbeaten path.

Where I was slightly inexperienced with that method of travel, G entered the relationship a traveling veteran. Between her trips to Ghana and Oaxaca, she had put more miles on her passport than I had thought possible. But then again, for many years my idea of a long trip meant driving three hours upstate. When we started dating, she wasted no time in convincing me to get my book-bag ready, buy some new shoes and get out of my New York comfort zone; the cocoon I’d been too happy to stay in for the first twenty years of life.

Now, just to give myself a little credit, I did know there was a life beyond the street I grew up on. Senior year in High School I went to Spain with some other classmates and around that same time I made a solo trip to San Francisco to visit my older brother. After that, I went to Amsterdam for a week with some friends. A part of me knew that the fast paced, grind of the City was only a part of the experiences out there. I had walked the laid back hills of the Bay and drank sangria on a stone paved street in Barcelona. But I was never too long from returning home to that good ole cocoon, putting my suitcase back in the closet and forgetting there was ever another way to live.

Our first trip together was to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, and trust me when I say that is another essay in and of itself. Just remembering it now, I can think of countless stories worth retelling. Only, not right now. What I will say though is that the Guatemala trip was an eye opener for me. We only had over stuffed book-bags. We stayed in hostels. We roomed with other travelers we didn’t know. And I got the first real massage of my life at a small lake side town called San Marcos. Eye opening. And not just because it was full of new experiences, I also learned lots of new things about myself. Namely, I apparently only need four t-shirts and four pairs of underwear to survive in a strange land. I like hostels well enough, assuming I have a functioning bathroom to myself. And I love massages (though every one I’ve gotten since that time has paled in comparison).

After Guatemala, we went to Colorado to visit G’s family. I fell in love with Colorado as soon as I got off the plane. And while we made the rounds of visiting everyone we needed to visit, we did find time to take me camping for the first time in my life. Though, I’ve been told since then that sleeping in a tent only ten feet from your car and within eyeshot of the visitor’s center bathrooms barely constitutes real camping, but at the time it was sleeping outdoors in a tent with a camp fire. Camping. And we hiked. Which to someone raised in the City was a foreign concept.

“So we’re going to walk? For fun? Up that hill? Ok…”

But it was fun, and I saw some awesome things. And again, it was eye opening. An experience that I had never had before and would always remember. And that’s the whole point of traveling isn’t it?

We soon started planning our next big trip. This was around 2008. The process of choosing a vacation destination mostly involves G telling me where she wants to go, and me making sure there will be indoor plumbing. It’s a process that we’ve perfected. While narrowing down our list, there was one location that kept coming up as someplace we thought we could really enjoy ourselves. Someplace that would harken back to that Guatemala trip, where adventure, if we were looking for it, would be easy to find. We went to the library, got the Lonely Planet guidebook for this place, and excitedly started planning our next foray into the unknown. And where was this magical location where we would try our hand at new experiences? Where would we be going to look for and hopefully find this adventure? The Dominican Republic.

 

(continued in Part Two: The arrival)

Meeting people is never easy

     Me und Golden

     Meeting people is never easy. It’s something that has always made me nervous and made me wonder how anyone met anybody at all, ever. And I mean romantically. Meeting someone at a church function or at your kid’s day care is ok with me. I can schmooze with the best of them, picking up small-talk and current event-chat like a pro. Listening is the key, so is a certain mixture of confidence and self-deprecation. I try to never take myself too seriously and genuinely enjoy asking questions and learning new things. No, it’s the intimate meets that I always failed at; putting yourself out there in the interest of getting to know someone new, for the overall result of finding a partner. Something about being in a position of vulnerability in front of a complete stranger.

     I first met Golden through an email “wink”. Online personals were very appealing to me. It was a way to make myself available, while safely behind the confines of my room and computer. I ventured out through the web of cyberspace wearing pajama pants and a dirty t-shirt and it was ok. Because I was safe. This was at a time when online personal services were starting to get a little more mainstream. Sites like EHarmony were starting to advertise more and many sites still provided free services. My choice of match maker was the Onion Online Personals. That Onion. I trusted my romantic future to a website that specialized in mock news articles and parody. When filling out that first profile, I made the mistake of not being entirely honest. It’s too easy not to be. On the one hand I could put a current picture of myself, squinting at the camera and looking tired or an older picture where the light reflects perfectly off my face and I’m wearing the perfect shirt, the one that makes my love handles look like muscles. I could explain how my favorite author was Bill Watterson and Calvin and Hobbes was my favorite literary partnership, or I could stretch the truth a bit, take a more intellectual route and extol on the writing of Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost and how it changed my view of life through poetry. I went the stretching path. And for months found no one. Actually, it’s more accurate to say, no one found me. I finally figured that if I was going to be continually rejected by anonymous love interests, I might as well try and be as honest I could be.

