I don’t write about you much, do I?
It’s not that I don’t think about you, that I don’t love you, because I do. More than you know, probably.
You know how your brother is, with his clumsy attention seeking, the typical little brother both cute and spoilt in equal measure, but you are the shy one. Quiet. That’s not a bad thing. I mean, when you were a baby you were an angel whereas I honestly thought your brother was trying to kill me through sleep deprivation…
When you were a baby.
It seems strange to talk about that, seeing as you are nearly as tall as your mum, but it doesn’t seem that long ago to me, the memories are so clear. It sometimes feels like my baby girl just crawled away giggling behind the sofa and when I went to find you, you’d gone, and there was a big girl there, and then that big girl went to sleep one night and she never came down for breakfast but a young woman appeared in her place asking for croissants. I find myself searching for these lost children, even pining for them.
I suppose every parent feels that, but a kick in the teeth is a kick in the teeth. You don’t get blasé about something like that just because it’s commonplace.
We’d gone shopping. Your mum and I.
I’d got the afternoon off work because we were going for a scan. Your mum was two weeks overdue, which is to say that she wasn’t but you were, and you’ve been late ever since, as the cliché goes.
How strange, waiting for someone that no-one has ever met.
So we’d planned to have the scan and then go shopping, shopping for what, I can’t remember. It isn’t important anymore, like many things that happened before you arrived, they are of no consequence. It’s like we were just… waiting, lives on hold, filled with material nothingness.
Waiting for you.
In the dark room, staring at screens, the nurse sliding the scanner over your mum’s moon belly filled with you. The nurse began to frown, then hurried out to consult a doctor, and the doctor came and he frowned and suddenly there was rushing, rushing.
We were just logs on the tide, carried lumber, the rush and swell there to carry us from room to room, form to form. Sign here, sign there, put this on, don’t worry.
You were breech, you see, which is to say you were the wrong way round, but who am I to say which is right or wrong? All I know is that the way you were in the womb was a difficult way, a dangerous way. Your head was up, your bottom was down. We spend our lives like that now, who’d have thought starting life that way could be dangerous? Not me, not you, my little one.
So we signed the forms and rode the tide, washed our hands and dressed in blue green gowns. There was an aeroplane excitement to it all, I have to admit, a feeling of slight danger in the hands of professionals, somehow knowing it was fine while there was still a thrill, a drama.
Then they told us you were struggling.
It seems your mum was in labour without even knowing it, and with each contraction the pressure on the umbilical was cutting off your blood supply.
It wasn’t exciting anymore.
Your mum sat on a bed in an undignified gown and I sat in a chair like a cheap Doctor Kildare and a blonde man with an expensive smile flowed in with the tools of his trade and slipped a needle like a stiletto between the vertebrae of your mum’s spine.
She trembled and howled and her eyes rolled like a frightened calf’s while she squeezed the middle two fingers of my left hand so hard that I felt my wedding band grate on the bone and pieces of bone came away to later form a lump that would never go away but that’s of no consequence, no importance.
Suddenly your mum was a doll from below the waist, limp-limbed and helpless. Betrollied. It was slightly funny in spite of it all and we laughed a little and held hands and we waited for it all to begin.
The surgeons came, impressive, exotic.
A Chinese doctor, small and assured with the nail of his little finger long and red painted. A strangeness I wonder about to this day. An Indian doctor, younger, taller, silent and smiling.
The Chinese doctor talked, we listened, we said thank you for some reason and my wife was wheeled through to theatre and I followed, out of my depth as I so often am.
They put your mum in a tent, my love, a tent of green cloth. I was up by your mum’s head, holding hands with my other hand, not the one with the damaged finger.
She couldn’t feel a thing. She found this strange.
I could see what the doctors were doing so I found it miraculous.
They didn’t mess about, the Chinese doctor and the Indian doctor. On the other side of the green tent they were busy, so busy, with nurses and assistants and countless others milling around, their actions shielded from view behind the green cloth and I tried not to look but of course you see things you sometimes don’t want to see and I saw things.
