It was three years ago today when my husband saw his second son born. My husband’s pregnant girlfriend was due to deliver their baby sometime around the middle of June, so I’d made plans for Elihu and me to be out of town during that time. The wait was over.
As my husband had not officially moved out of our house, and as the couple had no place other than that of her parents, I had begun to make peace with the idea of starting over far across the country, closer to my own family, and leaving our marital home to the two of them and their new baby. Just a few years before I’d left my beloved Evanston, just outside of Chicago and moved to the rural town of Dekalb so that Fareed, Elihu and I might start our life anew. Now, without my husband, I had no reason to stay in that small town. I packed for a week’s vacation and took Elihu to the place that would soon be our new home. My son and I were far away when Charlie was born, three years ago today.
A friend had insisted we come and enjoy her family’s beautiful pond anytime we cared; they were all away and busy during the daytime, we would have the dock and water all to ourselves. On that sunny, warm June 12th, 2008, I took Elihu to the pond for an afternoon of pollywogs and distraction. While he had little idea how his own life was changing, I did, and that day was heavy with a strange, sick brew of feelings. It seemed I was living in a dream. My husband was about to have a new child. The child that had blown the lid off of everything.
My comprehension about it all was primitive. I could still not understand this. I’d lived through nine months with Fareed still living in our home; each day I was dreading the event that he himself awaited with great excitement. Such a queer mix of things, I could do no more to keep myself sane than to leave town and come back after the babe had been born. Here I was now, with my son, on a hot summer’s day, toes dangling off the dock in the cool water of a country pond while almost a thousand miles to the west something was changing. Here, my son was busy with nets and buckets, scooping up pond life, unaware of how his own life was changing in that very moment.
The sun and sparkling water gave me some relief. Elihu had taken an interest in the fishing gear there and for a time my energy was spent helping him bait and cast, and making sure that he didn’t hurt himself accidentally on the hooks. I was on vigilant watch against mishaps for a half hour until he lost interest and contented himself again with the net. I sat back in the Adirondack chair and looked out over the white pines that rimmed the water. I watched my son play, and thought to myself that in spite of our having been a family til now, Fareed had shared very little time with the two of us.
Most of my memories around Elihu did not include his father. Instead my memories were mostly just the two of us. Walking around our Evanston neighborhood, riding the bike on the lakefront, visiting friends, together at rehearsals, radio shows, performances. I had Elihu with me all the time, everywhere. I’d always felt this was a time of waiting. Waiting for our new life. A life in which I would set aside my gigs and projects to raise a family. A life in which Fareed would tour less, stay home more, enjoy our company. Now, it seemed, it might be just Elihu and me, alone, forever. My heart couldn’t bear this.
Here Fareed was, embarking on the familial journey with someone else instead of us, his real family. How could this be happening? We’d moved to Dekalb just two years ago in order to start over, but not like this! I tried to drink in my surroundings, to buffer myself against the constant barrage of thoughts. I needed to breathe, to separate myself from the pain. It felt like nature, water, air and light were the only things that could help me. The lakeside day was so bright and hopeful, it was oblivious to our loss. It was a day of contrasts that I could not comprehend.
My thoughts were interrupted by a huge splash. I needed not an instant to think, but sprang from my chair. The pond water was a dark amber, tinted by the tannin of leaves, and it obscured even bright objects only inches below the surface. As I looked down I saw the top of my son’s head descending through the water, its shape disappearing in the dark. I threw myself down into that darkness, grabbing blindly for my baby, finding him as fast as I could, then pushing him upward, my legs sinking to the knees in the silty bottom. If I’d been rescuing anyone other than my only child, I don’t know how I’d have gotten purchase enough on the ground to push him into the air….
But this was my son, my life, my everything. Somehow I lifted him above the water and again another foot upwards to the dock. I myself sank back down again after I’d set him on the platform, but in a rush of adrenaline I lifted myself up and onto the dock beside my Elihu, who was scared, but thank God, crying and alive. I held him against my body, I rocked him, I tried to soothe him. I held him as I’d never held him before.
We sat for awhile, waiting for our hearts to stop pounding. The horrifying image of the dark water closing in over my son played again and again in my head. He might well have died. Yet he didn’t, I had saved him from that. I’d given birth to him once, and today in some way, I’d given birth to him again. He was alive, I was alive, it was ok. And once again, it was just the two of us. It seemed the universe had demonstrated in the most acute way that we two were starting over. We had emerged from the water somehow changed.
As I drove up to my parents’ house my cell phone rang. Fareed’s tone was matter-of-fact. While he was not overtly rejoicing in his news, his mood was light and upbeat, different from the somber tone he’d used all those months as we waited for this day. I could hear in his voice a guarded excitement about his new life. His new son had been born about forty-five minutes earlier and he had just wanted me to know.
But then he went on to tell me details about the delivery – things I didn’t want to know, couldn’t possibly share delight in – while I sat in my car, still wet from the pond, dazed, trying to integrate what had just happened here with what had just happened there. As Fareed continued to talk, my mind began to piece together the last hour. It seemed that nearly the moment the new baby was born, my son was tumbling into the water. As the newborn took his first breath of air, my son struggled for the same. I sat, unmoving, stunned by the metaphor that had been placed so clearly in my path. This was a day of emergence and change. It was a day of cleansing and rebirth.
And if I’d not been entirely convinced before, I was then. We had been washed clean of our old life – and a new one had just begun.