Jared Witt - December 25, 2018
“Just let me call my Dad, Joe. We’re not that far out yet. He’ll come over and jump the battery. It’s not that big of a deal.”
“No, Em, we don’t need him. We’re not that far out. Someone’ll come by.”
She snapped back, “Yeah, That’s the thing, I don’t want someone to come by. What sort of people do you think come by off a random interstate fifteen miles out of town at 11:45 at night in the snow?”
“Ok, great. Yeah. So let’s drag your Dad out of bed. It’ll still be another half hour by the time he gets dressed and gets to us. Then he can come teach me all about proper car maintenance. One lecture down, before we even get there. What a perfect way to start the weekend."
Unbelievable. Of course this would happen now. It couldn’t happen way off in Tulsa, where they wouldn’t have to get her parents involved. Right here. Of Course. His eight months pregnant fiancée sitting in the cold as proof of his incompetence.
“Joe, I’m worried though. I actually feel a bit weird, I…”
“Hang on. I’m calling. You wanted me to call? I’m calling…”
"Hey, Mr. Miller? Listen…no, not quite there yet. Actually, here’s the rub…No, no. We are still coming this year. Almost there, actually. But, um…you know how your car is supposed to have gas in it?...I. Yes, everybody knows that. Of course. Was just trying to make light of uh…Doesn’t matter. We’re…yeah. Yes…We’re off exit 68. Yeah, the one just past Ennis. Thank you, sir. And, I’m…Really…Thank Sir. I’m sorry? Oh. Yep. See you in a bit. Mmbye.
He struggled to zip his phone up in a coat pocket.
Joe tended to imagine each encounter with his now-soon-to-be father-in law like a sort of prolonged boxing match. And he was losing badly.
Round 1 was Christmas 2014. What a banner year, that was. Apparently, four years of grad school and advanced degrees in music performance and Baroque music history isn’t that impressive to someone when they’re considering the prospect of their daughter pairing off with you and your jazz clubbing musician’s income.
Christmas 2015, was round 2. How was he supposed to know that Uncle Mike was the family black sheep and the fact that he kept getting offered Peppermint Schnapps didn’t necessarily mean that that was an accepted norm at a Miller family Christmas gathering?
Round 3, 2016. That was…
Ok, that probably came out a little harsher than he intended. But everyone has a breaking point.
Ever since the…quote… “Good news” last April, he’d been jumping whenever she said jump like some stuttering butler. Granted he’d never been pregnant himself, and he was happy to pitch in a little more because of it. But last he checked, it wasn’t some sort of disability. Two minutes of quiet to sit on the hood of his car and reflect on some things shouldn’t be too much to ask.
Anyway, 2016. That was a fun year. Had to Facetime Mara’s parents in late October and explain to them how after flying out to see Joe’s own family for Thanksgiving, she no longer had enough vacation time saved up for them to drive down for Christmas. Somehow, of course, that became an indirect commentary on Joe’s own lack of fore-planning. Everything always did.
2017. Ahh-ha-ha, 2017. Naively, he’d thought at one point that that was gonna be his round. Judges decision. TKO. For sure. Earlier that year Joe had finally sold out and got his first big kid job. Music Director for four Munson county middle schools. The commute was pretty much infinite, and the wages were, frankly, worse than he used to make gigging. But, hey, he had a 401k. And healthcare…Briefly. But later that year, a decree went out from the superintendent that even more staffing cutbacks were coming down the line. Ohh…Say, no more. Joe knew instantly who that was gonna fall on, and it wasn’t gonna be the math department. Actually, the less said about that, the better.
But this…This was to going to be the year that he finally put his best foot forward. Earlier that summer, he’d just been at the right time and right place when a sax player he used to gig with, who had started taking classes at a nearby liberal arts college, mentioned they were a bit short in their music department. I guess it’s not whatchya know, right? The pay was still bogus and his talents were…we’ll say…under-utilized with a bunch of French literature undergrads, but hey, “Associate Professor” soundbites a little better with the in-laws than “studio musician.” But no. now his aging Volvo needed to sabotage him too.
The brisk wind almost didn’t bother him as he sat there and stared off in night time reverie. If he were to just start walking off into the dark, toward the thin horizontal seam between black and white, would anyone bother too much with it? Tempting.
“Mara! You wanted me to call your father? I called him. He gets to rub my nose in it. You get to watch. Everyone wins. What more can I possibly do for you!?
“No, Joe, it’s not that. It’s…I think my...I’m pretty sure my…”
“Cool. Awesome. Perfect. Handle it. I’m trying to think.”
Like it wasn’t enough to withstand three days of veiled criticisms and passive aggressive comments on “the importance of self-sufficiency” and the “sacred bond of wedlock.” Now he could nod his head receptively to lots of helpful advice on the literal stupidest thing about car maintenance that every seven year old knows.
Whatever. Maybe at this point he could just play the “club-circuit-made-me-deaf” card until the old man got tired of repeating himself and they could just go their separate ways for the weekend.
“Joey, I…I think I’m contracting.”
“Yeah. I know. You’re…Wait…You’re…Contracting!? Like you’re…?”
And suddenly, clarity. Focus. Single-mindedness.
Make your way to the trunk.
Find the right key.
Doesn’t matter. Concentrate.
Blankets for warmth.
Throw over shoulder.
Open passenger’s side door.
“Hey, Maybe we should go into the back seat where there’s more room? No? Yeah? Ok.
Help her out.
Pull passengers seat forward for more room.
Now, give her your shoulder.
The snow can be slippery.
Open back door.
Lay out blankets.
Help her in.
Grab more blankets.
Walk around to other side.
Give her something to lean against.
Provide some warmth.
Massage her shoulders.
Tell her she’s doing great.
“Your doing great.”
Tell her she’s doing so good.
“You’re doing so good.”
“Joey, I think it’s happening.”
Tell her it’s all going to be ok.
“It’s all going to be ok.”
Tell her to push.
Someone’s voice off in the distance.
No. Call him by his first name.
“Jim, we’re right over here”
“What’s going on. Mara, are you? Is it?”
“Jim, here’s what I need you to do."
"What's going on here?"
"Jim, listen to me. I need you to walk around to my side of the car. Sit here just like this so she can lean against you. Make sure she’s warm.”
“But...Is she? I’ve never. I don’t know how to…”
"Just sit here. Just like this. That's it."
Step out of car.
Walk to other side.
“Joey, I can’t. I don’t think I can.”
Tell her she has to. She’s doing so good. And we’re almost there.
“Mara, baby, you have to. You’re doing so good. And we’re almost there.
Tell her to give three more good pushes.
“Mara, I’m going to count out three times. With each time. I need you do give me the strongest push you can.”
Tell her she can.
Tell her you love her and you believe in her.
“I love you so so much. We’re almost there. I believe in you. Ready?”
He stared directly into her eyes as he said it. There was nothing else going on in the entire world. She stared back.
"Alright. So good. We're going to do that again, k?"
He felt the new weight in his hands. Heavier than he expected. But still so tiny.
He looked up. Looked down. Looked up again.
He saw almost the most shocking part of the whole scene. Jim Miller was in tears.
Mara was more radiant and beautiful than ever. Exhausted. Eye-liner running. Strands of hair stuck to her sweaty face. And radiantly beautiful. Beatific somehow.
He looked down again at the new life now in his hands.
Just then, something made sense to him for the first time. Something he hadn’t thought of in years. A line. A verse he remembered from childhood.
“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.”
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