This was our first night home from the hospital, my wife recovering from her C-section, and something was wrong. Our baby cried right till dawn, only taking a breath to be fed when I carried him to his mother’s breast in the darkness. Then I’d hold him to my shoulder and pat his tiny back, though he never burped or spit up. Instead, a labored grunting noise would come from his small mouth near my ear, and then he’d start crying again. What was strange was how he felt against me. I’d held babies before, most recently my youngest half-sister, and in my arms she felt soft and pliant, too pliant, and I was always careful to cradle her head and neck against my palm. I did the same with our newborn son, too, except there was something about his torso; it was his stomach; it felt as hard and bloated as a wineskin about to burst.
Early the next morning I called my brother Jeb and told him I wouldn’t be in till the afternoon. We were remodeling a house in Charlestown. My younger brother, a far more skilled and experienced carpenter, was my boss.
“Everything all right?”
“Our baby needs a checkup.”
I did not want to tell him that we feared something was wrong with our son. To say this would make it true.
Later that morning, his pediatrician examined him and told us he just needed to “pass gas.”
I said: “Then why won’t he?”
Our doctor shrugged. “Give him some time.”
We took her at her word.
When my wife, Fontaine, got pregnant, we’d been married nearly three years. She’s a modern dancer and choreographer, and those years she also worked as a part-time dance instructor and self-employed upholsterer of furniture. We lived north of Boston in a small apartment in the house of her former high school art teacher. In the basement, Fontaine had a workbench and a sewing machine and some nights when I came home from my own jobs as a carpenter and adjunct writing teacher, I’d find her down there tying down the springs of a wingback chair, or pulling buttons back through a frame to create diamond tufts in a brocaded fabric that often cost more per yard than we’d let ourselves spend on gas for our one car, an old VW. We never made much money, but it was enough.
It was a life of making things: a dance performance, a short story or novel, a chair, a deck, a new kitchen or bathroom which sometimes paid me a bonus that Fontaine and I would then blow at a restaurant with friends, many of whom spent their days making things, too. She and I made love quite often, and we ended up making this baby, Austin Christopher Dubus. The afternoon she told me she was pregnant, I was lying on the couch in our small living room trying to summon the will to get to my writing desk. It was early spring, a cold rain falling outside, and I’d already spent over eight hours demolishing a bathroom, hauling out the old sink, toilet, and bath, ripping horsehair plaster and lathe down to the studs, clearing between the bays the shredded newspapers used for insulation a hundred years ago. I wore a mask over my face for the lime dust, and I’d taken my flat bar and yanked every square-cut nail from each stud before ripping up the half-rotted floor planks over the joists, exposing ancient pipes for the plumber coming first thing in the morning.
That winter and spring I worked for Yaron. He was an Israeli who’d been in the army when the Egyptians bombed them in the desert. He had deep eyes, long black hair, and a mustache, and he would’ve been handsome if not for his shoulders, which were forever hunched as if he was still bracing himself to be blown to bits. He had a heavy accent, and his constant answer to any question about work or life was: “Why? It’s not worth it. It’s just not worth it.”
Yaron was married and lived with his wife and two young daughters in a cul-de-sac in the north end of town, an antiseptic neighborhood of nearly identical houses with matching two-car garages. Every morning at six-forty-five he would pick me up in his Taurus (No truck. “It’s not worth it,” he’d say. “My materials are delivered.”), and we’d ride to the job site together. I was thirty-two years old, and he was ten years older than that. One gray morning, both of us sipping from Styrofoam cups of hot coffee, he told me about the black-and-white photographs he used to take in Europe, how he had an exhibition of them once in London, how that’s what he’d thought his life would be, a life of art.
“I fucked my wife and had two kids.”
He shrugged and changed the subject. I couldn’t imagine using that word when it came to making love with my wife, and he may have started talking about the job, about strapping and Sheetrock and electrical outlets, things that honestly bored me. I’d been doing construction work off and on since leaving college, but I never felt called to do it. Those years I wasn’t even that good at it. When I began writing fiction in my early twenties, I made the decision to avoid jobs where there was room for advancement up some invisible ladder to greater responsibilities and more money. I was afraid they would define me and my life and would rob me of the time and energy I’d need to teach myself to write. Also, I preferred to write in the mornings, so I often took night jobs, working as a halfway house counselor, an office cleaner, a bartender, and for six months when I was twenty-two, I worked for a private investigator and bounty hunter.
