She climbed the jeepney at St. Paul’s Hospital–a heavyset woman, in her upper 30s was my guess, though she could’ve been closer to my age, 31, just weathered by a life on the margins of poverty. She beamed from ear to ear. In her arms, a bundle.
The jeep began to move, rumbling down Avenida Veteranos in Tacloban City in the Philippines. Horns honked and exhaust belched and the hot sun seared and sapped all drive.
A passenger next to the woman leaned in. Looked at the bundle. “Natawo ba?” she said. Just born?
“Seven days,” the beaming mother beamed. I leaned in. The baby’s small fist struggled to push against its half open eye. Its mouth hung open, damp, forming invisible words.
I remember, clearly, the day I was born. It was raining, gently. All and everything was a whiteblue kind of haze in my newborn eyes but I recall a dependable beep, beep, beep from somewhere above the thing that was my body my newly separated self my earthly vessel, and the sound of shufflingfeet and of voicewhispers and the touch of big, soft hand-things lifting me heavenward and then setting me down upon the firmament, smell-things tickling my nose, defining for the first time what words like “sterile” and “antiseptic” would mean long later on. My first day of existence.
Actually not. Can’t recall a thing (incidentally, Ray Bradbury claimed he could). But if I could remember, it might be something like that.
Because even though I wouldn’t have had the ability to process any of the sensory junk bombarding my small body, that sensory junk would have to have had an effect. Right? Nature v. Nurture?
Bring it back to baby in a jeep: how much different would it have been if I too had, from day one, been surrounded by honking horns and the smell of exhaust and the jiggle-jerking of public utility vehicles and the hot hot hot sun?
Months before Baby in a Jeep, I accompanied my coworkers to the Mother of Mary Birthing Clinic in downtown. One of our fellow teachers had given birth the day before. So we were visiting.
The Mother of Mary Birthing Clinic was a lonely, abandoned place. Two nurses, not older than twenty, waited at the second floor call desk. Ma’am Liezel was in Room 2, the only occupant. The concrete walls were painted white. Some of the walls were just bare plywood. But it was clean and I smelled antiseptic. It kind of felt like the apocalypse.
Ma’am Liezel sat holding her baby, Kelvin James, breastfeeding now and then. Her mother sat on the adjacent bed and said nothing and her husband, who was in the army [head pictured above, lower-right], sat nearby playing Snakes on his cellphone.
We had brought mangoes to Ma’am Liezel. We set them down on the nightstand and sat down on another vacant bed. My coworkers–all of them women–took turns holding the baby, taking pictures, discussing pregnancy. Two other teachers in the department were pregnant, and the substitute teacher that would cover during maternity leave was, too. Back home, my best friend and his wife were counting the days till their first child, Parker, arrived.
Babies were everywhere and wonderful as they could be, and so I was frequently asked when I, me, Mark would be having a baby of my own.
I’m not sure I ever want to have children. Which makes me incompatible for many potential partners.
I’m not sure I ever want to have children partly because the world’s resources are already stressed, partly because I fear I’d be a father-failure, but mostly because I fear I wouldn’t be a father-failure, that I’d be the best father I could be. And that would mean changing so much about my life. Putting time and energy into a child would mean foregoing time and energy for my own personal development. Scaling back all the things that currently bring me true joy. That make me feel alive. The same reason makes me anxious about the whole marriage thing.