“Look, I just don’t see what your problem is?”
My then girlfriend and I were having a major row about our future. I was 26, just getting rolling in a brand new job in the world of retail, and pleased with going out for a drink with our friends several nights a week.
“Seriously?! You don’t? Look, you’re either in or you’re out. Shit or get of the friggen pot.”
She had just turned 30, and was clearly wondering why the hell she decided to go all in with me a little more than a year prior.
What I did know for sure is that I worshiped her. So being the good doting lover, we made up and decided to let things play out the way the universe wanted them to be. (A way 20 something’s can justify their idiocy.)
Not long after this discussion, I turned 27 and was steadily working my way into management of a major downtown retailer. The work was not too challenging in retrospect, but most things for me at that age tended to be what I considered to be quite grueling. As the summer season started to wind down I was gearing up for the fall shipments. I came home on the bus to find her sitting in the living room waiting for me…with news.
After she told me I broke out into full body hives, and spent the night on the toilet throwing up into a trashcan.
“I can’t do it!!” My six-year-old screamed at me over and over again. Over the past two summers we had been encouraging him to try to ride a bike. First he had gotten a trike to learn the basics of pedaling. However, unlike the trike that millions of us had learned to ride on, the newer models come with a pushing handle. This had only encouraged him to be pushed along the sidewalk. The other obnoxious feature was the fact that it allowed through a clicking ratchet to pedal backwards aimlessly with a thunderous “click-click-click.” Forward mobility it seemed was the last thing the manufacturer wanted to teach.
Fortunately we discovered the scoot along bike without pedals, but had waited till he was almost too big to get any real long-term use out of it. He would zoom teetering on one foot and then another, and slowly had gotten to the point where he could lift his legs up, only to hit the handlebars. But the balance was getting there.
After another summer of watching his friends get large new bikes and effortlessly ride them in slow sweeping circles around him, he had all but given up on the idea. Unfortunately for him, his lethargy was only compounded by the fact that his own parents were not bike enthusiasts. While we both own a bike, we might as well just hang them on a wall as if they were some sort of Damien Hirst inspired artwork conveying the endless passage of time through a rusty decay. We do not take family bike rides. We don’t hitch up a pull along carrier behind a cruiser and go to Trader Joes with a 6-foot flag waving off the back signifying an outstanding and healthy parent. We spent our free time eating sushi, planting flowers, and having a late glass of rose as the sunset.
After taking a couple sick days from work, I found myself staring blankly over a large empty suit department. My head throbbing, I did the best I could to focus when the occasional elderly man would come looking for something that would fit off the rack. Since the store had done away with all the finery services like tailoring, I often had to do the best with what was available, only to then have another lecture as to how this was another reason our store was “going down the tubes.” Any other day I could win some sort of concession, even a smile from these chaps, but today I listen and nodded with they typical glazed over look the had come to expect, and no doubt mentally log as yet “one more reason.”
She was going into the doctor for a confirmation ultrasound. After two days of trying to keep my spirit high about the idea and waiting for an appointment to be ready for us, I had to not miss any more work. She assured me that she wanted me to go to work, and that she would call once she knew for sure. And so the morning went by as to be expected. Slowly.
Once the phone on my hip did begin to ring, I flubbed it right to the ground before answering in a hushed tone.
“Babe, how is it going? How are you?”
Something was wrong.
“The baby’s not there.”
“It’s. Not. There.”
“So where is it? Are you pregnant?”
“Yes. Yes I am pregnant. He just could not find the baby.” She had said the word “he” in a way that I knew well. She did not like him. As if perhaps if it were a woman she would have been able to find the baby.
“Well, what did he say?”
“It could be stuck.”
“Sometimes it can get stuck in a tube. It’s bad. They would have to remove the baby.”
“Well…what next? Where do we go next?”
“We have to wait.”
The thought started to make the hives start to rise against my skin all over again.
“Ok. Hang in there. I love you. I’ll try to get home early.”
“Ok. I need you.”
I hung up the phone. I was scared. I was worried for her. I was embarrassed and pissed I was not there with her. It was bad enough I had set the tone of my parental readiness by loosing a few pounds in the bathroom, but this was enough. I was scared also that there was some sense of relief. Maybe this would be for the best. MAYBE the universe was telling me that I was not ready. I was relieved in a way that I would not have to have a conversation with my parents 3000 miles away. I would not have to see their faces when I told them that the girl they had met once or twice before was going to have a baby. And we were not married. I would not need to go though the gauntlet of a pregnancy, which had kept us both awake with whispered conversations late at night the past couple of days.
He watched our 10year old neighbor ride his mountain bike down the sidewalk. There was a look of sweet sadness in his face. A quiet and bottled want filled up his eyes as he saw the boy beaming as he pedaled switching gears. I asked him if he wanted to take the training wheels off of his painfully little bike; a hand me down job from a family friend meant to help him ride 2 years ago. He agreed, and we set about unbolting them with the help of his three-year-old brother.
