Readers Write  April 2017 | issue 496

Almost

It was like a scene from the comedy show Portlandia: An expectant couple clumsily tiptoes around piles of organic baby food and attachment-parenting books covering their floor. Birth plans for multiple scenarios have been printed, laminated, and distributed to potential delivery staff. The couple practices prenatal yoga and daily visualizations of the perfect birth.

We were that couple, my husband and I: totally, unequivocally prepared.

Nearly twelve hours after our son’s birth, we stood in disbelief in the neonatal intensive-care unit watching as Henry’s tiny lungs strained to breathe with the help of a ventilator. His skin was blue tinted, his body limp, his prospects grim. We were totally unprepared for this.

We held each other, sobbed, and prayed — to God, to the universe, to anyone who could hear our pleas. Reaching through the maze of tubes and beeping machines, we gently touched Henry’s big toe, his shoulder, and the part of his forehead that peeked between strips of medical tape. The ventilator clicked and hummed. Henry’s chest inflated and fell as we hoped for a miracle.

Half a day later the neonatologist on duty guardedly told us that Henry was making barely detectable progress and would likely live through the night. We were cautioned, however, to be prepared for brain damage, given the length of time he’d spent without oxygen.

Nearly two decades later Henry is savoring his last days as a rural emergency medical technician before starting college, where he’ll pursue his dream of becoming an emergency physician and helping others through unimaginable traumas like the one we experienced when he almost didn’t make it.

Brenda L. Baker
Madison, Wisconsin

In my sophomore year of college, I was lying on the quad with my shirt off after a jazz-dance class when a girl with flowing red hair and freckles sat on the grass beside me. She said she was a dancer, too, and asked if I would like to come up to her dorm room. Sure, I said, and I followed her home like a lost puppy.

She offered me a chair, then retrieved a book from the shelf above her desk and began to read aloud a poem about a woman who took what she wanted sexually without any guilt. Returning the book to the shelf, she straddled me on the chair, draped her arms over my shoulders, and asked what I’d thought of the poem.

Panic started to rise in me. I was a virgin and had been abstaining from sex until I met the right woman. I explained apologetically that I was attracted to her, and that if she gave me time I might come to love her, but I just couldn’t give her what she wanted right then.

I left her room feeling unmanly, and she and I never developed a relationship. It wasn’t love she wanted.

Steven W. Elliott
Orland, California

It’s 9 AM on New Year’s Day. He is in bed snoring, and I am sipping tea at the kitchen table. At the party last night I almost caught them — him and the blond woman with the harsh laugh. His phone rests on the table next to his keys. It would be so easy to pick it up and go through the call history, the texts, the voice mails. He won’t have bothered to cover his tracks at this point.

His phone starts to vibrate. I take another sip of my tea and see the blond woman’s name on the screen. I decide to wait until she has left her message, then listen to it and erase it. The phone stops vibrating. I hear the tone that signals a new voice mail. Just as I pick it up, he walks into the kitchen, hair a mess, lines on his cheek from the pillow.

“What are you doing?” he asks, taking the phone from me.

“I just want to know,” I reply.

He walks back to the bedroom and closes the door.

Two months later he is dead. I’ll never know the truth. It almost doesn’t matter.

Name Withheld

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