Clash of Clans, like the majority of online games at this point, has a chat feature. My wife and sons play the game. I don’t, but I do monitor the goings on, especially with the boys, who are 10 and 7 and in no way ready to be unchaperoned in the wilds of collaborative gaming. Case in point:

 

My wife logged in over lunch. One of the members of her clan, let’s call him Mike, used the chat feature to ask “Is anyone on?” Another player, Collin, responded that he was currently online. Mike, sage and worldly as he is, came back with this gem – “Collin my nigga, get off the clash and onto the poon.” Within a few minutes, another member of the clan advised Mike that “he’s 7 years old, go easy please.”

 

Mike was otherwise shamed by additional parents in the clan. I’m guessing he’s slinking out of the clan soon, tail tucked. I’m also guessing Mike has not yet seen his sixteenth birthday, which brings me to my first point – preteens are not the only ones who need their game chat monitored. Even if you’re not worried about what others are saying to your teen (and that’s a problem we will leave for another day), you should be concerned about the language your teen is laying on the younger population.

 

Point two – there IS a younger population. Kids play these games. They shouldn’t have to worry about being encouraged to get onto the poon while upgrading their gold storage. Always, always assume that things are strictly PG until proven R. There are plenty of games, plenty of communities, where R or worse is accepted. Don’t force it. Find it.

 

Point three – there is something utterly hilarious about the phrase “Collin my nigga,” especially when you consider the high likelihood that Collin is a bushy-haired white kid from the burbs who frequently wears Teva sandals and khaki shorts and polos to his play dates in the park. Come to think of it, that’s probably Mike, too. I love it. “Collin my nigga.” I am pretty sure that, henceforth, any time I am dispensing some jewel of wisdom, I will begin the sentence with “Collin my nigga…” Me being a middle-age white dude from the burbs who frequently wears Teva sandals, khaki shorts and polos whilst taking my kids to play dates in the park, it should prove a perfectly credible addition to my lexicon.

If you’re unaware, Prince Fielder, a Major League Baseball player for the Texas Rangers, posed for ESPN the Magazine’s Body issue this year.

 

Prince is a missed haircut away from six feet tall, and has been threatening 300 pounds for a while now. Compared to his fellow Body issue models Larry Fitzgerald and Serge Ibaka, Prince’s body type is…different. If Larry and Serge are, say, Ferrari 458 Italia’s, Prince would maybe be a Nissan Pathfinder. A Google image search will obviously tell you more.

 

Prince has taken his expected beating via social media after his nude photos (the pics of Body issue models are predominantly sans attire but PG) hit screens around the world. He’s soft and round. Most of the model’s bodies say “athlete.” Prince’s body says “light beer is for middle school girls.” This was never going to go well for him on Twitter. It’s too easy.

 

But this is only the latest example of how we, as a culture, consistently get this discussion wrong. After the predictable fat jokes, there will be the “as long as Prince loves himself” contingent riding to his rescue. Then bickering over what self image means and should mean and all of it, every word, a papier mache conversation.

 

Prince’s father is Cecil Fielder, himself once a MLB slugger. Again, I recommend a Google image search. You will quickly discover that genetics are not working in Prince’s favor. It does not bother me to look at Prince Fielder. I genuinely hope that Prince thinks well of himself. But the man is substantially overweight, as was his father. There is no debate as to the disastrous effects of obesity on the human body, over time. Your favorite buffet would be crushed by the weight of the research. Why, then, are we talking about the way Prince looks

 

It’s nuanced, that I will grant. But there is a word which rarely makes it into the tweets and blog rants and lunch table chats about weight. That word is “healthy.” That’s what matters. What some embittered desk jockey in Portland thinks about Prince’s spare tire, the flippant venom of some duck-faced chick in South Beach…noise. Static. The real conversation is this – negligent obesity puts undue strain on our healthcare system. The real conversation is this – Prince is at greater risk of sustaining an injury, or sustaining a more severe injury, due to his weight. The real conversation is this – Prince has a wife and two sons, and he should care that he is around for them as long as he possibly can be.

