Truth be told, I really hadn’t expected my sister to say yes, but after she did there was absolutely no way I was going to back out. I had actually been joking. You know, the type of joke where you laugh but the other person doesn’t. Yeah, my sister definitely wasn’t laughing when she said yes, and just like that I was going to witness a live birth. We were a month away from her due date but I got freaked out pretty much right away.
I was 18 at the time, having just started college that fall, and I had no clue at all about life beyond school. In fact, I didn’t even know much about school at the time either, having already missed multiple classes by that October. It was a whole new world for me, of parties, parties, and more parties. Eventually I knew I would have to grow up but that seemed to be in the far off future, something hazy to 18-year-old me. So, when my sister said yes, it was a huge dose of reality hitting me hard.
When I found out she was pregnant I was curious. I mean, for ages it had been just the three of us (my mom, my sister, and me), and I didn’t quite know how things would change adding someone else to the mix. And then there was becoming an uncle, something that seemed to me like an old person’s job back then. In fact, the first thing that crossed my mind when I found out was my own uncles, how solid and adult they were. I knew that wasn’t going to be me, not at first anyway. Maybe that’s why I asked to be there in the first place. Perhaps I knew even then that the experience would change me in numerous ways.
There were a few false starts, too. I remember my mother driving my sister to the hospital in an awful hurry and it was a false alarm. This happened at least two times, and as soon as it seemed that the moment was nigh, it would slip away again into the shadows. I knew my sister was uncomfortable. I didn’t see how a person could really carry someone else inside of them and not be uncomfortable. And I guess I knew those times weren’t the real ones because I stayed home during them. I think my mom even forgot that I was supposed to be there at the real birth, but then the time came. And I was there.
It was early in the morning during the first week of November, and I knew it was time. My sister was looking a bit green around the gills, and the contractions had started. They were spaced a bit apart, but they were there nonetheless, and they were hurting her. I remember seeing her getting ready to leave and thinking that it was the last time I was going to see her when it was just her, that by the time we all returned there would be another person there with us. It blew my mind, and I still don’t think I truly processed it until later. Then we were in the car and gone.
The hospital was familiar to me. In fact, it was the very same hospital in which I was born nearly 19 years earlier. As my mother parked at a meter and we headed inside, orderlies at the door eased my sister into a wheelchair and the adventure began. They asked a million questions, but I just kept thinking about what was to come, the end of one journey and the beginning of the next chapter. Then time moved like molasses.
After all the rush to get her there, they did confirm the contractions, and they did say that the baby was definitely on the way, but it was going to take a while. So we waited. My job was to keep feeding quarters into the meter so we wouldn’t get a ticket. It seemed so weird, doing something so ordinary when something so extraordinary was happening soon. But to keep the meter filled, I had to get change from the little cafe in the lobby of the hospital. I’m not sure even now why we hadn’t parked in the garage, but the trips back and forth served to keep me sane.
Eventually it did happen, the moment we had all been waiting for, but it was late that afternoon, after we had been there the whole day, after an eventual epidural, and after I had fed that meter over $10 dollars in coins. One time when I returned from a mission I entered the room to find at least six doctors in white coats conferring about what to do, to induce or to keep waiting. I was nervous again then, knowing the decision was a big one. In the end he came regardless, though, squalling, into the world. And that’ when I knew I had made the right decision.
Because he looked at me first. The first person he saw when he came into this world was his Uncle Sam, and I keep telling him about that day even now, 18 years later, with a tear in my eye every single time. I know he gets tired of hearing the same thing over and over, but he humors me because he knows how life-changing it was for me. And now he’s graduating from high school in just over a week. I don’t believe it. Maybe this is when he pays me back those $10 dollars in quarters.