Monday, April 23, 2012
First Flight by Lisa Moreno
Between the classes I was taking and the classes I was teaching, I was exhausted by that Friday. I decided to skip the bank and deposit my measly paycheck on Monday. I just wanted to rest. Eduardo had Collin for the weekend, per our temporary custody arrangement, so I could just go home and crash. I fully intended to keep my mind clear for two whole days. I wasn’t going to worry about the divorce and the custody argument, which constantly preyed on my thoughts; I was going to be all about me.
I went inside and made a sandwich before settling on the sofa to watch some TV. I quickly found myself lost in the news of the world, particularly the situation with Elian Gonzalez. That whole story hit a little too close to home. After all, Eduardo was born in Cuba, and he seemed to feel that men should do all the decision-making. As a result, our divorce was dragging out into eternity. I knew in my heart he didn’t want custody or our almost four-year-old son. He wanted control and control alone.
I must have drifted off to sleep around 3:00, because I looked at the clock when the phone rang, and it was almost 5:00. I was irritated that my much-needed sleep was interrupted, most likely for something unimportant.
“Hello.” I answered, feeling somewhat dazed.
“It’s me.” said Eduardo in a husky voice. It almost didn’t sound like him. But his voice was getting rougher and rougher.
My heart sank. What was it going to be this time? Had I sent the wrong clothes? Had the daycare complained about something Collin had done that day? What was it? He usually didn’t call me when he had Collin, wanting to spend “quality time” with his son. I grew to hate the phrase. But when I had him, it was another story. Call any time to bitch and moan and try to persuade me to just give in and give him primary custody.
“I have to talk to you in person,” he went on, “It’s important.”
Jesus Christ, I thought. Here we go again. The “in person” sessions were particularly annoying. It was harder for me to cover up the terrible anxiety I felt over the situation. Yes, it was harder to hide that I was scared to death that I was going to lose my son. All of my fears that he preyed upon were right there out in the open.
He was so surprised the day I called him at his office. I had made a promise to myself to never call him there. Part of the head games of dating, I suppose. But I had big news.
“What’s the one thing you least expected at this point in your life?” I asked, almost unable to contain my sheer joy.
He guessed right the first time. “A pregnancy.”
I noticed he didn’t answer with “a baby.” I guessed it was hitting him too hard. After all, he was 45 with a grown daughter. Here I was at 29, with my whole life ahead of me. but shocked to be pregnant. I had already had two surgeries for endometriosis, been warned I may never be able to conceive, and I was on the pill. A baby had simply not been in the picture, at least not then.
“Yes!” I exclaimed. “I am on the way to Doctor’s Care now for a blood test, but the home pregnancy test is positive. I even took it twice.”
“Wow,” he mumbled. “I guess we need to get together tonight to talk about this. Call me when you get the blood test results, though. I can’t talk now, I have a meeting with a client in a few minutes.”
Eduardo was a reasonably successful attorney. He didn’t make a fortune, by any means. He was a sucker for pro bono cases involving Mexicans who could barely afford food and clothing, much less a lawyer. They needed his representation, though, and he always managed to fit them in.
“You’ll be the first to know,” I answered. “I’ll call you as soon as I know something.”
Actually, he wouldn’t be the first to know. I was meeting my best friend, Jeanine, at the doc-in-a-box. From there we were going to lunch. The lunch part had been planned for several days. The blood test was her idea, after a false negative home test with her first child. She had predicted I was pregnant, convinced in spite of the negative test I had taken the month before, when I missed the first period.
Sure enough, I was pregnant. The blood test confirmed it. And with that knowledge, Jeanine and I ate our Chinese food in absolute silence, both wondering how things were going to work out.
On the way home, Jeanine started talking. I valued her opinion over anyone else’s. Her daughter was also a surprise, but we were only 19. “I don’t care what your mom or Eduardo think. A baby is coming, so we might as well be happy! Start getting ready now. Every time you go to the store, buy diapers so you will have a stockpile. We have to be practical here.”
“Yeah, my mom is gonna die.” I inserted. “D-I-E!”
