“Silence is a true friend who never betrays.” – Confucius
My wife, Emma, isn’t an emotional person, but I can tell when she gets off the phone that something’s up. For one thing, her face is the color of my grandmother’s hair after she stopped dying it. For another, she ignores my question about who was on the phone, and goes right into the house. After eight years of marriage, I know when to give her space (usually), so I do my best to exhaust the boys, then plop them in front of a video and go into our room to talk to her.
Em is sprawled out on the bed, staring at the ceiling. Her baby bump, as the tabloids love to nickname such things, isn’t much bigger than my fist, but the sight of that little knot sends the same bolt of excitement through me that I felt five years ago when the bump that was Kyle first started rearranging Emma’s tiny figure.
“OK, Em,” I say, “what’s wrong?”
Her lips move, but her eyes stay fixed on the dead white paint over our heads. Finally, she blurts out, “That phone call – it was Dr. Rivera. She thinks there’s something wrong with the baby!”
I go numb.
In the space of five minutes, Emma pours out the problem, the possibilities, and her panic over what might be.
I like to fix things, like the plate that toppled from its place on top of a bank of windows, leaving a gaping hole in the arrangement Emma carefully created in our dining room. Our older guy, Kyle, freaked out when I shooed him away from the shattered pieces on our hardwood floor. He went on and on about how the four remaining plates would be lonely without it, despite the fact that I told him it was only a dish and Mommy could get another one to replace it. Didn’t matter. The kid wouldn’t calm down till I got out glue and mended the thing. It looked ridiculous next to the others in all their perfection. There was a big chunk missing in the middle, but Ky-Guy, as I like to call him, let loose with a gap-toothed smile, threw his arms around me, and shouted, “Yay, Daddy!”
I wish stupidly for some sort of glue to repair whatever damage is going on inside of Em’s uterus.
I can’t think of anything comforting to say, so I just lay down next to her and cradle her the way she likes in the crook of my arm. After a while, I can feel her softly crying. I stroke her cheek.
“Hey, Babe, let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” I say, hoping that will be enough to calm her. I’ve been known to say the wrong thing when I try too hard.
“I know, but Tom, what if – what if it’s one of those things she said it could be? What if it’s the worst case scenario – one of those awful diseases, er, conditions, that can’t ever be fixed? What if he – or she – has a huge hole in his back? What if –”
I’m thinking all those same things, but I have to slow down this train wreck somehow. She’s, what, not even in her second trimester? We can’t go on projecting like this through the whole pregnancy, or it’ll make us both crazy.
“Whoa there, Babe, let’s back the truck up,” I say as evenly as I can. “We don’t know what, if anything, is messed up. Right?”
I look hopefully at her face, searching for something optimistic in her usually serene, blue eyes. Today I read nothing but fear.
“Right?” I say again.
“Right,” she concedes, but without conviction.
My mouth goes on without my permission, uttering things I want to I believe about the doctor probably being mistaken and everything turning out fine. I finally realize I’m probably making things worse by protesting too much. I force myself to shut up and let the silence soothe her.
We lay that way for 20 minutes or so, till the kids’ show ends and they start yelling in the living room.
“Hey, Babe, one of us needs to go in there and settle those savages down. Tell you what. You get some rest, and I’ll make dinner and take care of the chuckleheads. Do we have any spaghetti?”
She gives me that winning smile that attracted me to her in the first place, and says she loves me.