22 July 2009

On The Ocean Voracious, Part Two

Deluge. The wave thunders over the bow to take my breath away. Gasping and spluttering in a frantic attempt to draw air into my lungs, I rushed down the hall to the delivery room. Or was it really an operating room? The distinction perhaps matters not at all. What did matter is that there was pain and blood and panic and a claustrophobic smothering of life out of control. Control for us, not the doctors and nurses doing their best to keep three lives in this world.

As I entered the room, my head full of whitecaps and howling wind, I was led to a chair set next to the head of the table. This was no captain’s chair, commanding the bridge on a clipper ship racing over the open ocean. Instead it had the feel of a life ring or a rescue dinghy. In other words, small, frail and to my overheated mind, distressingly inadequate for the task of keeping me afloat.

I had no choice. I sank into the chair with a prayer to keep me from drowning.

The mother of our twins lay there, dazed by fatigue, medications and anesthesia. She was awake though, and my heart broke to see the look of fear on her face. There is little so emasculating as facing a total inability to help someone you love out of their own extreme distress. What could I do sit by her side, murmuring what words of support that I could muster? To this day, I cannot recall if I held her hand, do not remember if anything I said truly helped. After all, what does the master of the ship say to the crew when they are staring up at a wall of water ten times the size of their own puny craft?

Not much, I suppose. But better to say something, better to acknowledge the human connection, than to completely surrender to the blind brutalities of nature.

I did what I could do, the best I could under the circumstances. The room was filled with choreographed chaos. It had the air of a bizarre religious ceremony, masked acolytes attending to the mysterious commands of high priestesses gathered around a strange and terrible altar. Machines beeped and hummed in the background. Hands were raised, blood was drawn. There seemed a never ending stream of small emergencies to defuse; all the while I sat there trying not to faint. If I felt possessed of manhood at all, I watched it slowly seeping away in a slowly growing pile of surgical gauze colored a shocking crimson. I fought to keep my eyes open.

The doctor spoke. I looked up to see that our son had been delivered. My eyes registered a pinkish blur the size and shape of a doll as he was whisked over to a waiting isolette. Another terse utterance from the doctor as our first daughter was delivered shortly thereafter. Again, I saw a doll-shaped blur. A shout withered in my throat as I learned that the babies were alive, the mother serious but stable.

There were no cries. The silence haunts me still.

St. Brendan was either a madman or possessed of supernatural courage. I, who am not destined to be a saint, certainly doubted my sanity. There were no bronze stars pinned to my shirt. The blur of the delivery faded into the gray-green roar of the sea pummeling my miniscule craft. I stood before the mast soaked and shivering in fear of opening my eyes. As I waited, I felt the motion of the boat began to slow. The wind dropped from a howl to a loud conversation. A dim silvery light seeped through my eyelids. Feeling no courage at all, I opened them to see a break in the clouds on the far horizon. The waters were restless, heavy, and the craft was still tossed. Still, it seemed we had survived the worst. I began to bail the boat.

Bend. Scoop. Stand. Pour. Repeat. A script of long hours, little sleep and constant worry. My wife in the ICU, my babies in the NICU. A seemingly diabolical arrangement designed to stretch and break the body and the soul. You really cannot be two places at once, the errant cruelty of which was ground into my mind. Things began to look up, as the twins stabilized and my wife improved enough to get out of the ICU and visit the babies. The meeting between the babies and the mother was a transcendent moment, a glimpse into the presence of the Divine in the fabric of the Universe. We began to hope, began to breathe more. Mother and father were able to go home. The sea relaxed, ever so slightly.

But on the sixth day, God created Pain.

A white-hot lance of agony delivered in the form of a late evening phone call. The daughter was in distress. We were told to get back to the hospital. I looked up from the bilge, pail in hand, to see the sky and the sea melding into one. A deep gray-green smudge of darkness. The wind began to race.

The drive to the hospital and the trip up to the NICU is a smear of panic and horror. My jaws at war with my guts, as they sought to escape through my lips. We made into the NICU, and the faces of the staff told us what we did not want to know, even before we saw the isolette. We rounded the corner, and the lance twisted hard between the ribs. Our daughter, not breathing, the machines turned off.

On board the boat, a tiny flame is extinguished by a hurricane. The ocean peels itself away from the horizon and wraps the boat; the coils of a ghastly Ouroboros come to crush it to end the world. I howl in despair and fury, unbelieving of such tragedy. As the wave rolls over the boat, the only thing I can think to do is hurl the bucket into its face and damn it to hell. The wave in its uncaring majesty ignores this puny attempt at defiance, and breaks.


  1. Just standing here, cause there isn't anything to say.

  2. Sometimes I think it's a wonder you survived the hurricane.


  3. I am overwhelmed.

    How you manage to even write about this is beyond me. Any command over the language I have disappears when it comes to the real pain. You are a very skilled writer and a very brave man.

    Peace, brother-

  4. ...a glimpse into the presence of the Divine...

  5. I have no words for the beauty of "your story" of an unbelievable heartbreak. Truly, I'm speechless.

  6. I'm with the Captain on this one...silence

  7. Caravaggio: The Calling of St. Matthew.

  8. I don't really know what to say. You continue to amaze me and touch me. (and i don't mean touch in THAT way.)

  9. I have only inadequate words for such powerful memories. And hugs. My heart aches for you.

  10. Great use of metaphor (I think that's the right term here) and it is obvious that you have grabbed the hearts of your readers (including mine). I can almost feel the waves washing over me in the storm.

  11. Will.not.cry.

    At least here, in the office.


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...