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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Belabored Chapter 45: Linda

“Everyone dreams of having a baby. Nobody dreams of having a two-year-old.”

– Thea Williams

            "Aunt Linda, get up!"
 I wake to Kyle’s excited screams. Kevin wails in the other room. Ted snores quietly beside me.
            “What, Hon? Are you OK?” I ask my nephew.
            “Yeah, I’m OK,” he answers. “But me and Kevie wanna go find our Easter baskets!”
            Oh, no. He’s right. It’s Easter and I have no idea where or even if Emma has any candy, let alone Easter grass and baskets. That was the last thing on anybody’s mind in the middle of the night.
            “Oh, OK, Honey. Yeah, your baskets.”
            I sit up reluctantly and shake Ted.
            “Uh, wake up, Uncle Teddy. It’s Easter morning, and the kids wanna check out their baskets. Where do you suppose the Easter bunny would’ve hidden their candy, Uncle Ted?”
            If I’m looking for support, I’ve come to the wrong man. Ted’s neither a dad nor a morning person. He sleeps heavy to begin with, and last night we bedded down with a fidgety four-year-old.
             He grunts and rolls over.
            “Come on, Uncle Teddy. The boys are excited about Easter. We need to figure out where the bunny left their candy!” I say with greater urgency.
            My husband’s a sweet man, but when he’s sleep-deprived, he’s about as pliable as Mount Rushmore.
             In the meantime, Kevin climbs out of his crib. He comes screaming into our room with a diaper practically down to his knees. When he realizes his parents aren’t here, he goes into hysterics. I pick him up and try to soothe him, telling him Mommy and Daddy are at the hospital getting ready to meet his new baby brother.
            He’s having none of it.
            I take him over to the rocking chair in the corner of Em’s room, and try to calm him with a song. He not only doesn’t cotton to my voice, but promptly underscores his dissatisfaction by letting loose a warm, yellow liquid all over my lap.   
            I decide then and there that Ted needs to accept his share of the misery.
            “Ted Genovese, I need you up and I need you up now!” I shriek with the restraint of a drunk at a wine tasting.
            “Huh? I’m up, I’m up!” he cries apologetically. “Whaddaya need me to do?”
            “OK, find me a diaper for Kev. Oh, and don’t forget wipes. He peed all over me. Then try to text Tom and see if he knows anything about the Easter bunny’s plans,” I say in a conspiring whisper. Then I buy us some time.
            “Kyle, I know you wanna get downstairs, but first we have to get Kevie cleaned up and both of you have to get dressed. And the bunny says you have to eat breakfast before you have any candy.”
            Remembering I promised him Cocoa Puffs for breakfast, I realize we’re in for the sugar high of the century. Oh, well. I give up on any semblance of sanity for the day, and mentally prepare for the chaos.
            When all is said and done, we have two dressed children but no return text from Tom. I put Ted to work scrounging through cabinets to see if he can find a candy stash, and try to delay the inevitable.
            How could they forget to do Easter for their kids? Are they that obsessed with the new baby’s problems? How ’bout taking care of the ones they already have?
            I mentally chastise myself, realizing I have no clue what they’re going through. Still, if it were me…
            “Hey, guys, look outside. Look at all those branches that came down last night! How ’bout we go outside and play pick up sticks for real?”
            The guys think this is a great idea, and it keeps them busy until Kevin decides it’s fun to stab his brother in the neck with a saber-shaped stick. His giggles come close to drowning out Kyle’s squalls of pain. I’m about ready to cry myself, when Ted comes outside and declares he’s going to the store “on bunny business.” This announcement prompts pleas from both kids to go along. I have to think fast to come up with a plan that will keep them distracted and home.
            It’s a funny thing. I’ve always intended to parent without letting my kids get sucked into the vortex of some video screen. I revise my thinking while popping the disk into the DVD player, and heave a sigh of relief.

