After talking to Dr. Bucher, I hung up the phone. I brushed my teeth. I grabbed our snacks for the hospital. I packed the minivan. I suddenly, neurotically, second-guessed myself about which hospital the doctor had directed us to check into, so I called the answering service again, who called Dr. Bucher again, who called me again and told me (again) that Holy Spirit Hospital was indeed the correct hospital.
I tried to take a deep breath. I waited for Danielle to finish lulling our stubbornly rest-resistant son into the throes of sleep. I paced around my parents’ house, nervously biting the skin on my fingertips. I awkwardly avoided making too much eye contact with my mom, who I knew was as skittish as I was about the fact that we hadn’t left yet. I sat in the dark of my parents’ sunroom, trying to slow my breathing. I stood up and paced around some more.
True to form, when Danielle finally descended the stairs I could see nothing but calm clarity in her eyes. She had this thing well under control, just as she had two years earlier with Greyson. She was a person embracing her specific destiny — for the second time — after more than 3 decades of dreaming and waiting and anguished longing.
Consequently, she was an implacable force of nature.
At that moment, it was 10:00 on a Friday night in September.
20 years before that moment, in 1998, I was a socially awkward college freshman languishing in my dorm room in Ohio and making low-stakes foolish decisions involving Cheez Whiz and Pop-Tarts. As a result, I was on the verge of gaining the freshman 15, which in my case was the freshman 25. The closest thing I had to a girlfriend at that moment was the face shot of Natalie Portman I used as my screensaver. I had loved and lost — or at least intensely liked and lost — in high school, and now I was out on my own and alone in the world.
15 years before that moment, in 2003, I was a liberated college graduate road tripping toward the Pacific Northwest, spending my nights all scrunched-up in the driver’s seat of my Toyota Corolla, and making higher-stakes foolish decisions involving drugs, alcohol, and the sleeping pills that helped me fall asleep in my frigid car during the later stages of autumn. I pictured myself — far too generously — as a cross between Chris McCandless and Jack Kerouac without the excesses of either. I had fallen for two girls that summer in Minnesota (not at the same time, mind you) but neither of them reciprocated the kamikaze intensity of my affections. Despite the freewheeling thrills and sparks of connection in my vagabond life, I was still alone in the world.
10 years before that moment, in 2008, I was a sobered-up grad student studying journalism in Colorado and making grand career plans (which would be ingloriously scuttled the next spring). I had loved and lost — or longed for and was rebuffed — many times over, and each time usually ended with my mind throttled and my heart reeling. I had wandered the far corners of North America, plus a bit of Europe, searching for beauty and truth and experience. But above all else, love. The soulmate kind. The real thing. The holy grail. I had not even the faintest shadow of an idea that I was less than a year away from finding that kind of love, and as I came within shouting distance of my 30th birthday, I was beginning to seriously wonder if I might end up alone in the world.
5 years before that moment, in 2013, I was 4 years deep into a once-in-a-lifetime love story with the woman of my dreams: Danielle Marie St. John. My fear of not finding my counterpart in this world had long since been vanquished. That September, Danielle and I were moving for the 7th time. The first 6 moves were all within Colorado, but this one was a doozy: an 1,800-mile migration to my home state. The bliss of our breathless 2011 nuptials still palpably lingered, but our most trying times were right around the corner.
We were 2 years into what would prove to be a grinding 4-year-long slog through the swampy bog of infertility. Our love would be sorely tested as we grappled with the ultimate uncertainty those next 2 years. Danielle and I had found each other, which is no small thing, and we prized each other dearly. But there were moments, as the light gradually faded on our dream of parenthood, when we — together and even at times individually — felt alone in the world.
September 1998: Ohio.
September 2003: North Dakota and Montana (and heading west).
September 2008: Colorado.
September 2013: Kansas and Missouri (and heading east).
September 2018: Pennsylvania.
All of these places and all of these moments are connected. Each one contains a piece of the epic saga that has unfolded over the 2 decades since I ventured out on my own. A piece of me. Just like each pinpoint of a moment in Danielle’s long journey to true love and motherhood contains a piece of her own epic saga. A piece of her.
They’re all puzzle pieces. Pieces of a life. Tiny portions of a picture that is slowly, lovingly, painstakingly (and sometimes painfully) assembled over years, over decades, over a lifetime. In our darker moments, we long to see the big picture, to understand where all the loneliness and pain and uncertainty will lead. We are frustrated to find that we only catch partial and fleeting glimpses. And sometimes not even that.
But if we’re fortunate, and if the odds break in our favor, the big picture that eventually assembles itself and comes into focus is a widescreen, Technicolor panorama. And eminently worth the wait.
As Danielle and I got ready to leave for the hospital late on that Friday night, September 14th, 2018, we could sense the next puzzle piece of our epic love story about to snap into place. We gave goodnight kisses to the sleeping son we once doubted we would ever be given. We got into the minivan we once doubted we would ever need.
And we headed to the hospital where Danielle would give birth to the baby we had no doubt we would fall in in love with instantly.