I will never forget that feeling. Of running past the fire engines and the police cars, into the thicket of a car accident scene, being told my pregnant wife is in the back of the ambulance, opening the doors and seeing her there, strapped to the stretcher.
“I’m the husband… I’m the husband…”
This story is best told starting the night before, Saturday night, the night of my 15-year high school Reunion. I need to make sure you grasp the full extent of my hangover. Yes, I know that gives away that this story has a happy ending. Sorry to ruin the suspense. But you need to see this thing from my perspective to truly appreciate it.
So I had my 15 year high school Reunion on Saturday night. I had the whole thing planned so that I could maximize the opportunity to party with old friends and classmates, and really enjoy it. I arranged to car pool with a friend and stay at his parent’s place afterwards. And I knew my bed-ridden wife would be annoyed at my general uselessness on Sunday, so I had a plan for that, too. A brilliant plan. A surprise baby shower. Husbands – start taking notes. You are sitting at the feet of a master.
She had insisted that a baby shower for a third boy was silly and wouldn’t let anyone think of throwing one for her. But her Wilton Mom friends didn’t take no for an answer. They had staged this for Sunday afternoon…which was perfect, because just when she would be most disgusted by me, by my immaturity and laziness, by my disgusting smell, she would be shocked to find herself walking into a surprise party, for her, all for her. And all would be forgiven. A truly brilliant stroke of genius.
That only encouraged me to lay it on really thick for my wife. I gave her the “I can’t wait to see all the hot girls I went to high school with” treatment. I reminded her of the smoking hot girl I had a crush on for 4 years. She took all this with her usual grace and poise. At 7:42, I received the following text from her:
“Just remember that alcohol makes people appear more attractive than they really are… And any female who isn’t married by this age is definitely defective.”
God I love my wife. She is so much funnier than me. [Incidentally, she will kill me for posting this private joke, because she doesn't really feel that way about 33 year old women, but I just couldn't resist.]
Anyway, I got on my horse and really tied one on. We didn’t go to sleep until 4:45 in the morning.
I woke up Sunday with a pounding headache and that unique hangover sensation where you start to relive all the things you did and said the night before, feeling vaguely guilty as your brain works its way through the night and starts to discover things it didn’t know was there. Did I really say that? Oh god. Yes, you did. You have a half smile on your face, but only half because then you start to recall the truly regrettable things that happened. Like, say, falling asleep at the bar in front of 15 of your classmates, to pick a purely hypothetical example.
Did we really need to go to The Athenian Diner at 2am? Did I really walk right up to a spouse and offer my condolences to her, on her choice of Brian S. as her husband? Did I really need to tell that story where I once thought I had discovered Jeff S. and Eric N. in a gay sex act, but really they were just doing pushups? Did I really take a tour of the facilities with my classmates and, pausing in the dining hall, try to sort them into Gryffindor and Hufflepuff, Slytherin and Ravenclaw? Did I really talk about my blog all night?
As I lay there in the dark, in and out of sleep, my brain defragmenting, I had an anxiety dream.
In my dream, a woman threatened my wife with a butcher knife. I could only look on as the knife was plunged into her pregnant belly. I tackled the intruder, slit her throat and tossed her aside, and then made a series of command-and-control executive decisions to get my wife to the hospital and ensure my kids were taken care of. It sounds crazy, I know. It was crazy. All ended well for my wife and the baby, and I was some sort of hero. Bizarre.
I went to the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face. Gotta snap out of it, just a dream. Just an anxiety dream.
I packed up my things, had some coffee, said my goodbyes, and drove home. I almost had to pull the car over a few times. My stomach was not reacting well to the alcohol and coffee splashing around in it.
The only kink to my brilliant plan was that I would be left on kid duty. Hungover Parenting is not fun. You learn quickly, as a parent, that it isn’t worth it. Especially when they’ve been promised lunch and ice cream at Blondie’s.
But occasionally there are circumstances that warrant these extreme parenting conditions. LIke a 15 year Reunion. So you man up.
I got home, said hi to the family, ate 3 bites of toast and then rushed off to the bathroom to puke it all up. I barely made it. My sunglasses flew off the top of my head and right into the disgusting puke-filled toilet. It was horrific. I wretched again. Pure stomach acid. Kill. Me. Now.
“Ok boys, let’s get in the car! We’re going out to Blondie’s for lunch and….ICE CREAM!!
Feeling better, I headed to the restaurant with the boys, and my mother-in-law drove Greta to her surprise baby shower.
5 minutes later, my phone rang. It was Greta. Did she find the puke?
No no, she probably just got to the shower and wanted to tell me how amazing a husband I am.
She was out of breath. Worked up. Something is wrong.
“We just got rear-ended. We’re on route 7, right near Orem’s, can you pick us up?”
“Are you ok?”
“Yes, I’m fine. RIght near Orem’s, OK?”
“Ok. We’re on our way!”
Deep breath. She said she was OK, but she didn’t sound OK. Was it bad? What happened? She tends to get very angry during car accidents, and to yell at whoever is at fault. She’s a little hot-headed sometimes. Was that it? Was she just angry? Deep breath.
Everything is probably fine. She would have said something if it wasn’t.
My dream from earlier came back to me. And all I could imagine was a ghastly miscarriage on the side of the road, all blood and guts and baby. No. No. Get a grip. Gotta tell the kids. Shut off that crazy shit and man up.
But how to tell the kids? This is a new one. First rule – be present. Show up, listen to their questions. Second rule – be honest. Always. I’m their father and I just gotta level with them. The trick is to find a way to say it without scaring them.