 

My brother was once obese. He will tell you, it was a choice. It happened because of decisions he made. It happened because of a lifestyle he chose. Then, he began to choose differently. Then, he was up riding a bike at 5:00AM in the January cold. Then, he was training for a 5K. Then, he was training for a 10K. Then he ran a half-marathon, and another, and he’ll run another this fall. He lost something in the neighborhood of 120 pounds by force of will, by a determination that he would be an example to his children, and by prayer.

 

He did not change because anyone shamed him. It never helped that anyone encouraged him to love the “me in the mirror.” He made the decision to become healthy. It was not an image-based decision. It was a quality of life decision, a longevity decision. It was a health decision.

 

Trouble is, I guess, that you don’t get a lot of “likes” for showing genuine concern for the health of a fellow human being. That’s a pretty boring thing to retweet. And the “love yourself” chorus will have long since moved on to sing under a new balcony when Prince hits second base wrong, tearing the ligaments in his ankle instead of merely straining them, DL for eight weeks instead of two.

 

I don’t want that to happen to Prince Fielder. Pose for a magazine, or don’t. Suck it in when you pass a mirror, or don’t. Just ask your doctor how much she would like you to lose, then devise a plan and do it. Don’t get skinny. Don’t get sexy. Get healthy.

 

The World Cup is happening right now, in Brazil. If you have no idea what that is, take a minute to educate yourself  if you want, before you go on.

 

Because my sons have adopted soccer as their game, I have adopted it as mine. For the past four years I have soaked in it. Every level of it. From sidelines I have watched eight six year olds gathered within a few feet of one ball, right legs like metronomes, as if a quarter had been placed in some unseen slot in each boy, a dust shrouded herd wandering between goals and painted lines. On my television I have watched FC Barcelona play a game set to music, choreography in the moment, full contact dancing with a ball. And I’ve seen everything in between.

 

All of that to say that this is the first World Cup for which I am truly, DVR-setting excited. I finally get it.

 

Over the course of the next month, you will hear much about the culture of Brazil. You will see a statue of Jesus Christ hundreds of times. You will hear of protestors clashing with police. You will hear guitar strings plucked the same way a guitarist from Amsterdam or Brisbane or Paducah would pluck them, but the sound will be more languid, seductive, for reasons you can’t name. You will see women curved like rivers, wearing smiles and face paint and very little else. You will see a city sunbathing by a turquoise sea, rock monoliths standing watch in the distance. And you will see soccer. Football. Futbol. The beautiful game. It is a spectacle so grand and broad that entertainment can be found even by those who do not appreciate the game at the center of it all.

 

But if I could sit down in a corner booth for a cup of coffee with America, it would be neither the protests nor the music nor the women nor the natural beauty nor even the game that I would discuss.

 

I would ask instead, how many evenings you believe you’ve spent doing the exact same thing as a 12 year old Ghanaian girl? Granted, that child’s circumstances may be wildly different than yours, but for about two hours on Monday evening (if you watched, and if you didn’t you should have) you and that Ghanaian girl watched a soccer match together, six thousand miles apart. When you were cheering, her face was in her hands. When your stomach fell, she was leaping in celebration. A small but vocal group at the Café Imperio in Lisbon will be with you to watch a desperate Portugal try to save their world cup against our boys on Sunday. And when you fall back into your sofa next Thursday to catch our match with Germany, you’ll join a few thousand Germans on their sofas in a soccer stadium in Berlin.

 

I believe we live in a deeply fractured world, a world that too richly rewards extreme opinions and divisiveness. Somewhere along the way we became a planet of differences. So today, as you scroll through the headlines of jihad and pro-life / pro-choice and people picketing funerals holding Bibles and votes on who can and can’t get married, I want you to stop for one moment and think about that girl in Ghana. Can you see her? She’s pretty and thin, with a sunrise smile and red and yellow and green stripes of paint across her cheeks. Her television screen is convex and it flickers and she doesn’t care. She’s just as glued to it as you are your flat screen with a 240Hz motion rate. Her heart is pounding just like yours. A new friend you’ll never meet, and it didn’t take a terrorist attack or tsunami or any other global tragedy to bring you together. All it took was a ball.

