Attention to Detail
When it came time to
paint the second nursery, I knew exactly what I wanted: bright green
walls, accented with red and white furniture and bedding.
"It looks like a Christmas
tree," my husband complained, when I showed him the
dog-eared magazine clipping I'd been carrying around for the past seven
months. Exasperated, I explained to him that this wasn't Christmas
green, forcryingoutloud. This was a bright, lively, hopeful green ...
the color of new apples in springtime.
"It will give the room a
cheerful energy," I said, quoting directly from American Baby Magazine.
"Plus green will work for either a boy or a girl." (Subtext:
You won't have to paint it again in three months.)
We'd already had a similar
argument, a year and a half
earlier, when we were getting ready to paint the first
baby's bedroom. Before Daughter #1 was born, I'd requested he paint her
nursery a cheerful (and gender-neutral) yellow. "I want it to feel like
the sun is always shining in this room," I said. He wanted to
room white -- mainly because money was tight, and we already had a
couple of gallons of leftover Glidden outside in the carport --
but my mind was made up, and he knew it, and he resignedly tucked the
color sample into his wallet. I was hoping he would get the nursery
painted before the baby arrived ... but he procrastinated, as was
typical, and the baby and I had been home from the hospital for a week
already before he finally got around to borrowing money from his
parents and buying the paint. He painted on a Sunday afternoon --
drinking beer and watching the football game on a portable TV as he
worked -- while our newborn daughter and I camped out on the living
room sofa all
day. When he was finished, he dragged me down the hallway to take a
look. When I saw the baby's room, my heart sank. Instead of the warm
sunny color I'd requested, the walls were the color of watery lemonade.
"Do you like it?" he asked, and I said yes, it's lovely. But I
it. He doesn't pay attention
to anything I ever I say to him,
For the next few years,
every time I looked at those anemic yellow walls, I felt angry and
unappreciated and resentful.
Now, as the days before
my second due date dwindled away, he was procrastinating once again. It
maddening. However, I was determined that THIS
baby would have a finished nursery to come home to. After relentless
nagging and endless blistering screamfests, he finally borrowed some
money from his parents and bought two buckets of cheap hardware store
paint. The label on the paint can said "Thistle Green." It wasn't exactly
the color I was hoping for -- it looked suspiciously darker than the
magazine clipping -- but I figured it was close enough.
time was running out.
He painted the room on a
Saturday afternoon -- drinking beer and watching pro bowling on the
portable TV while he worked -- while our one-year-old and I camped out
in the living room all day. Once he
finished painting the room, of course, I realized that the color was
all wrong. It
was dark and drab and depressing -- it reminded me more of camouflage
on the battlefield than of apples in springtime -- and for the next two
years, every time I looked at those walls, I hated them and I hated him
and I was sure, more than ever, that the man never paid attention to
* * * * * *
He called my office
early yesterday afternoon, just after I'd gotten back from lunch.
"Is this Terri Rafter?" he
asked. (It was strange to hear him call me by my new
married name ... although probably not as strange for me as it was for
When I replied that yes, hello,
it's me -- after twenty years he still doesn't recognize my voice on
the phone -- he reported that he had just gotten home from Daughter
#2's arraignment and was checking in, as requested.
"Tell me everything," I
Well, he said, he had to
get up at 7:30 a.m. to go to the courthouse, which was kinda rough
because he's working this killer night shift ... and then he had to sit
there for four hours before they even got to Daughter #2's case: he was
starting to think that maybe he was in the wrong courthouse, and he was
just getting up to leave when ...
Yes, fine, I interrupted
him. How did she look? How did she sound? Did he get to
talk to her? What were the charges against her? When is her trial date?
Are we going to discuss another rehab?
She looked OK, he
guessed. They were separated by a wall of glass. The sound system was
turned down low, and he didn't wear his hearing aid, so he
hear much of anything that was being said. No, he didn't get to talk to
her personally. No, he's still "not sure" what the charges were -- and
no, he didn't ask anybody -- but he thinks her trial date is the 20th.
"They let her go," he
said. "She was released on something called personal re ... recog
... recogit ... "
I felt the familiar slow
clench of impatience building. "Recognizance," I said. Jesus
H. Christ on a dead hearing aid battery.
I was about to ask him why he hadn't just approached a guard or a clerk
to get more details about the case -- how hard can that be? -- but he
wasn't finished telling the story. When they brought Daughter #2 into
the courtroom, he said, she stopped and looked through the glass at the
people sitting in the 'audience.' It was clear she wasn't expecting to
see any familiar faces, least of all family. When she spotted her
father sitting there, though ... she smiled and burst into tears.
think she was really happy to see me," he said softly.
I felt my heart
contract. The man may be a lot of things: incommunicative, inattentive,
occasionally unreliable, maddeningly unplugged from the world. But he
was sitting there in the 'audience' when our daughter was brought into
And I wasn't.
* * * * * *
A couple of weeks before
the second baby was due, a routine doctor's appointment revealed that
he/she was in the breech position ... little head tucked just beneath
my ribcage, little legs and feet in my pelvic area.
The first pregnancy and
birth had gone off without a hitch -- Daughter #1 had
on her due date, no less -- and I was naively expecting
pregnancy to be similarly glitch-free. So it was a shock to suddenly
hear Dr. Heffron talking to me about "surgical options." An attempt to
manually turn the baby around in utero didn't work: further ultrasounds
revealed that she had one leg bent at an odd angle and tucked behind
"Maybe she's going to be
a gymnast," joked the doctor.
I wasn't amused. I'd
never had major surgery before, and in spite of all my reading and
research and pseudo-sophistication, I didn't know very much about
C-sections. The horror stories I'd heard from my sister-in-law
didn't help, either ... gruesome tales of blood and stitches and little
yellow babies cooking under heat lamps for days after their birth. I
was profoundly upset by the whole idea of being peeled open like a
Walla Walla Sweet.
More than that, though,
I was worried about the baby. My children were my life: even the
ones who technically hadn't made it into the world yet.
I tearfully relayed the
news to my husband when I got home from the doctor's office. He never
accompanied me on my prenatal visits, during any of my pregnancies --
my mother-in-law always took me -- and he was utterly disinterested in
details of obstetrical exams and fetal development. So I gave him The
Reader's Digest Condensed version. The
baby is upside down. (Or, rather, the baby should
be upside down but isn't.) They can't turn her around. They'll have to
operate. It's going to dangerous and it's going to be expensive. I'm
I wasn't sure how much
of this information he absorbed. I was never sure of things like that.
His impassive reactions to everything made it impossible to tell if he
understood what you were saying, or if he was rebuilding that
lawnmower engine in his head again while you were talking to him. I
remember he walked off and spent the rest of the day outside in the
carport, crushing beer cans for the recycling center. I sat in the
peeling leather armchair all afternoon, with one baby in my arms and
the other doing jumping jacks beneath my ribcage, and I listened to the
shkreeek sound of the aluminum
can crusher until I slid into an uneasy afternoon nap. When I woke up,
a couple of hours later, the living room was growing dark. The noises
from the carport had stopped, and the little house was bathed in
From down the hallway
came a muffled sound I didn't recognize ... and couldn't identify.
Mystified, I gently lifted the still slumbering one-year-old from my
lap and eased my cumbersome self from the armchair. My butt and legs
had gone numb while I slept. Gingerly, I limped down the hallway to
locate the source of the mysterious noise. What I saw there literally
took my breath away.
There was my husband,
standing in the doorway of the new baby's nursery-to-be, looking at the
freshly-painted green walls ...
... and crying.
throw a rock