Sixty-two: Facing Fears
When I was five, I knew that I could creep into Aunt Sully's bedroom at night if I was awakened by a nightmare or a strange sound. She left her bedroom door cracked for just that reason. Gabe would be on his feet to greet me with cold nose and tickling whiskers, so huge and toothsome that my fears had no space to take hold. I would curl up on the rug beside her bed, and Gabe would lie beside me, on his back, radiating heat and safety. I'd drape an arm across his great chest, rub his belly a few times, and fall soundly asleep again.
Gabe was only a beloved memory now, and I was far too old to expect my aunt to provide a refuge. And so, I was still awake at midnight, worrying, suddenly afraid of the future.
We'd been in contact with the family by instant messaging, all Five of us and Rachel typing questions and news and comments, like a hurricane helix of words, giddy and laughing. Kelsa and Michel had between them, produced some seventy canvases since they went to Europe, and just the day before been invited to show them at a gallery in Florence. It was a small gallery, but one that knew that the occupants of the villa were rich and photogenic and charming enough to draw sales. My youngest siblings were successful artists!
While I had chatted about my newly-refurbished home, Rachel had raved about horses, and Oesha had revealed that she loved school better and better each day, our adults were also in touch with each other and unexpectedly, had asked to be included in our group conversation.
They had news, and the news was that our mother had been ordered to bed confinement for the duration of her pregnancy. They had tried to make it sound as though the doctor's recommendation was completely normal, but we all knew that she was still almost two months from her delivery date. Aunt Andersol was not confined to bed, so delivery of twins was obviously not normally required to have two months of bed confinement. Something was not right, and what that specific something was, they were not revealing.
When I had researched pregnancy in older women, back when Mother had first announced that she was going to have another baby, I'd found that there were a lot of things that could go wrong, but as healthy as my mother was, they didn't seem to apply to her. Tonight, however, what I could remember best about that night was Aunt Sully's voice behind her door, shouting about my mother being crazy to be having more kids at her age. Aunt Sully hadn't been angry, she'd been worried -- that something might go wrong.
Briefly I considered getting up and doing a search for pregnancy older women again, because I didn't really remember any specifics, but chose not to -- not because the floor was rather cold or because I didn't want to turn on lights and draw attention to my wakefulness, but out of dread.
Maybe going to Europe had seemed like a good idea, to mask Aunt Andersol's indiscretion, to have a larky time in foreign lands. At the time, we were all rather surprised and bemused and setting out to do things on a grand scale, such as we had never done before. Renovate! Excavate! Explore! Run away! Having the estate practically to myself was thrilling: I, the Man of the House! By my siblings' accounts, roaming about Europe was easier than trying to get an adult to drive one of us down town to visit Giammarino's Deli.
At midnight, in a very empty house, I knew it was the wrong thing to have done. We should have stayed together, for the strength we would have found in our numbers. I should be able, right now, to get up and find my brother worrying, too. I should have been able, earlier, to perch on my mother's bed and pester her to make sure she was all right.
The European Bloc of siblings had all signed off when the adults did, right after the announcement of Mother's confinement. Marca went off to prepare for bed not long after, and then Rachel. I left the computer on until about eleven, but none of them signed back on. Somewhere in Italy, Michel and Kelsa and Oesha would be sitting on our mother's bed, or whispering with Grandmother Claire, or crouching near Aunt Andersol, finding things out, or finding that things were not all that bad.
I considered that had things been dangerous, Aunt Sully and John would have come to me for a conference. I mean, when the cook asked for a leave of absence to finish her studies at some culinary institute (so as to be able to be called a chef and not merely a cook) Aunt Sully, Redell, and I discussed the matter at length. That was a matter much less important, was it not?
Rearranging my pillows, I tried to bring to bear the relaxation exercises Aunt Sully had taught us when we were little, so that we could just fall into dreams. The ticking of the clock was too loud, and random itches interrupted me. Grandmother had always recommended that we say the Rosary if we couldn't sleep; "If prayer does not ease your mind to sleep, then at least your insomnia counts for something."
Apparently Grandmother Claire was right. I began saying a Rosary for my mother, and then realized it was morning and becoming light out. I must have slept, without dreams.
Aunt Sully was in the hall and in riding clothes when I left my suite. "I wondered when you were going to rally," she said quietly. "Marca's been downstairs, breakfasted, and back up to her room to watch television." We took the stairs together. "John's still asleep."
Even the pleasure of having my aunt at my side was blunted by my concern for Mother. "I didn't sleep well last night," I told her. "I was too worried about my mother."
"Oh, Owen, you should have just come over. John and I were up reading late. She's all right, really, so far, except that she's probably going to be about as agreeable as a spitting cobra with hemorrhoids."
