Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Boy's Long Strange Path Here

Motherhood never seemed real to me, a "maybe, someday" thing. A doctor said it wouldn't be a good idea, given my history. My first husband and I were married to our work anyway. The separations started early. But we couldn't manage the gumption to end it. Until finally we did.

Even during those bad years, D. was knocking on the door. Brushing against glass with bird's wings.

Once, I was in Georgetown with a gaggle of girlfriends having lunch. Wine flowed. We walked by a sign -- "Palms Read." Let's go in, I said. My friends pushed me into the closet-sized room first. I sat in front of a flimsy curtain while the woman of mystery read my palm. My friends peeked through the gaudy cloth and giggled.

The reader squinted at my palm, frowned, stared me squarely in the eye. I squirmed. What had one of my body parts done NOW? She stated that I was married to the wrong man. She asked whether I had children. Well, no. Obviously a mistake, she said. I would be a mother once I got rid of the wrong husband and married the right one. It was all right there in my palm. Mr. Right was already in my life, I knew him. No, no name available. But, said the mystery one, she could see a very vivid shade of blue all over my psychic profile. This blue was very important. Look for the blue. With that the reading was over, $25 please, and she went back to looking bored.

I was annoyed. What kind of fortune was that?

The session had been a lark. But still, it bothered me. I began staring too long at blue-eyed men of my acquaintance. Especially one co-worker, a man I liked, yet butted heads with fairly often. He reminded me of my father, the dark hair and blue eyes of black Irish ancestors. They shared the bull-headed disposition, but this man lacking the ameliorating southern charm.

But I kept thinking about the circumstances that led me to this workplace. Something had drawn me there.

I had applied several times. It wasn't a good fit, but the place had turned into a pest. I was called in for an interview when a new sheriff came to town because my name kept coming up over there. I felt I should give it a serious look. I interviewed once, then was called back for a second.

The session wasn't going well. Then the strangest thing happened. This boss man was winding up the chat, dismissing me, saying he was interviewing other candidates blah blah blah. I was already rising from my chair to make my escape. Relieved. Then I saw his face register alarm as he looked toward the huge glass window that made up one long magnificent wall of his office.

At the window was a very large dark bird, scraping and scrabbling against the glass as though trying to fly through it. Frantic, flapping, moving away only to crash back into the glass. We froze, the boss and I, unable to move. I caught my breath. The boss appeared to be in genuine pain about this bird's plight.

Suddenly, the creature got its bearings and flew away in a burst. We exhaled, the breaths audible in the still room. Then, the boss blurted a job offer, at a salary I could not refuse. He told me to go home and "prayfully consider" the request, terms I was not used to from crusty news bureau bosses. And to call him after the weekend. I thanked him and walked, stunned and shaky, down the long hall, out of the office and finally the building. I stared into the sky, thinking "WHAT WAS THAT????!!!!"

I took the job. Something unfathomable was at work. And I could not resist its pull.

Then came the first Gulf War. As Iraqi tanks stole into Kuwait under the cover of darkness, my first marriage imploded, this time for good. Sitting in the marriage counselor's office, after two years of circuitous talk that no longer covered up our relationship's torturous death, I said I just could not do it anymore. He stood, picked up his briefcase and walked out. Eleven years of marriage, 14 years together. Homes bought and sold, journalism careers pursued together, moves. An entire life rose from the therapist's chair and walked out the door.

The next weeks were a haze. Drums sounded around the clock from anti-war protestors sitting vigil outside the White House near my office. I moved into an apartment across from the soaring Washington Cathedral. Because my life was not gothic enough, a bat slipped into my nearly empty apartment and hid out during the daytime, coming out at night to flap about and terrorize me. Finally the elderly resident manager found it for me, threw it out the window, flapping back home toward the cathedral.

But none of this was nearly as strange as what I found out a year or so after the death of that marriage. During a long talk with another man, J., who worked in my office, I was surprised to find that his engagement had ended on the day of the Iraqi tanks, the same afternoon, in fact, that my marriage fractured a final time.

J. and I had not been friendly enough at that time to know that about each other. It had only come out during the intimacy of dating, which began six months after my marriage ended.

This sweet man from Iowa, the youngest of five, who I had thought of as a little brother because I was so comfortable with him. Who made me laugh. Who still makes me laugh the loudest and the longest, all the time, especially when he doesn't try.

There was a vivid clue but I didn't see for a long time.

After I accepted the new job, the boss asked me to come over during my lunch hour for a banquet with some newsmaker or another. I was still working out my notice at the old place. I said okay. I walked over and got into the elevator of the building where the odd bird had been flapping its wings against the glass just days before.

The elevator doors opened. And there he was, J., standing there as though he had been waiting for me. I didn't know him from Adam. But he stood there tall, friendly, welcoming and, well, cute. He started talking. It made no real sense but I understood him perfectly. Something about having washed his hands but the towel dispenser was empty. He was funny and warm and I relaxed immediately. I felt like I had known him forever.

J. welcomed me to my new workplace. He's so nice, I thought. And I couldn't help noticing his eyes. Like a certain mystery woman clad in veils behind a curtain predicted, the man I married a few years later and improbably had a son with was standing there staring at me with eyes a wonderful, vivid, shining shade of blue.

It just took a while for it all to fall into place. And even longer for me to see. A bird desperately hurling itself against the glass of a workplace where I didn't even want to be but felt helpless to resist. War and bats and sad endings, culminating in the beautiful, vibrantly healthy, yelling boy who was so easily born without incident and took away the breaths of every single person in the hospital delivery room.

But I was the most amazed of all, a 40-year-old first-time mother who wasn't even supposed to give birth. I held him, staring, and could not stop saying, "I can't believe it. I just can't believe it."

The baby was so strong, he nearly hurled himself off the warming tray, alarming the veteran delivery nurse. "They're not supposed to be able to do that," she said, white-faced. I understand that now, nearly 16 years later. This boy had to wait a while to arrive, for an unlikely mother to open the door. By the time that happened, he was already an old soul. He had been on one very long, strange path.


  1. I've loved reading your post Carole Ann. So good to read about synchronicity in your life as it affirms my belief in the synchronicity in mine! Wonderful story and it makes me remember to trust - the universe and God - that there are bigger things at work shaping our lives than we are aware of. As Will Shakespeare said: There is a divinity which shapes our ends, rough hew it how we may. Thank you for sharing this with me. It's made my day.

  2. I thought surely one person will get this. And that was you, Janet. Thank you so much for confirming that. Look forward to reading-viewing so much more from you too.