Aaron Housholder is currently the only person who has guest posted on this blog twice. This should give you a small indication of how much I value him as a writer, a person and a friend. In college, Aaron was one of the first people to encourage me to write promiscuously, not worrying so much about genre. His written works, read aloud, always brought a hush over our classes as we listened close. It is not an exaggeration to say that I am the writer I am, in large part, because of Aaron. Much of this de(tale) happened during my senior year of college and walking with Aaron and his family in the aftermath, healing and grief has been both completely heartbreaking, and a window into the the eye of the storm.
By its look and feel, and by the solidity of its closing, the door might have been authentic oak. Maybe the surface was veneer, but the door was heavy like real wood, heavy enough that for a couple days after that first night my wife couldn’t open it by herself. You need abdominal strength to open a door like that one, and after the C-section she had none.
The door opened from left to right from our perspective in the room. That first night I sat in the desk chair near the window in the back of the room and watched the oak door, or the oak veneer door. My father sat in the chair in the corner behind me. We waited for the door to open, to open from left to right. Sometimes I glanced at the brushed-nickel lever that served as the doorknob, waiting for it to move, but mostly I stared at the door. The back of the door. Oak. Maybe veneer.
I stared at the door to avoid looking at the blood spots on the floor. And I stared at the door waiting for it to open, to open from left to right, because I knew someone would come through any minute, any minute now, and I knew it would be the doctor, and I knew she would give me some sort of news, any sort, and I knew the news she’d give me would change everything about me, no matter what it was – good, great, bad, very bad, something’s changing, things are different now. I felt something heavy congeal inside me in those moments because I had time to anticipate everything I might hear. Congratulations, she’d say, and then I’d be the happily married father of a second boy, a little brother for my older son. Or, I’m so sorry, she’d say, and then I’d be a widowed dad of two boys, or a widowed dad of one boy, or the married father of one boy and one baby, deceased. All options were in play. I sat in the chair and stared at the door and knew in that moment as clear as could be that everything was now different and I wondered who I was about to become.
I’m a father and a husband, a professor, a writer, a Christian, a man. I was those things before that night behind the door. I was loved and loving, attentive, protective, passionate, faithful. I’m still those things. I was also innocent, younger in a way not associated with age. Before that night, I might have filled my waiting time in a hospital room reading a book or checking e-mail. That night I had a book and my computer with me. I could have chatted with my father. But I sat quietly and stared at the door and felt my old self grow into something else, something new and older.
I didn’t know until that night that medical professionals actually say “Stat!” sometimes. I thought it was just one of those words that TV doctors say to amplify tension. But I heard it that night over the loudspeaker on the other side of the door: “Cardio pulmonary needed in the nursery, stat!” The voice was followed immediately by running steps that sounded through the door like muted thunder. I would have been okay not knowing this.
The look on the doctor’s face as she opened the door some time later was a chilling mixture of shock and fear and compassion and horror and sadness. She’s about my age, and she aged that night perhaps as much as I did. She clasped the edge of the oak or oak veneer door with both hands as she pushed it open. The door was heavy enough to bear her weight. “It’s not good,” she said quietly, shaky-voiced, and then turned to close the door even though it does that on its own, does it with the solid silencing thud of authentic oak. “Let me move the chair over and sit next to you,” she said after a moment, without needing to. She moved the other desk chair.
I didn’t move, didn’t lean forward, didn’t flinch. I watched her face as she spoke. She watched mine. Hers was full of dread and sorrow. Mine felt blank, rigid, oak, or maybe veneer. When she whispered, “Sua’s fine, but the baby didn’t make it,” I shed no tears, made no sound. Something may have closed inside me, right to left. Outside I was quiet. My father’s hand rested on my left shoulder.
“I think I’m supposed to say something,” I said to the doctor after a moment, “but I’m not sure what.” She nodded. We sat quietly. I stared at the door some more.
I didn’t know while sitting there that in twenty months I would sit on a similar night in a similar room along this same hallway, behind an identical door, and that this same doctor would enter with the look of ferocious determination I imagine a soldier might have on the way to battle, and that she would lead the same group of surgical assistants and nurses through the successful birth of my baby girl, an act of redemption for the whole team, a miracle for us. I didn’t know that so many people present in the building that first night would become dear to us, or that we would find a way through God’s grace to help people sitting stunned in similar moments, perhaps sitting stunned in the very room I sat in just then, staring at that same door. I didn’t know what was coming, because we never do. The future in that moment, and the past too, were Abyss, as though they never had been or would be. I only sat in silence as though entombed for those few minutes on that first night and stared straight ahead, stared at that heavy, closed door.
I’ve decided since that the door must have been veneer, its surface too clean and just a touch too regular, too smooth. I’m pretty sure now, though, that the veneer covered solid wood, that it masked a weighty inner substance you can’t detect unless you try to move the door or perhaps endeavor to scratch through its surface. I imagine it’s possible, more than four years later, that the veneer might be chipping away and that some of the solid oak might be starting to show through. It’s possible. I can hope so, at any rate.
Aaron J. Housholder is an Assistant Professor of English at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, where he has taught creative writing and literature since 2007. He resides in Anderson, Indiana with his wife, Suahil, and their two children, Scottie and Alivia. You can read his work on parenting, faith, real life, and whatever else he happens to be thinking about on his blog Being Still. You can also find him on Twitter. If you're interested in hearing his voice in person (and being encouraged by a recent chapel talk he gave) you can check it out, here. The good stuff starts about 10 minutes in.
You can check out the other de(tales) (so far) here.