“If you don’t mind my asking, how long ago did you leave him?” For all the images unleashed in my mind, I realized he was absorbing an equally sizable flood of information. Just because I emptied the pitcher didn’t mean everything washed away, and he was still trying to clean up what I spilled.
I didn’t mean to exhale so deeply – it escaped on its own – but he didn’t give me a chance to reply. “I apologize, don’t answer that. You’ve said enough. You don’t have to tell me anything more if you don’t want.”
I can imagine, if someone was relaying a similar scenario to me, I unavoidably would be trying to determine out how old the child was now. He deserved an answer, not because he insisted on bringing this pain to the surface and wanted to know, but because the hurt I relived wasn’t from him, and I needed to not let my anger and hatred be left in his truck, on this weekend, or in his lap.
“Christmas. Last Christmas.”
Yep, I could tell by his face he was making the calculations. If I was about a month pregnant at the beginning of the year, maybe even two months, I would be due in another month or two, so I continued to help him mop up the mess of information.
“About two months later, I went to the clinic for a standard sonogram. I could tell the technician was being ambivalent about most information. Of course, she simply told me once the doctor came in, he would share everything with me. The baby’s heart, it turns out, was only two chambers; if the fetus made it to birth, she would need surgery to replace her heart immediately.”
“Yeah. A little girl. The doctor told me he felt confident she could be bumped to the top of the donor list for a new heart because of the condition once she was born, but her odds of survival to birth would still be limited at best. So if she would even be born, which was already a long shot, the first thing that would happen would be a heart transplant surgery.
“And you know, I wasn’t afraid of the surgery. They can do remarkable things surgically, and even the prognosis for survival after surgery was not beyond what I would have done for her, caring for her I mean, the years of medicines and follow-up care. I would have done all of that for her. What haunted me most, what seemed most unfair in all of this, was that she would be taking a heart away from another baby waiting for one. Another family somewhere was waiting for a miracle, and for them, their chance for joy would be stolen from their lives.
“The way those things work, they wouldn’t know. They would just keep waiting, hoping for a heart, but I would know that I chose to take it from them. I just couldn’t risk taking that slim chance at happiness for me – the slim chance that my baby would even be born, much less survive surgery and the massive scope of the recovery process ahead of us – and at the same time take away the opportunity for a lifetime of joy and love from another mother and father.
“My daughter was already lacking not just half a heart, but half of the happiness, half of the love that another baby would have. I didn’t care that she was conceived out of the most violent hate I had ever known, but why steal someone else’s happiness to make up for what my daughter and I didn’t have? So I made a choice to give that chance for happiness to someone else. So Amelia and I parted ways.”
For all the bitterness and anger and pain, I told him about Jason without giving that demon the satisfaction of crying, but I didn’t have the ability to withhold tears when it came to her. I didn’t sob or weep uncontrollably, but she was my one true love and she was gone and she would always be a part of my tears. I wiped them on the back of my hand, then wiped them from my hand with the flower’s petals.
“You should know, not a day goes by that I don’t miss her, but I have never regretted that some other family’s baby one day soon will have the heart it needs and the life it deserves.”
He slowed the truck prematurely, ahead of the approaching junction, and pulled into the dirt lot of the Creek Lodge, as the small sign on the wood building indicated. He turned off the engine, but did not glance my way or move to open his door.
A master of the paced, deliberate speech, and while the gaps of silence began to feel less awkward, he left me wondering what he was thinking and if my decision changed what he thought of me, leaving me damaged and unforgivable. Once the ignition was off and the engine quieted, he asked, “Is that why you moved to Wyoming?”
“Not exactly.” I tried the same slow reply, but since we were no longer moving, it felt challenging to hold back. He knew the worst of me, the choice I made, and the rest is just filling in the cracks, so I turned toward him, picked up his hat and placed it on my lap, and continued.
“Because of how far along I was, I traveled out of state for medical care. The laws have changed, but I knew I could still find a practitioner, unlike in Texas. I didn’t know anyone and felt so completely alone. But I realized the only difference between Texas and anywhere else was that now I didn’t have my belongings. That was it. I didn’t even feel like Texas was somewhere I felt safe and warm. So I decided not to return.
“Granted, my belongings, my clothes and furniture and dishes are just stuff, but as I drove, I decided I could hire movers and have them pack everything and send it wherever I ended up. So I headed west instead and what little I owned would follow me. And when the Forest Service called me, I figured this must be where I should stop. Whatever life I had there, it’s somewhere behind me.”
“A fresh start in the west? That sounds like a story from a hundred and fifty years ago.”
“Does that make me old-fashioned, or just old?”
“It makes you brave.”
As I told him my story, my pathetic tale of bad relationships and hard choices, I didn’t want his sympathy, and I hoped he wouldn’t think the worst of me. I certainly never thought he’d find me courageous. I didn’t even see myself that way.
I grabbed the edge of his rolled-up sleeve. I wasn’t sure if I should thank him for simply being kind, or should tell him how much I appreciated him for not judging me or how much I respected him for watching me stumble over my left-footed relationship (not to mention throwing up along the side of the road) and yet still want to offer me wild flowers.
Before I could say anything else, he nodded, gently took his hat, and got out of the truck. For now his ability to say so much with so few words, or in this case none, said all I needed to hear.