Posts Tagged ‘hospital’

Prologue, Columbia Missouri, 1968

Wakey, Wakey.”

It is my father’s voice in the dark – quiet, urgent.  There is something I must do.  But first I have to wake up.   Now he touches my shoulder,

“Wakey, Wakey.”   Is how the English wake their children for bombings, evacuations, and divorces, all things my English father knows too well.

“Wakey, Wakey.   I have to take your mother to the hospital, so you have to go over to the Larkins’.”

I can hear him, I just can’t move.

“Come on old thing, she’s going to have the baby.”   This baby thing is not so interesting to me.   “Call to Battle Stations.”  He flips on the light, pulls my arms into a sweater, then pulls it  down around my belly.   He puts some of my clothes in a small orange flowered suitcase.

“Come on – wakey, wakey – let’s go, tough guy.”

“What kind of a tough guy?”

“You’re a pirate and you’re on a mission.  You’ve got to be tough, for the Pirate Family.”  He picks me up and I put my arms around his neck.

“Your great-grandfather was a navy captain,” he tells me.  He lifts me up and out of my room to the top of the stairs.  I rest my head on his shoulder and look down at my mother, standing by the door in a huge black coat.  She looks up at us,

“Hey there sweetie.”  Her smooshy black pillbox hat makes her look like she is still mourning President Kennedy.   The hat is out of fashion and not right to wear to the hospital in the middle of the night:  my father’s opinion of her enters me through his hands.  Now we are at the bottom of the stairs.

“Shouldn’t I take her?” she asks.

“You can’t carry her, she’s too big,”

“She’s only four and a half…”

“I know how old she is.”

“Where are her shoes?”

“I’m just going to carry her across the street. She’ll go back to sleep in a minute.”  My mother turns to me,

“I’ll see you soon,” she says.  I lean over to give her a hug from my father’s arms and knock her hat off a little.

“Be careful,” she says, talking about the hat, and then offers me her cheek.  Usually it’s just me and her, cooking another corned beef, waiting for my father to come home so we can eat the salty meat.   But tonight, with the baby coming, I’m a key player in a Pirate adventure as my daddy takes me across the silent neighborhood street.

“Will you call the baby Rosey?”    He laughs.

“You still working on that?”

“Hmm humm.” I murmur into his shoulder. “No, we’re not going to name the baby Rosey.  But I’ll pick a name you’ll like.”

My last ride as his only child ends when Mrs. Larkin meets us at the door, her long robe dissolving into the dark.  I look through his Buddy Holly glasses floating under his young balding forehead:

“Bye-bye, Daddy.”

“Bye-bye, Stephie.  Be brave.”  His directive stretches far into the future, even though I know he means be brave here, alone with the Larkins.

He doesn’t understand.  The Larkins’ is where I don’t have to be brave.  Or tough.

“You be brave too,” I tell him.  Mrs. Larkin tucks me in on the sofa.  After she pads out of the room, I sit up on my knees and look out the picture window at my parents, my father holding my mother’s hand high in the air to help her down the steps.

I have never slept over at the Larkin’s house before.  I love it.  The grown-ups are not yelling or crying.  The girls are nice to me.

The next morning

is the first time I watch cartoons on a color television, and Mr. and Mrs. Larkin even watch with us. They are sitting behind us on the sofa when my father knocks and pops his head in the screen door,

“Hey there,” he says, stepping in and waving at Anita’s parents behind us.

“You want to come see your new brother?” he asks me. I can tell he’s excited. I’m not ready to leave yet, but this is another chance to go somewhere with him.

“Did you call him Rosey?”  I’m up high in the front seat of the VW bus he got to take us all to the Island.

“We called him Rufus, so same first letter.”

I think about the similarities as he tells me:  “Kids under eight aren’t allowed, but I’ve got a way to smuggle you in.”