Belabored Chapter 44: Linda and Ted

“Finally married to a wonderful man in my mid-thirties and desperate to start a family, I endured letdown after letdown as our hopes of conceiving a child were dashed,
one blow at a time.”
 – Christine Rhyner in How Much Did You Pay for Her?
Forgiving the Words that Hurt Adoptive Families
“We’ll be fine!” I call after my sister and brother-in-law as I watch Tom help Emma into the car. Emma looks back helplessly at Kyle, who’s begging his mommy not to go.
“We’ll be back as soon as we can, big guy,” Tom reassures his crying son.
“Aw, shhh, it’s OK, Bud,” I soothe Kyle while holding him and smoothing his hair.
More crying.
“They’ll be back, I promise, Sweetheart. Meantime, Uncle Teddy and I are here. What should we have for breakfast when we wake up?”
Food is a popular topic with my nephew. I envision menu choices scrolling through his little mind. Finally, he settles on cereal.
“Cocoa Puffs!” he squeals.
“You got it, Buddy! Now let’s try to get some sleep so breakfast’ll come quicker, OK?”
“’Kay,” he sniffles, then, “Aunt Linda, can I sleep with you guys?”
I glance at Ted to get his take on Kyle’s request. In a way, I hope he’ll find some reason to protest. Everything’s so weird these days, I’m not sure this is a good idea. What a crime that an innocent appeal from a frightened child has to be viewed through the lens of a crooked world.
But Ted looks blearily at me and nods. OK, away with the doubts. What’s right is right.
“That’s a big 10-4, Kyle!” I say, and find that I’m happy about it. It’ll be sweet to curl up with this little cherub.
Noting the confused look on Ky’s face, I add, “That means Y-E-S! Do you know what that spells?”
“Yes! That spells ‘yes!’” Kyle exclaims.
“OK, now Uncle Teddy’s gonna take you into your mommy and daddy’s room to lay down with you. I’m gonna go check on Kevie, then we’ll all snuggle together. Do you have to go potty first?”
“No, I’m fine,” Kyle responds confidently.
“I wouldn’t bet on that,” Ted smiles as he escorts Kyle up the stairs. “Come on, dude, let’s check out the potty once before we call it a night, ’kay?”
“’Kay, Uncle Teddy.”
After using the bathroom myself and peeking at Kev, I creep quietly into the master bedroom. By the glow of a night light, I can see Kyle’s Pull-Up clad posterior poking its way into poor Ted’s nasal passages. I clap a hand over my mouth to keep from laughing. If I wake him now, all bets are off.
Linda, get a grip. Those kids are gonna be up at sunrise. You only have a couple of hours to sleep, so you’d better make it count.
Still, I have trouble drifting off. I’m not used to Tom and Emma’s bed, and I’m definitely not used to sharing my husband with a squirmy preschooler. Also, my heart still aches over Danny and the other two babies we didn’t get in the end.
It’s so unfair.
Criminal, theft, screwed up, rotten, asinine – sometimes when I can’t sleep, I come up with descriptors like these for a system that’s so inherently flawed that it sucks money, time and joy out of honest people like Ted and me, whose only wish is to give a child a forever family.
Finally, though, fatigue takes over, and restless dreams fill my mind.
On a hillside, a well-built, bronze-helmeted male is carrying a bundle. A scarlet plume on the crown of his head gear sprouts out like bristles on a seen-better-days paintbrush. He trudges along on thonged sandals.
 Besides his bundle, which is resting on a round, metal tray, the man sports a spear bigger than himself. Veins stand out like taut cords on his muscular arms.
Wading through the fogginess of my dream, I begin to realize that what I’ve mistaken for a metal platter is actually a shield with grooved edge work around its circumference. Without warning, the man tips the shield, revealing an upside-down letter “V” on its steel gray exterior. The oblong parcel which had previously rested atop the shield drops to the ground.
The bundle begins flailing and wailing.
The camera lens in my dream zooms in on the item which the soldier so unceremoniously abandoned.  Drawing closer, I hear human cries. Unwrapping what I now see is a filthy piece of swaddle, I discover a naked infant not more than a few days old. Instinct kicks in, and I scoop up the baby and clutch him to my breast. Only then do I notice his head is swollen and there’s a gaping hole in his back, out of which spills syrupy blood and bulging spinal cord.
Without thinking, I drop the poor child. Now the tiny cries, which had eased with my touch, intensify. I have a decision to make: do the right thing, or let horror carry the day and walk away.
Terror jolts me awake.
“Ted, wake up!” I whisper frantically after moving Kyle’s bare foot away from my husband’s ear.
Ted’s rhythmic snoring gives way to panic.
“What?! What’s the matter?!”
“I had a terrible dream.”
“Oh, Honey, try to go back to sleep. It’s just stress. You’ll feel better in the morning.”
“No, Ted, I’ll have forgotten it by then! Please!”
After surrounding Kyle with a fortress of pillows so he won’t roll out of bed, we take ourselves into the adjacent bedroom.   
“OK, Lin, what’s the matter?”
I explain the dream, to which he replies, “OK, Hon, you had a bad dream. It’s that series we watched about ancient Rome. It’s probably that part about how they left messed up babies in the wilderness. Whole thing freaked you out, and you’re still thinking about it.”
“Sparta,” I correct him. “The documentary was about Sparta. And they weren’t all ‘messed up.’ Don’t you remember what it said? Any baby they considered imperfect they just left to die! Well, Rome did it, too, now that you mention it. And did you know Greek fathers had over a week to decide to either keep their children or to throw them out like the trash? I don’t understand how these people could be so cavalier about –”
I let my sentence dangle because I can see Ted’s eyes glazing over. He doesn’t share my interest in ancient cultures, and only watched the show because I asked him to. I need to make this relevant to us, to our situation, to today.
“No, Ted, I think it’s more than me thinking about the show. Do you believe in signs?”
“Signs? Whaddaya mean?”
“You know, signs. Like premonitions or warnings. I think that’s what this was.”
“Come on, Lin, it’s four in the morning. I’m beat. Can’t we do this some other time?”
Although I know it isn’t fair, I quietly begin to cry. Soft, quiet sobs, but loud enough for him to hear. Ted reaches for me and puts his arms around me, as I knew he would.
 “OK, Hon,” he concedes, “what’s the sign?”
“Don’t you see, Ted? We can’t have a baby. Emma and Tom are having a disabled baby that they don’t want. At least, Emma’s having a real hard time accepting him. That baby doesn’t have to be left out in the cold like those ones in Sparta. We can rescue that baby. We –”
I pull her closer. Her hair smells like honeysuckle. If we weren’t doing the family bed thing with Kyle, and I weren’t so exhausted, I might even put the moves on her.
I love her for the instinct in her that wants to raise a child, anybody’s child, no holds barred. I’ve tried desperately to give her a baby, but all our efforts have only frustrated us and ripped through our savings. We’ll have to go into debt to try any of the fertility techniques we’ve been considering. Besides, the more I think about them, those so-called “alternatives” seem more like lab experiments than actual reproduction.
“OK, Lin, I can see you’re serious about this. Let me give it some thought. Do you think you can get back to sleep?”

