Dave Sanfacon remains a father and a husband through the agonizing nightmare and another attempt at kids.
This is the second essay of a series. Dave’s first essay: “The Happy Hour Miscarriage in Paradise.”
I grab the guy by his hair, rip him out of his car and his leg catches in the half open window so I pull harder and there’s a “snap!” The window shatters and his body slams to the sidewalk as my eyes roll back in my head like a chumming shark and down I dive with my knee deep into his sternum. My right arm pulls back-back-back like a cocked pistol and a tiny electrician alights in my brain, his limbs wired with the amperes of a thousand centuries and “zzzzap!” goes a current zip-zooming through my hypothalamus; my amygdala; my hippocampus, and I am become baboon, chimpanzee, furry languageless cave dweller let loose in the twenty first century to beat this miserable sod without mercy. Fist to the face one-two-three times, bam-bam-bam, soft flesh tearing under my fist like ripe fruit and I hear a ‘squish-squish-drip-drop-splotch’ like a tire rolling through slush and blood pours from his nose, his mouth, his forehead and I look to his eyes and they are wide and deep with terror. I stand over him, sun hot against my back, my shadow pinned over him like an ultimate fighter and I think, “tap out fucker, tap out!” but the son of a bitch tries to get back up so I pull back my leg and kick him in the balls one-two-three times and he opens his mouth to scream and the sound is but a tiny screech like a mouse. Terror vacates his eyes, the whites of them disappear into a void, his body limp, and the sidewalk awaits a sharply angled death dance outlined in chalk and I whisper:
I’m having these visions lately, violent and depraved. They manifest in the midst of the mundane. I’ll be walking across the street with my wife and a car stops a little too close at the red light and that’s when the vision hits me – me in my head screaming “Motherfucker!” and then all hell breaks loose. Logic tells me the driver knows nothing of the twins growing in my wife’s womb. But logic is overpowered by some ruthless force, something pre-verbal, pre-intellectual, prehistoric. I’m an ape.
Maybe this is what happens after three miscarriages in 20 months – you wait for the other shoe to drop. Laura and I are now five months into a pregnancy with twins. It’s been two years since the third miscarriage, three and a half since the first, and everything’s normal. Laura’s healthy. Their checkups have been great. The ultrasounds reveal our twins to be models of normalcy. Heartbeats, brainstems, spinal cords, lips, lungs, kidneys, bladders, arms, legs, fingers and toes, all normal. We leave the hospital with a sense of joy and wonder, visions of heartbeats dancing in our heads. But soon there will be another checkup, and then another, more checkups than the “normal” pregnancy because Laura, due to her age and history, has been placed in the “high risk” category. Our next checkup is three days away and that checkup will be like the previous checkup in that it won’t provide us with any guarantees. It will simply tell us if everything is normal for now. And if everything is still normal, we will immediately be scheduled for the next checkup to make sure that everything has remained normal since the previous checkup, at least until the checkup after that when normalcy will be checked again.
Two or three days prior to each checkup something begins to stir, within both of us. It starts with a fluttering in our bellies, a tightness, a sense of the unnamed. It’s not overwhelming, more like a mysterious and possibly malevolent presence lurking around a corner. Life in our apartment gets a little quieter. We eat next to nothing or we binge on ice cream and pizza. We go to bed a little earlier. We wake in the middle of the night and struggle to get back to sleep and then we wake again and the clock tick-tocks ever forward. We try to remain united against these forces. We covet normalcy. We take comfort in our favorite TV shows. Football is my meditation. Reality TV is Laura’s yoga. Reruns of “30 Rock” attach to our pleasure centers like heroin. We ignore phone calls. We don’t charge our cell phones. We gravitate toward one another, craving closeness, never being too far away from the other. On the couch or in bed our bodies rest against each other, sometimes in a full on snuggle, sometimes a gentle squeeze on the shoulder, sometimes fingernails scratching down the shoulder toward the spine and gently down the back and further down toward the warm soft places beyond. Sometimes the delicate simplicity of a pinky or a toe brushing against bare skin has me falling in love with my wife all over again. But there is one touch I like most. It is when I rest my hand over Laura’s womb and she places her hand atop mine and together we feel the protective warmth of our skin above and below and we know that the babies are resting safely beneath our embrace waiting to be born.
