There’s a grave off 26th Street, about a mile west of here, a headstone in a place that sits on a hill beneath a bluff and shaded only by a few ancient poplars. There, a piece of ground is slightly depressed where a tiny casket used to lie, a patch of grass no bigger than a baby blanket. The grave sits just off a mourner’s path and overlooks a few family plots and a view of the city to the east.
I saw a map of the cemetery, once, glanced at where the ground was reserved for families, saw where soldiers from three wars were buried, and what ground was still available to demand eternity. There, on worn vellum, two rows devoted to infants were delineated by their diminution, plots not oblong but checkered. Viewing the map in a small stone building while summer lingered into almost October, I was comforted by how cool the room was. Even though it was mid-morning, the heat was already intense and I was almost relieved to be standing there, alone except for the cemetery managers, looking for squares not scratched out by hash marks. I was struck by how the room resembled something out of an Old Masters painting, a cell where some martyred Saint sat awaiting execution, contemplating God’s glory. If the room was musty at all, I could not tell; the scent of fresh cut grass rolled through the door like a rug of sod.
During the previous four months I’d buried many things: the pipe, my past, my independence, my insanity. It had been a somber summer, sober and passionless, a process of sticking my head down and making the most of a situation that was nothing close to the plans I had made, plans that had been side-tracked by my vices. Instead of Graduate student housing, I’d moved out of the Junkie Motel into a homeless shelter. Rather than writing thesis proposals, I was selling long-distance service and pissing people off while they tried to eat dinner.
X was staying with friends while I held a cot at the homeless shelter. Although I had been offered spare rooms and couches, I felt it necessary to dig myself out of the hole I’d dug, that maybe the experience would strengthen my resolve to never return to the lifestyle that had so defeated me. I was up at five every morning and out the door by six, worked as much as I could and then checked in with X, hung out. When I had time, I hit an NA meeting, somewhat for support but mostly to just to keep me out of the shelter. 12-Step attendees did not have to be in by the shelter’s curfew and I wanted to be away from that constant reminder of how bad things can get.
Pain is relative. What we think is unendurable one moment will suddenly become inconsequential in the face of real tragedy. Your famine and mass graves? My broken CD player, my bunk next to a revolving door of crackheads, my world in shambles for what seems timeless and insurmountable and will never again fill my heart of silk with lights. Eternity unfolds with so many more dark crevices to consume me, places where mortality looks into the void and equivocates its timorous handhold.
With no time to indulge regrets or self-pity but only determination to rise from the ashes and resolve the situation I’d created, I pressed forward. Not proud, not humbled, I had lost sense of self in the shadow of still not providing for X and our unborn child. All I sought was the ability to provide shelter for the three of us, a place to hunker down and regroup, somewhere to nurture a new life, succor a shattered one.
By August, we had a place. Not what we wanted but at least what we needed as far as we were again together and could collect baby things that good souls were giving to us. In X’s estimation, things were looking up not just because we were back together but also because I was entirely present; not intoxicated, not gone for days on a binge, not consumed with inner-turmoil and withdrawals. We could go together to ultrasound appointments, Lamaze classes, check-ups and I wouldn’t have booze and speed seeping through my pores, reeking with the stench of old socks and engine solvents.
X was happy but I was not. Neither was I sad - just numb. Although I did not miss the life I’d left behind four months ago, the life I’d made more X and myself did not seem much better. More than that, my life seemed out of balance, the world was not right, somehow, everything felt out of synch.
We went into the hospital almost three weeks late. X had endured ten months of pregnancy, to the day, the worst of it suffered through the hottest summer Colorado had seen in a long time. She was past ready to have our son and an inducement was ordered, scheduled for September 26th.
It was a perfect Colorado September afternoon the day we entered the hospital and I was sticking a video camera skywards, recording the day for my son. This is your day, I said, as I recorded the moment, we’ll look back on this day and smile.
We settled into the birthing room, filling the drawers and shelves with necessities, a brief nesting to await our arrival. As the delivery nurses prepared X, broke her water, administered pectosin, I set up the CD player and our Lamaze selections, arranged the balloons and flowers sent to wish us well, fluffed X’s pillow and brought her ice chips.
We waited. Hours passed and still, no dilation. After almost 12 hours, we gave up on the notion of natural childbirth and an epidural was given. Nurses rolled X back and forth on the bed, every 15 minutes, hoping that the motion would get X dilated. Between the rolling sessions, while X slept, I pointed the video camera around the room.
The video still exists. X softly snoring with a yellow hospital sheet resting over her pregnant frame like a statuary drape, Debussy ethereal and blissful in the background. I was narrating the scene for my son, there’s your mom sleeping, that’s the music we brought; look out this window, past the parking lot and to the hills, black against the night sky, almost eternal in their reach across the horizon, almost timeless in their silent vigil.
And yet, nothing is timeless, I said. Those hills, the mountains, they weren’t always there and one day, they will be gone.
Click here to read Noble, Part III