Belabored Chapter 43: Tom

“Waiting for the spark from heaven to fall.” – Matthew Arnold

With the adrenaline of Hercules, I maneuver Emma and Kyle down the steps and through the living room. I reassure my son that Aunt Linda and Uncle Teddy will arrive soon to take care of him and Kev, and that very soon their new brother will be born. I help Em on with her coat, which won’t button around her oversized belly.
I take my focus off Emma for a minute to look down at the miniature version of myself. Kyle’s tousled brown hair is sticking up the same way mine does right before a haircut.
I wonder what the new baby will look like. Will I be able to do any of the things I do with my other boys with this poor kid? Will anything ever be right again?
I turn back to Emma, who must be having another contraction and is trying hard to control the pain with deep breathing.  
“Atta girl, Em, you’re doin’ great. Your sister’ll be here any minute.”
The waiting seems endless but, in reality, I think only twenty minutes go by before we hear the squeal of brakes outside the house.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Belabored Chapter 42: Linda and Ted

“Children with special needs inspire a special love.” – Sarah Palin

Ted and I jump into the car after throwing a few things into a bag, then beat a path to Emma and Tom’s after we get his call. Well, we can’t exactly beat a path. The wind-whipped night and wet roads force us to go a lot more slowly than Emma probably needs.
“Honey, are you OK to drive?” I ask my disoriented husband. It’s all I can do not to make a joke about his hair, which is matted down on one side and jutting out on the other. He’s so meticulous about his undercut, and I kid him because he takes much longer with the blow dryer than I do. My blonde Adonis.
“Course I am,” he answers indignantly.
“It’s just, you look so exhausted. Maybe I should drive.”
“Linda, I’m fine. Just hand me the coffee, will ya?”
I pass the travel mug into his cold hands. Ted never wears gloves, even when the temperature’s in the teens.
“That’s better. Thanks, Hon,” he says, handing it back to me.
I take a sip myself, then almost spill the whole cup when we skid around a curve. Thank God for streetlights that brighten up the hazy roads, because we might as well be driving on buttered asphalt. The wheels on the car ahead of us keep kicking up spray from the wet pavement. Even though Ted has the wipers going, it’s hard to see.
 I decide to bring up a subject that's been on my mind. Maybe if I keep him engaged, we’ll get there in one piece.
“Sweetie, can I ask you something?”
“Course. What’s up?”
“Well, it’s actually more of a comment than a question.”
 “Shoot,” he replies through a yawn. “I’m listening.”
“Well – hey, watch it, there’s the turn!”
I can almost see his hackles go up. Men and their egos.
“I saw it!” he barks.
“OK, well, what I’ve been thinking about is Emma’s baby. They think he’s gonna be pretty disabled. Spinal cord problems. May never walk. Poor little baby.”
“Yeah. Such a shame.”
“I think Emma’s pretty upset about it.”
Here it comes, I think to myself. Oh, Linda, why’d you have to pick tonight to have this discussion? There’s not enough coffee in the world to make me ready to talk about fertility problems and disabilities in the middle of the night.
I will myself to listen to my wife, even though this conversation doesn’t bode well for taking care of our two nephews for the next couple of days.
If she gets herself all worked up, we’re gonna have an awful few days with those kids.
I yawn again, partly because it’s the middle of the night, and partly out of adoption exhaustion. That’s the term Linda and I made up to describe all the crazy emotions we’ve gone through since this whole process began.
“Course she’s upset. Anyone would be with that diagnosis.”
“Well, I was thinking, I don’t know, maybe this is too weird, but, well, here goes. Since they’re not happy about this third baby, at least Emma’s not, it occurred to me maybe we should offer to adopt him.”
If she wants to have an accident, this is one sure-fire way to increase the odds. After I pick my jaw up from the floor, I grab the coffee from her again. If we’re gonna discuss insane, graveyard shift adoption plans, I’m gonna need more caffeine.
“Lin, can we talk about this when we get there? I better concentrate on these roads.”
“Oh, sure. You’re right, Sweetie. Hey, are those snow flurries?”  