     Her “wink”, or “poke” or however it was called back then, appeared in my email inbox. How it works is instead of sending a direct message to someone else, you showed initial interest and waited for a show of interest back. It was like casting a line into a pond, a non-committal foray into the unknown. I liked it. And I liked her. So I responded with an actual message. I don’t remember the exact words, but I know it had to be silly and probably ‘Simpsons’-related. And I know this because an honest response from me back then was almost always silly and most likely Simpsons related. She had gotten a bite on her line. And it was me.

     By the time we met, we had had a whole “first five dates” worth of conversations via email. Between my anxious flaking and her South American travels, our first summer of “knowing” each other was full of “what’s your favorite…” and “if you could be any…” type of communications. She was charming and funny and our sense of humors was so aligned she was making jokes in her emails that I would have made in mine. She liked my smile and I liked her intensity about her life. She appreciated my love of family and having fun, and I was enamored with her dedication to adult education and world travel. We talked for four months. Trusted the process for four entire months. And when we decided to meet, when that first official date was finally scheduled (she was back in NY and I had gotten up my courage) I was more nervous then I remember being in a long time.

     It’s kind of cliché, the first date jitters. That didn’t stop my stomach from going into some gymnast’s routine while riding the subway into Park Slope. We picked neutral turf for our first meet. And I thought it was a great way to meet on mutually comfortable ground. Of course I found out later it was her way of not letting this stranger know where she lived. That’s being smart.

        I found myself standing on Union street and Seventh Avenue and my heart was beating. We were supposed to meet here, and then go to some Mexican restaurant close by. It was supposed to have some awesome fish tacos and it sounded like a great stop for a first date. And I’m looking on every corner, and back at my watch, and back up again until I finally spot her walking down Union. She was buttoned up since it was a cool early fall day in September, she had rosy cheeks that showed under her hat and she was on the phone. We stood there on opposite corners while she finished her phone call and while it felt like forever, it was only a minute or two. We finally caught each other’s eye and smiled at each other; it was the first of so many smiles we’d have that day and since, but it was no less bright. We had finally met.

       Dinner was fun. Very,

      “So tell me, what do you do again? It was something with adults?”

      “How was your trip? Ecuador sounds awesome.”

     “I’ve actually never had a fish taco.”

      We sat and ate and talked and drank wine and had a great time. We talked about our families and about our passions in life. I made bad jokes, and she laughed at them. I tried fish tacos for the first time, and loved them. So when it was time to pay the check and either end the date or go have a drink at a bar, we chose the latter and continued our varied conversations at a nearby dive bar, complete with window benches and tea candle lighting at the tables. We just talked for over an hour, sitting close, with our heads huddled together. It felt very surreal, sitting there with a girl I’d just met but feeling so relaxed. She placed a hand on my knee at the end of a funny story, and I touched her shoulder while finishing a point. We looked each other in the eye and spoke into each other’s ears to be heard over people at the other tables and passing cars. It was a great time.

      We finally made our way back to Union and Seventh and I was supposed to go my way and she would go hers. I said I’d call and she told me I’d better and we said good bye. In moments like these, there is that voice that says “kiss her” but I rarely listen to those kinds of voices so I think we shook hands, and I turned and left. I was still in shock of how good things went and I made it half way down the block before I remembered to turn around and wave bye again. The second goodbye, the one where you do the half smile and cock your head to the side while you raise your arm up and wave. I turned. And she was standing there, half a block away, in the same place where I left her, waiting for me to turn before calling me back to the corner. I reached her and she wasted no time before kissing me and I kissed her back and for a few minutes we were that annoying couple kissing on the corner in Park Slope but we didn’t care. It was a movie moment. The ‘walk-back kiss’ moment. And when we stopped kissing and were just standing there quietly asking ourselves who this person across from us was, I assured her I’d call and we’d see each other soon. And she said I had better.

     I never thought I’d have such a good first date. I didn’t think it’d be especially bad, but I was realistic and knew a certain amount of awkwardness was assured. But it hadn’t been awkward, and I while I never thought I was having dinner with my future wife necessarily, I knew I was going to be having a lot more dinners with this girl. This was one of those times where meeting someone hadn’t been that hard after all. After a long email courtship, it was as if we had already been friends earlier in life and were just coming together after some time apart. We’d finally reconnected.