One of the things I intend to do here is occasionally post shorter (less than 2000 words) chapters from my current work. This is an early chapter from the manuscript I’m working.

8

No telling the last time he’d had decent food, and the boy ate it like he had something against it, like it had wronged him. They sat in the Good Luck Diner on Darden Street in High Point and Graves watched the boy maraud around the plate of chicken and mashed potatoes and corn, shoes squealing against clean tile and the tinny stutter of porcelain against itself and occasionally the bullfrog voice of a man seated at the counter. He was four hundred pounds if he was there at all, and obviously a regular. Every waitress called him something like “Dooley” and took pains to remain just out of his reach, always passing behind him and rounding the counter to refill his coffee, keeping a Formica barrier between. Graves resisted thoughts of smacking the fat, grabby bastard.

He asked the boy if Harper had hurt him in any way and the boy said “No, no le,” a biscuit fugitive escaping the destruction going on in his mouth.

He had met Mandy fourteen months ago, after they had taken a nine year old girl out of the house of a meth cook over near Summerfield. The only child of the seventeen people living there, all of the adults illegal. It had been Mandy who’d coordinated with the necessary agencies, eventually finding cousins in North Wilkesboro and arranging for the girl to go and live with them. He remembered standing in her stuffy office, faux wood paneling below a paste-on border of tea kettles. Tea kettles with daisies poking from their spouts. His grandmother had had the same border in the kitchen of her trailer. He was vaguely aware that she was saying some words – “Office of Refugee Resettlement” … “good temporary foster care” … “a week or two.” He only looked away from her to scan the room for pictures containing a man. He was pleased to find none. There was only a young girl, here floating just off the ground in a cheerleading outfit and there with a snow cone on a Ferris wheel, whom he later came to know was her neice, Molly.

Two weeks after, he sat on the deck at the back of her small brick ranch a little north of Thomasville and drank mediocre iced tea. It wasn’t hard for him to make her laugh and the tea got better when they added the lemonade and bourbon and it was one of those early fall sunsets that had no edges, flannel light rolled off some elemental loom beneath the horizon. After a while he’d said he’d never done anything like this before. She said neither had she.

A month, and he knew that she sounded like a wounded angel when he was doing it just right.

Around Thanksgiving of last year he told her that he and Stacey had been going through some things regarding his step-son, Travis, and that he had just done it to get back at her and it was childish and he was ashamed and sorry but it was over. Mandy said okay, no hard feelings. That lasted two weeks.

In February he said he couldn’t deal with the guilt and the worry over Stacey finding out and there was shit going on at work anyway and it was all just too much for him, had been a mistake from the start, and he was sorry but it was over. Mandy said okay, no hard feelings. He was back at her door before Easter.

Just after Memorial Day, Stacey had a scare with chest pain. Turned out to be gall bladder related but she spent a day and a half at Moses Cone hospital and Graves told Mandy that he had to wake up and realize that he had a family and maybe it wasn’t a perfect family but it was his and he was going to have to care for Stacey after she had the gall bladder surgery anyway and he was sorry but it was over. Mandy said okay, no hard feelings. She might have grinned a little, watching him back out of her driveway. They screwed like drunken teenagers in the bed of her pickup under a black sky clawed red and streaked white and bejeweled blue, and he said he wasn’t going to try to understand it anymore, much less fight it. That he might not ever love her or say it if he did, might not ever leave Stacey, and she said she hadn’t planned on asking for any of those things, said she thought it was the kind of thing that, if either of them ever tried to understand it, it would probably dissolve and blow away.

Through Mandy he’d come to know that local victims of trafficking for whom no kin could be found were turned over to The Redemption Group, a non-profit run out of the First Baptist Church of High Point. Law enforcement was generally supposed to be done with the victim by the time they reached TRG, and most badges drew scorn when they showed their faces in the big brick annex of the fellowship hall of First Baptist. Unless that badge was accompanied by a jar of Aunt Beulah’s Honey, from the shanty fruit stand off highway 311 down towards Archdale. Mandy had advised him to pick up a jar on his first trip to TRG and present it to the administrator, Bobby Davis. “Just tell him I sent you and give him the jar. You’ll get the time you need.”