Belabored Chapter 41: Emma and Tom

  “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. 

The pains start after dinner. I figure it’s indigestion after I overdid it on Tom's bacon and eggs, his specialty whenever it’s his night to cook. Probably stress eating after what could’ve happened to him at the prayer vigil. My Tom doesn’t always know when to stop being a knight in shining armor. It’s one of the things I love and hate about him at the same time.
I’m often starving these days. Half the time, I can barely force down part of an apple, then the rest of the time I’m gorging.
I’m sure it’s partly the weather. This winter’s been brutal, with some form of precipitation almost weekly. Schools have been closing left and right, which causes problems for Tom and me, because our day care calls snow days whenever the school district does. Most of the time, Tom’s school closings line up with Kyle and Kevin’s, but a couple of times, we had to scramble to find someone to sit with the boys while we dug out our cars and trekked to work. All this shoveling and schlepping makes me ravenous.
Lie down, Emma, I tell myself when the gymnastics in my belly start again. It’ll pass.
But it doesn’t. By 11:30, Tom’s snoring softly beside me and I feel like a building’s being demolished inside me. I know this feeling, and it terrifies me this time.
I know how to do childbirth. It’s no picnic, but I can get through it. It’s what comes afterwards in this case that sends shivers down my spine.
 I don’t feel ready for this baby to make his entrance.
The doctors have me scheduled for a C-section, but that’s a week away. The winds of late March screech outside, and I join them with a bloodcurdling shriek that wakes Tom and scares the daylights out of poor Kyle.
“Mommy, somebody’s yelling!” he wails as his chubby feet tromp into our bedroom. Jumping between us on our queen-sized bed, Kyle lands on my left arm, which sends new pain signals into my already contraction-racked body.
“Aaaah! Kevin – er, Kyle, you’re on Mommy’s arm! You gotta move!” I howl, causing him to burst into tears.
            I wake up when Emma screams, and quickly size up the situation. This isn’t so different from two years ago when Kevin made his arrival. Same thing: middle of the night, freezing cold, Emma panting and screaming. The problem solver in me takes charge.
“Move over, Kyle, you’re hurting Mommy,” I order while manually shifting him. “How far apart are the contractions, Em?”
“How should I know! I thought it was indigestion!”
I wince at his Em’s sharpness, suddenly remembering how much fun it is going through labor with a woman who’s blaming you for every spasm.
Steady, Tom. She’s just scared. You gotta handle this.
“OK, Em, I’m gonna call the doctor. Everything’s gonna be OK.”
I pick up Kyle, realizing everyone will be better off if Em has the bed to herself. Slinging him over my shoulder like a duffel bag, I inch my way through the dark and promptly stub my toe on the dresser. Resisting the urge to let loose with a four-letter word, I stumble out into the hallway and pull up the number on my phone.
My next call is to Emma’s sister. I wish there was somebody else, what with Ted and Linda losing out on adopting yet again, but there really isn’t. Emma’s folks live in Florida, and her dad has dementia. It’s all Em’s mom can do to look after him, let alone pinch hit for us. My parents are in the Midwest, and we’re not what you would call close.
Linda puts on a brave face, but I know it’s killing her to take care of our two kids when she can’t even have one. I think Ted would be OK just having Lin, but she really has the baby bug. It was a cruel blow when the system, in all its wisdom, placed little Danny back with his biological father last month. They let Ted and Linda do all the grunt work of training the kid, finally getting him onto somewhat of a schedule, and completely giving their hearts to him – and then some idiot judge who’s just following a set of antiquated guidelines puts him back into harm’s way. Not only would he have been much better off with them, but he’d have learned a thing or two about living a clean, decent life. Fat lot he’ll learn from a drug-dealing dad and a strung-out mother.
Bureaucracy at its finest.      
But I can’t think about that now. Ted and Linda have to deal with their problems, and I have to deal with mine.
“Hey, Lin? Sorry to wake you. She’s ready to go. Can you guys come over?”

