The work ethic was strong in me then, like the Force. It was a Monday for our checkup on Dawn’s pregnancy. I decided not to go into work, to make breakfast and enjoy time with just the two of us, before the appointment. For reasons I don’t remember when we got there they said it’s time, go home, pack your bags and come back. We lay in the hospital room that night with the sounds of the machines, some images on monitors. There was no sleep that night: any good sleep was behind us, at that point. Dawn wanted it natural, in the water. They had birthing tubs but there was something with the legality where you couldn’t technically deliver in the tub, there was a workaround. I leaned over her massaging her back as she pushed and my back hurt like hell too, but no one cared. Right then my role was defined, as was hers. It was a girl, we named her Elizabeth, Lily for short. Lily wasn’t breathing right and Dawn was hemorrhaging, blood and color draining out of her. When we got to the car someone had broken into it and there was glass on the baby car seat but they let us borrow a vacuum to suck out the small pieces. They stole my briefcase and Dawn’s backpack with our ID and SSN (Dawn was on unemployment, left the paperwork in her bag). We had to get the locks changed. We were deeply paranoid, suffering from sleep debt. A large black woman at the halfway house down the street was putting handwritten notes in our mailbox with Pagan symbols claiming her kids were in our basement and she wanted to see them. We called the police and had her dealt with. She was hanging around the back of the house by the alley, looking in our windows.
A few days later I went to the store for the first time and fell in love with it. I walked up and down the aisles picking up things and looking at the labels. I realized I needed to get out. The reality of our new life was urgent, unmistakable. Even Dawn’s cat knew it, the order had changed. We couldn’t give a damn about the cat and then its kidneys went out and they said we could like manually drain it in the bathtub with a dialysis bag (along with diaper-changing and breast-feeding) and we said no way, and had her put down. Then the mice turned up, the rats: literally coming in through the basement behind the refrigerator into the nursery for the milk scents in the crib. I found the turds in the closet one day and stared at them, unbelieving. Dawn’s dad got sick, real sick, and we took him to the hospital. Dawn started smoking again, on the front stoop. We were onto our second by then, Charlotte. Christmas came and went and we put up a tree in her dad’s hospital room but no one felt like celebrating. We put our house on the market that summer and then the economy crashed a month later and we decided to stay at Dawn’s mom’s house through the winter. Couldn’t stand the idea of moving to the suburbs, never considered it. The following summer I took a sabbatical and we moved to Germany for three months. Charlotte was still in diapers.
Some mornings I’ll lie in bed while Lily’s downstairs getting ready for school, just listening to the sounds she makes eating her cereal or opening and closing the pantry doors in the kitchen, the refrigerator. So many sounds. She mentioned it a few times tonight at dinner, her birthday’s coming up in five days, and while we’re excited you can tell there’s a shift; it’s not the same. Maybe we’re all just tired and getting a bit older. I do my damnedest to remember what I can from that night, though: the beeps from the machines in the room, the news “it’s a girl,” you hear if you’re lucky in life maybe once, maybe twice.