“Well, I thought my mom would, but she’s still alive. Hell, Hannah’s her favorite.” Hannah was Jeanine’s first. Then she had Brandon, and her sister had Katie.
“That’s true.” I felt some consolation. I had always heard that unexpected babies were the most loved.
“Go ahead,” Jeanine went on. “Call your mom.” She was already digging around in my purse for my cell phone.
“Yes. It’s better to do it from the car by phone than in person, I think.” I laughed as I dialed my parents’ house. I ended up breaking the news to everyone while driving from Lexington to Columbia. And I made my plans with Eduardo, who already sounded less than enthusiastic.
“What are the options?” he asked, peering over the table at the Italian restaurant I used to work at.
“Well, I am having the baby. No abortions. You knew how I felt about that issue.” I explained.
“But I wasn’t expecting this.”
“Well, neither was I, but you knew the rules of the game, and you chose to play. For two years before we started dating we debated every side of every ethical issue imaginable. It was almost a mating ritual for us.”
“Okay, it was just a thought. You just don’t know how relieved I have felt to have successfully raised my daughter. Now, she is on her own and I am – was – free.”
“No one said you had to be involved in our child’s life.”
“But I can’t have a child out there and not be involved. That’s not what I want. I didn’t mean I couldn’t handle the responsibility. I just thought I was done with the responsibility.”
I told him what Jeanine had said, about there being a baby coming and us needing to be happy about it. He was far from happy, though. I was simply feeling nervous, like I am sure every first-time mother feels on finding out she is pregnant.
We had a wild evening before it was said and done. I figured it was too early in the pregnancy to worry much about drinking, so both of us ended up having a few too many. We started laughing about what different people we knew were going to say, like the mutual friend who had introduced us and pretty much pushed us together, in spite of the fact we were different in so many ways.
Back at my apartment, we both fell asleep on the sofa. At some time during the night, he moved to the bed. When he got up around 7:00, I had been sitting on the sofa for two hours, staring out over the Columbia skyline and wondering what on earth was going to happen to my baby and me. He came in and kissed me on the cheek. “Don’t worry, sweetheart,” he said. “You can do this.”
The next eight months flew by, with the exception of having morning sickness all day long. We had parents and friends to deal with at first, and everyone had an opinion. I had girlfriends try to talk me into an abortion. One told me of her sister’s friend who couldn’t have children; she’d practically arranged the adoption for us by the time she told me about it. I stuck to my guns though. I was 29 and almost had a Master’s Degree. I could take care of a child, with or without a man, regardless of what people thought.
Eventually, I moved in with Eduardo at his house. That was good enough for me. He would be able to be there during the rough times . . . the sleepless nights, colic, diaper changes.
I was comfortable enough with that plan. I was pretty healthy during the pregnancy. We had our girl name and boy name picked out, not knowing the gender because they couldn’t tell at the 16 week ultrasound. But a routine visit to the doctor threw a wrench into things. At seven months, I was measuring small. They suspected intrauterine growth retardation. I was petrified as they swabbed my belly with gel for an emergency ultrasound. And I had no one with me.
After just a few seconds, the technician said, “This baby is fine. It looks like a 6 ½ or 7 pounder.” Then she went on, “Do you want to know the gender?” I was beside myself. I was dying to know the gender! I had felt like it was a boy the whole time. But that would beat the odds in Eduardo’s family. From three sons my mother-in-law had five granddaughters, two step granddaughters, and a great-granddaughter on the way. These men simply didn’t produce male offspring.
“Yes!” I exclaimed, both relieved that the baby was okay and excited about what I was about to learn. “Do tell me!”
She moved the sensor around to the other side of my stomach. As she started to fill in the gender blank, I could clearly see Collin’s balls right between his buttocks. Before she could tell me, I told her, and she confirmed I was right. I was thrilled. I could barely wait for her to wipe my stomach off so I could get dressed and start letting people know.