Belabored Chapter 40: Emma

“Let It Go... Surrender the Secret. Our mission is to provide a supportive and confidential environment that facilitates healing and restoration from a past abortion and bring a sense of hope and purpose for the future. 
You are not alone.” 

 “Well, Tom, did you accomplish what you set out to do?” I ask, trying to keep the annoyance out of my voice.
He tosses his coat over the chair. I hate when he does that. I open my mouth to correct him, but then remember he hates when I do that. This isn’t starting out well.
“Listen, Em, could we talk about this later? This whole thing has me pretty wrung out.”
I review the facts in my mind, trying to decide whether I’ll feel better if I beat him over the head with them:
1)      Tom insists on staying at the abortion clinic, even though I beg him to leave with us.
2)      Kyle frets during the whole car ride home, worrying that “the bad people might do something to Daddy!”
3)      I have to explain half a dozen times that they aren’t bad people, they just hold a different opinion than Daddy and I do.
4)      I have to explain half a dozen times what an opinion is.
5)      Kevin’s diaper doesn’t make it through the ride home. He leaks all over himself and the car seat. That isn’t Tom’s fault, but his not being there to help doesn’t make my life any easier.
6)      Neither kid will go down for a nap. See #5.
7)      Just when the boys finally exhaust themselves and are ready to sleep, Tom calls to be picked up.

8)      When I complain that his timing is terrible, he offers to take an Uber, even though he knows that whole idea makes me nervous. On a rational level, I know it’s not much different than taking a cab, but since when are pregnant women supposed to be rational?

9)      Scratch the last part of #8. I was perfectly rational when I was expecting my first two. This pregnancy is a whole different ballgame. I can manage competent. I can even pull off cooperative, if he catches me in the right mood. Rational’s a bit too much to ask.

10)  I throw both kids back in the car. We meet up with Tom, who answers our questions with one-word answers and quite obviously wants to be left alone.

