As with any group that hasn't seen each other in twenty-some-odd years, there was a lot of leaning into the table and summing up the key details that had helped shape the full-fledged adults that these former grade-schoolers had become: marriages, deaths, births, graduations, job status. When inevitably asked: "So what have YOU been up to since age 13,” the version Kevin spun out was that we're a couple of non-church-going, world-traveling college teachers with one dog.
When someone asked that reasonable follow-up question, Kevin took a swig of beer and said, simply: “nope.” Verb-tense-wise, it's a perfectly accurate answer: nope. We don't have - present-tense have - kids. I wouldn't say I have a grandfather either, given that both of mine are long gone. And Kevin certainly isn't the type to lower his voice and gratuitously clarify, “Well, we had a son, but he died as a four-month fetus, and another son after that named Zachary, but he was stillborn two years ago.”
No way, Jose.
As the night progressed and the fourth round of strong cocktails came out, the conversation moved beyond mere superficial life summaries, and the deeper tragic, more grown-up dirt began to emerge. I'm talking about the tear-jerking events that carve us into wiser, more weathered people than the children we were in 5th grade. One example was Sana, the woman sitting across from me: single. No kids. Mother died young of breast cancer when she was 16. Sister died later as a homeless druggie in San Francisco. Everybody nodded and said, “ohhhh. I’m so sorry.”
As it was, Kevin's own story of grown-up dirt never did come up.
But with everyone talking about their kids, their tragedies, marriages and non-marriages, their jobs, their achievements, I felt his grade-school friends should know - and would probably find it interesting if they knew to ask: Kevin did father a full-term baby son who died. Maybe two, depending on what you call baby - but definitely one. Doesn't this fact of his past make him much more of a complex person than mere kid-free, lanky white dude in jeans and flip-flops with a beer in one hand, other hand resting on brunette wife's knee - the way he appeared last night?
I wanted there to be a place for him to talk about his brief and surreal experience of fatherhood, a way to give this more complete picture of his life loves and losses, his history. But the thing about stillbirth and miscarriage is that there just isn't always a smooth segue, a comfortable and natural opportunity to bring it up, as with born-living humans who developed into thinking, talking people who are known by others. Who would think to ask Kevin, "how's the baby?" when nobody even knows there ever was a baby in the first place?
It made me stare pensively the motel ceiling that night as I tried to fall asleep, thinking about Kevin, about how fatherhood fits in with his history; about our son Zachary himself, floating around somewhere in space. It made me wonder who I'll think of if I'm ever in the unfathomable predicament of consciously dying; if I'll think of Zachary, of the fetus before him, or be instead hoping desperately that there are bacon, coffee, white wine, French food, and decent people to hang out with in the afterlife.
So it went untold, that piece of Kevin's life, buried beneath like a cherry pit in the ground. He didn't think anything of it, but I drove us home with my brow slightly furrowed, bothered by it, then bothered that I was bothered by it.
* * *
The last bit of Sana's story was that as she sat there holding her dying, still-young mother’s hand, her mom told her not to worry. She was going off to be with the two babies that had existed before Sana, she said; both late miscarriages from several decades ago.
"I love those two babies as much as you, and it's their turn to be with me now," her mom told her.
I'll admit - this part got me, and I felt my voice catch a bit, tears prick just barely at my eyes. How amazing, how powerful, that on her death bed, her mother would remember two miscarried babies of all things - that those little children-to-be would be at the forefront of her mind at a god-awful, cancer-ridden, terrifying time on the brink of death.
What's more, it made me feel bad that Zachary, our pregnancy with him, hadn't even gotten honorable mention at the dinner table that night. I wanted suddenly and desperately to be able to e-mail him directly. I'd start with Hey Kiddo, and then I'd tell him:
You may have noticed that you didn't come up in conversation at tonight's reunion gathering in which everyone was spilling out major details about their lives. It wasn't because you were not a major recent detail in your father's life, or because your father's spooge was not involved in your creation, or because in the final hours of your life he didn't press the side of his face against my belly to feel your last slow kicks, or because you aren't thought of every waking day by both of us, or because he isn't a tender-hearted man who loves you and me both fiercely.
It's because he'd rather keep you inside of him, safe and protected, and only bring you out among the most special select few people who he really, really knows and trusts. Not a bunch of grown-up kids he threw spitballs with twenty years ago and is only seeing for the first time in two decades. What makes them so special that they should get to hear your story? Take it as a compliment, that your dad has high standards regarding what he discloses to whom, and that he isn't whoring you out to any old gossip-mongers (believe me, I do enough of that).
I hope you're drinking your milk and eating plenty of green leafy vegetables up there.
I think he would've gotten the point, probably even rolled his eyes at my usual over-thinking. "It's FINE, Mom," he would've called out over his shoulder, already distracted and disappearing out the door to play T-ball, or whatever they play up in infant heaven.