We drive past the University Hospital of Missouri sign, into the parking lot, past five ambulances lined up in a row; I am ready to do whatever he tells me. The VW rumbles into a parking spot and he ratchets back the brake to make the wrenching sound that punctuates every arrival. Then, in the suddenly silent bus, I get my instructions.

“You’ve got to stay close to me, and stay quiet, and not make a sound. Got it?” I nod solemnly. “Say ‘aye-aye sir’,”

“Aye-aye sir,” I whisper.

I follow him as he steps lightly through the wide hospital doors. We slide with a smile past the front desk. My father looks side to side as we dodge into a back staircase. We walk up flight after raw concrete flight of emergency stairs. Each time we pass a door, I press the handle, and each one is locked. When we get to our floor, I know it, because my father pulls the small paperback he’s been reading from where he wedged it to keep the door open. As I pass him, I read the title—When She Was Good, by Philip Roth—as it disappears into the pocket of his tweed jacket.

He leads me past medical tools and carts and trays—everything is a dull yellow or a sick blue green—and suddenly we are in a room with my mother. She has a blue green sheet over her, and looking at it I am surprised to see that her stomach is still big.

“Sweetie,” she says weakly and opens her hand to me. I move to climb up next to her.

“Oh no, you can’t get on her.” My father grabs me by my t-shirt and pulls me back to stand beside him.

“Are you okay, Mommy?”

“I’m getting better,” she says. My father interrupts her.

“Are they bringing him in now?”

“The nurse just went to get him.” We wait in silence. I can’t stop staring at the bump;  I thought it would go away as soon as the baby came out. The nurse walks in. She is wearing a real white nurses hat and is holding a little bundle. She sees me and right away pulls the bundle up towards her hat, away from us.

“Mr. Hubbard, there are no small children allowed on this ward…”

“She’s here to meet her brother.”

“…because of germs she may be carrying, the baby is too small to be exposed.”

“She’s staying right here to see her brother.”

“She can’t stay, it’s against hospital policy.”

“But I want her to see her brother. She came all this way.”

“I’m sorry about that sir, but that’s our policy.”

“That’s okay. I can go, Daddy.”

“You stay right there,” he says to me, and then to the nurse, “We’re a family. Or at least we’re trying to be. ”

“As I said, it is policy for the safety of not just your baby, but for all the babies on the ward.”

“Fuck your policy.”

His words blow the nurse back into the hall, and I see her signal with her eyes to someone out of sight.

“Tim,” my mother says, in a tone that lets the nurse know she doesn’t approve. “Stephie, leave,” she says, like I will do what she says in front of my father. But I don’t leave, I stand frozen between the nurse and Tim, between the world outside my family, and my father, fighting for what he thinks will bring his family together. I don’t want to believe I am germy, or that I will hurt my brother, but I know the nurse knows better. Now that someone is on the way, she calmly turns her attention back to my father,

“Mr. Hubbard, your son…”

“It’s Professor Hubbard.”

“Professor Hubbard, your son has to get fed, so you need to take your daughter out of the room.”

I can see the bundle is squirming, and starting to let out a tiny sound, a baby cry.

“It’s okay, Daddy,” I say. My father stares hard at the nurse.

“Sir, sir.” Two other nurses and an orderly have crowded into the room. They angle their bodies between the nurse and my father. The people flooding the room make me think my father may be picked up and taken away. I back out of the room the way we came in. My germs and me. I wait by the instrument trays, and then he follows me.

“Stupid bitch,” he says. “That is just stupid. You should have been able to see your brother.”

“It’s okay,” I say. “I kind of saw him.”

As we walk back down the stairs I lag behind. I want him to take me back to the cartoons, back to the Larkins. But most of all, I want him to know I am on his side. The further we get from the nurse, the lower and lower down we are on the back alley stair case, the closer I come to convincing myself that he was absolutely right. But there remains my own small voice telling me he probably shouldn’t have brought me in the first place. I hang back to watch him a little bit, maybe to stay a little closer to Mom. But, above him on the rough concrete steps, the voice suggests that, in some small way, I know something he doesn’t.


03 2010

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