April Salzano | Praying for Red Lights

Thom’s shift is from 7:00 p.m. until 7:00 a.m. and the daily plan is for him to wake up in time to pay some attention to Nathan so I can make dinner, eat, then shower and then go to work. This never happens. Instead, I struggle to make dinner while entertaining Nate, who is nearly four and a constant presence anywhere I am, sit with him while he eats, clean up, and head back up the stairs to check Thom for signs of consciousness. He is working seven days a week, at least five of them twelve-hour shifts, all midnights, and when he’s here, this is what he does. He sleeps. My pregnancy has been spent in a state of loneliness. I feel like any minute I will burst open. I have managed to gain fifty pounds and anything I wear feels constricting. Admittedly, I am miserable.

By 6:00 p.m., he usually emerges from the bedroom wearing the undershirt from the night before, the armpits yellowed and crusting. I do not look at him as he heads out the back door for a smoke. Jesus, I want a cigarette. I don’t look at him from the kitchen window; don’t see him leaning against the deck railing, yawning between puffs of his cigarette. I don’t see him fumbling with his phone, putting it back in his pocket and dropping his head. Though I do not see any of this, I know that is how it happened.

By the time he returns, he is showered and in his scrubs. He cracks open a second energy drink (I keep them stocked in the fridge because sometimes if he drinks one after work, he can manage the energy to play a video game with Nate when he gets home at 8:00 a.m..) The sweat is beading at his forehead again and he readjusts his scrub top to absorb the rivulets running from his armpits. He kisses my forehead, one hand on my hard, pregnant belly. And then he’s gone. I didn’t have a chance to request that he not shoot up at work tonight. I have lost track of how many nights he says he’s been clean because I know he’s lying.

“Don’t push,” Dr. Krazik says gently. I think she is of some Middle Eastern decent but I’ve never been sure. She is young, probably mid-thirties, and gentle, smaller than me, maybe five-one, and walks like her bottom is too big for her legs. My sister said she had rickets when she was young. I am not sure what rickets are. I always meant to look it up. She is one of those doctors that you can tell made her family very proud by finishing med school. In my mind, she was the first in her family to go to college and pays for her parents’ small ranch-style house in the country where she brings groceries once a week on her way to church.

I beg for an epidural. No one acknowledges my request. They had said I could have it if I changed my mind, to just tell them so they could call the anesthesiologist, who had also told my sister as they finished up their case in the OR to let him know and he would come upstairs to the delivery room right away. Where the fuck is he? “Ronnie, I need the epidural.” She smoothes my hair. My nurse puts an oxygen mask on me. I am immediately claustrophobic. I pull it off and make eye contact with my sister again. “It’s too late isn’t it?” She nods. Okay. At least I know I have to focus on the pain in order to make it stop because no one else is going to do it for me.

“Thom, wake up!” I am yelling now.

The nurse snaps the oxygen mask back on. “You need this, honey, it’s for the baby.”

This makes no sense to me. How can he get oxygen from my mask? I pull it back off. “Thom, if you sleep through the birth of our son I am going to cut your dick off.” There. That oughta do the trick.

It doesn’t.

Ronnie wasn’t supposed to stay for the birth. That wasn’t the plan. It was supposed to be just me and Thom, like we did in Georgia when we had our first son, but now I know I will drown if she isn’t here. She won’t leave until I tell her to. She is standing beside me, where she’s been since I got here a couple hours ago, while they administered Nubain through my IV to help with the contractions, and while I peed and insisted I had to shit. “That’s just the pressure,” Ronnie said.

“No, I wanna try. I’m not pooping in labor!” I insisted. For some reason, this seemed like the worst thing that could happen during birth.

“Come on.” She had helped me out of bed. Man I felt good. I pretended the emergency pull string beside the toilet was a train whistle and we laughed like we did when we were little girls playing in my bottom bunk. “Stoppit,” she said, but she couldn’t stop giggling. She helped me back in bed. By this time Thom’s lifeless form slumped in the chair was a source of humor. “He’s going to sleep through it!” And we laughed.



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