And I am Hers
We could hear her screaming from the other end of the hall on the maternity ward at the Saint Vincent's Hospital in Billings, Montana. "Help me! I'm not kidding! Help me!" she was yelling. She had been on the unit for five whole minutes, her husband had not even finished checking her in, and she was already giving birth. My wife and I had been there for eleven long coffee-drinking contraction-counting hours and still, it was all happening too fast for me.
Now, my wife will tell you, as many women will at times like this, she was the one needing the break. While I'm hardly one who would want to take anything away from the birthing experience, a person can only drink so much coffee before they have to go. And, I had to go.
"Hurry," was all Sarah, my wife, said.
I couldn't help but wonder as I left the room, looking at Sarah as she stroked her stomach with her hands, her head back, her eyes closed, as she breathed with those slow, sturdy, measured breaths, had my father gone through any of this? Was he there when I was born?
My father certainly wasn't there, as either a guiding force or an active participant, as I grew from boy to man. He decided early, I guess, that fatherhood was not the job for him. He drove a semi-truck and considered himself a sort of land sailor.
To hear him tell it, he had a girl in every city and town. He was a real man, making babies across the country and then moving on. He'd never be trapped in the rut of accountability.
I, however, was going to be a father. A father who would have had no model for the job if it hadn't been for Mr. Baker. He was my best friend Tommy's dad. He worked five days a week, sometimes six, loading crates for L and M Transfer company in Atlanta, Georgia. After his eight- to ten-hour day, he'd coach little league football in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball in the summer. His teams seldom won, but every kid played. I suppose that was why so many nonathletic children like myself enjoyed playing for him.
"Did the contraction just start?" I asked as I returned to the room where my wife labored.
"Of course it's a contraction, asshole!" Sarah informed me. She didn't get the question right, but it didn't seem like the time to point this fact out to her.
"These contractions are hurting like hell. Do you think you can get someone in here?" she asked.
Sarah was contorting all over the bed, and my attempts at back rubs, breathing techniques, and humor were not helping. So, at her insistence, and with the total lack of nursing personnel in the room, I agreed to check on the baby's progress--my being an Emergency Medical Technician and all. She was crowning--our baby's head was visible and trying to push its way into the world--and Sarah was right, it was time to get a doctor in there.
"Doctor J says how's it coming?" our physician asked as he entered the room. He spoke the way he dressed: bright yellow shirts, orange pants, and blue ties with green dots. Between the third-person speech and the clown outfits, I never felt quite comfortable with him. Sarah, however, loved him.
"She's crowned, Doc," I said.
"How do you know?" he asked.
"I peeked," I said. I figured he had a right to know.
He peeked, too, and with a pat on Sarah's knee and a wink, he said, "It won't be long now."
"It won't be long now," I repeated without the slightest trace of a smile. We were going to have a child whether I was ready or not. Was I capable of being responsible for a life other than my own? God, what if my child was like me? My mother would think that was sweet justice.
When I was sixteen and only in the tenth grade, because of many violations of family rules and acts of violent disrespect, my mother evicted me from her house. She'd been raising four children on her own since I was five years old. Being the oldest, and perhaps the toughest child she had to deal with, I had pushed her too far in my disrespect and after a really long night, she had shown me the door. I was homeless, and found myself sleeping in laundromats, cars, or not at all. It was having an effect on me. I don't know what I would have done if it hadn't been for Mr. Baker.
He came out on his porch one evening while I was visiting Tommy. He walked over to the steps where I stood next to his son, lit his pipe with slow deliberate puffs, shook the match out, and leaned against the post. After a long pause, he said, "I've been talking to your mom."
"Yeah," I said.
"Seems you've been having trouble at home."
I didn't say anything. I just stood there staring at him. I could feel my teeth pressing against each other and my neck muscles tightening. He and my mother had been talking about me. That wasn't right. At least that's how I saw it back then.
He took another deep puff from his pipe and looked down at the steps. "How would you feel about living here?" he asked. "Now, before you answer you should understand a few things." He sat down on the steps and looked up at me; I avoided looking into his eyes. "You will have to pay me $25 a month rent, and you'll have to cut your job at McDonalds to half-time. You'll have to keep your room clean, do the chores I deem just and proper for you to do, keep your grades up at school, and in general behave the way I expect everyone in this family to behave."
I had only eaten what food I could steal from work that week, bathing was becoming a problem, and I liked this guy. "Fifteen a month," I said.
"Twenty-five," he said with just the slightest raise of the corners of his mouth.
Things went well for a week or two. I was keeping my end of the bargain and he was keeping his. It wasn't long, however, before I began to test my limits. I let the cleanliness of my room slip just a bit. I pushed curfew, and I missed school more often than not. I knew he wasn't stupid and that we would have to address this situation. "That room needs a little more work, Bud," or "I said ten o'clock, not ten-thirty," were not the kinds of things I was accustomed to responding to. He understood that.
One Friday evening after the football game with our cross-town rivals, I was sitting in the parking lot drinking beer with the bad boys when Mr. Baker drove up. He stopped his Ford Fairline on the other side of the parking lot, got out, and walked over to where we were leaning too cool against Bobby's Camaro and Mark's Mustang. He grabbed a beer out of the front seat of Bobby's car, then walked over and rested his rear on the hood of Mark's car, next to me, and opened up his twist-top.
"So, where are you going to sleep tonight?" he asked.
"I've been kicked out before."
