Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Bravest Thing

The Bravest Thing

January, 1947

"You don't have to wait with me, Dad. I'll be fine until the bus gets here."  Lindsay Porter leaned in close to her father's shoulder, and he quickly wrapped her in a hug.

"I don't mind, Baby."  Will Porter glanced at the departure schedule and then at the clock.  “Can’t see leaving you alone here at night.”

Lindsay stepped back a bit so she could more easily look her father in the eye. "I'll be fine, and you still have to drive home.  And I know you’ll be back at the hospital tomorrow as soon as morning chores are done.  You really should get back as soon as you can."

Will reached back and absently rubbed at the tension in his neck. "I’d just as soon see you safely off."

Lindsay just smiled her grateful assent.

The two stood in silence for a little while. Voices murmured in the background, largely ignored. Few travelers had chosen such a late hour for their departure from this small-town station. None waited very close by, so after a few minutes, Lindsay ventured to speak again.

"Dad, I hope you won't think I'm meddling... "

"You know you can speak your mind, Linds."

The loudspeaker interrupted with a blaring announcement of the arrival of a bus from Springfield. Lindsay waited until it ended so she could make herself heard.

"It's just...I don't know how to say this.  Everything has happened so fast, and I know you've hardly had time to take it all in, much less figure out how to handle it. I don't expect you to know how to deal with it yet. But... "

She paused again. A woman in a smart-looking outfit walked by, wrapped in a cloud of cigarette smoke. Everything about her demeanor advertised superior aloofness, and Lindsay couldn't bear to expose the warmth of her own heart until that cold heart moved further away.

Her father also watched the woman across the growing distance. He seemed saddened by her, somehow, if Lindsay was any judge of her father's feelings. Saddened the way he always was when he saw what was, and compared it with what should have been.

"I've been blessed with two warm, wonderful women, Lindsay."  He looked back at his daughter and flashed her a quick smile.  "Well, three, counting you, Baby Girl."  

His smile faded. "Losing your Mom was nearly the death of me. I never thought I would find another woman who could make me feel alive again. And then Marie came along, and I could breathe again.  And now this...."  His voice trailed off, and he suddenly seemed to remember where he was. He looked around himself as if to make sure he hadn't accidentally exposed such private thoughts to complete strangers.

After it became apparent that he was dropping the subject, Lindsay took it up again.  Even though there really wasn't anyone close enough to hear, she lowered her voice for the sake of his feelings.

"I know it’s been a huge shock," Lindsay began softly, "but like it or not, you do have a baby coming soon, Dad. And that's what I wanted to talk to you about. "  She shot a worried look at the clock.

He caught her concern and looked at the clock as well. "Best to just come out and say it, then."

"Well... the truth is, I'm a little worried about how you feel about the baby."

His face hardened, and his posture stiffened just a little.

Lindsay laid a hand on his arm. "I see your heart just ready to burst with all your worry for Marie, and that's as it should be. But whenever anyone mentions the baby..."

Will leaned closer, yet spoke in a harsh, loud whisper that needed no such closeness. "That baby could kill Marie! It could kill her!"

He quickly reined himself in as best he could, but his chest heaved behind tightly folded arms. He no longer looked at Lindsay, no longer seemed to see anything in the station.

Lindsay said nothing, afraid she had already said too much.

"With you and the other babies it was different," he finally continued, his voice softer.  "You know it hurt me that the others didn't live to be born, but when you came along, we were a family. I was happy. Then later your mom was taken, but even though it tore our hearts out, I knew you would be alright because you were nearly grown.  Then God gave me Marie, and I didn't want anything else. I didn't even have to worry about being lonely when you went off to college. I never asked for another child. I never asked for this baby...and they said it could never happen!"  

He had gotten a little bit loud, so he toned himself down again.  “That’s what makes me so angry about all of this.  It’s like God played a dirty trick on us.  She wasn’t supposed to be able to have children.  This never should have happened...and now that it has, it could make a widower of me again!

Lindsay felt hot tears threatening to spill from her eyes, but with a courage born of love she pressed gently on.  "Or the baby and Marie could both be just fine."

Her father stared at some point in the distance and said nothing. But his eyes held tears of their own, and his throat worked as if he were trying to swallow his grief and fear like a bitter pill.