But sometimes during the night, after the snuggles and touches, after the goodnight kiss, darkness and silence fall like a lead curtain. Our minds are swept away into that limbo land between wakefulness and sleep. Our bodies shift and turn and a space opens between us. The space is an emptiness of punishing lonesomeness. The lonesomeness is a hunger sated only by nightmare and memory.
May 2, 2008, a business convention on Paradise Island. It’s happy hour at a beachside cocktail party. The scene is like a movie set – perfect lighting, ocean as backdrop, Technicolor sunset. People are getting drunk, music pulses, the set appears wobbly. Laura grabs me like she’s seen a ghost, cups her hand over her belly, over our baby. Something’s not right. We slip out of the frame, walk back to our hotel room. The sun sets, the moon lifts, the ocean rises and falls and the sun comes up again and somewhere in this day, seemingly like any other, our first child is lost.
May 17, 2009, Cambridge MA, our apartment. My wife is sitting on the toilet bowl – gasping, pushing, sweating, crying. I’m kneeling beside her, her hand is wrapped around my forearm, squeezing. I’ve never seen someone in such agony. I want to devour her pain, chew it up, digest it – make it mine. But this pain is hers and I can do nothing but let her squeeze and cry and scream as this terrible and violent thing proceeds. I panic, grab the phone, tell her I’m calling 911. “No!” she screams. Her grip tightens around my arm, she leans forward, wincing, grunting – and this goes on and on until it gets worse. Finally the tissue falls from her body into the toilet. She stops crying. Silence. She cleans herself and walks from the bathroom to the couch. I have an image of her as she moves to the couch, beatific, cloaked in light, something that myths are made of. It’s odd, but that’s what I see. There is something heroic about what she has just been through. She’ll never see it that way. Some day I’ll share with her this story of heroism. But right now she is beaten. She sleeps. I watch over her, meek and humbled.
December 2, 2009, Cambridge MA, our apartment. It’s the night of dress rehearsal for “Christmas Belles,” a yuletide comedy in which I play a gruff but loveable department store Santa who’s passing a kidney stone. As I’m about to leave for rehearsal, the phone rings. I let it go to voice mail. It’s the doctor with the latest test results. His voice is monotone, matter of fact. He runs through a series of numbers. I know what these numbers mean, where they need to be. They’re not even close. The pregnancy is over. As the message ends, Laura arrives home from work. I tell her the news. She doesn’t cry. She’s pissed off, yells “Shit!” She sits in the living room chair. I tell her I’m going to rehearsal. It’s the night before opening night and I really need to be there. She looks at me, says nothing, just stares. Silence follows silence, as if she’s waiting for me to understand something.
“No,” she says.
“I’ll be back in a few hours” I grab my coat.
“You can’t be serious.” She’s on the verge of tears. “You’re going to leave me here alone?” The tears come. “This makes no sense.” She’s sobbing. “Please, just stay with me.”
Something inside me opens and I think I’m going to cry. The room compresses. The air thins. My vision swirls. I stop breathing. Then, as quickly as it came, the opening disappears, blocked off like a plaque filled artery.
“I have no choice. I have a responsibility to my fellow actors.”
I don’t wait for her reaction. I rush out the door, run down the stairs and out into the cold December night. I jump into the front seat of the car. My breath convulses. Clouds of warm steam fill the frigid air. I grab my cell phone, punch in some numbers, a voice answers,
“Hello.” It’s Greg, the director of the play.
“Greg, it’s Dave,”
“Hey Dave, you okay?”
“N-n-no,” I stammer. “My wife is…” inside me, a reopening. “My wife is – I got a call from the Doctor…these numbers he gave me…they weren’t…right,” a further opening, “my wife is having another…” as I say the word “miscarriage” I begin to choke up, “Greg, I don’t think I can –
“Dave, I’m so sorry.”
“I can’t go – ” a tear escapes, warm against my cheek, a cold trail left behind.
“I can’t leave her tonight.”
“Of course not Dave. Stay home. We’ll be fine.”
I run back up to the apartment, four flights of stairs up-up-up and through the front door and back into the living room and Laura hasn’t moved from the chair and she’s still upset until she sees the tears welling in my eyes and she softens. I tell her how much I hate this, that I don’t want to go through it again, don’t want her to have to go through it again, it hurts too much. I drop to my knees, collapse into her arms, and I cry. Laura holds my head in her lap and tells me it will be okay. Everything inside me begins to slow down. I begin to breathe again. I feel sheltered, like a child protected, my wife above me, below me, surrounding me. I lift my head, look at Laura. I want so much for her to be a mother. I lay my head back on her lap. I’m so tired.