"I suppose you have," he said as he took a drink from his bottle. He wiped his mouth on his shirt sleeve and continued, "But son, it doesn't have to be this way."
"I'm not your son," I said.
"No, you're not," he said. "But I am your friend."
We sat there for a long time drinking beer and not breaking the silence. The bad boys had moved over to Bobby's car and were now watching us. I kept waiting for him to say something. I don't really know what, but whatever it was, it was going to have to come from him.
"Well," he finally said. "If you find this isn't the life for you and you want to keep our agreement, stop on by."
"Stop on by? Is that it?" I wondered.
"Sure. We had an agreement."
"What about my being a minor? Aren't you going to make me do what's right?"
"No," he said, and he turned toward his car.
I stood and threw my bottle to the ground. Glass and beer exploded everywhre.
"What do you mean, 'No?'"
He stopped at his car door, turned, and said, "I mean that you're big enough to make your own decisions. If this is better than staying at my house, obeying my rules, then have at it." He took a deep breath and looked straight at me. "But, if you want more, or hope for more, or you just don't want to be cold tonight, and you can live with my restrictions, then come on home. It's completely up to you."
I never really understood what was going on inside me back then, that night or any other. I still don't. Nevertheless, I walked around to the other side of the car and got in the passenger seat without saying a word all the way home. I lived in his house, obeying his rules, until I graduated and joined the army. We had our problems during those two and a half years, but he and I always worked it out. Upon my graduation, he gave me back every penny I had paid in rent and five hundred more. "No one should leave home broke," he said.
"Well, how's Mrs. Parker doing?" an older nurse asked as she walked into our room.
"She's crowned," the junior nurse said.
"No, she's not," the senior nurse said without the benefit of checking, something Sarah picked up on right off.
"But the doctor said . . ." the junior nurse began.
"She is not crowned!" insisted the senior nurse with the nametag that read Nurse Conrad, Supervisor.
"I most certainly am crowned, and I hurt like hell! Get me that birthing chair, now!"
"Come on sweetie, it can't be that bad," Nurse Conrad said.
Now this response was a bad idea. If Sarah could have moved better and with less pain or restriction, I fear Nurse Conrad would have understood this more clearly. With a jerk of my sleeve, pulling me toward her, Sarah said, with gritted teeth, "John, get that nurse out of my room right now!"
I wasn't sure how to handle this. Sarah was wanting to push and this woman was insiting she wasn't ready to. We were at an impasse. Until a cart showed up, that is. Then it was just a matter of a grunt here and a curse word there, and Sarah was off the bed and onto the cart. Out one door, in through another, a couple more groans, and a few more words of expression, and she was in a chair designed for a woman in just such circumstances.
It looked like a space-aged pilot seat to me, complete with hand grips from which the weaponry might be fired. But suddenly, Sarah looked like she was in just the right position.
Before we could say pant, our child's head was out to the eyebrows and our nurse was out the door. I felt a little lonely there, and Sarah was in no mood to stop and debate the situation. As I decided to glove up with a pair of gloves I pulled from a box sitting on a table by the chair, I just couldn't help but wish Mr. Baker was there to give me some advice. But he was no longer living and I could not ask for his wisdom now.
Charles Mayhew Baker died on a Friday morning in October of 1979. According to his wife, Mary, he had eaten his breakfast--two eggs over easy and three strips of bacon--and laughed about a weekend trip the two of them were going to take with their best friends. He had told Mary how those dear friends would probably forget "their heads if they weren't attached to their shoulders," and then left for work at six-thirty that morning, just as he had on every work day of their married life. Mary washed the breakfast dishes, picked up around the house, and was getting ready to go to her job at the First State Bank when the phone rang. It was her husband's boss calling to tell her that her husband had not made it to work yet. She told him he had left already, that something must be wrong, and she would find him. It was eight-fifteen in the morning when Mary jumped into her car, pulled out of the driveway, took the first left, and saw his car idling at the stop sign. He was sitting at the wheel, his head leaning forward as if he was looking at something in his lap, his forehead was almost resting on the steering wheel, and his hands lay limp at his side. He fathered five children, worked the same job for seventeen years, and loved the same woman for far longer, and now he was gone.
When they buried him I watched his family grieve, and I understood how special it was to be loved so much by so many. More than 300 people attended his funeral. I stood with Tom and the two of us mourned our loss as brothers, and I knew that the man who created me would never know this from his children. I had just lost the only man in my life deserving of the title Father.
So, I was remembering Mr. Baker and praying Dr. J would get his third-person rear in there, when the good doctor did just that. As Sarah let out a loud scream, he yelled, "Doctor J says you better not push!" He said this as he ran through the door, around the chair, grabbed the tray with the equipment on it, made a quick clip, and said, "Now push." And with one loud grunt, we were declared parents.
My child was announced a girl, whisked off to the nursery--something about her color we were told--and Sarah took a deep breath. She was feeling fine now, her great pressure relieved. It was then agreed that I go to the nursery and attend to our child.
There she is, our first born. Her skin is so pale and wrinkled. Her hair is wispy and blonde. Her eyes are deep blue, her hands are too small, and she seems annoyed by the nurses' attention. She seems too small and fragile to be a living thing. The nurse wraps her in a blanket and tries to hand her to me. I am too terrified to hold her. I don't know what I would do if I harmed her or something. But I do hold her, and I am hers.
Joe Davis III lives in Marquette, Michigan. This is his first contribution to Minnesota Parent.
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