Plans, Control, Time

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You wait nine months, and then there you are. Playing a waiting game you thought you’d be ready for but still feeling overwhelmed. They say it’s the waiting that’s the worst. And I guess I can see that, a year later, watching my son run around the living room with a broom handle in his hand and a mischievous look in his marble eyes. I would argue getting three hours of sleep a night for two months is actually the worst thing, but again, I know what they were talking about; nine months is a long time to sit with that “edge of the cliff” feeling looming every second.

We weren’t ready. Not for the pregnancy in general but after nine months there is some time to wrap your head around the living thing that took over your wife’s body. No, we weren’t ready for him to be born yet. We thought we had time. It was two weeks before his due date, that window where you know it could be “any minute now” but where you think you still have some control of the situation.

“Sure, let’s go see that movie next week, I mean, we still have time.”

Control. Oh you fleeting, fickle, tease. We never had you, not really. But we didn’t know that yet. You were still a tangible expectation. You and your friend Plans. We were so stupid then.

I had started to dread going to work. In my head, every time I was away from her was another opportunity for something bad to happen; that “bad” thing that is always possible when you worry for a living, when you’re dealing with a first child, when you’ve seen too much television and you think women having babies in cabs or police cars was just as natural as there being a spontaneous twin you never knew was there. It was our friend Sam who talked me down.

“What’s the worst that can happen? Nothing happens like on TV. It’s never a You Have To Get Here Right Now! moment. You’ll have time. When it happens, it’ll be slow. You’ll have time to get there. Maybe even too much time. Bring a book.”

Things were different the morning my son was born. We could both tell. My wife was acting strange. Off. Slower than normal. They teach you to look for the signs of labor in those birthing classes, the ones where you’re forced to watch the old VHS of that one woman giving birth to that one kid. The one where you feel like you’ve just encroached on someone’s most personal moment before you think, “why did they let the camera guy in there!?” So we knew what to look for. What would mean things were about to happen, or if it was just a false alarm. But there goes that illusion of Control again. Of thinking we’d be out in front of this thing we were sure we were ready for.

I left for work that morning and the sky seemed bluer than normal. A perfect Brooklyn Fall day. The air was still warm, carrying some left over summer in each breeze, but the colors were vibrant in that fall way. Reds more red, yellows more yellow. And the sky, more blue then I’d remembered. I went to work thinking, “we have time”, thinking “we’re in control”. “Things don’t happen like they do on TV.” I was confident that I would come home that night and we would laugh at the strange morning vibes that we both felt hours before. The train ride was uneventful. Which means it was good, quiet. No screaming kids heading to school. I even got a seat and I never get a seat. It was peaceful. It was disarming.

I called her an hour after getting into work and she was breathing heavy over the phone. Labor heavy. My mind started racing. I tend to over-worry. Or, I did then. It’s amazing what a kid will do to your worry sensors. They shift. I worry about new things now, bigger things. I just don’t have the mental fortitude to worry about the small stuff anymore. But then, a year ago, I did. I definitely did.

“Are you ok? What’s going on? Should I come home? How do you feel? What’s happening? Are you hungry? Sleepy? Dopey? Grumpy? Are you any other of the seven dwarfs? Jesus are you ok?”

She tells me that she’s fine. She’s feeling some contractions that’s all. The false ones, Braxton-Hicks they’re called. She called the doctor, but she’s sure it’s nothing. Everything’s fine. And remember, we have two weeks. We. Have Time. But the shakiness in her voice betrays her and I can tell she’s feeling unsure. Maybe not as much as I am, there, sitting at my desk with nothing but my worrying keeping me company. But still unsure.

“I’m coming home right now.” I tell her, and she emphatically told me not to. I had missed some days of work the previous week and we were both concerned about how much vacation time I had.

“We’ll need them in two weeks so stay ok? I’ll call you when I get back from the OB. We have time. Blah blah plans. Blah blah control.”

So I hung up, tried to focus on spreadsheets, and let the smooth sounds of my custom work playlist wash over me. Thank you Jack Johnson, thank you Cake. I let them take it from there.

