I crept out of my bedroom early this morning and poked my head into my child’s room. She was snoring and muttering in her sleep, same as always. The floor of her room was devoid of most of the toys that usually made walking through a minefield a safer proposition than putting her to bed.
The room was relatively clean because family and friends will be descending upon our home this weekend for her birthday parties (Yes, plural. Yes, we are nuts.).
Today, she turns seven.
I wonder how that is possible.
Three days after my wife walked out of the bathroom, slapped a pee-laden plastic stick in my hand and announced, “Here we go again,” an ice storm hit our part of the state. Of the 50,000 homes in our area, about 49,000 of them were without power, including ours.
We lived next to a nature preserve and spent the first night hearing giant trees forcefully shedding their limbs under the weight of the ice. Every time a chunk crashed to the ground, it sounded like the wood had landed in our dining room.
We spent the first day playing board games and bundling up for what we thought would be like a snow day. The only radio station in town with a gas-powered generator was broadcasting updates as to damage and power issues in between bouts of mid 2000s pop music.
I still can’t hear Lenny Kravitz’s version of “American Woman” without feeling my teeth chatter.
Once we realized this wasn’t going to be a short-term problem, we hunkered down in the family room: Me, The Missus and The Rabbit (who was none too pleased that we chased her into the room and captured her into a makeshift cage). We wore every layer of clothing possible. It wasn’t helping.
Shortly before 9 p.m. on Day Two, the DJ told us something life-changing: The Lowe’s in Muncie had received a shipment of 300 kerosene heaters and was opening immediately to sell them.
The store was about a mile from our house, but the four-wheel-drive truck we owned wasn’t at home. On Christmas morning, we had slammed head on into a deer and the truck was crushed to shit. It was at the shop, being repaired. All we had was our grocery getter, a 1998 Honda Civic. Making things worse, it was trapped in the garage.
“Look,” I said, “I can try to break the garage door and go out there and get one if you think it’s worth the risk.”
She turned to me in the dark and through foggy breath said, “Do whatever you have to.”
I managed to shatter the ice that sealed the garage door and forced it up and out of the way. The Civic started and I wove through the desolate streets of the city.
When I arrived, the Lowe’s was insane. The line was growing out the door and cars were swarming to the parking lot like angry bees, weaving in and out of each other’s way. I threw the car into a spot that might or might not have been marked for handicapped use, as the ice made it impossible to tell.
Fuck it, I thought, they can tow me.
I raced to the line across a slick parking lot and slid into line, quite literally. I counted the people in front of me: 21. The line behind me grew exponentially.
After what seemed like hours, but I’m sure was only 20 minutes, they started selling these things. The first guy walked out with his and commented to no one in particular, “They’re screwed. They thought they had 300 on the truck, but they only have 150.”
Thanks, asshole. Feel free to touch off a riot for no good reason.
The line remained calm as we wove into the store. For about $150 plus tax, I had a heater and a giant jug to hold our kerosene. As I walked out, people who were deep within the line and had no chance of getting one were offering wads of cash to me for mine.
One gas station remained open in the vicinity and all the people with heaters were making a beeline for it. The kerosene pump had never seen use like this before. I got four gallons to be on the safe side, and headed home, where I would build this damned thing in the dark as my wife watched over me with hopeful eyes.
One hour and two clicks of the igniter later, we had heat. It smelled like raw petroleum in our house, but we didn’t give a shit. We were warm.
It took six days to restore power and on each of those days, we had the same argument: I would tell her to take the car and drive to Indianapolis or wherever had power and get a hotel room to stay warm. She would refuse and tell me she wasn’t leaving me alone.
I was afraid she’d lose the baby.
She was afraid of what would happen to me.
And around and around it went.
As the city slowly crept back to life, we were able to find bits of salvation here and there. Our water heater was gas powered, so we could take hot showers when we wanted. Of course, when the shower was over, it was still 43 degrees in the house, so we needed to be ready for that. We would place our clothing around the heater, get it warm, bundle it up and race it into the bathroom. After the shower, we would dry off as fast as possible and get dressed. The bathroom was dark, obviously, except for a small neon light I used when I worked under the car. Between the neon and the steam, the bathroom took on the feel of the movie “Aliens.”
We violated every rule pertaining to the heater, I’m sure, short of running it while we slept. We warmed soup on it. We warmed coffee on it. We ran it inside without the 900 feet of ventilation or whatever it was supposed to have.
