“I’ll bet that woke you up,” I hear the doctor say over my grunting as he yanks the cystoscope from my bladder. I feel it scrape along the urethra in every aching millimetre. Why’s he so jovial, I wonder.
“Looks good,” he says, while I try to man-up and not cry. “Was probably just an infection. I’ll write you a prescription before you leave.”
Leave. That’s exactly what I’d intended all along. Have a little fun. Learn the language well enough to put it on my curriculum vitae, right there beneath top-of-the-class and hot-as-Latino-hell, and then adios amigos!
At the beginning I’d warned her with the standard protocol. I told her I was leaving when my fellowship was done. I had no intentions of marrying anyone in this country. My plans were set like cured cement and they didn’t include her. But that was before. Before she brightened sterile hallways and sweetened free weekends and warmed cold sheets in rented apartments.
Before my mother met her.
Did she do it on purpose? You have to ask, right? Questions whisper. Is it even mine?
These are the thoughts that distract me while I take the long way home around English Bay, calculating just how much everything had suddenly, instantaneously, changed.
Bladder cancer, no. Fatherhood, yes?
I’ve always detested kids. Pediatrics was never going to be my first choice. I’d rather deal with an adult coughing up bacteria-riddled sputum than a crying child in a wet diaper. So when they called her with the results I knew, even before she turned pale and hung up the phone, that my choices no longer mattered.
“It’s either twins or I’m further along than we thought,” she said as the room swayed.
I’d felt earthquakes before but this one was different. Was she threatening me with twins when I was barely able to contemplate one?
One: I silently prayed for one being the lesser of two evils. And I envisioned the conversation I’d have with the attendant when checking in at the airport on my way home next year.
“Sir, you’re only allowed two bags.”
“How about two bags, a foreign wife, an unplanned child, and all the baggage that goes along with them?”
“That’ll cost extra, sir.”
There had to be a right thing to say at that moment, something honest and helpful, but it wasn’t yet in my lexicon. I hadn’t been here long enough to adopt that sort of innate diplomacy.
“Is it mine,” was apparently not the right thing to say. It was an honest question, yes, but not helpful.
They were the longest nine months of my being, filled with the expected ups and downs of unexpected pregnancy: a wartime rife with the kind of turmoil that is hard to claim victory over until your very last enemy is left breathless and begging for mercy at your feet. But Change begs mercy to no man, and Victory is just another name for Acceptance.
I slept while she sat in the living room re-reading yesterday’s news and pretending that she wasn’t terrified by the storm of contractions wracking her body. I ate, showered, and read another article in The New England Journal of Medicine while she systematically, minute-by-minute, changed everything there was to change about my life.
Time. Taxi. The room was ready, like a hotel, with dimmed lights and soft music. Did she want an epidural? No. Why not? Where I come from women of our social class pre-order epidurals and plan their c-sections weeks in advance, marking it on their calendars as if it were a date out to the theatre. They wear lipstick to the operating room. Fathers stand aside and watch from behind walls of sheets.
So what was I doing standing here rubbing her back with numb hands, holding up her leg so she could push more effectively, wiping away tears with a soft towel and kissing her forehead to ease her pain? Did her water finally break? Is that meconium-staining? Hurry-up, can’t she push any harder? Faster. Quicker. I need to see my child. Is it? What’s his APGAR? Nine. He’s perfectly healthy. He’s perfect.
We’ll give him my name of course. It’s right. It’s best. It’s what we do. I need to call my family now. They’ll want to know.
And there it was, the fragment of self I thought I’d somehow lost, cloaked by the everyday way we go about owning our decisions, facing Change as friend not foe; broken into smaller pieces and left to set in a colourful mosaic where the fractions make it whole.
He’s twenty-three now, still perfect, and the other three followed close behind, equally right; like a small band of home-grown warriors all draped in the colours of two flags and ready to stand for what they know.
We’ll help them if we can, together.
Pediatrics was never going to be my specialty.
Geraldine MacDonald was born and raised in Ontario, Canada and holds a Bachelor of Nursing Science Degree from Queen’s University. She presently writes fiction in different genres and creative nonfiction in short form. Her first fiction novel for young adults, Sumac Summer, was released in December 2015 with rave reviews. Print editions are currently available through the author at http://www.winterwindpress.ca or in the following brick and mortar stores: Novel Idea in Kingston and Books Galore and More in Port Perry, Ontario. Digital editions area available through http://www.amazon.com http://www.amazon.ca and http://www.kobobooks.com in global territories. Her second novel, a YA action/adventure, is planned for release in autumn of 2016. Geraldine resides in Kingston, Ontario with her spouse, their four children, and one very spoiled dog.