She called me back an hour later and when retelling this part of the story, I tend to laugh because man, Control and Plans, right? Assholes! Diabolical madmen! She started by telling me she’s begun to dilate. And I know that that’s birthing talk for “this guy is getting ready to come, whether we like it or not.” But, she assures me (She tries to assure me. It’s like telling someone you’re going to punch them in the face, but hey not right now ok. Let me assure you, you will be punched but not right this second. Do you feel reassured now?) that the midwife told her we still had time. Time. The last musketeer along with Control and Plans. And not time as in the two weeks we thought, but days time. This weekend time. The baby probably won’t be born until after the weekend, which I reminded her isn’t two weeks. As if she’d forgotten. She hadn’t. She knows just as well as I do. But she’s quiet now, and I feel bad for maybe not empathizing as much as I should have in that moment. I feel like I’m maybe not being supportive enough. I feel…wait, what was that sound?

“Are you ok?” I ask.

“Yeah, no, yeah I’m fine. It just…” and she’s quiet again, followed by a low animalistic, guttural noise I’ve never heard her make before.

“Are you, having contractions right now? Is that what’s happening?”

She says no because I mean, the midwife said we had days. We had time. Time, time, time. It was like water and apparently we thought we had jugs of it. Handfuls! We forgot what happens to handfuls when you start spreading your fingers. Drip. Drip.

“Are you literally going into labor over the phone with me, and telling me NOT to come home?”

I have to be a little more forceful now. Decisive. If it were up to her I’d still be at work now, a year later, and she’d still be reassuring me that we had time, this wasn’t happening. So I tell her I’m leaving right now. I’m going to the house; I’m going to take care of her. Put her head in my lap, sing her sweet nothings, make her tea, let her watch her favorite TV show. Anything to make her feel better. We had time, and I was going to spend it with her. I hang up. I tell my boss I have to leave. I get pats on the back, and well wishes. I get walked to the elevator and reassurances that everything is going to be fine. I nod, I smile. I say things like, “I know, I know” and then I proceed to sprint like a madman to the subway.

Being on the subway in a time like this can feel like being trapped in a cave. I might as well have been at the center of the earth. I’m in a time warp. Things slow down to an inconceivable speed. Snails race by with each second that passes. I wonder if I should have just ran home; through midtown, over the Brooklyn Bridge and all the way to our doorstep. Each stop lasts an eternity. Minute delays feel like days, and I started to forget what the sun feels like. How long was I down there? I start becoming a mole-person, and if I hear one more “Please sir, step away from the doors, you’re delaying this train” I felt like I was going to lose it. It feels like two lifetimes by the time I emerge up onto the street and rip my phone out of my pocket. I need to call her, is she still ok? Does she feel better yet? Will we laugh about this all the way to the “end of the weekend” when time will have officially run out?

I have one voicemail and I listen to it as I start walking to the apartment. I don’t remember the exact words but it goes something like this,

“Hey Danny, it’s your dad. Everything’s fine. We’re at the hospital so head over here when you can. Ok, see you soon!”

And my dad has this voice that’s like a picnic on a Sunday afternoon. No stress, no urgency. “…when you can.” Like he’s inviting me to stop home first, have a sandwich, take my time. I call her phone, to hear from her own mouth what’s happening. My Dad picks up.

“Hi son! What’s up?”

“What, where are you guys? Where’s Golden?”
“Well, we are here at the hospital. We are waiting for you to get here.” His voice is calm.

“What? Uh ok? Is she ok? What happened?”

“Oh no, she’s doing just fine. She’s been great.”

“OK. Um, yeah…I’ll just get the car. I’ll be right there.”

To this day I contend that no one has ever driven down Seventh Avenue in Park Slope faster and more reckless then I did. I don’t even remember it. In my mind’s eye I see lights, people, random faces, some dogs maybe, but overall it’s a blur. I roared into the lobby, tore my way up to the fifth floor. Raced into the hospital room. She was lying on a bed, a tube in her arm, hospital gown hanging lose about her. This was more than being “at the hospital”. This was being IN the hospital. And as if I had been in denial through this entire experience, I remember pausing for a second and thinking, “Oh my God”. That was my Oh My God moment. Right there. Looking at her on the bed, feeling so helpless, so small. I could smell those hospital smells that you never get used to. Rubbing alcohol and bleach and Vaseline and sweat. They were so real. I stood there in the doorway, and I could only see her. Not my parents, not the midwife. Nothing else.

The midwife turns away from a computer screen (I speculate she may have been checking her email or reading up on celebrity gossip but I realize that is probably not the case. She just looked so casual) and saw me and smiled.

“Great, you’re here! We’re ready to go when you are.” I looked back at Golden. She smiled. I broke from my stupor.

“Danny, you can take your jacket and book bag off.” Golden continued to smile at me. And she looked so tired. When telling the story of how her and my parents got to the hospital, she often says how no one tells you one crucial detail.