Incisions were made and they pulled and pulled, the muscles bulging through the Indian doctor’s scrubs as he hauled your mum’s belly open, wider and wider.
I looked away.
Your mum was smiling, aware she was being pulled about a bit but that was all.
What are they doing? she asked.
Stuff, I said. They’re doing stuff.
I heard a wet smack and I looked at the floor and the floor was red and wet, a spreading pool. I caught the eye of the Indian doctor and his eyes said, don’t say anything to her and I didn’t, I held her hand.
And suddenly you were there.
Purple and crushed, bathed in blood, held high like a sacrifice. I remember my first thought on seeing you:
Well, I wasn’t expecting that.
What an odd thing to think on seeing your first born child.
But you weren’t what I expected. Your little features were squashed and your head was shaped like a high born Inca, the soft skull sweeping back to a cap of dark hair. You were no washed cherub mewling softly in the cold shock of sudden birth. You were more real than that.
The nurse cradling you on a set of steel scales beckoned me over to see you, to meet you. I stood over you, looking down. Your mum asked if you were a boy or a girl and I looked but I had no idea, I was still floating on the tide. The nurse said you were a little girl, of course you were, and I looked back at your mum to tell her and I could see the whole scene now, the amount of blood on show, the rushing doctors, the fact that your birth now seemed incidental to them.
I said to your mum, it’s a girl.
Her face was grey, lips blue. She smiled.
I’m tired, she said.
And then I knew.
She was dying.
This was the point in the classics where the mother was lost and the baby survived, a common event in the day but as I’ve mentioned before, a kick in the teeth is a kick in the teeth. You don’t get blasé about something just because it was commonplace.
Bags of blood arrived from wonderful people who give it for free and the Chinese doctor and the Indian doctor worked with silent skill, deftly stitching and sealing and suturing, putting your mum back together, sealing her life back inside her.
Bloody immigrants, coming over here, saving the lives of our wives and our children.
I carried you to your mum to show you to her and her face creased with happiness as the colour came back, slowly, colour from other people’s veins.
And then for a little while it was just you and me, my love.
I held you, both of us content. Alone in a room while they finished fixing your mum. Your face slowly filled out, turned from purple to pink like the unfolding of a butterfly’s wing that is fresh from it’s chrysalis, your mouth a small beak slowly moving, small fingers small nails, soft slender limbs and an ear exactly like my own. The white glisten of vernix in folds and creases, a slight bitter smell from the crown of your hair.
When your mum came back she held you and held you and began to try feed you but at first you didn’t want to know. I had to dress you and I got it wrong, vest back to front, but that’s always been my way and you were warm and loved and the vest did the job.
I couldn’t stay at the hospital, they wouldn’t let me. I kissed you, I kissed your mum, I promised to return in the morning and I left.
Outside the sun was setting, a dry dusty warmth. I drove the car home and went into the empty house.
I stood for the longest time in the growing darkness, waiting, like the house was waiting. Then I took my keys and left the house, walked beneath bats swooping low under streetlights and the final staccatos of blackbird and song thrush.
I walked to the shop but I paused at the kerb. I looked left and right, looked left again. My heart pounding. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t cross the road.
The sudden weight of responsibility came flooding through me, the knowledge that a new life needed me to protect it, your life, and I knew I couldn’t do it, that I wasn’t strong enough.
I would fail.
What if I got hit by a car crossing the street on the day of your birth?
I paused a good while there, watched the occasional car pass by, then I crossed the road quickly, walked into the shop and bought beer.
I went home and sat in the front room in the darkness, window open, listening to the night sounds as I drank beer I could not taste, watched people walk by and wondered, how can they look so calm when everything has changed? Why aren’t they laughing or crying or shouting?
And I realised I hadn’t laughed, or cried, or shouted.
Should I have cried?
I still don’t know.