Here goes nothing.
“Hey guys, we have a change of plans. We need to turn around and go pick up Mommy and Mumby. There was a little bump, and another car hit our Subaru car, but everyone is ok.”
“NO! NO! I DON’T WANT TO GO. I WANT ICE CREAM.” Jack immediately dug in his heels, but I could hear the fear in his voice. He did the same thing when our cat Mojo died.
“Jack, sometimes when you’re family needs you, you have to change your plans.” Rush of guilt.
“I WANT ICE CREAM.”
“We can get ice cream, buddy, but we’ll have to get it later, because mommy had a car accident and she needs our help. And sometimes, when your family needs you, you–”
“A car accident?”
“Yes, buddy, but she’s ok. Everyone is ok. These things happen.”
“NO. I WILL NOT LOOK AT HER. I WILL NOT DO IT. I WILL CLOSE MY EYES.”
He was terrified. Nice job, Dad. He knows what a car accident is. I should have taught him a new term like “fender bender.” Stupid.
The conversation continued like this for the 5 minutes it took to get down Route 7, with Jack crying and insisting that he didn’t want to go, Charlie just along for ride, but with wide eyes. As we approached the scene, I expected to see 2 cars on the side of the road, waiting for the police to arrive.
I saw the firetrucks first, from a mile away. There were 2. And an ambulance and 2 police cars. Cones had been set up to redirect the traffic.
I pulled into the breakdown lane and gunned it up the road, past all the traffic and over the traffic cones and right into the scene. A fireman gestured a “WTF” to me but I just jumped out of the car and ran past him. I saw 4 cars. The first one was pretty banged up but our Subaru looked to be in decent shape. No crumpled mess, no Jaws of life. Still, I couldn’t see my wife anywhere. Why were all these emergency vehicles here?
My mother-in-law popped out of nowhere and I asked her to go back to the van to be with the kids. I ran straight for the ambulance. I opened the door and there she was, strapped to a stretcher. It was a moment I won’t forget.
She looked radiant. She was on the phone. Despite the stretcher, she looked fine. I kissed her forehead and just held her face in my hands, with my cheek against her hair. She was in one piece.
The paramedic looked at me. “I’m the husband,” I said. “I’m the husband.”
I was about to start crying when the paramedic started saying things to me.
“We’re just technicians and she needs a doctor.”
“We’re going to take her to the hospital now.”
“Would you like to come with us, sir?”
Outside I knew I had 2 cars, 2 kids, a mother-in-law and all kinds of responsible things to do. We agreed that I would stay behind and deal with the police and the insurance and the cars and the kids, and meet her at the hospital ASAP. And off she went.
I jogged back to check on the boys.
“Where’s Mommy?” Jack asked. He was still strapped into his car seat.
“Mommy’s OK. Guess what – she gets to take a fun ride inside an ambulance, isn’t that fun?”
“It’s not fun FOR ME!”
What he meant was that he didn’t find it fun or funny. It was not a selfish statement. Big tears rolled down his cheeks and into his mouth.
“Oh buddy, don’t you worry, I just saw Mommy and she is OK. This is just what they do for mommies with babies in their bellies. She is going to be OK.”
“I DON’T LIKE IT HERE. I WILL NOT LOOK AT THESE TRUCKS. I DON’T LIKE POLICE CARS OR FIRETRUCKS OR AMBULANCES. I DON’T LIKE THEM. I’M GOING TO DRAW A PICTURE OF A SUPER SCARY DINOSAUR AND PUT IT ON THE CAR AND THEY WILL NOT COME HERE THEY WILL BE SO TERRIFIED.”
“Jack, little man, Mommy is OK. All these people are here to help us. They’re nice people and they’re helping us.”
“NO!! I WILL NOT LOOK AT THEM. I NEVER LIKED THEM. I WANT TO LEAVE THIS PLACE!”
“Are you afraid, Jack?”
“Yes, I’m afraid, Daddy.” He cried.
“It’s OK to be afraid. Everyone is a little bit afraid.”
“I’m A LOT afraid, Daddy. I don’t like this place. I want to go to Blondie’s.”
“I know, buddy. I know. It’s OK to feel that way. It’s OK. But I promise that Mommy is OK.”
I don’t remember how but somehow Mumby and I calmed him down enough for us to take turns dealing with the police. Somewhere along the way I asked her if she was OK. She explained that they had been at a stop when the car just smashed into them. They hit the car in front of them, which hit the car in front of them. She said it felt like it went on for a long time, almost as if the guy behind her had his foot on the gas and kept ramming them. She suspected he had been drinking.
It took another 15 minutes to do all the paperwork.
Then we rushed to the ER. There were a few scary moments, like when my wife admitted that she hadn’t felt the baby move since the accident. But then we heard the heartbeat. And then we saw the ultrasound. And the bloodwork came back positive. They kept her there for 5 hours.
She missed her baby shower. The ladies sent a video of them eating the cake. Two of her friends came to the hospital with all the presents, including a now-epic card that said “So happy we could celebrate baby #3 and get you out of the house!!”
Jack and Charlie did better once they saw Mommy, and saw that she was OK. 15 minutes and lots of questions later, they were back to their usual selves. Well, that is, after they agreed that Charlie would demolish the hospital and move it, brick by brick, to Canada.
As for me, I fell in love with my wife again, for the millionth time.
And I learned that adrenaline is an amazing cure for a hangover.