“You think that you go into labor, and then magically you are at the hospital. But no one mentions that from the apartment to the hospital room, you’re laboring the whole way. I was in labor on the sidewalk. In labor in the car. In labor on the ramp going up to the hospital doors.” So when I got there, and saw her damp brown hair sticking to her face, I could already see the exhaustion on her face. And the real work hadn’t even started yet.

“Oh yeah. Yeah.” I take off my coat and bag and throw them inconsequently into the corner onto a couch.

“Oh baby, I’m so glad you’re here.” If it’s possible to have a moment, there with a midwife, nurse and two parents looking at you, we had it then, looking into each other’s eyes. We were there. Time, Control and Plans were nowhere to be seen. Embarrassed maybe, or off smirking over a beer. Who really knew.-

“Ok, so are we ready? This baby is just waiting to get out of there.” Again I’m amazed at how calm the midwife was. We knew her through a mutual friend in addition to the nine months’ worth of doctors visits that we had to get to know her. We had a connection outside of the hospital room which was the result of the small world that was Brooklyn. Our doctor, had he been on call that day instead of the midwife, was an old high school friend of mine, and he would have delivered my son. Yeah, Brooklyn felt that small sometimes.

Her next words broke through the surrealness of the situation and it took me a second to really understand what she was saying. But in retrospect, when your wife is about to give birth and the midwife asks, “So are you squeamish?” you better answer quickly. I barely understood the implications before she told me,

“Ok, grab that leg, and hold her head in your hands. Let’s go.”

It should be mentioned that I had planned (Plans!!!!) on only being a spectator during this whole thing. I had my spot chosen behind the hospital bed where I would offer support and love from a safe, sterile distance. Instead I was right there, holding one leg in the air while my mom held the other leg (my mother instead of her mother since, well, WE HAD TIME! And her mom wasn’t scheduled to come in for another few days.) The midwife told me to take her mind off pushing and contractions and everything that was happening, which is a tough thing to do. It’s not like I could just tell her some dumb jokes and we could laugh our way through the whole thing. Well, that is exactly what I tried to do. And I am full of dumb jokes. You can say I had been preparing for this moment my whole life. My whole Dumb Joke Making life. And thirty minutes later…thirty dumb joke filled, “why is this taking so long”, “is it out yet”, “just push”, “you are doing great” minutes later, I heard our son cry for the first time. The midwife placed him right in front of me and asked “Ok dad, what is it?” and all I saw was my son’s junk and I cried out, “Atticus! It’s a boy!” And tears. And kisses. And headshaking in disbelief. That’s all I remember after that. “It’s a boy!”

I also remember having scissors thrust into my hand and being told to cut the cord. I had felt very strongly that I wasn’t in fact going to do this. I mean, why am I being trusted with scissors and a cord when there are so many professionals in the room who train for that sort of thing. But I cut it, after two tries (they don’t tell you how rubbery it is) and he was out. Detached from his previous home, signing this new lease with us. For the rest of his life. We just held each other. Me, Golden. Golden, Atticus. My parents were weeping somewhere behind us but we could only focus on each other. Nine months of waiting, and it was over. Or rather, it was just beginning.

That first night was the scariest night of my life. And I had nightmare issues as a child so that’s saying a lot. Talk about feeling helpless. Feeling small. He was here, alive, a real boy for us to ruin and make mistakes with. Oh God how do you not ruin something so tiny and weak. I had no idea. It seemed inevitable. How could life be so irresponsible to trust US with this perfect little baby? I couldn’t even keep a plant alive for too long. I had two cats but damn, they practically take care of themselves. But like all things that night passed. And so did the next night, and the next and before you knew it we had survived a month, the three of us. One month, two, three. Each made slightly easier because of the month that preceded it.

To say the year has passed so quickly would be just a little misleading. I felt every day, every week. It feels quick but then I remember how long some of those nights were. How we felt it would be two in the morning forever. I look at him now, walking, babbling and learning about the world on his own and find it hard to see the little worm that he used to be in this bigger and smarter toddler. He has more hair for one, it cascades in sweeping arcs across his forehead. And he has his mother’s huge brown eyes. So expressive and wise, but capable of so much humor and joy. These days I feel more in control, secure in knowing we have plans for him and us as a family. And I know we have time to raise him into the best person we know he can be. Control, Plans, Time. The holy trifecta. We’ve made our peace I think. We have an understanding. And now we’re playing a whole new waiting game, but this time it isn’t so bad. It isn’t bad at all.