About the fourth day, we heard a nearby city had power fully restored, so we drove there for food. McDonald’s never tasted quite so good and hasn’t ever since.
Thousands of workers from all over the country poured into our city to shake the ice off the lines and rebuild our power grid. We treated them like the Poles treated the U.S. Military during World War II.
We bought them lunch when we saw them. We cheered for them as they drove by.
When one of the guys came by to check the power transformer in our backyard, we ran outside and jumped up and down, offering him a choice of beverages: some lukewarm coffee or a semi-frozen beer.
Eventually, the power came back and live moved on. I spent the next month panicking about what that deepfreeze had done to my child.
When we met with the OBGYN to get an ultrasound, all of that panic came to a head.
I couldn’t sleep the night before. I couldn’t eat. I beat the shit out of myself.
Why didn’t I force her to leave?
Why didn’t I do more to keep her warm?
Why… Why… Why…
The doctor was a woman who had the personality of a wet fart. She told us about six months earlier with clinical precision that the child we had been expecting was not meeting growth expectations and had failed to be viable and needed to be removed from my wife. She then printed off some ultrasound photos, handed to them to us and said, “I’ll give you a minute” before walking out the door.
So here we were again. With this woman. Again. An ultrasound. Again.
Why… Why… Why…
She pressed her tool against my wife with the delicacy of someone crushing a cockroach under foot before she located what she was looking for.
It was the size of a peanut.
The heartbeat looked like butterfly wings flapping against the wind.
The next seven or eight months were a blur. We learned about random phenomena associated with this process, including the concept of “nesting,” where men go nuts and build or break shit. I thought it was ridiculous until the day my wife came home from work and found me with a chainsaw cutting up an old split-rail fence because it was dangerous and there was no way in hell I was bringing a child into this world without getting rid of this fucking fence.
On the July 4 weekend, our AC blew and I spent half the day screaming at people who had come out, said it was fixed and then left, only to have it break again.
“Look, you asshole,” I screamed in a clearly counterproductive fashion, “I have a wife who is eight months pregnant, asthmatic and not doing well. You said you fixed it. It’s still broken. Get the fuck out here and fix this!”
Eventually, they sent a different guy who was decent, human and knew what he was doing. He also had something like nine kids, so he fully understood what I was dealing with.
Around Aug. 15, we had “the big appointment” and the doctor said the phrase every woman apparently longs to hear at this stage in the game:
“I think we’re going to induce you.”
Two days later, we were in a suite at the local hospital, awaiting our child. The doctor said it was going to be a girl. My father, whose medical training started and stopped with Quincy reruns, was sure the woman was wrong.
Apparently, we come from a small-dicked people and the male genitals were just hiding somehow, he figured.
The folks had come down from Wisconsin while my wife’s family stayed back home. The day we were having our child, my wife’s grandmother was being buried.
Nothing, it appears, was going to be easy about this.
Truth be told, it apparently was easy. The nurses were amazed at how quickly my wife pushed this little person out of her body. The doctor, months later, would marvel at her cervix and how well it had snapped back into place.
My wife, who had declined the nurse’s offer to have a mirror set up so she could watch this miracle of life, was amazed that I watched the kid come sliding out of her.
The child’s head popped out like it was a whack-a-mole game. It was screaming and it hasn’t stopped making noise since.
They quickly placed the child on my wife. I took a quick peek at the bundle of joy.
No wiener. Dad was wrong. Go figure.
The doctors and nurses swept her away, cleaned her up and used KY Jelly to attach a little bow to her head. They swaddled her and handed her to me and I nestled her into my wife as we posed for pictures.
I know people do this every day, but it was still one of those, “I can’t believe this” moments.
If those nine months were a blur of firsts, the subsequent seven years have gone by even faster. From sleeping through the night to solid food to teething to crawling to walking and more, it’s been a very weird and amazing ride.
Tonight, we have another first: First sleepover birthday party.
Seven little girls will invade the basement and sleep all of about six minutes.
(I know we all have divergent views on faith, but please, if you can, pray for us.)
As I was writing this, a disheveled child with a princess crown atop her head and a blanket wrapped around her staggered into the room.
“Good morning, Daddy…” she said in that slow, “I need coffee” kind of way.
“Good morning, Peanut. Happy Birthday.”