Lying awake in my hospital room
Silas Creek Parkway is my only view.
-Ben Folds Five, "Hospital Song"
When I was a sophomore in high school, our boys' basketball team went to the state championship. This is not to be confused with our girls' basketball team, of which I was a member, which won maybe one game all year. I don't remember how many games, but I know there was at least one. It was my freshman year where we didn't win any. But that's a whole different story.
But the boys' team was good, and they were fun to watch. There was the serious point guard, the long-limbed center, the hot-shot three point shooter, the reliable power forward, and the scrappy guy who could play any position by force of sheer hustle. I remember them all now, even though it's been over a decade since I've seen most of them. Everyone knew who they were. I remember being sort of shy and flattered when any of them talked to me, a lowly sophomore on the second-worst girls' basketball team in the history of our school.
Their post-season stretched out long after we had been eliminated from the first round of the conference tournament, and my mom and I went to their games. Since the boys had played right after us all year long, she had seen most of their games, maybe a reward for sitting through another crushing defeat for her daughter. And then they were going to be in the state finals in Chapel Hill, three hours away. Of course, we would go. What could be better than watching a good team full of people you knew (or at least felt like you knew) play at the Dean Dome?
The evening before the Saturday afternoon game, we got a phone call from my brother, an hour away, saying that his pregnant wife's water had broken, still several weeks shy of her due date. It was already getting sort of late, but we got in the car and drove to Wilkesboro. As we pulled into the parking lot of the tiny rural hospital, we saw an ambulance leave, followed by the familiar silhouette of my brother's car. We managed to flag him down, and he told us that they were taking my sister-in-law to the hospital in Winston-Salem.
So we drove yet another hour to Forsyth Medical Center on Silas Creek Parkway. And nothing much happened all night. We stayed in the waiting room. I pushed two stiff armed chairs together front-to-front and curled up in an attempt to sleep. At some point, I think it must have been in the morning because I remember the curtains being closed to block the sunlight, we went in to see my sister-in-law. It's probably obvious for me to even mention it, but she seemed to be in pain, like it was taking all her concentration to just get through it. My brother sat anxiously beside her bed, holding her hand and stroking her hair. I don't think I'd ever seen such tenderness. I felt sort of irrelevant, just standing there, sixteen years old and not a clue in the world.
And then we left, to drive one more hour. From the dim and quiet tension of a hospital room to the bright and loud, yet also irrelevant, tension of a state basketball championship in the Dean Dome.
We lost the game. It wasn't even close.
By the time we got back to the hospital, more of my siblings were there. The baby was born, but so tiny and with a pair of lungs that were not formed enough to do the job of keeping even so small a thing alive. They put him in a special little incubator to keep the world out and give God a chance to finish knitting him outside the womb. Another brother embraced and consoled the man whose son had arrived but whose stay wasn't yet certain. Again, I saw tenderness, a side to my big brothers that I had never seen before, or maybe just had never noticed. Years later, I would listen to a coworker tell about when his son was born premature. Though it was never stated outright, the sense of utter helplessness was clear to me and to the other men who listened with complete understanding on their faces. I thought about my brother and the other side of each birth story.
A couple of weekends ago, the boys' basketball team from my old high school went to the state championship. They lost; it was even less close than before. I did not know any of their names, and I was not at the game. Instead, I was at my brother's house to celebrate my nephew's eleventh birthday. He was cute and robust and tan and also kind of a smart-aleck. He played with the little kids, and then sat with the adults. His little sister gave him a tooth in a jam jar, for which he thanked her sweetly, though he clearly thought it was pretty weird. My mom and I reminisced about spending the night at the hospital before going to the basketball game.
I knew then that there was a story to write here, but I wasn't sure what it would be about: the Dean Dome, unfinished lungs, Silas Creek Parkway, fatherhood, a tooth in a jar. Now I've written it and some themes came out that I wasn't expecting, but I'm still not sure what the point is. So take what you want. But Happy Birthday, Sidney. Keep that jar in a safe place.