Monday, September 8, 2014

Happy Birthday.

Today my best friend's oldest kid turned 6. This is alarming for numerous reasons, not least of which being that I remember the day he was born, and it really does feel like yesterday. A yesterday that found me two cities and several broken hearts away from where I woke up this morning, but yesterday nonetheless.

"I don't know how he could be this old, when clearly we are still the same age," I told her this morning.

"Speak for yourself," she replied.

He was born on a Monday.

In those days I was still living in Ottawa and running away to Frontenac County every weekend to stay with a man I loved in secret. That secret hung between us, and I knew on some level that he felt it too, and our relationship often felt like an eternal standoff to see which of us could hold out the longest.

I never said I was good at matters of the heart, but what I lack in sense I make up for in enthusiasm.

On my way out there that weekend I'd stopped in at my best friend's place for lunch. She shuffled around the house, massive and cranky and looming over all of us. She wasn't due to pop for another couple of weeks, and it seemed as though if it didn't happen soon, horrible pain would befall us all.

"You sure you don't want to just hang out for awhile?" she asked as I skulked off to my car.

"I better not," I replied. "He's waiting for me."

It had been a weird summer. As my best friend got more and more pregnant, I felt like we had less and less in common. I had no idea what was going to happen once that kid came into the world. I basically assumed I'd be losing the partner in crime I'd held close for so long. But I couldn't say that, not now, with her lumbering around in exhaustion, with me running off yet again to some characteristically ill-advised decision. Uncertainty at both ends of a long county highway.

Things changed that weekend, though. I love you, that strange hermit of a man told me, as I stood in the doorway on Sunday night, trying to decide whether to stay one more night or just drive home. Neither option seemed particularly stabilizing. I love you, he told me, and I cried, because that's what I always do. I love you, he told me, and I stayed.

The problem was that I could never stay for long.

I woke up the next morning at 5 AM, feeling the very specific anxiety that comes with knowing you have a 2 hour drive ahead of you, 2 hours of gridlocked distance to put between you and a man who has finally opened his heart, followed by a meeting you have to chair, followed by Christ only knows what other professional disasters. I listened to Ron Sexsmith on the drive, just to hit the heartaching panic right out of the park. I drove past the Ottawa sign on the highway and cried for the second time in 24 hours. I had no idea what I was doing.

When I got back home, I had about a half hour to spare before I had to be at the library. I checked my messages, and heard one from my best friend, from the night before.

"Hey dude," she said, sounding disturbingly tentative, "So I THINK I might be in labour. No worries though!" She spoke as though she were trying to convince herself, and not doing a very good job.

I called her house immediately, and her sister, another of my very best people, picked up the phone.

"Oh yeah, we're in full swing here, pal," she said. I could hear a horrifying scream in the background. "If you stay on the line, you might even hear this little guy get born."

"I'm late for a meeting," I said quickly, "Gotta go! Big hugs! Call me when he gets here!"

An hour later I got a text. He was here. He was okay. Everyone was okay. Our mutual best friend (there are a lot of Best Friends in my life) called me from her office in Toronto.

"I'm just going into a meeting," she said. "I didn't know what to do."

"Me neither," I replied, welling up again, predictably.

The rest of the day was a blur. After chairing the worst meeting of my life I hit the road once more and drove from Orleans to Almonte. Trust me when I tell you that this is a hellish drive. Those were the days when I still occasionally smoked cigarettes, the days when I also still smoked in my car. (Don't tell my mother.) As I crept through gridlock and puffed out the window, I felt so spun out I didn't even know where to direct my nerviness. I was heading to my best friend's house, one of the most familiar ports in a storm I'd ever known. Only this time, I had no idea what to expect when I got there.

I tore into the driveway and gingerly knocked on the door, not wanting to disturb any quiet. I needn't have worried. In the kitchen, sisters and grannies grampas and husbands bustled around, a massive dinner already in the works. My best friend sat on the couch, a tiny swaddled peanut in her arms. (Not so tiny, I'd soon learn, not so tiny at all.)

"Oh my GOD," I said, and sat down beside her. "How WAS it?"

"It was HORRIBLE," she said. Obviously all those feel-good hormones hadn't yet wiped the trauma of childbirth from her memory.

She handed him over to me. I held him, just hours old, so new, so untouched. Oh lord, I prayed silently, please let the second hand smoke on this filthy pashmina not hurt him in any way. And then I cried. Again.

"Rough weekend?" my best friend asked.

"Not just that, but yes," I replied. "But we don't need to talk about that right now."

"But we can," she said. "That doesn't change."

So we did. I unloaded, briefly, as I held her life against my chest. I stayed for dinner, surrounded by the love and disbelief that descends on a home that is suddenly one heart larger. I drove home after dark, listening to Dylan, somehow certain amidst uncertainty that it would all be fine. How could it not be? New lives and new hearts are born every day, every hour, every moment. There would be room enough in the world for all the aching, all the joy, all the fear and all the hope that we could possibly imagine.

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