After a few moments of silent misery, Lindsay could take it no longer. She took hold of his clenched arms and gently pulled on them to open them. Her strength was nothing to his, but he offered no resistance. They hugged each other tightly, and he even allowed a few of his tears to keep hers company.

"I can't lose Marie, Linds," he finally whispered. "I can't go through that again!"

The loudspeaker squawked again, making both of them flinch. But the message was a welcome one. Her bus was delayed by a few minutes.

A few angry voices griped at the other end of the terminal, but Lindsay couldn't have asked for better news.  She relaxed more fully into their much-needed embrace for a few more moments, until she decided that she needed his eyes even more than his arms.

He accepted her unspoken invitation, meeting her gaze when she stepped back. Their hands remained clasped.

"Dad, when you and Mom lost all those babies, how did you make it through?"

He shrugged. "Your mom said it best. She said we loved each other through."

And when Mom died, how did we make it through?"

He squeezed her hands. "Same way."

"Well," she replied with a return squeeze, "the way I see it, two people can love each other through anything.  But it's not just the love you receive that helps you heal. It's the love you give, too.”  She paused, searching for words.  “A loving heart can be comforted, but what can heal a heart that pushes love away?"

Will couldn't find any words to reply with, so Lindsay went on.

"Was Mom thrilled to give you a child, to give you me?"

"You know she was." His voice caught.

She paused while she quietly worked up the courage to speak frankly, as a woman, to a father who still tended to think of her as his little girl. 

"Marie has believed for most of her life that she would never have the joy of creating new life, of feeling a baby move inside of her, of presenting a husband with a child from her own body. Now she has a chance to do that!”

Now it was Lindsay’s turn to catch herself and lower her volume again.  

"Marie needs you to love this baby, Dad. Her baby. Your baby. Just like you love me.  She needs you to do that."

He looked away at something only he could see, and he blinked away tears.

The loudspeaker announced the arrival of her bus.  People bustled past them toward the loading area. Privacy fled. Nothing more could be said now, except by throwing caution to the wind.  Lindsay grabbed her remaining moments and made the most of them.

"I hope and pray to Heaven that Marie and the baby will both live. But I can't promise you they will. Maybe only one will, and I can't tell you which one it will be. Or maybe neither will. Or maybe both. But you need to love both of them, for their sake, and for yours."

He still couldn't look at her, but she knew he was still listening deeply.

"Loving this baby may be the bravest, hardest thing anyone has ever asked you to do.  But I'm asking you to do it anyway.  If Marie lives, but the baby doesn't, Marie will need to know you loved it.  It will break her heart if you didn't."

She hesitated, wondering if she even dared to make her next point.

"And if this baby lives, and Marie doesn't..." she paused and cleared her throat.  "A baby with no mother needs more love from her father, not less.  And I happen to know in here..." she pointed to her heart for emphasis, "...that being loved by you is the best thing that could ever happen to a child."

The loudspeaker squawked again. Her bus was in a hurry to leave.

The announcement seemed to bring her father back to the present. He pulled her into a fierce hug and whispered into her ear, “I love you so much!"

"I love you too, Daddy."

He picked up her suitcases and carried them to the bus for her, saw her up the steps, and made sure her luggage was stowed.  She chose a seat on the near side of the bus and lowered the window.  "This semester will just fly by, Dad, and then I'll come home...for as long as you need me to."

He only nodded.

She blew him a kiss, and he returned it.  

Then he turned and walked away.

Will Porter's heart felt raw.  Lindsay had always been able to melt him, always been able to draw out this normally quiet man who, apart from meals and evenings with the women he had loved, had lived the mostly solitary life of the milking stool, the fencerow, the plow, the tractor.  Without those women, he probably could have spent his whole life believing that there was nothing more to be known than the rhythms of planting and harvesting, the lives and deaths of livestock, the merits of various seeds and breeding stock.

He never would have understood the aching void in his heart.  Never would have even looked at it.  He was a farmer; a hardy, no-nonsense man.  But Lindsay's Mom had caught his young eye, and when he'd let her into his heart, she'd shown him things he'd never known were there.  Lindsay had shown him even more.  And Marie, new places still.

Lindsay's right.  It's love.  It's what's gotten us through.  Every time.