Graves hadn’t abused the privilege, and occasionally he’d swing by with a jar of that honey just to keep the wheels greased. He supposed he owed it to Mandy, the fact that he was sitting in this diner with the boy. Exactly what he owed her…that was still murky.

Usted ha dicho that they always find you. Who? Who always finds you?”

“The woman.”

“What woman?”

“I don’t know her name. She is skinny and pretty and tall. Black hair.”

“She comes to the place you are staying? The foster house or the church or the orphanage?”

“Yes.”

“How does she take you?”

“They make me alone. Send me downstairs alone or back into the lunchroom after the other kids have gone. And she’s there.”

“Does she hurt you?”

“The first time she did.”

You yelled and fought because you didn’t understand, and nobody came to help you. And she bashed you around until you shut up. He didn’t know if he wanted to scream or throw up. “And it’s always her? This same woman?”

“Yes.”

“Where does she take you? Is it usually a house?”

“I don’t know. She puts a hood over my head. If I try to take it off she hits me. She puts me in a car and ties my hands. We always stay in the car for a long time.”

For the love of Mike. “When does the hood come off?”

“When we get to the hotel. She takes me to a hotel and takes the hood off and cuts the tie off my hands and gives me milk. When I’m done she puts the hood back on and ties my hands again and locks me in the bathroom and makes telephone calls.”

“How long do you stay in the hotel?”

“A day. Maybe two.”

“Then what?”

“A man comes and gives her money and takes me.”

“A man like the man we found you with?”

He nodded.

Somewhere in the far reaches of the kitchen a hard plastic thing clattered to the floor and Dooley threw a garbled mush of words back at the noise, laughed like the death throes of something made by Briggs and Stratton, strewed a few wadded bills on the counter and hauled himself off the stool and out the door. The waitress smiled and called the boy handsome as she warmed Graves’s coffee. The boy didn’t understand so he just looked down at his scoured plate and the detective asked her to bring him a slice of cherry pie. He let the boy eat it in peace, sitting and sipping the coffee and looking out the window and trying not to pick at the tattered stitching along the edges of his mind.

Back at TRG, he pulled Bobby Davis to the side as the boy made slow, solemn progress toward a jungle gym on the playground. “Will ya’ll get him a psych evaluation?”

Bobby leaned both elbows on top of a chain link fence and dropped his face to the ground for a moment. “Naw. Not anymore. That funding was cut out of this year’s budget.”

“Sounds better to say ‘that funding’ than somebody’s name, don’t it?”

“Not really. What’s up?”

“Can I give you a little bit of one, for whatever it’s worth?”

“Yes sir. Shoot.”

“Maybe it would be best not to leave him alone for real long at a time.”

“What…like he might hurt himself?”

“I don’t know, Bobby, just…he said some things when we interviewed him back at the station, and then again just now at the diner…they didn’t sit right with me.”

“Okay. I’ll make sure the staff knows. I can recommend that he get evaluated, but chances are he’d be gone before it happened.”

“I wouldn’t worry with it. I’m probably way off base. Just thought ya’ll could keep an eye on him for as long as he’s here.”

“Will do.”

He stopped the car on the side of highway 62 where it crosses Randleman Lake and got out and walked around and leaned against the passenger side. The sky was rolling over purple from orange and he stared into it the way a man will pretty much anything deep, something in him wanting to see the end of it even if it means not coming back. The sun lay half drowned and content with it, bleeding eastward over the lake. He wished for a different time and place. A still and hopeful day when he didn’t know what he knew. Light without the things he’d seen in it. Dreams without ghosts. Evenings he might have spent with a good, strong woman in the wrinkled and winsome years, wine and lights strung on a balcony, songs they’d been listening to for forty years. A call from his son, just to check in.

What kind of world is this now? What happened?

The sky and the water remained disinterested. He reached back into the car and fetched his mobile.

“Hey. You gonna be home in an hour or so?”

He took my order at lunch today. I don’t know any of these things about him, but I am sure of them.

