So determined to experience the birth naturally, I stayed home with Eric for twenty-one hours as we took walks, warm showers, and listened to the Grateful Dead. When I was nearing passout, we finally decided that it might be a good idea to get to the hospital. We had miscalculated. We hadn't anticipated pouring rain, my not fitting into the backseat (Eric finally broke the front seat so that I could), traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, no parking, a busy delivery room. By the time a doctor saw me, I was past the point of needing to push; the baby was "in distress." Distress gave way to miracle; Benjamin was born thirteen minutes later. And that was thirteen years ago. Even the number 13 loses its cachet as unlucky in the context of our lives. The young man, Benjamin, captured at this moment, is another alchemy, dross turned into golden boy, mind all father, body all mother. His character comes from Eric: ebullient, enthusiastic, generous. He has what my family refers to as a "pure soul." If I am annoyed with him, he'll lean over to tell me that I'm the best mom in the world and then give me one of his goofiest, kindest grins. He spends most of his time in motion: dancing, surfing, or skateboarding. When he was eight, on an August day, we had sat on the beach on Long Island looking at some boys about his age taking a surfing lesson. Benjamin wanted to try. Minutes later, I watched as an ecstatic Benjamin effortlessly stood up on the board on the first wave and rode it all the way in. "You killed it!" screamed his surf instructors. From that day on, Benjamin was theirs. Sunburst sea lions, they wrestle on the beach on days when the ocean is flat and "party wave," sharing rides, when the ocean swells. They also share lithe forms, agility, and a surprising grace on the water.
In their topsy-turvy world of speed, jumps, flips, and turns, to call something "dope," "sick," or "ill" is to bestow a compliment, to transform the appellation of misery into triumph. The irony of these misnomers did not resonate with me for a long time, probably because my own expectations about life were similarly unmindful of despair. I now watch shaken as Benjamin "cuts" waves, leaps in African dance classes, skis off picnic tables, and hurls himself down flights of stairs on his skateboard. My boy, the flier. And I keep whispering to myself, Please, just let him keep soaring.
In the early years of our marriage, Eric and my own flight seemed impervious to crashing. Even the heartache of a miscarriage after Benjamin's birth got assimilated physically. I barely had time to feel the weight of this bitterness as I got pregnant again three weeks later. Eric was out of town on the day of my scheduled sonogram. Benjamin, three at the time, towheaded, wild, and earnest, came with me to the appointment instead. We were both excited for him to meet his sibling. He sat perched at my feet as we peered at the monitor, both unsure of how to read the grainy images. When the doctor finished the measurements and confirmed that the baby was indeed healthy—and a girl—I got a little teary, only to erupt in laughter as Benjamin kicked me. Apparently, he had wanted a brother.