Daniel and Julia and Me
The night before I was born, my mother’s water broke all over the kitchen floor. She lived with my father in an old brick house along the outside ring of Erin, Ontario. They’d settled into that particular house because of the good price and the charming, original interior. My mother would often stand around the empty rooms and admire the plaster crown mouldings, the solid wood frames and the rosettes presenting large crystal chandeliers on the ceilings. Overdue, she’d hold her heavy belly and linger on the quiet walls, imagining the wallpaper she’d hang and the placement of furniture. Mauve paper for my room, she thought, with small yellow flowers.
Her water broke like a rush after a splitting dam. So much liquid fell to the floor it formed a wide puddle at her feet, making it impossible for her to step clear of it. She tried to leap over the mess, but she lacked agility now and ended up slipping and falling against the cabinets and onto the floor. From this position on her back she had a clear view of the fresh hole my father had put into the wall and which continued across the ceiling. He told her he had plans to take down the kitchen wall to “open up the space.” While he was at it, he discovered the old tube and knob buried in the plaster and said he had to replace that too. Now that it was exposed like this, he had no choice. She had come home a few days ago to find him barrelling through the wall with a sledgehammer and then pulling back the metal mesh of the wall with his bare hands.
“Goddammit!” he yelled as she’d opened the door. She’d put down the grocery bags and peered around the corner into the kitchen.
“Christ goddammit!” he’d yelled again, wiping a bleeding hand on the inside of his shirt.
“Dan, what’s happened?” she’d asked, looking at the new holes and cracked plaster covering the full area of the wall which used to separate the kitchen from the hall.
“I cut my goddamn hand is what happened! I pulled out this wall here and the Christly metal edges of everything gouged open my hand!” He held out his arm, now beginning to drip blood onto the floor.
“We’d better wrap it up before you bleed out. Take off your shirt.”
He unbuttoned his shirt with the good hand while holding out the other above his head like an offering. My mother slid the rest of his shirt off from his back, rolled it into a long rope, and affixed it tightly around the wound.
“I’ll make dinner while you rest up. There’s beer in the fridge,” she said, her voice lower than usual.
“Can you grab it for me please? I’ve hurt my hand.”
Lying on the floor in her own broken water, my mother managed to roll over and pull herself up using one of the cabinet knobs for support. Her dress was now wet and she knew she’d have to change before heading to the hospital. She called out to my father, but he didn’t answer. She went upstairs and to her room, closing the door behind her. She had a small pile on the closet shelf that was just for maternity wear. It was mostly wide dresses and oversized T-shirts. She pulled one from the top of the pile along with a new pair of underwear, and threw them on the bed. She then shimmied out of the dress she’d been wearing when she fell, and kicked it into the laundry basket with her foot.
“Dan!” she called again as she slid the new dress over her head. No answer. She pushed on her slippers, looked at herself in the bedroom mirror and opened the door leading to the hallway and the rest of the house.
“Dan, my water’s broke! Can you grab the keys and meet me in the car? I’d like to go to the hospital now,” she called out to a quiet house. “Dan?”
She walked down the hallway, listening for her husband’s voice. She heard nothing and so headed down to the second floor and back into the kitchen that led toward the den. As she carefully crossed the kitchen floor she heard the sound of sniffling phlegm, the sound a child makes under the covers in his room when he doesn’t want anyone to know he’s crying.
“Dan, my water’s broke. The baby is coming. I need you to drive me to the hospital. It’s time,” she said thinly, her voice trailing off as she rounded the pantry and entered the den to find him pressed into the corner of the room, his knees up to his forehead, his arms wrapped around his legs and crying. He didn’t look up when she stood before him, but the crying slowed down and became less and less alarming as the seconds dragged on.
“Okay. I’ll get my coat. I’ll drive you,” he said, still collapsed in the corner. My mother turned from him and stood again in the kitchen,
staring down at the puddle, the torn open ceiling visible in the wobbling reflection, waiting.
Within a few minutes, my father had found his coat and was able to push his bandaged-up hand into the arm hole without getting too much blood on the sleeve, even though he had already soaked through the bandage. He took the keys from the small hook near the foyer and opened the front door. He stood in the open door an extra few seconds, startled by the dark sky, darker out here in the woods, catching up to the reality that it was already night. He then descended the few steps to the laneway, and made a less than straight line to the driver’s side car door. My mother followed through the still open door, closed it behind her, and keeping her head down to monitor the dark path, made her way to the passenger side, opened the door and got in.
On the highway toward the city of Guelph and the only hospital for miles, my mother began to notice the first of many signs that my father was unravelling in front of her and at a rapid pace. She noticed his hands were shaking as he gripped the steering wheel. She noticed his blinking was urgent and erratic. She noticed he increased and decreased speed without reason or warning. She felt, and not for the first time, dread resurface from her pelvis and climb upward into her throat. She felt adrenaline tickle the tips of her fingers and the bottom of her feet. She felt rage move in.
“Stop the car,” she whispered. “Stop the car, Daniel,” she said again louder.
He looked over at her quickly and then back to the road, his manic expression prodding her anger further.
“Stop the fucking car, Daniel,” she said, louder still. Just as she said this, he swerved into the oncoming lane for a fraction of a second and then back into his own.
“I’m taking you to the hospital, love. To have our baby.” He turned to her with a saccharine smile. She could see the golden crowns in his mouth, it was open so wide.
“If you don’t stop the car, I’m going to jump out and we’ll lose the baby,” my mother threatened, staring ahead at the road.
“For Chrissakes, Julia.” He lurched the car and its contents over to the side of the road and brought it all to a fumbling stop, dust swirling up around the tires, the smell of burnt rubber rising to the open windows. “Happy?” he yelled. “Now what?”
“Get out.” She pulled the lever to open the car door, hauled her body out of the low seat, stepped out, and slammed the door. She chose to walk around the front of the car and into the headlights so her husband could see her walking there and discourage him from peeling away and out of sight.
“Get out of the car, Daniel. You need to throw up.” She opened his car door and held out her hand for him. He slapped her hand away and lifted himself out of the driver’s seat. As he stood up, the blood rushed into his head and he felt woozy. He swayed a little to the left and then fell to the ground on his knees, propped up by the palms of his hands, with his head hanging so low it almost rested in the dirt. His bloodied hand exploding anew as he ground it hard into the gravel of the road, trying to force it open and swallow him.
“Throw up,” she said, and he did. He heaved everything inside of him out, in a candy-coloured rainbow of prescription pills. Red, yellow, blue, orange, some still intact, now falling out in front of them. After emptying out three or four times, he slumped over on his side, exhausted, and closed his eyes. My mother stood over him and watched him in the oncoming and then outgoing headlights. He didn’t move. She picked up his nearest wrist and felt for a pulse. He was alive, it turned out.
My mother drove herself the rest of the way to the hospital that night, her enormous middle pressed against the steering wheel, my father’s blood all over her fingers and wrists, my dad asleep on the side of the highway. She told me later, when I was older, that she’d never seen anything as beautiful as me.