Bad decision o’clock at a kegger in the mid nineties, he got into an actual fist fight when he wouldn’t back down from his assertion that Van Halen was a better band with Sammy Haggar. He was winning the argument, he lost the fight, and he would rather it be that way than the other way.

He meets two Saturdays a month in an old barn to race radio-controlled cars with guys who are mostly twice his age. It is the reason two of his more recent girlfriends have left him. Not because he races radio-controlled cars, but because he wouldn’t lie about it when asked.

He is tired of people.

He has a son in first or second grade who has his divot chin and penchant for contrarianism. He sees him on Tuesdays and every other weekend and almost never tells him no, spends money he doesn’t have on things the boy doesn’t need, grabs a beer after his mother picks him up and walks onto his apartment balcony and leans against the railing and looks through the rear window of her car at his little blonde head riding away.

He has been stashing money away for a long time, for something big. Tax refunds. He cashes out his Visa points. A little here, a little there. Whatever it is, he feels like it will change his life. Sometimes he drinks with the radio-controlled car dudes and he’s nearly told them about it a few times, but it’s too tender and close and he can’t.

He’s pretty sure the nineteen year old who just started on the register a few weeks ago would say yes if he asked her out. She wouldn’t, and he won’t, but it makes him feel good.

He hates the effort his father puts into acting proud of him, and would just as soon he stop the charade. If it weren’t for his mother, he probably wouldn’t go over there anymore.

Every year his doctor tells him he needs to stop smoking and every year he says he’ll try.

There is something in him that wills him to see every sunrise and every sunset. He goes back and forth on the whole God thing, but when he looks at the heathery western sky, sunspray like an anthem over pink and purple tatters of wandering clouds, he feels like everything might not be an accident and he prays. Just in case.

George Leigh Mallory’s first view of Mount Everest would have been from Pang La Pass in Tibet. As the pass is still where the pass was in 1921, and as the mountain also has not changed its location, size, or shape, he would have seen this, exactly.

Mallory has been a diversion of mine over the past few years. I read anything I can regarding he and Sandy Irvine and their dealings with the mountain. I have grown to believe that Mallory was a singular man, cut by the Maker from strange and rare cloth, stitched both elegantly and durably. He was a soft and even-handed father to three girls and to Ruth Mallory he was a husband from a song. He was a prodigy on a mountain, supple and rugged and rolling over its ridges and through its crevices with an ease that belied effort, like water spilled upward. And he was a poet. Of his first view of Everest from Pang La, he wrote “It was a prodigious white fang, an excrescence from the jaw of the world.”

The mountain killed George Mallory, but it did not defeat him. He went in 1921 and 1922 and finally again in 1924, when he and Sandy gained the northeast ridge and were last seen making progress 800 vertical feet below the summit, before a storm closed the curtains on their spotter, Noel Odell, and gave them to history. In 1999 Conrad Anker, one of the foremost mountaineers of our generation, found George Mallory’s body high on the slopes of Everest. He had all of the things that one would have expected to find on his person: altimeter, watch, rope. The accoutrements of the climber. There were two items, however, conspicuous in their absence. It is known that Mallory and Irvine carried with them a vest pocket Kodak camera. The camera was not on Mallory, so it is presumed to be with Irvine, whose body has yet to be found. Also missing was a picture of Ruth. George had taken with him a photo of his wife and promised that he would place it on the summit of the mountain.

Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay are rightfully credited with the first summit of Mount Everest. They made it to the top in 1953, provably so. 800 feet and color photography and weatherproof down suits and insulated boots with crampons higher than Mallory climbed. Maybe. You could disassemble a steam engine with a fork in the time it would take to read all of the speculation as to whether or not Mallory and Irvine stood on the roof of the world. From their last known position a fierce adversary still awaited them, the “second step,” a one hundred foot stone rampart at twenty eight thousand feet. Think of climbing the prow of an ocean freighter, with thousands of feet of nothing behind you, beckoning you to slip. Most knowledgeable Everest folk will tell you that Mallory and Irvine could not have conquered the second step. If you get sucked into the ‘did they or didn’t they’ though, you’re missing the point.