I try to decide whether I’m more tired or upset. I mentally flip a coin, and tired wins.
I opt for sarcasm instead of belaboring the subject of Tom’s inconsiderate behavior.
            “Oh, I see. We couldn’t discuss it when we were there, because whatever you had to do was more important than your safety and helping me get the kids home. Now we can’t discuss it because you’re – how did you put it? – oh, yeah, ‘wrung out.’ Tell me, Thomas, when can we discuss it?”
            He hates when I use his full name. His mother used to do that when she was aggravated with him. I guess everyone’s mother does that. I should have considered that when we were naming Kyle and Kevin. When I get mad, I have to throw in their middle names, since their first names don’t lend themselves terribly well to diminutives.
            Emma, why don’t you just go lie down while the boys are napping, and let this go till later? You’re making about as much a sense as the Mad Hatter.
            Because I want to argue almost as much as I want to rest!
            “OK, Emma, fine. If you wanna talk, we’ll talk. Whaddaya wanna know?” Tom says in an exasperated tone.
            “How ’bout everything, for starters?” I say, just to rankle him.
            “Look, Emma, I’m not trying to fight with you. I’m not even trying to argue with you,” he says with resignation. “It’s just, I don’t know what I thought I could do by staying. I guess I just thought I could bring some semblance of reason to what was going on. Like I do when things get out of hand in the classroom. Y’know?”
            His conciliatory tone brings me up short. Maybe the rational part of my brain hasn’t completely taken a hike.
            “Yeah, Babe, I know,” I answer, this time without any edge to my voice. “So, go on.”
He launches into a brief but somewhat detailed description of what went on while we were gone. It sounds like a lot of things that aren’t meant for young ears. I’m glad he made me take the boys home.
When he gets to the part about the rape victim, I’m agape. How could anyone make such a choice and not be bitter about it? But this woman sounds like, not only isn’t she bitter, she’s downright grateful for this child born of violence.
I can’t fathom it.
“I don’t know, Em. I was so sure at the beginning that I had some, I don’t know, grand purpose in being there. I mean, I sort of felt called, almost. Know what I mean?”
I nod my head.
“But then, when I finally opened my mouth, which wasn’t till the very end, I felt like I really blew it. I mean, those people really needed help, y’know? And I couldn’t even remember the name of the stupid program I was trying to tell them about! They’re walking around with a gaping wound the size of the Grand Canyon, and maybe those people at the pregnancy center could help them heal from it, but I couldn’t even come up with the name of the center, let alone the program! I felt… useless.”
I search my brain for the name of the support group Tom’s referring to. I’ve been to see Bonny more often than he has, and I can see the poster in her office in my mind’s eye. It has a picture of a monarch butterfly with fiery orange wings outspread. It’s right on the tip of my tongue. But pregnancy brain strikes again.
“Aaaah!” I groan to show him I’m frustrated, too. “I can’t think of it, either! But I know what you’re talking about. Well, let me ask you this, Babe: did you at least tell them what it was about?”
“Yeah. As much as they would listen, that is. They were walking away at that point. But, yeah, I guess I gave them the gist of it. I at least mentioned that there’s a support group in a pregnancy center downtown. Oh, and that it’s free! So – that’s a start. Right?”
“Right,” I smile, and fold myself into his arms. As he strokes my hair, it comes to me.
“Surrendering the Secret!” I yell, then quickly lower my voice so I don’t wake the kids. “That’s the name of the group!”
Tom slaps his hand on his forehead.
“Duh! Where was that when I needed it?” he chides himself.
“I dunno, Babe, but you gave them enough to work with. If it means enough to them, hopefully they’ll pursue it.”
“You’re right,” he says, then pulls me up off the couch. Not an easy trick, with Matthew weighing me down.
“Yeah, you’re right, I’d better start thinking about dinner,” I say, heading for the kitchen.
“It’s not dinner I’m thinking of,” Tom says with a sly grin. “How ’bout we start with dessert?”
At times like this, I notice how really handsome he is. Not in a traditional way, but he has just enough stubble on his chubby Irish face to make him irresistible. I follow where he leads.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Belabored Chapter 39: Tom

“I had been pregnant in the sixties, and at nineteen years old had an illegal abortion that probably influenced the messy state of my reproductive organs… Now I couldn’t take my fate: 
You’ll never have a baby. That was the sentence handed to me. 
I began to beat my fists against a door that maybe I had locked on the other side.” 
– Gilda Radner in It’s Always Something