He didn't actually frame his feelings into that many words.  His heart didn’t communicate with him that way.  Not that he was a shallow man...far from it.  He knew the beauty and majesty of life, he knew its ruggedness and its raw agony, but rarely thought about the words for any of it.  Rarely even knew he wanted or needed words...until the women in his life spoke those words, and they resonated in his soul.

"Marie needs you to love this baby, Dad. Just like you love me."

He parked his pickup truck in his driveway, and his heart sank at the forbidding darkness of his own home.  

Might as well check the animals first.  He headed for the barn and looked around.  Nobody but Bossie even turned to look at him.  Her tail switched lazily against a belly that protruded, huge-swollen with a calf that would soon make its appearance.

I wonder if she ever worries about it.


Must be nice to be an animal, sometimes.

He finished his rounds and headed into the house, trying not to listen to the silence.

He rummaged in the fridge for something to pop in his mouth, and he ate what he found without even noticing its flavor.  And then he trudged up the stairs to his bedroom.  To his empty bed.  And he knew he couldn’t bear to lie down in it unless he knelt beside it first.

“God, please let Marie live!  And, since you say you are love, please spare a little of that love to give to me for the baby.”

He felt a little more softening in his heart, so he kept talking.

“Help me to remember that it’s up to you, not up to the baby, whether Marie lives or dies.  Help me not to blame the little one.”

He didn’t say more.  But he no longer dreaded crawling into bed, and he was soon asleep.

Morning found him at his wife’s hospital bedside.  He got there a little before visiting hours began, but a kindly nurse pretended not to notice.

Marie was asleep, and he didn’t want to disturb her, so he just sat and looked at her.  And, inevitably, his eyes traveled down to the lump in her midsection.

It seems so stupid now, that it took us so long to figure out what was happening.  But everybody could see that marriage had put a few pounds on both of us.  He smiled at the memory of an indulgent pat she’d given to his own somewhat spreading midsection.  He was far from fat, but his clothes were getting tighter.  

She feeds me well.  Body and soul.  Lord, please let her stay!

Even when Marie had started feeling little flutterings, she had thought it was just some sort of indigestion.  And even when the thought of pregnancy had popped into her mind, she had waved it off.  She’d seemed embarrassed even to mention the possibility to Will when the flutterings grew more insistent.  

“I know it sounds silly, but I think maybe I should see a doctor...even though I know I can’t really be...”

His jaw had dropped and his eyes had widened, and his hand had instantly gone to her belly.

And then came the appointments, one after another in rapid succession.  Concerned doctors.  Fancy medical terms that, when explained, all pointed to danger.  Not just the danger of a painful loss of another unborn child, as bad as that would have been.  No, they had said that Marie herself was in danger, and that she had to go in the hospital now, because she was already so far along.

They’d found out almost a week ago.  And he had not touched her belly since.

“Good morning, Papa.”  A tired voice instantly called his attention to the face he loved so much.  She’d called him that, “Papa,” ever since they day she’d found out she was pregnant.  He’d always tried to hide the way it made his stomach lurch.  

But it didn’t happen quite as much this time.

“Good Morning, love.”  He stood just long enough to bend over her for a kiss, and then sat down again. He scanned her face and felt his concern growing.  “How are you feeling?”

Marie worked up a rueful little smile. ”Scared."

Now it was time for that stomach lurch. "What's happened?"

"It's just that...last night I started to feel the kind of discomfort they warned me about. It woke me up more than once."

Suddenly it seemed that there wasn't quite enough air in the room. He dragged in as much of it as he could, and released it with a shaky sigh.

She rubbed his arm.

"Has the doctor seen you yet this morning?"

"Yes, first thing."

"What did he say?"

"He listened, he did all of his usual little checks...but you know what he told me. The only thing he could tell me. 'Keep resting, don't get out of bed for anything, try not to worry.' He gave me a smile, but his eyes looked worried, so how could I not be worried too?"

They fell silent.

In the stillness, Will's eyes involuntarily traveled back down to the lump.  The lump that he hadn’t asked for. The lump that was worrying the doctor and hurting Marie. The lump that could kill her.

Loving this baby may be the bravest, hardest thing anyone has ever asked you to do...

Slowly, cautiously, he stretched out his hand.  It hovered briefly, and then gently came to rest.

Underneath his hand, a tiny foot kicked.

And Will Porter gasped, just a little.