I tried to call Eduardo, but he wasn’t at work and didn’t answer his cell. I searched my wallet until I found the pager number that was only supposed to be for emergencies. I paged him, and he called me back from the law library at USC. “I need to see you now. It’s important.” I didn’t want to scare him, but I didn’t want to give it away over the phone. Fortunately, I was close by, and I met him in the parking lot.
I presented him with a blurry photograph that had the my name, Lovett, and the word male typed on it. He looked surprised. “How can they tell from this? I can’t see a thing!” He was so excited that the hand holding the picture was shaking. I turned it around and showed him his son’s testicles. He finally got it, or at least pretended to, and he hugged me.
“The vessel,” he said. I think he meant well, but something about being only a vessel bothered me. It was my son, too. I was the one going through hell at the time as both my temperature and the July temperatures outside kept rising.
“Yes,” I said. “I told you it was a boy.”
We laughed awhile, but he had to go back in to work on his case. We made dinner plans, and I went to my parents’ house to tell them. Even they thought I was having a girl.
That night at dinner, Eduardo looked particularly dashing. Although 45 years old, he didn’t look a day over 30. He took good care of himself, ate wisely, and exercised frequently. He had an occasional drink or cigarette, but otherwise had no bad habits.
He was very calm and charming as usual. But there was something different that night. Something I couldn’t put my finger on.
All of a sudden he looked at me and said, “I guess we should get married.”
I was taken totally off guard. His mother and mine had both been pushing for this, but we had remained adamant that we didn’t have to follow convention. Besides, who would I be fooling at my size? I almost choked on my garlic and artichoke heart pizza, one of my frequent cravings.
“But I thought . . .”
He interrupted me. “No, I mean it. I want to get married.” He added, “It’s the right thing for Collin. It’s the right thing for us.”
I didn’t cry or carry on like I always thought I would when this moment came. I was too shocked. Never had two people been more determined not to get married than us. I think I also knew that it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. Not in my heart. Something just wasn’t there.
“Okay.” I said. I figured I had just better go along and make everyone happy. That’s how I had been my entire life: make everybody happy even at my own expense.
It was a small, simple wedding at one of his lawyer friend’s office. It wasn’t romantic. I had to sign a prenuptial agreement; you’d have thought I was marrying Donald Trump. We said our vows, had some champagne, and took everyone in attendance, which was only family and a couple of friends, to Garibaldi’s for dinner. I was eight months pregnant, a few days more actually.
Marriage didn’t suit me. It didn’t suit Eduardo. Perhaps his attitude towards it influenced mine. Suddenly, I felt like I had to answer to someone else, like I had felt when I was a teenager. I loved my freedom. I loved living alone in my one bedroom apartment. All I needed was my cat.
About 20 days later around 11:00 p.m., while Eduardo was out with friends, something he was doing more and more even though I was about to go into labor, the contractions started. They didn’t start out mild and far apart. I was basically in full labor by the time I got in touch with him to tell him to come home. I called the doctor who told me to try to make it until 8:00, when he could see me in his office. I paced around the house and dealt with the pain until time to go to the doctor. They sent me home because I wasn’t dilated.
Going back and forth to the hospital and doctor’s office --- it went on for three days. I was about to lose my mind. I thought I’d never get admitted. Finally, on Saturday August 10 at 5:30 a.m., I was admitted. Collin was born seven hours later by c-section.
As soon as we got Collin home, I became fully aware of why I had had that gut feeling about our marriage. It was a sham. I was a mother, wife, housekeeper, cook, and full-time grad student. I didn’t have time to breathe. I developed a horrible case of postpartum depression. Everything about life became one melancholy blur. And, when I was about to graduate with my Master’s, I finally moved out. Collin was 18 months old.
Because he was an attorney, I had trouble finding someone to represent me. He immediately started in on me about my mental state and fitness as a mother. I felt like the whole marriage had been an experiment to drive me crazy, and it just about had. What nerves were left were shredded as the divorce proceeded. Lawyers and legal bills. Marriage counselors and shrinks. It was hell. Plus, I had my first teaching job at a school for special needs students. I had not been trained to teach special needs students. Absolutely nothing was going right.