I didn’t go to dress rehearsal that night. But the following night, and for five shows a week over the next three weeks, I take to the stage as the kidney stone passing Santa. My stage wife, Frankie, is nine months pregnant with our second set of twins, contractions following her throughout the play. In the play’s final moments Frankie goes into labor and the two of us walk off stage together to go to the hospital. The play closes with a cast and audience Christmas Carol sing-a-long. And then it’s over, all conflicts resolved, all angers and hurts buried. Reviews praise the onstage chemistry between Mr. and Mrs. Claus. It’s all so beautiful and harmonious and staggeringly normal.
It’s 3:30 in the morning and I hear a muffled scream and then another and then silence and it’s probably just a dream but then a third scream jolts me awake and I open my eyes to blackness and something beside me is moving. Shadows are swirling and vibrating in the blackness and there’s a flailing of limbs and Laura shoots up from the bed with her hands running furiously through her hair and her feet kicking beneath the blankets. I grab hold of her but she will not wake and I speak to her but she does not respond and she is impossibly stuck in some nightmare, under attack from invisible monsters, and I am but a bystander to her horror. Finally I shout “Laura!” and she freezes for a moment so I wrap my arms around her and tell her that it was just a dream and she slowly comes to. She looks lost and irretrievably frightened. For a moment it’s perfectly quiet. Soon there’s a slow recognition, followed by a long, deep sigh. The corners of her lips curl into an uneasy smile. She almost laughs, but can’t quite get there. She resettles herself. I lean over her, kiss her forehead. I linger there, around the edges of her fear, as if I could be a barrier between her and the world.
“Sand crabs,” she says.
“Yes, in my hair.”
We laugh. Sand crabs. We fall back asleep.
Not an hour goes by and she’s up again, flailing, tearing at the air in front of her like a drowning swimmer. She bends toward her feet, grabs her toes and shakes them, and again with the breathing, the confusion, the muffled screams. I wrap her in my arms, as if to cloak -
“Baby tiger, biting my toes”
I tell her that sounds kind of cute.
“Cute? The little fucker bit my toes off!”
These dreams go on for a couple of weeks, Laura waking in a panic, me trying to comfort her. One night she dreams that an old boyfriend sent her a present of snakes wrapped in a newspaper. The next night she’s chased across the Golden Gate Bridge by the Chinese mafia.
Then she has the dream.
The two of us are huddled together beneath a cluster of pine trees. There’s a strong sense of being pursued, but it’s not yet clear by whom or by what. The pine trees provide refuge, keeping us in shadows, protecting us from a blazing midday sun that had been tracking us like a spotlight. Each moment intensifies the feeling of being stalked, of a looming presence – the sense of biding our time against some horrific inevitability. Amidst all of this terrible foreboding is a perfect silence, a perfect stillness, a perfect isolation that serves to heighten the terror. Beyond our tiny refuge lies a vast and desolate landscape that stretches out toward an infinite horizon and we tremble in our pine patch with an uncertainty that feels of a kind of madness. Suddenly, just outside our pine patch, two men appear, captured in the sun’s spotlight like ghosts ablaze, the glare obscuring their faces. The sun disappears, choked off by clouds black as coal dust. Our eyes adjust to the darkness. The two men have become mere shadows, outlined in sharp angles against the deep horizon. They pull something form the gloom that surrounds them. Machine guns. They aim the guns at our midsections, triggers pulled, loud explosions, sparks trace through the darkness like electricity and a thousand bullets find my gut. Laura is left unscathed, but she’s frantic, seeing me riddled with bullets and dying. And then she wakes from the dream, dread filled and panicked. She’s tremendously relieved to see me, sleeping peacefully beside her. She snuggles up against me, holds me. But the dream so disturbed her that she decides to go back to sleep with the conscious intention of reentering the dream and reframing it so as to erase from her mind that part where I was shot and dying. She falls back asleep. Her subconscious mind cooperates, placing her back in the dream, both of us again beneath the pines, the two men facing us with guns drawn and ready to fire. But before the bullets fly Laura calmly, gently, drops down to her knees in a suggestion of mercy, or perhaps a sly trick of the vengeful. The two men drop their guns at Laura’s feet. I immediately pick one up and start shooting at them but I miss. Laura grabs the other AK 47. She calmly shoots the bad guys between the eyes. They die quick. She wakes up.
