Violet Skye, Chapter 3: Pinpoints & Panoramas

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.


On Porches, Politics, & Papa/Son Time

For the second time in one day, I have an anecdote involving a walk with Greyson that led to an interesting conversation with one of our neighbors. This time the chat wasn’t quite as cheery, or at least it had the potential to go south.


Before dinner, Greyson and I walked past our neighbor Dale’s house on the way to the wooded area we love to explore. Dale is about 80, and he’s a jolly, gregarious fellow. When we first moved in, he put a welcome card in our mailbox with a $25 gift card to Giant. This was about a year before the 2016 election, and he added this offbeat nugget of advice to his affable inscription: “Vote for the politician with the best line of B.S.” Like virtually every other neighbor we’ve met (about a dozen houses and farms’ worth), Dale is a bona fide good guy. And like me, he’s a bit of an odd duck as well.

All I wanted to do on this evening was walk with Greyson and get caught up after our 10+ hours apart. But I also hadn’t talked to Dale in a few months. So I gave him a big wave as we walked past and made the usual “beautiful evening!” pleasantries.

And within 60 seconds, to my chagrin, Dale brought up Brett Kavanaugh.

Let me be clear: I’ve been known to occasionally bring up politics with my family when it doesn’t need to be brought up. But in this case, I did not say *anything* to provoke a red-hot-button topic being floated between neighbors on a peaceful October evening. I was simply making pleasant chit-chat, and Dale dropped a small bomb into the proceedings.

At the risk of patting myself on the back (pretty hard), I would be remiss not to tell you that I did a truly valiant job, for the next 7 minutes, of keeping the conversation on a positive, bipartisan note. Dale’s son Greg joined him on the porch pretty early on, and between the two of them they quickly outlined the broad strokes of their current worldview:

  1. Democrats are so mean.
  2. Poor Brett Kavanaugh and his family.
  3. Poor President Trump. No one used to be this mean to the president.
  4. Why would anyone support the mean Democrats?

I think having Greyson in the crook of my arm helped me to be a better version of myself as I searched for civil responses to these talking points. (It also helped that I wanted the conversation to end almost as soon as it had started.) And to be fair, Dale and Greg were not attacking me personally — just a huge, impersonal political party, which is always easier to criticize than an individual. But holy sweet heck was their assessment of this American political moment both incomplete and short-sighted.

The one point I did pointedly — but very calmly — make was that the president was guilty of more than his share of meanness and personal attacks. Incidentally, this is something I thought Dale would agree about, since he had mentioned to me 2 years ago that he wished Trump would keep his mouth shut a lot more often. But other than saying that one thing, I did everything in my power to veer the conversation toward sentiments the 3 of us (4 if you include Greyson!) could agree on. Like that politics is much meaner than it used to be. And that politicians should prove their merit as individuals rather than relying on the ‘R’ or ‘D’ next to their name to get the mindless, lockstep votes of their constituents.

That last point is where the conversation, thankfully, wrapped up because of my carefully defusing efforts. (*Pats self on back again*.) We all agreed that partisan labels should be ditched in favor of political candidates campaigning solely as individuals, on the basis of their character and their policy proposals. With warm smiles, we wished each other well and Dale said, “Give my best to the little lady!”

Then I took my 2-year-old son, who had started fidgeting 3 minutes into the boring adult conversation, and hurried into the dusky forest. There, I held his tiny hand as we took a refreshing lap around our favorite spot — a peaceful, paved loop through the ever-darkening woods.

My ever-present escape from the ever-darkening world.