The beeping. The ceaseless beeping.

Nah, beep is the wrong word. ‘Beep’ is related to ‘boop,’ as in ‘beep-boop,’ which is the noise the crosswalk signal made for me every time I beckoned its services on the journey between the Ronald McDonald House and the hospital in Virginia, which stuck in my head and I would greet Alex with my own rendition of the tune, beep-boop, beep-boop, when I first got to see him in the morning, which eventually got shortened and stuck as a nickname for him, my little boop. The noise from Alex’s oxygen monitor is not a beep, it is more akin to a klaxon, signaling the imminent arrival of an enemy torpedo, and its alarm is never expected and always heart-punchingly shocking. I grew to almost completely ignore the alarms of the NICU, but this thing still sets my teeth a-grinding.

For the first few weeks we had another noisy interloper in our living room, an oxygen converter that sounded like a low-power hair dryer that also had to take a breath every three seconds, which sounds obnoxious but I quickly grew to enjoy the white noise of it. Alex got switched to a regular (giant) oxygen tank when the pulmonologist weaned him from 1/8 of a liter per minute to 1/16, which the converter couldn’t really handle with precision. So now it’s silent as clapperless bells at night, and when the klaxon declares an imminent nuclear invasion the sound is near shit-inducing. And it’s never genuine, is the thing. Every movement Alex makes reduces the machine’s ability to garner an accurate reading, and Alex likes to move a lot, these days, especially when he’s upset, during which moments a genocidal alarm is never a welcome addition.

Sometimes I wonder if I screwed up this perfect little homecoming for us. There was a day not long after Alex’s last (fingers crossed) urinary tract infection where the doctor wanted to wean his settings a bit on the NiPPV, and I pushed him to wean them even more. Because he’d been down to a quarter of a liter already, before the infection caused him to crash a bit and his breathing support to spike, so I was confident that he could quickly return to his previous state. But, against my doctor’s and my wife’s better judgment, the doctor did agree to try skipping a few steps and putting him back on the hi-flow, just to see how he handled it. 

It turned out he handled it well, and his oxygen needs were so low by the time we transferred the doctors actually stopped weaning him a day or two before, because they figured we’d be going home on oxygen and they don’t send people home on less than 1/8 anyway, so why take him down only to bring him back up. At our new hospital they never tried weaning him, seeing as he was already on 1/8, and our first pulmonologist appointment wasn’t for a few weeks after our discharge, so while we were seeing daily adjustments to his oxygen levels for a long while, it took about a month for them to get adjusted again. I wonder now if I’d just kept my mouth shut, the weaning in Virginia might have been slower, and so once in Savannah the doctors could’ve been responsible for seeing to the wean themselves, and if they had been the ones to say let’s go down to 1/8 today, maybe they would’ve taken him further. Maybe we could’ve been off oxygen when we went home.

All of which is fruitless speculation, but you guys, I really, really hate the tether. I long for the ability to carry my son around the house, the way a prisoner must long as he looks outside through a barred window. Do you remember the late eighties/early nineties cordless phone revolution? Imagine if suddenly all phones were corded again, and also you were always on a phone call, literally always, every minute of every day, either you or your wife or a trusted grandparent had to be on that phone call, always. Just get a longer cord, yeah, no, it’s not the same thing. If I’m by myself and I suddenly have to take a deuce, like an emergency BM, there is no pause button. My only option is to set the phone down and be quick about it and hope the caller doesn’t notice I’m gone, or say anything really important, besides.

My child is just over seven pounds, now. Meaning I could still probably throw him higher into the air than his cordage would allow. 

Today he is six months old. 

I don’t feel like a father yet. I feel like I have a really compliant pet on a permanent leash in the living room. I know I don’t feel like a father yet because I walked out into the garage the other day and saw the camping tent we’ve never actually used, but we did loan out to someone once. Usually seeing the tent makes me jealous that our brand-new tent from our wedding registry got deflowered by a couple not ourselves, but this time I saw it and realized I’d get to take Alex camping one day, and excitement fairly leapt like a flame within me, and I wanted to run back inside and tell him quick that camping is a thing, that sometimes humans see fit to sleep outdoors with nothing between themselves and the elements but thin sheets of nylon and polyethylene, ceiling and floor, respectively, and we build fires, and sit in uncomfortable folding chairs or on felled logs or crossed-legged in the dirt, and we don’t have television there, or cell phone reception, and we are content to be entertained by the dancing of arboreal combustion and the chorus of the night. And by each other, I guess, if anyone can think of anything to say that’s worth saying.

