Chapter 1: Angel
I’m sorry I wasn’t able to tell you all of this sooner, or in person. I couldn’t find the right words. But one day, I’ll give this to you, and you’ll understand.
Ambivalence. The coexistence of positive and negative feelings towards a person, place or thing. Most dads describe the day their child was born as overpoweringly joyous. I only felt one thing, and that was ambivalent.
Growing up, I was the most normal kid ever. Usually when people say that, it's an exaggeration. Not here. My family lived in a nice, middle-class house, with decent paying middle-class jobs. I went to a nice public school and had enough friends to keep me happy, but never enough to say I was popular. I did well in school, but never good enough to the point that I was top of my class. Sports were the same story. Always third or fourth place, sometimes second if I pushed myself, but never first. I had an annoyingly normal personality, throwing in just enough awkwardness whenever people thought I was too cool. My face was good-looking, but never handsome. My body was in decent shape, but never amazing. The point is, I was the most average kid on the block, all the way from kid to teen, elementary to high school. And even though there was nothing I could do about it, I did wish there was more to me.
And then I met her. No grand story, just a friend of a friend. But I knew that she was special. At least to me. We hung out every day of that summer. Every day. We went on adventure after adventure, talked into all hours of the morning and just generally became inseparable. I was almost overwhelmed by it all. Suddenly, here was this person that just seemed to understand me, get who I was and was okay with it. Someone who I could trust, someone who I could be my normal, average self with and not feel like I wasn’t enough. Someone who’s company I enjoyed. Someone who was constantly engaging me in interesting conversations, someone who constantly had my attention and someone who I grew to rely on. She was someone I could truly love.
I found out that she was going to college locally, so I went local as well. We graduated together, and soon after I proposed to her. She said yes. We got normal jobs together and found a normal middle-class house to live in. We even got a normal, scruffy little dog. But all of that didn’t matter. Being normal didn’t really matter to me anymore, she changed that. I was happy just living with her, and being around her, and having my normal life. So then we made the next logical step.
We were pregnant. Well, she was pregnant, but I helped. She had always wanted a child, and I personally had never really thought about it. But, the day she told me the news was a day that was surprising. I was really happy. I really wanted this, wanted to be a part of a bigger family with her. She grew and grew, and we started talking more about how we were going to do this. We were anxious of course, but our excitement eclipsed that.
We read all sorts of baby books, and even started making a baby room. And with all of this preparation, we felt so ready. When the day came that her water broke, we both knew what to do. I drove her to the hospital, I had all my calming, soothing words prepared to say, though she didn't really need my comfort. She was so tough. We got there, and I checked her in, wheeling her into an operating room with doctors and nurses surrounding us. It was going great, everything was according to our plan. She got on to the operating table and I was fully ready to step into my role as moral cheerleader, ready to provide support whenever necessary.
That’s when I realized that our preparation had just been a façade, and the cracks were starting to show. There was no way we could prepare for what was about to happen. Her cries were getting worse, and she had been in labor for a while. The doctor turned to me and told me that they had to perform an emergency c-section, but not to worry. They just needed to work fast. They told me to go outside or go into the corner, where I wouldn’t get in the way. I obliged, my head spinning. This wasn’t part of our plan. They began shooting anesthetic into her, getting to work on the c-section. The fury and chaos in the room was spiraling out of control. It was like watching a roller coaster that was slowly derailing from the tracks. Eventually something had to break.
And then it did. The breaking point. I watched it happen in slow motion. Our plan had derailed, and suddenly she was fighting for her life. And it was a losing battle. I watched as the doctors crowded around her, frantically rushing and working. I stepped in and took her hand, watching as she struggled in pain, fighting hard to stay alive. She held my gaze for a brief minute with a look filled with fear, a sight that will forever be burned into my memory. And then, she was gone.
The piercing shriek of the heart monitor flat-lining filled the room and everything froze. Nobody moved, nobody even dared to breath. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from her. It felt like everything I had built up in my life so far was crumbling away, like it was never even there. She was my foundation, and that foundation had been ripped up and tossed aside. I felt alone. This was true loneliness, the kind where it isn’t just a feeling in your mind but a tangible and real entity that envelops every part of your being, swallowing you whole. It was something I wouldn’t wish on anybody, but it was happening to me. As I felt the life drain from her hand, I snapped back to reality.
I learned later that dying in childbirth is something that happens to five percent of women in the United States. A rare occurrence. It looks like no matter how hard I had tried, we weren’t normal after all.
But the word I used to describe this was not despair, loneliness, or anguish. I used ambivalence. Because another cry broke the silence in that room. Something else kept me tethered down. It was you. A doctor was holding you in his arms, and he offered you to me. You were crying, ever so gently, but you were so beautiful at the same time. You were the last piece of her left in this world, but at the same time you were something more. I loved you from the second I saw you. I took one more look at your mother and held you even closer. Even though she was gone, you were still here. I knew I had to create a new foundation in you, so I did. In that moment, we cried together, tears of grief and tears of joy, and I was truly ambivalent.
*It is important to note that this letter was found folded in the first page of my mother's journal. I think this was the original letter, that I have in turn transcribed to the best of my ability for the publication of these documents.