Take your mind off of Facebook right now. Take it off of productivity reports and soccer matches and the dumb thing you argued about with whomever. Go back and click the link above. Stand at Pang La Pass in 1921, look at that jagged horizon and listen to the staccato bursts of Sharwa from the Sherpa porters, smell the musk of yaks and feel the cool thin blades of air in your lungs. Five of the ten tallest peaks in the world are in view. In the midst of them, stabbing the tropopause, stands twenty nine thousand feet of ambivalent murder. Look at that thing. See that knife edge ridge running from the left flank to the summit pyramid? Just being there will kill you, the lack of oxygen starving your lungs until you collapse. One misstep and you’ve got seven thousand feet to regret it. Don’t get me wrong. Everest doesn’t have anything against you. It’s not trying to kill you. It just does. It can’t help it.

You’re merely George Mallory, six feet and a buck-seventy of plain man looking for the first time at 357 trillion pounds of rock and snow and pain. You’ve been on boats and trains and horses and your feet for months. Your head is pounding while your body re-acclimates to the altitude and you’ve got diarrhea from the shrimp you shouldn’t have tried in Kathmandu and in the saddlebag of your pony rests a letter from Ruth telling you your daughters cry every day, missing daddy.

What would you do? Look at that mountain and say it. Tell the truth, it’s okay.

Yep, me too.

George Mallory did not do that. He wrote down his words about what he saw and then closed his journal and stood and said “You hold still sweetheart. Papa will be there directly.” Then he went to the mountain. With hobnail boots and a few layers of cotton and gabardine and wool and rejiggered aviator goggles and homemade oxygen tanks and a lion’s heart, he went to the mountain. Then he went again. Then he went again. And yes, he’s still there.

I like to think of a picture of Ruth Mallory, buried a few inches deep by trembling bluish hands, each year another layer of white over her and by now she’s three feet under. Beneath the feet of Hillary and Norgay and every other man and woman who have stood on the summit of Mount Everest, smiling up at them with a secret she will never tell. “Before any of you, another man was here. My man was here.” It’s nearly impossible she’s there, but if you’ve read 58 Day Miracle you’ll understand why impossibility doesn’t upset my dream of her.

She didn’t want him to go. In the fall of 1923 they had terrific disputes about his final trip in the spring. I doubt she even understood why he had to go. But what I do believe is that, without even knowing why, she loved him for it. She loved the thing in him that would go to the mountain, the thing that would not allow him to turn back at Pang La.

We all have our Pang La, the place from which we catch the first glimpse of the dream of our lives. Most of those views don’t include anything quite so intimidating as an unclimbed Himalayan peak jutting five and a half miles into to sky. But there is something there, and it may be scary or difficult, and we face a choice.

What I hope you find when you come here is writing that goes to the mountain. Brave writing, words with heart. This blog, if it is anything of significance, is my leaving the pass and making for higher ground. I’m weary and every step brings a new doubt, but this picture in my pocket has traveled too far, too long, to rest here.

It was May and warm and when we walked out of the restaurant the hem of the eastern sky had softened, evening coming on. Jodi was five months pregnant and sunflower beautiful and the world was a good place.

This is a true story and a testimony. And, Lord willing, a candle.

At home later we put AJ to bed and huddled together with the tablet and scrolled through memes of animals. We laughed like children, jaws and abs aching with the effort of it. Then we laughed more, at ourselves this time because we realized we were old people, to be so giddy at these simple captioned pictures. We decided it was fine to be old and not cool if it meant we could laugh like this, and we slept.

In the morning she came from the bathroom and told me something was wrong. She said she was “leaking.” I did not know what that meant and I thought she was saying she would need to rest that Saturday. She called her sister. I was brushing my teeth and helping AJ brush when she found me and mouthed, so AJ wouldn’t hear, that her parents were on their way over to pick up AJ and that we needed to go to the hospital.

I remember the drive, specifically my nonchalance. It was a beautiful day, sky clear and blue as any thought that ever took a man by surprise. I pondered what needed to be done around the house when we returned. Did I have enough fertilizer to do the entire yard? Should I get the hedge trimmers out or could that maybe wait a week? Jodi sat beside me quiet and still as a hunted thing, waiting in desperate hope for the shadow to pass by.