Real fatherhood probably has moments like this happening all the time, I expect. Currently I spend time at home with him the way we spent time at the hospital, which is to say there’s a lot of sitting and holding and diaper changing and staring and wondering how much he looks like me, because I really can’t tell at all, I can’t see it, and staring more intently doesn’t help. We have two Moby wraps, I guess a his and a hers? but my current favorite daydream is imagining him strapped to my chest with said forty-by-three foot section of cloth, and we just, do things. We go check the mail. We step out into the backyard, where my spider friends live, and I can point them out to him and show him something younger than he is, and, because this is Georgia—the Australia of the US, apparently—will soon be larger. We get sick of folding laundry and so I stand up and walk out to the street after dark and I point up at the moon and say look. Moon. Fifty years ago, people walked on that, which is amazing because not only is it 239,000 miles away, but also in 1969, humans had only possessed Lite-Brite technology for two years. And six years later, everyone started carrying around rocks as pets, do you understand what I’m saying, what backwards, neolithic, atavistic, mouth-breathing troglodytes we were at the time? And yet we got to the moon?

Today my son is six months old, and I do not take that for granted. I am thankful for every single person’s good words and support along the way, every single one of you, and I’m also thankful to those who’ve been following and never said anything, because you don’t have to, I know you’re out there and you’re busy people too and I can see the view count on these entries tick-tick-tick higher, and it makes me feel heard, and makes me believe my son is loved and admired, which is no less than he deserves. Thank you for the gifts, for the adorable and snarky and sometimes sharky clothes, and the vast library that Alex now has, which grew so fast I think it made me subconsciously uneasy about my own, or anyway this week for some reason I suddenly felt the urge to start updating my Goodreads account after like nine years of inactivity. I am thankful to the friends who remember to check in on me no matter how bad I am about remembering to check back, and to the patrons who enabled us to survive this long without exploding our meager financial stability into utter ruin. I don’t know why you did that for us but you did that for us, and we needed it more than I knew. So thank you.

We qualify for public assistance, based on my wife’s salary and my lack of one. Alex does, too, based on his low birth weight, which means he gets Medicaid, which means he also qualifies for WIC on his own merits, and that’s all we want to use it for, anyway, is formula, mostly. But I had to stop into the Department of Family and Children Services on Thursday to see about our Medicaid application, and it was a sobering reminder of how much it costs to be poor. The building was seemingly modern, four or five stories and about as wide and deep as your average Walmart, but the people there to seek assistance were all crowded into a single waiting area on the first floor. The lady at the door couldn’t give me a quick answer and said I had to take a number, which turned out to be almost seventy spots behind the ticket being currently served. I sat there and read the last quarter of a novel as all the people around me commented on how absurd the service was, how they didn’t care, or show any semblance of expediency (which I didn’t agree with), how they shut down all the windows but one for lunch (which I did), how they really really wanted to just leave but couldn’t because they had to get their issues taken care of. Many did leave, including about thirteen or so tickets immediately before my number, which is how I got called after only two and a half hours. It was not lost on me that if I’d had a job I wouldn’t have been getting paid for this time, and the time I lost I consider no less valuable because my baby boy will only be a baby for so long, and this two and a half hours is a significant percentage of that total, and if I’m going to spend it elsewhere it better be damned important, or utilitarian, or both.

Like going to a coffee shop and writing. That is important to me. I’d like it to be pragmatic, too. Relevant, supportive of our future. Would that I could make money off of this. I’m half-tempted to start a Patreon, or sell ad space.

Instead I will try to get back to the novel, see if maybe finishing that will pay some literal dividends. With any luck, it will not take me another month-plus to get back here and write some more.

3 responses to “Tether”

  1. Book and father of Boop… love your writing! I found a sweet photo of you as a boy Aaron. Maybe six? Will send soon as I’m finished house sitting. I see Alex in that photo. Love all these photos!!


  2. I meant to say Boop and father of Boop…


  3. Keep writing, I want to read a Fortkamp novel. 👍


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