Once Kathy leaves, there doesn’t seem to be anything left for Helen and Sarah to talk about. Each returns to her respective post. I head over to see how the priest is making out with the irate couple. They’re still going at it.
Between expletives, the male partner shouts, “My wife and I have been trying to get pregnant for a year and a half, and you have the audacity to stand out here and protest a woman’s choice?” 
More profanity, followed by, “Go home!”
The wife joins in with vulgar epithets and accusations, to which the priest, clearly thrown by the breadth of their anger, quietly responds, “But we’re praying for babies, not against people. Any and all babies. Yours included.”
A pro-lifer in ragged jeans steps in to help the rattled clergyman.
“Man, we’re tryin’ to help. Besides, what does your trying to have a baby have to do with us trying to save babies? We’re on the same side!”
“That’s bull!” the husband erupts. “You’re only trying to get rid of people’s freedom! You’re not here to help anybody! You only want to judge other people’s choices! Go home!”
 More pro-life voices – some conciliatory, others harsh and judgmental (as if to prove the veracity of the charge which was just leveled against them) – enter into the debate. My feet propel me towards the couple.
OK, Coughlin, I urge myself, are you ever gonna say something, or do you plan to just keep standing here like a statue while other people take all the flak? Why didn’t you just leave with Emma and the boys if all you’re gonna do is stand around and watch? Come on, man! It’s now or never.
“We are home!” one pro-lifer hisses. “This is the land of the free and the home of the brave. And last time I checked, we had freedom of speech and assembly in this country!”
Keep out of their personal space, I warn myself. They’re angry enough to be dangerous.
Like Atticus Finch eyeing rabid Tim Johnson, I keep my distance. I want to be heard, not disemboweled.
“Folks, can I have a word alone with these people?” I begin cautiously.
The man looks suspicious and takes his wife’s arm.
“Hey, man,” I say, “all I wanna do is talk to you without everyone else hearing. Really, folks, do you mind?”
The priest looks wary, as do the rest of the pro-lifers within earshot. Everyone seems to think I’m out of my mind. They’re probably right. 
Still, something in my voice seems to command compliance when these types of situations arise in the classroom, just like that day in the locker room all those years ago. Slowly, the crowd around us disperses, and I find myself alone with the two enraged dissenters.
          “Listen, man,” the husband snarls, “I don’t know what you want, but –”
“Nothing,” I say emphatically. “I don’t want anything, except to find out what’s got you so upset.”
I pause to gauge their reaction. So far, so good. I wade in a little further.
“Do you mind if I ask why a peaceful prayer vigil is affecting you both so personally? I mean, what’s it got to do with you folks trying to have a baby?”
The wife starts to tear up and her husband flares again.
“Stop tryin’ to psychoanalyze us! You’re upsetting my wife!”
“I’m sorry. That’s not my intent. I’m just asking questions. I’m really sorry you guys are having a hard time getting pregnant, but these people are just trying to defend the unborn. They’re not out to get you.”
“You don’t have a clue!” the wife screeches. “You think this is some sort of a punishment, don’t you! Well, it’s not!”
“Punishment? For what?” I ask quietly.
“You think you’re so smart! I was just a kid myself! I had no way to take care of a kid! What was I supposed to do? I didn’t know it could cause problems later.”
The light dawns. My mind flashes back to the day Macie Shaw asked if she could go to the nurse, and I tried to stall her because she’s always looking for a reason to get out of class. It was only when her eyes started to well up that I noticed she had tied her jacket around her waist and was clutching a tiny, pink, cylindrical object in her hand. I couldn’t write the pass fast enough.
I felt like as much of a jackass then as I do now.
  Still, the waters have parted in front of me, and I see no choice but to forge ahead.
“So, you’re wondering if God’s punishing you for the ‘choice’ you made way back when by not giving you a child now?” I press softly.
The wife bursts into tears, and her husband tenderly puts his arm around her. In a strange juxtaposition, he glares death at me. If he had a knife, it would probably be wedged in my jugular by now.
“Nice goin’, man,” he spits out acidly. “Now she’ll be a wreck for the rest of the day. Thanks a lot.”
He steers his crumpled wife away from the crowd.
I can’t let them leave that way.
“Hey, wait! Please! There’s gotta be help for what you’re feeling. You don’t have to carry this pain alone.”
I take a deep breath, praying furiously for some hopeful words to come to me. The only thing that leaps to mind is Matthew. I decide to go for it.
“Look, my wife and I, we’re having our third son, and he’s gonna have some problems. Serious problems. We weren’t sure what to do, how to handle it, but we found this place that helps people like us. It’s a pregnancy center downtown. Maybe –”
 The man turns abruptly from his wife’s shaking shoulders.
“Leave us alone!” he fumes. “You’re on your third kid and we can’t even have one!”
 “Please, hear me out!” I beg. “It’s not about the number of kids. It’s about the services this place offers.”
I fumble with my phone to look up the contact information for the pregnancy center where that nice woman, Bonny, works.
“They have a sign there saying they help people who’ve gone through what you guys have. I think they have some sort of support group. You don’t have to live in bondage to this – this one choice. You can move past it.”
It’s no use. I’m talking to their backs and praying the guy doesn’t turn around and deck me. In a last-ditch effort, I shout to them, “It’s free!”
They get into their car and speed off.
With slumped shoulders, I call Em to ask for a ride home.