The next hours are confetti memories, at once themed and disparate. I recall her in the emergency room of Durham Regional, feet in the stirrups and the doctor holding litmus paper and saying ‘amniotic fluid.’ I recall an IV of something that turned her blood to lava, lobstered her skin and made her sweat like an August marathoner. I recall watching her rolled away by the EMTs for the ambulance ride to Duke, not quite able to name that thing which had been stolen from her eyes. She looked like she would rather be dead than apart from me. I had to get the car and take it to Duke. Fear rode shotgun and confusion blew from the vents and I let myself cry on the way, one time, good and hard. Doctor’s orders: she would be in the hospital and on her back until our second son, Bailey, was born.

Hospital rooms are the darkest bright places on earth, as you well know. For the first few days I sat on the bed or in a chair beside her and held her hand and we prayed in that bright dark. Talked and prayed. Prayed until the words braided together and became one sound then prayed them apart again. Prayed the room full and then opened the window to make space for more. Prayed myself hoarse.

She asked for her laptop and I brought it and she began to type awful, despondent words into Google, things like “birth at 24 weeks,” opening a new package of worry with each set of results. The nurses spoke of the averages. Rupture to birth was usually 12 days. The ultrasound said she still had some fluid around the baby, so she might get a few days more than that. Bleak news, delivered bleakly. She had contractions and they spread the jelly on her stomach and hooked her up to the EFM and I watched the symmetrical mountain ridges etch themselves across the fidgety screen, listened to my son’s heart beat and felt the world draw in around us, the room somehow quieter with that small rhythm than had there been no sound at all.

My (terrific) boss allowed me to work two days in the office and three days in her room. AJ stayed with grandparents most nights, so I was free to go to the hospital after my office days. One evening during the second week I walked in and the laptop, previously a remora attached below her stomach, rested shut on her bedside table. I asked her if the battery had gone dead. She said no, then asked me why we would ask God for miracles and then limit our expectations by researching all of the potential issues with a baby born far too early. Why would we limit God?

I didn’t have a good answer for that.

The next time one of the nurses began to give us another of the averages, Jodi politely explained that she would just as soon not hear any more averages because we weren’t praying to an average God. The moment is pristine in my mind, crystalline.

Time moved like a drunk sloth, but it did move. Jodi watched television and went to the bathroom, and for fun she rolled from her right side to her left. Every four days they had to change her IV needle and location and she learned to ask for specific phlebotomists, those few she knew to be quick and accurate. Her arms still grew to look like a heroin addict’s. Some of those scars remain to this day.

We were twenty eight weeks and counting ourselves blessed even as we asked God for more time. The ultrasounds continued to show the baby was feet down. Worrisome. Ultrasounds were Tuesdays and Thursdays. On a Wednesday night we held hands and went as one with a united heart to the Lord in prayer, asking for him to help the baby turn. That night he was extremely active, so much so that Jodi had trouble sleeping. Thursday’s ultrasound showed that he was head down. We took the news and Jodi cried and we offered thanks and I walked out of the front doors of the hospital into the sun and looked up at the sky in wonder, like the first man in a new world.

At thirty weeks we fought. I don’t recall the reason, but I’m sure it was stupid and my fault. Something she asked me to do that I didn’t want to do. I look back on it now and realize that her entire existence during that time was ‘don’t want to’ and if she’d asked me for my foot as her dinner I should have retrieved a hack saw and inquired as to her preference of dipping sauce. I left the room in a huff, to get dinner or air or something. When I returned, she was bleeding.

The next minutes were a terrible carnival. Hard voices and terse directions, all manner of damnable beeps, Jodi in a wheelchair again, crying again. My heart doing something tribal in my chest, strumming my bones and pounding any calm thoughts out of my head. I wouldn’t have been more panicked with wolves at my heels. We were in her room and then we were in a delivery room as if by teleportation and they began to push fluids through her IV, as they did any time she had contractions. The resident left the room for a few moments to speak with the attending and I looked at Jodi and told her that the baby was not going to be born that night. I thought it was probably a lie, but it needed saying and she seemed to appreciate the words so I kissed her hand and said it again and did my best to put that Daniel Day Lewis level of conviction in my voice. “I will find you.”