In between mediating the arguments about who got to hold the wrench, and who got to hold the pliers, I spied the other bike. It is an old cast off BMX that a couple of teens we had lived next door gifted to him last year. Despite being a touch rusty on the gears and chain, and needing new tires, it was a fine throw back to my own childhood bike.
“Hey listen. How about I make you a deal. You get up on this thing, and practice, and I’ll fix up that dirt bike for you.”
“For real?” His head shot straight at me. This was something he had been thinking about.
“Yeah! Let’s go to the store after you practice a little with me holding on, and we’ll get some things.”
He frantically started in with getting his helmet ready and his tennis shoes on. I ran along behind him holding onto the back of the seat with one hand, and steadied the handlebars with the other. And just when I thought he had the best balance, I let go and he careened into a stiff line of bushes to the side of the walkway.
“DAD! You CAN’T do that to me! I HATE YOU! This whole thing is STUPID! I told you I’m not ready! Why don’t you LISTEN to me?” His reaction had all the drama of a 16 year-old girl who was just forbidden to go to the dance.
“Hey. It happens buddy,” I tried to console him hoping he would not give up, “even grownups fall off every now and again.”
He wailed to the sky, and I decided that we would take a little break and try again the next day.
We anxiously waited in the Dr.’s waiting room, thumbing through the thousands of magazines. I attempted to feign some interest in a back dated issue of Sports Illustrated, but my mind was already in the examination room. She had still decidedly felt pregnant; complete with the vomiting, which could best be described as constant. (Fortunately, mine seemed to have abated for the time being.)
We had gotten a referral to this particular doctor through a family friend, who did her hair, and swore that she would be a great person to work with. She was brash yet warm, funny but thorough. After a few moments of probing around the mid-section with a lubed up stick of some sort, she stated:
“Well, there you go.”
She hit a button on the machine next to her and a string of blurry black and white photos spit out from the odd womb photo booth machine. She handed the grainy reconnaissance photos over to me and I looked at them in earnest trying to figure out if there was a baby or a missile base in them. She knew full well I had no idea of either so she pointed up to the screen
“That right there is your peanut.”
It had appeared.
The doctor left the room and I looked over at her, still clutching the photos. She sighed, smiled, and started to cry.
After a bottle of cleaner, some WD40, and a couple of new tubes in the tires, I was impressed with how the little silver bike turned out. The boys had helped me for some time, until boredom had set in while I was struggling to get the back tire on, and the younger one decided to spray the oil at us. However, the bike had worked as I had hoped. He eagerly was ready to get on the small one, and give it another shot. All of us went over to the basketball courts where it was nice and flat to give it another try.
“You just have to keep pedaling. Keep moving forward. If you get nervous or worried you’re likely to overcorrect and tip over.” I tried my best to build his confidence.
“Oh! It makes me so nervous.” She said. We were spending the whole summer as a family, and it was the longest time we had been together. Her skin was sun kissed from time at the lake and at the beach, from time in the pool and building a blanket fort for the boys out on the lawn.
“I think it’ll be ok.” I still find it hard to believe that after seeing my reaction to the first pregnancy, she had opted to go for a second with me.
I began to slowly run behind him, holding onto the seat while he did his best to keep the bars steady.
“Don’t let go!” He panted nervously as he tried his best to focus on pedaling, and balancing at the same time.
I watched the hills roll away from the passenger seat as the sunset lit up the sky. My father, having to drive me the 3 plus hours to the Albany airport was listening to the radio. I had been dreading this ride. More than the flights to and from home, more than having to sit them both down to tell them I would be a father. This ride specifically was what I was worried about. A long opportunity to hear a lecture about how disappointed and upset he was.
He had been particularly quiet when I had sat Mom and him down to tell them. I had decided to do it right away, since I was only home for a couple of days, and I wanted them to have the time to process their feelings on it while I was there. Their reactions were surprising. My mother answered simply by kissing me and saying something along the lines of “It’s going to be great.” And when I expressed my relief about her response she simply said:
“Honey, your 27 and out of my house, it’s your life not mine. I’m not worried.”
But I knew my father knowing he would have a three-hour opportunity to speak to me man to man would hold off his concerns until this ride.
We went through the predictable line of questions:
Does she have insurance? Yes.
Do her parents know? Yes.
Are you going to marry her? I don’t know. I had not gotten that far yet.
And then he made small talk, asked about the job and if I liked it, and just drove.
We got to the airport after the sun had gone down. He offered to keep me company while I waited for my plane, but I knew the drive back would be long and dark, and I insisted he start back. I took my one carryon out of the car and meet him on the sidewalk.
“Are you scared?” He asked. This was the question I was most worried about answering. I was 27 and stubborn. I moved away from home, and was determined to make my life something successful. So far I had lived a wild 20 something life, boozing, smoking, and barely getting by on my own.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t.”
The bike was now sailing along at a good clip. His little legs were keeping a good rhythm, and his nerves were just calm enough to hold it steady.
“Ok bud,” I leaned over and said out of breath, ”it’s time.”
“Dad, I’m scared.” He said still focused, still moving.
“I know but you’re ready. You’ll be great.”
I hugged my father and watched him drive away. I turned, walked through the sliding doors, and started to pedal forward.