I finally told a counselor at the psychiatrist’s office, “I feel myself pulling away from Collin, like I’ve already lost him.” She looked at me, probably wondering along with me if I already had.
So, Eduardo was coming by at noon. Once again, I assumed, the subject would be our three-year-old son and where and how he would live. Eduardo was a control freak, as I had learned during and after our marriage. He wanted to control everything . . . what I ate, what Collin ate, when laundry was done, how the shelves were lined up. You name it, there was a rule, written or not.
I showered and tried to not look so tired. Leaving my job turned out to be the easy part. Going back for my Ph.D. was kicking my ass. As I put on my makeup, I felt myself holding back out of habit: Eduardo didn’t like a lot of makeup. Oh, so many of his preferences were already ingrained in my everyday activities. I would check things behind myself to make sure they were as they should be, even though he wasn’t there to tell me how they should be anymore.
I had composed myself and waited for the doorbell. I remembered my last comment to him, as he was putting Collin in the car the week before. “You’re not looking so good, Eduardo. Your girlfriend must be taking a toll on you.” I wasn’t lying. His hair was graying overnight. He looked weak. Maybe the divorce was getting to him, too.
By 12:15, I was looking out of the window. “Late as usual,” I thought. Of course, all of the times he was late was carefully documented in several notebooks I had accumulated based on my lawyer’s instructions. Soon I saw his Nissan Pathfinder pull up out front. I met him at the door.
“Hi,” I said. “Come on in. Sorry, I am working on a paper and grading exams, so stuff is kinda strewn about.”
“No,” he replied. “I think I’d rather just sit on the porch.”
I offered him a Diet Coke, which he accepted “Thank you, dear.”
“Dear?” I thought. “Where did that come from?”
We each chose a rocking chair and sat down. We were separated by the steps, I guess in case someone needed to make a quick exit.
“How is school?” he asked. My future financial independence was of utmost importance to him. He was fighting me tooth and nail over the 500 a month my attorney felt he owed me in child support.
“It’s fine.” I told him. “I am making straight A’s again this semester.” I added with pride.
“That’s good,” he said. “You’ll make a great professor. You are so dedicated.”
I thanked him and asked him, “So, what’s up?” trying to act calm and expecting to hear more crap about custody.
“Well, my back pain has gotten a lot worse. I went to the doctor about it.”
“And . . . “ I said.
“And I have cancer.”
I coughed. “What?”
“I have cancer.”
“So . . . “ I went on, not knowing what to say. “What’s the treatment plan? How are you going to get rid of it?”
“That’s just it, LeeAnne,” he paused for a second. “I can’t. It’s terminal.”
I don’t remember what I did next. Apparently, I ran over, put my head in his lap, and started screaming over and over again. At least, that’s what my neighbor told me.
“What kind of fucking cancer is it?” I asked, my thoughts racing. All I could do was wonder what the hell I was going to do.
“It’s everywhere,” he said. “I have 27 tumors in my abdomen and liver. They don’t know where it started.”
I don’t know how long he stayed or how long we talked. I cried and cried, and so did he. We both agreed we had not wanted things to end like this. Poor Collin had no grandfathers, both were dead by this time. Now he was going to lose his father.
“How long do you have?” I dared to ask.
“With chemo and radiation, possibly a year,” he explained.
“God damn.” I said. “God damn.”
He hugged me and left. It was the first time we had been civil to each other in months. And it took death to bring us together? That was sick on so many levels. Hell, I had even wished it on him a few times, but I had never meant it.
Eduardo was dying. There would be no more custody issues. Someone much higher than any judge around here had already called that shot.
His best friend Barry called. There had been no year. There had not even been three months. I had let Collin spend every possible minute with him. He wasn’t quite four, but I wanted him to remember everything possible about his dad.
“He’s on a respirator now,” Barry explained. “He won’t be coming off. You can visit him, but I wouldn’t advise you to bring Collin.”
“”No, never,” I agreed. “I wouldn’t want him to see that for anything. As far as Collin is concerned, I guess he’s already gone.”
