The 5:00 am phone call arrived—like out of a script—my son’s frantic voice—“we’re on our way to the hospital…contractions are 15 minutes apart.” Slam goes the phone and as if on cue, the light in the room begins to change. The first tentative wisps of dawn creep through the spaces between the curtains and the floor. I can make out the chair now against the window, the candles on the dresser, objects coming into view one infinitesimal streak of light at a time. This day is coming. This day is coming now. This day I will become a grandmother.
The script continues without a flaw. My ex-husband, my son’s father, calls within minutes and for the first time since we collapsed in pieces several decades earlier, we are once again in perfect harmony. Arrangements have already been discussed and agreed upon some weeks ago. Plane tickets already purchased with open-ended dates, to be used for this very occasion. “I’ll be over in about 45 minutes” he confirms, as we double-check the time on our respective clocks, check, check, plane leaves Oakland at 7:35 a.m., should arrive in L.A. around 8:30, after car rental, drive to hospital, we should be there by 9:30, 10 the latest. Check, check.
You’d think we’d been doing this kind of thing all along, such a couple of pros we are at getting through the particulars of day to day life. We are seamless. We are hyper-responsible, sensible, competent adults. There was a time we had it all. And look at us now, as good as strangers for the past three decades and we’re not even fully awake yet. But still we are able to arrange, agree, anticipate, move together like one well-oiled body—half-male, half-female—in time-lapse efficiency toward a common goal.
We even look alike, or else we did back then. Kind of shortish, kind of Eastern-European semetic-ish, kind of average but not so average that we didn’t store high level explosives deep inside our souls, able to destroy whole families with the slightest shift of heart.
And now we are becoming grandparents, some thirty years post-divorce, the tears and shit and venom all but flushed away (and almost forgotten,) driving together to the airport on a misty February morning, he opens the door for me, I adjust my seatbelt, we chat about something, I can’t recall what, and when silence falls it is a comfortable, polite silence, all threads between us severed save this one.
We are going to be grandparents today. That is what we talk about. We are going to meet the first child of our first child, and I imagine that when that hour finally finds us, we will most likely hug each other and cry familiar tears, taking turns passing our new generation back and forth and back again, in ecstatic pride, as though we had earned this victory.
The airplane ride was uneventful. Belts buckled, we sat side by side and anyone looking at us would have seen a nice middle-aged couple taking some kind of routine trip they’d taken hundreds of times before. He ordered Dr. Pepper and I was immediately jolted with recognition of his favorite drink. He asked me if I wanted spicy tomato, he hadn’t forgotten, and now it was impossible for me to remember if the divorce had actually happened after all. “You remembered,” I said, and then regretted saying, feeling that thin line of familiarity tugging at the still-tender place where he ripped his life out from under me.
We sailed through the Avis line, he had made all the arrangements, like he always did, and I waited on the side, keeping watch of the luggage, like I always did, almost smug in our familiarity, we arrived just in time to hear that our daughter-in-law’s 8th centimeter had just opened. Our son raced out of the labor room, breathless with the news, it wouldn’t be much longer now, “Mom, Dad” he cried out, falling into our arms, “you’re here” he cried, “we’re here” we hugged, as though we had been there all along.
The oldest is going to be ten this year. Three more grandchildren followed and we were together at the hospital for each and every one, pacing in the waiting room, bringing one another cups of coffee, making idle chit chat, the old familiar ache disguised with impressive efficiency.
In between those miraculous grandchild landmarks, nothing. Not so much as a peep. We are strangers now, and if I look at it hard enough, I see that we were strangers back then too. Still, the moment of becoming grandparents erases everything but the one indomitable chord that still has the power to catch at our skin and pull it raw.