Today is Rachel’s 25th birthday. I have not seen her since Jordan was being released from the hospital with a broken leg in early May of last year. It was not a pretty scene. Since that meeting, there have been one or two ugly text exchanges. It is a broken relationship. Likely beyond repair. I hope not.
Still, on her birthday, I can remember her coming into the world at 409-B Wakefield in the upstairs corner bedroom of the townhouse her mother and I moved into when we got married in 1987. I remember being splashed full in the face with the amniotic fluid as she crowned and her head emerged from Jackie’s body. I can remember how hot she felt, and how red she looked, and I remember the way she smelled. And I remember how tremendously relieved and grateful to God I felt that she and her mother were safe and sound and alive.
Rachel was born on a Saturday. So, a few minutes after her birth, I drove around the corner to the beauty shop where Jackie rented a booth and cut hair to let them know she wouldn’t be in to keep her appointments. I parallel parked along Montford in front of the shop and when a complete stranger climbed out of the car behind me, I beamed and shared the news with him that I was a father, that my wife had just given birth at home to a beautiful, healthy baby girl. If I’d had a cigar, I certainly would have offered him one.
She was absolutely perfect, even when she looked at us sideways from her tiny eye slits. Her first nickname was “Sideglance”. Perhaps she never really trusted us, even from the beginning.
Early attempts at breast-feeding her proved futile. Both she and Jackie just couldn’t get the hang of it at first. To make sure she stayed hydrated and got some nutrition, Jackie pumped milk which I fed to her using a syringe and a tube run along the tip of my index finger. Her hard little gums would clamp my finger and when she sucked, the milk would flow through that tube. I stayed awake with her in my lap in the downstairs chair the whole first night of her life, changing her wet diapers and feeding her with that finger tube when she’d wake up hungry.
I was so proud of my little girl. And I loved her as hard and as well as any father has ever loved. As I write this with tears streaming down my cheeks, I’m still not sure what happened. I don’t even know when the train left the tracks. It’s heart wrenching and almost more than I can comprehend that something that began with such grace has become something so filled with hurt and bitterness.
There’s nothing clever to say in summation. Happy 25th Birthday, Rachel. I still love you, Daddy.