“Basically, yes.” Barry agreed.
I went to see him at the hospital. His eyes were no longer chocolate brown, but a putrid green. He was in an induced coma, and all the signals started going off when I went in and spoke to him. I don’t know what his reaction was, but he was reacting according to the nurse.
I was beyond tired at this point. I wasn’t even exhausted; I was delirious. I had kept up my studies and my duties as a teaching assistant at USC. I wasn’t going to let my students down. My professors were cutting me breaks, though. Even when I had a chance to sleep or eat, I couldn’t. I dropped 20 pounds in those months, and I may have gotten three hours of sleep a night.
Not considering myself to be his wife anymore, I backed off and let his family take care of him and whatever needed to be done. I just did what was asked of me, dropping everything at a moment’s notice.
Collin supposedly didn’t know what was happening. Eduardo wanted it that way. He didn’t want Collin to know he was dying. That put a huge burden on me, but I agreed to his wishes. Collin wasn’t stupid; in fact, he was a very bright child.
I disagreed with some of the things his family did, and occasionally said so. This didn’t make things easier, but I knew Eduardo better than his brothers and nieces died. As for my grown stepdaughter, she showed her ass the entire ten weeks. I got blamed for everything from him getting hiccoughs to the fact that he had cancer.
One night, when Collin was sleeping with me, he woke me up in the middle of the night in a panic.
“What’s wrong, baby?” I asked.
He grabbed my hand and looked at it. “Mommy, you don’t have feathers.”
“Of course not silly,” I said. “People don’t have feathers.”
“Daddy does. On his hands. I’ve seen them,” he said, still holding my hand. “He’s growing wings.”
“What?” I asked. I wondered if someone had told him something. I said, “What have people been saying about Daddy?” I hoped to get some information, but it’s hard to get much out of a three year old.
“Nothing,” he replied. “Daddy just doesn’t feel good. sometimes” Then he turned over and went back to sleep.
The call came just as I was walking back in the house from taking out the garbage. Eduardo had been on the respirator and life support for five days. Even though I was skipping my office hours that day, I sent Collin to daycare to give myself a break.
Again, it was his best friend.
“Yeah, it’s Barry,” he said when I answered the phone. “It’s over.”
I cried, as I knew I would but hoped I wouldn’t. “Was it peaceful?” I asked. I had watched my dad wince and moan in pain the night he succumbed to cancer.
“Yes,” answered Barry. “They had him heavily medicated.”
“Good. I wouldn’t want any more pain.” I had seen his pain medications go up in strength over the past few weeks until he was finally on a drip at the hospital. He had stopped making sense two weeks before.
“Well, Barry,” I went on. “I need to go. I know you have other people to call.” I tried to sound as if I were doing him a favor by not making him talk to me. But the truth is, I didn’t want to talk.
I sat on the back steps, crying and smoking cigarettes. Thank God for Xanax. It was the only thing between me and absolute insanity. I would pay a price for it later, but for now it was all that kept me going.
I called the daycare and told them I was coming to pick Collin up. I didn’t tell them why, but they did know Eduardo was dying. They probably assumed the worst.
When I got there, I checked in with the front desk, then I went and got my baby. I was so scared. After all, it was only going to be him and me from now on. I was so sad and so scared, but I pulled myself together before walking into his classroom. I just looked at his teacher and nodded. She knew what I meant.
I took Collin home, and we read his favorite book. It was a picture book someone created using Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” We read that book every night.
Finally, I had to tell him.
“Collin, do you know what angels are?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Collin. “They are the people who live with God up in the sky.”
“Okay,” I went on, “That’s right. I have something important to tell you about angels, Collin. Are you ready.”
He folded his hands in his lap and replied, “Okay.”
“Daddy is an angel now. You won’t be seeing him anymore. He’s gone to live with God.”
Collin looked at me quizzically. Then he stood up and put his hands on my shoulders.
I shed a tear, and I know he saw it. But before I could wipe it away, he was up and moving already. He was running around the room in circles, his arms waving like wings, like he was flying with Daddy.