In the next day or so, I’ll be submitting Weed Therapy for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. I’m in the middle of my final read through of the manuscript. I thought I’d share a bit with you tonight … maybe a little more tomorrow as well.
I believe that I cried at some point when Spence was born. When I first held him. When I showed him to Holly the first time. At some other point in the process of getting to know him in his first hours of life. Somewhere in there I cried. I know it. I no longer can remember that detail. What happens when I start to lose the other details?
Standing in the doorway, watching Jorge and the villagers take care of his wife, I knew that Señora Contreras was right and that Father Santos had been right to insist that I witness the miracle of life. There is nothing more beautiful than the birth of a baby. No more perfect sound than the first cries of a healthy baby leaving the security of its mother’s womb. No deeper love than the absolutely unconditional love felt at that moment. No better hope than the hope for the future.
As Ofelia’s cries became more frequent, the occupants in the front room grew quiet. The storm outside, however, ignored what was happening in that little house. At times, the walls shook from the force of the wind. Small puddles formed on the floor along the same walls where rain found its way in the house and had begun to collect. Gusts of wind found cracks to wiggle through and whip the flames of the candles.
No one noticed. We were focused on Ofelia’s ordeal. With each new contraction, silence would take over. Silence except for her groans and screams, Jorge’s quiet mutterings of support, and Señora Contreras’ cries to “empuje.” Father Santos was there, praying quietly in a corner of the bedroom with his rosary out, the words passing soundlessly through his lips as his fingers passed from bead to bead.
The waiting was rewarded, through Ofelia’s screams and wails, by a new cry that pierced the hot, humid air and announced the arrival of Santo Cielo’s newest resident. A little girl, held up in Jorge’s hands for all to see. The shimmering of the candles reflected off the blood and other body fluids that coated her. In the candlelit room, with the mother of all storms battering the village, she was a thing of beauty. As the newborn baby wailed and her fists trembled, a hush that was so deep it swallowed the sounds of the storm outside swept through the house.
As Jorge brought his baby to his chest to wrap in his thick arms, a woman handed him a blanket. Newly swathed in the blanket, the baby found a warm spot in the crook of her father’s arm. Jorge’s lips moved as he looked at his new daughter, but as close as I was, I could not hear what he was saying. I knew though that for the next minute or two Jorge was totally alone with his daughter. His world had narrowed to a small sliver in which the two of them were the only people who existed. Even his wife, who I am sure he loved dearly, was for that brief period of time, absent from his thoughts and his world. In that moment it would have been impossible to pry his little daughter from Jorge’s arms.
Father Santos finally approached Jorge. “Por favor,” he said to Jorge. A huge smile spread across the old man’s face as he guided Jorge by the elbow towards a basin of water on the top of a dresser. Father Santos began to pray quietly. He dipped his fingers in the water in the basin and began to dab it on the baby’s forehead. Once he finished his prayers, he bent down slightly and kissed the spot that he had just anointed with the holy water.
“Felicitaciones!” Father Santos exclaimed, the smile returning to his face. He asked Jorge a question I did not understand. Jorge leaned down towards his wife and asked her the same question. She whispered something to him and Jorge repeated it to the priest, “Maria Alberta.”
“Bueño. Muy bueño, Jorge y Ofelia. Maria Alberta.” Father Santos looked up then and saw me watching. “Señor Rockwell, they have named their new baby, a blessing for us all, Maria Alberta. Maria to honor the Lady of Guadalupe and Alberta in honor of Señor Contreras, who was also beloved in our little village.”
The thought of the years of happiness ahead for Jorge and his wife overwhelmed me. I rolled through my personal mental video of the early years of each of my kids’ lives. The first steps, the first words. Hugs and heartfelt words of joy and pain that only small children can feel and express with unguarded emotion.
I thought of the first time I held Spence in my arms and felt what it truly meant to feel unconditional love, a feeling that went away all too quickly a few years later when the baggage that piles up in any parent-child relationship began to accumulate. I still loved Spence, even with my daily frustration at his teenage behavior, but the pure innocence and overwhelming joy of those first few years of childhood no longer existed for me. Looking at Jorge and his new family, a wave of happiness for him swept through me at the same time I realized I would never again experience what he was about to go through.
“Señor?” Father Santos asked, stepping towards me.
I waved him away. “No. Don’t worry, Father Santos. I’m okay.” He had been right in his claim that little Maria Alberta was a blessing for the entire village. She was a gift not just to her parents but to all of them. “These are tears of happiness for Jorge and Ofelia and little Maria. You were right.”
I turned and walked back towards the front door. There was nothing left for me to do in Jorge’s home. It was time, instead, for me to return home and find out if I could re-discover that magic with my own family.
I let myself out of the house. To the east, there was an expanding thread of light on the horizon formed by the sun trying to force its way through the darkness of the storm, which was beginning to weaken. The rain no longer fell in horizontal sheets. The trees stood a little taller. The racket of the storm was not so powerful that it drowned out my own thoughts.