When she shares this dream with me I think of the vision I had, the car and the sidewalk and the subconscious killing of a threat. It makes me smile. We’re both apes.
An Evening in December 2011
We are deep into a chilly fall, nearing the first day of winter. I am sitting alone by the fourth floor window of our apartment. Darkness has arrived earlier than yesterday, tomorrow it will come earlier still. Laura is on her way home from work. Soon the sounds of dinner will begin to cling-clang in the neighborhood, but right now, in this moment, all is quiet and calm, a perfect stillness. The air outside is crisp but the apartment is warm, dimly lit with an orange yellow glow from the candles burning on the windowsill and the dim spark of the Christmas tree lights.
Laura arrives home from work. She walks through the door and I greet her with a hug and a kiss. I put my hand over her belly and ask how the babies are doing. She smiles and tells me they’re happy. She changes into sweatpants and a t-shirt and together we sprawl along the couch. Neither of us feels like cooking. We order a pizza. Laura might have one piece before moving on to the ice cream. I’m happy to eat the rest. We talk. Laura laughs and the babies begin to stir. She pulls my hand to her belly, “Do you feel that?” she asks. “No” I say. She looks at me as if to say “feel harder!” and I think “Hey, I’m feeling as hard as I can!” But it’s too early in the pregnancy for me to feel their movements.
But I keep my hand over her belly, just in case.
Laura laughs and again the babies stir and she implores me to feel! feel! feel! and I try, I feel with all my might and I think, “kick kick kick my little ones, kick mommy now!” I feel nothing.
But I keep my hand over her belly, just in case.
There is something Laura doesn’t know. I have kept it a secret. Did you know that Laura? That I’ve a secret I’ve been keeping from you? I’d like to share it with you now. My secret is this: Although I don’t feel the babies moving in your womb, I know exactly, precisely, immediately when they are moving. I see it in your eyes. I see it when they crinkle and widen as if question and answer are one and the same. I see it in the warm pulse of affection that dilates your pupils. Yes, it is within your eyes that I feel the movements of our babies. You have the look of a child seeing fireworks for the first time, the look of a musician discovering the elusive chord that completes the melody, the look of a mother witnessing the splendor and mystery that lies beyond memory and darkness. And it is within those eyes that I am comforted, in those eyes where the babies speak to me, their daddy, in those eyes that I feel the lives in your belly – the movement, the tiny little buds sprouting into arms and legs and fingers and toes, and the heartbeats so delicately thumping-thumping-thumping.
Yes, you are sharing in a moment with them that I will never know. But I am sharing in a moment with you that you will never know. But these moments are connected, as we are connected, and it is a deep and untangled connection between a mommy and a daddy and two tiny dancing babies, a connection that feels as old as the sun and as new as our next breath.
And still, I keep my hand over your belly, just in case.
And then it happens.
I feel a movement in your belly, and then another, and another. I lay silent and amazed. I’ve no words, no reference point to attach this experience to. I’m jolted into some long forgotten space, a space suspended in mystery, uncluttered of language and comprehension. I remember this place. It’s a place that the very young call home. And what I’m feeling is the surging blood rush of the extraordinary.
And then you said “Maybe we should come up with nicknames.”
And I said “How about ‘Poncho and Lefty?”
And you said “Who are Poncho and Lefty?”
And I said “Characters from some old song.”
And you said “I like it.”
And all night long we shared in their movements, Lefty leading with a jab or a hook and Poncho responding by dancing to the rhythms of his twin.
And now we are in a new year. Month five has given way to month six and January is cold, as it should be. But soon it will be spring and everything will be new again and our twins will come home where they’ve really been all along. And you and I, we’ve seen the visions and nightmares fade away, replaced by something inviolable, invulnerable. For the twins it is the thinnest of membranes to protect, the placenta to nourish, the womb to warm. And for us, it is a father who’s discovered that vulnerability is sometimes the best protection, and a mother who’s known that all along. And all that remains of days gone by are the vapors of a distant memory.
This is the second essay in a series. Dave’s first essay: “The Happy Hour Miscarriage in Paradise.”