Nineteen years old. Not a lot of reasoning during that time of my life. Almost nil foresight. And in hindsight, everything turned out o.k.
But let’s rewind just three years from then. She and I came together at a weekend teen church retreat. She was a beauty. Hair – long, soft, dark. Almond-shaped eyes with ebony-colored irises. A soft laugh that she hid behind her hand. I made up my mind that she should fall in love with me. So I played piano for her. I sang to her. I clowned around on the basketball court for her amusement. I invited her for walks along the red-dirt roads under the tall pines in the campgrounds. It all worked.
And we dated. Over the course of three years, she became like part of my family, and I of hers. And then carelessness made the theoretical bond real. A positive pregnancy test. We broke the news to her parents to receive uncomfortable and unexpected laughter. We broke the news to my mom and received an exasperated scolding (“Don’t ya’ll know how to use condoms?!”). I broke the news to my father separately. I’ll just say it was not pretty and leave it there.
I went from college to construction work, from walking across the green university campus lawns to inching my way across iron beams hundreds of feet above concrete. She went from high school to housewife, home ec to home making.
About six and a half months into her pregnancy, she woke me in the middle of the night. “I think my water just broke…” We headed to the charity hospital in Shreveport. She and I, just kids, had no money and no insurance.
At her initial examination, the doctor said, “I believe I hear two heartbeats.” An X-Ray tech was brought in. When the images came back, there they were: curled like yin and yang. We were excited. Twins! “This is not good news.” the doctor warned. “This is much too early to deliver. We need to keep the babies in the womb as long as possible. Every minute counts at this stage. It will be especially difficult with twins inside.”
There was the risk of infection since there was no longer any amniotic fluid. But that danger was not realized; she only lasted a couple of days before going into labor. I was banned from the delivery room and was upset about that. I understand now the doctors knew best.
October 25, 1984. And they were there. Both indescribably tiny. Dallas – 2 lbs 3 oz. Christian – 2 lbs 1 oz. My heart swelled and burst at the same time. Dallas was on his stomach with his eyes open. Chris, on his back with closed eyes. Both of the boys were on ventilators. They were bruised, but beautiful. The doctors did not sugarcoat the truth. “It does not look good for either of the babies. The smaller one sustained serious damage during the birth. Survival for either is slim at best.” Chris lasted for only 19 hours. Dallas slugged it out and held on.
A hearse took our second-born son to the funeral home. My sister’s boyfriend greeted us there. This hardened police officer was a pool of tears. “I don’t think you want to see the baby.” We couldn’t listen. We had to see Chris. And I found out something that I never wanted to know: one of the worst experiences in life is selecting a headstone for your child. But Chris’ brother was in Shreveport. We had to keep pushing.
My weekdays through this time went something like this:
Up at 5:30 AM
30 miles to work until 4:00 PM
30 miles home
70 miles to Shreveport
Stay with Dallas until visiting hours were over at 10 PM
70 miles home
Bed at Midnight.
Suddenly I was all the adult that I never wanted to be.
One beautiful Saturday in early January, we arrived at the hospital to smiling nurses. “He’s off the ventilator and under an oxygen tent!” And there he was: the first time that we had seen his face without a breathing tube and medical tape obstructing the view. He looked so tough! You could see that he was a fighter. He even smiled a couple of times. To this day, that smile is one of the most beautiful images that I’ve ever seen.
We returned the next day, and he was on the ventilator once more. When my wife saw him, she started weeping uncontrollably. I could do nothing but hold her.
A couple of weekends after that, even the ventilator was not working. At the doctor’s recommendation, we shut everything down. The nurses handed him to us and led us to a room right off the neonatal unit. He took his last breaths as my wife held him close to her and I rubbed his little hand.
Against state law, the hospital allowed us to take him in the truck with us to the funeral home in our city. The drive was long and silent. For both her and me, the deaths of Chris and Dallas were our first experience with the loss of a close family member. And these losses were of our sons. It was painful beyond expression. I remember that it rained on the day of Dallas’ funeral, and still the cemetery was filled with family and friends as we laid him to rest next to his brother.
We both stumbled through a fog for the next couple of months.
The doctor told us to wait for a year until trying for another child. One year and nine months later, our third son was born. Full-term. 7 lbs, 8 oz. Spitting image of his brothers (only larger). He was perfectly perfect. After the loss of the twins, his mom and I knew how precious he was and how fortunate we were.
And here we are. 27 years later. I still call the boys’ mom each October 25th. With the passage of time, the memories we share are bittersweet. She and I are no longer kids. We’re no longer irresponsible. Shoot, we’re no longer married. But together we went through a heartbreaking experience. Plus she still loves me (and I, her). So everything is o.k.
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(Photo credit - Enrico/One from RM)
(Photo credit - Enrico/One from RM)