Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"When you want to test the depths of a stream, don't use both feet."           ~ Chinese proverb

"How are babies born?" 

That's a question that I asked my Mom once when I was young, and we were driving back from our aunt-and-uncle's house in Hawthorne, California.   

I can still remember that a look passed between my parents, and there was this discomfort in my Mom's voice when she said, "I'll tell you when you're older, Terry." So I sat back down in the back seat of our car as we drove past MGM studios on the way home to our little house, and began silently tormenting my little brother, again.

Mom didn't get right back to me about that question, and I promptly forgot I'd even asked it… for a little while. You see, if Mom didn't want to tell me, my cousin Mike would be happy to tell me the next time I saw him. Mike knew everthing. He was 6 months older than I was, and in "kid years" that meant that even though he didn't know as much about schoolwork as I did, he knew twice as much about life. He was a BOY, after all, and boys seemed to know stuff, stuff that never even entered my mind. I guess I was too busy reading "The Gypsy Fairy Stories" and books like that. Oh, and by the way, although it's probably been out of print for a hundred years, if you ever happen upon that book… well, it's nothing like the Brothers Grimm's take on fairy tales, let me tell you! I still wish I had that over-sized book that explained more about life than my Mom had ever told me.

Mike did tell me one day how babies were made, and I didn't believe him, of course, and time passed. In fact, lots of years passed. In fact, I was at the University of Nebraska studying art and English Literature when it all happened…

I got the flu. I lived in the sorority house, and since I was the "Assistant Pledge Trainer," I shared a room with the "Pledge Trainer." My fever was high, and I was miserable… completely drained… no energy… SICK! 

Suddenly, my closest friend exploded into my sick room. "Terry! There's going to be a movie at the library showing a woman having a baby tomorrow night… They're showing the whole thing! GET BETTER!!! We've got to go see that! GET BETTER!!!"

Well, as I walked to the library the next evening with Sallye and a couple more "sisters" I was still soooo weak. I hardly ever get sick, but seeing a lady having a baby was worth putting on my heavy coat and walking the 4 or 5 blocks to the campus library to see this event. I'm NOT going to say "Curiosity killed the cat," but it almost did me in.

At night the campus library was usually only occupied with serious students holed up in the stacks, never here in the library's small auditorium. But there were only 4 seats left on that cold early-Spring evening, and we got them. After the librarian closed the door, shut off the lights, and turned up the library heater, the film began.

It was a Russian film… in RUSSIAN! The lady having the baby was a very large, very strong lady who looked a little more like a man than a woman to me. But then I was getting light-headed from the heat in that stuffy, smallish auditorium, and my fever hadn't passed yet, either.

I'm not going to tell you all the details of the film. After all, we're adults here. But the camera was close up, very close up to parts of a woman that only a doctor would ever see, it seemed to me. Yes! We saw a baby being born. But the room they were using to birth the babe wasn't like the hospital where I'd been a candy-striper at home in Stamford, Connecticut. I'd brought flowers and mail to the ladies waiting to have their babies, or to the ones who'd just had their babies. I had loved that volunteer "job." But this movie was probably more like it had been in my grandmother's day. There was lots of screaming, but not shrill screaming… it was deep and punctuated with grunts and there was lots and lots of sweat flying all over the place. Actually, I think now that the library had felt it was its duty to curb the passions of the student body… well, at least of those students who came to this real-life horror movie.

When it was over, the baby, covered with whatever is in that baby-sac inside the mother, was screaming, and the mother was still making groaning sounds. And NO, the mother wasn't all decked out in a lacy bed-jacket on clean white sheets like they always were in Hollywood movies… and her hair was a mess. Most of the girls who left after the movie was over were pale and some were shaking. There was no giggling or laughing from any of us viewers. There was this strange, stunned silence. Even the guys who'd come to the movie were silent. 

When I got up to leave I was dizzy. The heat in the room must have been as hot as the left-over fever that still lingered inside of me. But as soon as we walked out of the library door, the Nebraska cold hit us in the face like a hammer… or more like hundreds of miniature ice hammers. But we only had about 4 blocks to walk, so we walked.

All at once I was laying on the sidewalk like a frozen tree branch. Must have fainted… When I hit the cement, it was my left jaw that landed first, but I found that out later. My "sisters" helped me up, and we kept on walking to the sorority house with one catch... I didn't know where I lived or where we were going. And my molar on the left side of my mouth was hanging by a fleshy thread.

"Where are we going?"

"What do ya mean, 'Where are we going?'" Sallye asked me. "You know we're going back to the House!"

"Where are we going?" I asked 2 minutes later… and 2-3 minutes after that… and again and again.

"Do you know your name?"

"Of course, I know my name! It's Terry Kingston! But where are we going?" I recognized the faces of my "sisters," but when they asked me if I knew where I lived (Stamford, Connecticut), I hadn't a clue. I knew some silly detail-kind of things, but there were these gaps in my brain… things that a person ought to know instantly.

The three girls talked among themselves, and they decided that they would take me to Student Health ASAP. So we turned somewhere along the way, and in we went. I'd never been to student health before. 

All that happened in that small student health building is still a mystery to me, until I heard a tiny pop, or some sort of sound like that, inside my head. Sounds silly, I know, but I heard something. I looked down and I was in bed, sitting straight up with 2 or 3 pillows behind my back. In my hands was a magazine, an up-side-down magazine and I was rifling through it with a vengence… backwards and up-side-down!

I don't remember how long I had to stay in Student Health or much about the after-math, except that I had to go to a dentist and have a bridge put in where I'd knocked my tooth out. 

The funny thing is that, as time passed, I could remember all the preface of that fall, and even a little bit about the walk to Student Health. But the things I knew that night and the things I didn't know were garbled in such a funny way.

The moral of this incident is that I've always thought, since then, that the best way to have a baby was for the doctor to completely knock the lady out, yank out the child, and, if she were a girl, to dress her in a cute little polka-dotted dress with matching shoes, and then present her to the Mom about a week later with the Mom dressed in her lacy bed-jacket with her beautifully combed hair gently circling her face, sitting  in a bed with perfectly white sheets. It sure seemed like a better way than that movie I saw a looong time ago!      

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