It was a night like a week. When the sun rose, Jodi was still pregnant.

Big brother AJ was three and all he knew about hospitals was that they were for really sick people. He’s ten now, and he still occasionally mentions Jodi’s time at Duke. It is obviously the darkest pit in his memory, and I hope it retains that crown always. His bravery and tenacious faith sustained me, and the brief periods we had together were like coming inside to a warm hearth after wanderings in the cold. Watching him enter Jodi’s room to visit was a healing, radiant affirmation of their bond. Watching him leave was an unspeakable heartbreak, as was holding her afterwards while she cried. “Bye mommy. Don’t worry, it’s going to be okay.” His little hand opening and closing in a wave. Every day was a gift and a hardship, and nothing brought the duality into greater relief than AJ’s visits.

By the thirty-second week of her pregnancy we were tired, threadbare souls. We’d made foolish promises to each other and to God, promises of change, if only. He had already delivered on every promise we never knew He made, promises written on the other side of the sky before there was a world under it, but then again that’s His nature and the only shocking thing about it is that we continue to be shocked when He does it. Apparently there was a rotation of doctors on the wing, as we would see one doctor for a week or two and then not again for another week or two. On first rounding after being away, he or she would invariably open the door to Jodi’s room and exclaim “Holy cow, you’re still here! That’s unheard of.” It was the rare enjoyable moment, and when it happened it became our habit to simply look at each other and smile.

Bailey Daniel Hogan was born on the night of July 1, 2007. I had been feeling puny all afternoon, and just before Jodi went into bona fide labor I took my temperature. It was over 100 degrees. After all that time spent holding her hand, I would have to let it go at the finish line and let her cross without me. Her mother, an absolute champion, lept at the opportunity to be with her in the delivery room. I sat in her now empty room with her father and my father and felt like a failure and we said random words to each other and the clock didn’t move. I aged and looked at my hands a lot. I drank water because it felt like a normal thing to do. And I prayed because I had been taught its efficacy, patiently, with love, through every moment since that evening in May.

Little man spent a few hours in the neonatal ICU, after which he was breathing on his own and took, as his mother had some time before, a lonely ambulance ride. He would wait for us in the special care nursery at Alamance Regional Medical Center, where he would learn the art of eating while breathing.

Two days afterward, I wheeled my wife out of the front doors of Duke University Medical Center into the warm North Carolina summer, into a carbon copy of the last day she’d spent outside. It must have been strange for her, being such a new thing, shaped by the currents of trial into something only vaguely reminiscent of the person she’d been, going out into an unchanged world. They said we would get twelve days. If we were fortunate, fifteen. If things went insanely well, twenty. God gave us fifty eight days. By any definition, Bailey Hogan is a miracle.

If there is anything that you understand from our story, please let it be this: when our Lord says “all things are possible,” He means all things. Not only those things the medical professionals advise you to expect. Not only those things which are statistically probable or fit neatly within the bounds of hierarchical evidence. All things. All. Things.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that we received outstanding care at Duke. They were compassionate and prompt and honest and very talented in everything they did for us. We could not have been in better hands. It would also be wrong not to mention the granite support of both sets of grandparents. For two months they raised our son and took care of our house and in general kept the home fires burning. I might have needed therapy anyway, but it’s for sure I would have been there without them.

Lastly, there is the lesson of the strength of a woman. Strength to follow every bit of instruction she was given. They told her to drink fluids. She drank so much water I felt like if I put too much pressure on her skin it might trickle out of her. They told her to stay in the bed and to take her pills and to keep the TED hose on and she did and she did and she did. She loved Bailey more before she ever saw him than some mothers love children they can reach out and touch. She taught me that love is a verb. You don’t feel love. You do love, no matter what it costs you. Some people’s heroes wear uniforms and some wear jerseys and some wear tailored suits. My hero sleeps beside me.

Thank you so much for reading this. If you know someone who would be lifted up by it, I hope you will share it. Oh, and below is a picture of what the 58 day miracle looks like these days.

Jamie

Bailey