"But confined to bed -- that sounds pretty serious."
"Look, she just started spotting a little blood, nothing major. Twins are heavy on the undercarriage, so to speak, and doctors would rather err on the side of caution. They don't want her body to decide the load is too much and go into labor too early, so she has to take the vertical weight pressure off."
"Is it because of her age?"
She shrugged and sat at the table. "Maybe. But not necessarily. Some women have to bed-rest even when they're young.
"I'm glad you're worried, in a way, at your age. You're old enough to understand what's going on, and old enough now to hear that pregnancy is not just something that happens to some girl and oh well, it's her problem. Pregnancy isn't a disease, but reproduction is something that needs to be taken very seriously, because it can harm the mother, or the child, or both."
Germaine, the newest of the kitchen staff came to ask us our preferences. Unsurprisingly, my aunt ordered eggs with bacon; I copied her, knowing that the food would then be ready at the same time. When Germaine left, I said, "Aunt, please do not lecture me at the breakfast table about birth control, either by device or by abstinence."
She snorted while sipping tea and had to clap her napkin to her mouth. "I wasn't about to, Nephew. Haven't I warned you not to get silly at the table?"
"I'm not being silly. I'm serious. There are very few classes in which our teachers don't pause to lecture us on how to prevent problem pregnancies. It's like Health Class is an insidious fungus growing over all our studies."
"And by harping on it all the time, it loses the significance. No, I'm not going to do that. I'm not even going to froth at the mouth about convenience-based sexual education as a replacement for moral formation."
"No. I'm saving it for Spring Break. Frothing rants are only good if you can't escape by going to school."
"Then I enjoin you, O Frothing Cobra, save it up for when my siblings return, instead. I need the reassurance of the multitude; I have decided this. At that time, you and my mother can spit and froth while the rest of us ask aggravatingly flippant questions and make clever word play. It will be an extravaganza. Where are you riding this morning?"
"I'm going up to inspect the estate farm. Gary and Maida are coming with me. Maida is testing out a new saddle on Bess -- an Australian saddle for John to use. They think it will be safer for him." She finished her tea. "Have a good day at school, Owen."
Rachel also assuaged my concerns for my mother on the bus to school. "I asked my mom about bed rest for pregnant women, and she said there were a lot of reasons that doctors will demand that. She also said that twins are often born a bit early, so the docs may be just trying to keep the babies in as long as possible, to give them the best health they can."
"Why didn't you say that last night? I was up until two, at least, worrying."
"Mom didn't get home until after ten."
"That's what Kelsa said this morning when I found her on line," Marca said from the seat behind us. "While you were chowing down with Aunt Sully."
"Probably your Aunt Andersol will have to spend more time in bed than on her feet, too," Rachel said, heading off a mouth battle between my sister and I. "Mom says the last two months last for about a year and a half, so you guys better be patient with them."
Everyone says, "Don't worry, everything's fine," but isn't that what all the stupid television shows and movies say when things aren't? Isn't that what people just tell each other, even when there are problems? How am I supposed to believe that everything is fine when no one ever wants to be the bearer of bad news? Especially to kids -- kids are supposed to be happy and upbeat right up until the moment someone has to tell them that disaster has fallen.
Unless you listen to the news on television. I was suddenly struck with the contrast, and began scribbling my thoughts with renewed vigor. TV news doesn't tell anyone that anything is fine. Every story, from weather to human interest, plays on people's fears! Unless the day is just going to be sunny and nice, weathermen always assume that the worst is going to happen -- chance of floods, possibility of thundershowers, dangerous roadways. And even if it is going to be sunny and nice, they have to make sure they bring up sunblock and staying out of the sun to ward off skin cancer or heat stroke.
Like when that storm wrecked the roads last fall -- photographers couldn't get enough footage of Reich Road where it was flooded and the power lines were down, or the surf hitting the storm wall down town and people sandbagging the streets in the low places. The reporters screamed over and over how the water levels were rising and how businesses could be ruined if the tides coincided with the next wave of storms -- but not one of the reports talked about our relief efforts, or how quickly everything got back to normal down town. Funny -- the paparazzi could make our lives miserable with flashes when we got off the school bus, but by God, if we were doing something positive, they were nowhere to be found.
I've gotten sucked into it, I wrote. I'm doing to myself what TV reporters do to their listeners. I've been shouting the worst that could happen to myself, and overlooking the quiet voices that say, "It's life. It's uncertain. Worrying won't help."
I can hear Grandmother Claire giving a sniff, and see her half-closing her eyes as when she doesn't want her impatience to show. "Worry doesn't change the world. If you want to change the world, turn to God in prayer. If you don't want to turn to God, then allow some of us to pray in silence."
Yes, Grandmother, I guess I should just shut up and pray.