The Cruel Magic of "What if"

"Was that what I thought it was?"
“I’m pretty sure. We’re going to have a baby.” Tamara smiled.
"So, it really makes that noise?"
black and white drawing of a man and woman napping in bed. The woman is pregnant. Drawing by David Borden from the Graphic Novel: And Yet We Rise. copyright 2017
Image from And Yet We Rise by David Borden
I gathered up the suitcases and other things I'd been assigned. I emerged from my home office, hands weighted with paraphernalia.Tamara stood just outside our bedroom. She wore one of those pregnant dresses.The sun glowed around her.

We’re going to have a baby,” she said again with an excited giggle.

It makes me anxious to relive this moment now. I can see her standing in that hallway, aglow with the omnipresent African sun, full to bursting with love and the expectations of happiness. Her eyes sparkled with the tears of ecstatic anticipation.

Unfortunately, I know how this story turns out, so it's like watching some innocent bunny rabbit in the Agadir market about to get its neck wrung. For years I found it necessary to turn away from scenes like this, bright moments that belie the ugly spectacle of the next decade, in which I chose to endure my experiences rather than live them.

However, it seems that enough time has passed that I can wander this painful road again in order to understand where I have traveled.

black and white image of a pregnant woman rubbing her belly.
"rubbing her abdomen"
The cool spring air-- joy spread across her face, one hand rubbing her abdomen, stretched to nine months. Sometimes, when I used to think about that afternoon, I would wish I could conjure the magic of “what if.” What if I could stop the story right here? What if I had done one tiny, little thing differently, would that one alternate choice, no matter how small, have been enough to send us off on a different, happier trajectory through the cruel statistics of space and time? Sometimes, I wish to savor this moment, hold it, caress it, and perhaps even live in it for a while as I am doing now: the bright afternoon, the curtains billowing, the ocean breeze, and the perfect baby on the cusp of punching through the dream world and entering ours. Nothing could stop us in that moment, we were invincible. We had come to North Africa five years earlier with a couple of suitcases; now we operated a successful language center. Having this baby, who would grow to perfection, would add one more great achievement to our list. We would return to the States, triumphant, our sojourn over, to conquer our native land, too.

At least that was the plan.

We set out for the clinic with a jolt from the clutch and a lurching cloud of sooty smoke from our Peugeot 309. I shared the streets with a shock of mopeds, scooters, bicycles, donkey carts, sad mules with blinders, cars in all states of disrepair, buses with greasy windows, and trucks with elaborate, hand painted trim of scarlet, cobalt, and lemon. Over the years I had learned not to fight the chaotic traffic any longer, but feel its natural ebb and flow and assimilate into its herky-jerky action. We drove through Agadir: the whitewashed cement buildings of the Talborjt neighborhood rushed by, packed together like over-sized building blocks, rebar sprouting from the roof tops, carpets hanging over the sides like tattooed tongues, brightly colored first floor awnings, proclaiming the names of business, and people-- people milling around everywhere dressed in traditional djalabas or suits or T-shirts.  They sat outside the ubiquitous cafes soaking up espresso and syrup-sweet, mint tea.

We arrived at the Clinique Tilila, a small private hospital surrounded by a garden of well-irrigated oleander in full bloom. Throughout Morocco, native oleanders grow wild wherever they can tap into even a hint of water, squeezing up between curbs and sidewalks or straddling hardscrabble riverbeds.  The locals called them “tilila,” hence the name of the clinic. Ironically, this cheery bush, erupting with brilliant flowers is the most toxic of commonly cultivated garden plants. We walked through the tall grove of tilila heedless to their omen, their lesson, that great beauty can hide a tragic secret within.

This is article 3 in a series. Read the first article: Parenting a Disabled Child: The Realities of Life and Death.

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