The last job I’d had before I got married was as head bartender at an Irish pub in our small town on the Merrimack River. I worked four nights a week and had seven mornings to myself, but Fontaine’s life happened during the day, and I did not want us to be on two different schedules, never seeing much of each other. I’d also just published my first book. It was a collection of short stories that very few people bought or read, though this did not surprise me or even disappoint me much; that manuscript had been rejected by more than thirty publishers, and I was happy just to hold that book in my hands. I was also happy trying to write the novel my agent was in his second year of sending around. And now I was trying to write another one, a better one, though lying on that couch after another day with unhappy Yaron doing unhappy work, my body tired and heavy, I was beginning to feel my work life had taken a wrong turn. Soon it would be dark, a time I associated with going to a job after I’d spent the day writing, but now I was giving the best part of each day to ripping out toilets or hauling away old kitchen cabinets or nailing roof shingles on the gable of some lawyer’s guesthouse in a misty rain. There were far worse problems to have, I knew, but I could feel the novel I was working on begin to slip away like a boat whose bowline I no longer had the strength to hold with both hands. And that’s the moment my wife walked into the living room from the bathroom, smiling, her long curly black hair held back into a loose ponytail, a turquoise scarf around her neck. She looked so beautiful to me then that I did not at first take in what she had just said.
Her eyes filled. She held up something short and white. “You’re a daddy.”
My body seemed to move on its own. I was up off the couch, holding her and kissing her and telling her positive words I do not now remember, though I know I felt like a liar saying them; in no time I’d be Yaron, my life of art forever behind me as I drove slope-shouldered from one job site to another, sipping bad coffee, telling the young man beside me that nothing good is worth doing, “Believe me, it’s just not worth it.”
I was wrong, of course. If I’ve ever been more wrong about anything in my life, I do not know what it is. Almost immediately, within minutes of her telling me, it seemed, I could only see this big, new thing in our lives as good; I loved my wife, she loved me, and we would find a way to make room for this baby we’d made. I brewed coffee and opened my notebook and got to work.
Daddy. It’s not something I ever thought of being. I had a hunch not many other men gave it much thought either. You fall in love, you make love, and one day or night your wife turns to you in bed and says, “I want a baby.”
“If you do.”
“But don’t you?”
“It’s just not something I’ve ever thought much about.”
But in one way I had. Like too many people, I come from a broken family. When I met Fontaine (and the first time I saw her she was performing on stage), I knew I would marry her. This was not so much a wish of mine as a knowledge, as if what I felt for her was music and the only dance for it was marriage, an institution that pulled me back to a dark time, my mother and father yelling at each other, throwing pots and pans, swearing, crying, this going on for months and months till that early Sunday morning in November when we four kids in pajamas followed our father out to his car before he drove away. When I heard the word marriage, yes, I thought of kids – hurt kids, lost kids, kids believing if they’d only been better kids their mother and father would still be together, kids who pretended it wasn’t their fault.
“I really want a baby, honey. I want to go off the pill, okay?”
A few days after she told me this, I drove to my father’s nine miles east. He lived alone in a small house on a hill overlooking a two-lane road and the rise of a grassy slope, its ridge a thick stand of maple trees. Six years earlier my father had pulled over on the highway to help two people hurt in an accident, and he’d been run over and suffered thirty-four broken bones, one leg pulverized, the other so damaged it had to be amputated just below the knee. It was late afternoon, and I knew he’d be finished with his day’s writing and working out, exercises he did with dumbbells from his wheelchair.
He met me at the door. His hair was wet and he was naked, a towel draped over his crouch and right stump. He was fifty-six years old and had wide shoulders and a deep chest, and he was smiling, his eyes lit with love for me. “Hey, man.” He held up his arms. I leaned down and hugged him. He smelled like soap, clean hair, and skin.
Soon he was dressed, and we were out on his back deck. The sun was low over the ridge of maples, their branches still bare. It was cold and I was wearing my leather jacket, but my father sat there in a short-sleeved shirt and sweatpants, the empty right leg of which he’d tied around his stump with a red bandana. He was lighting a cigarette with his Zippo, one hand cupped around the flame. The night before, I’d called him and asked if I could stop by just before supper; I had to ask him a question. He said, “Yeah, man. I’m here.”
This was new, my going to him to ask for any advice. It was my mother who raised us four kids, moving us from one cheap rented house in one mill town after another. When we saw our father, it was for two hours on a Sunday when he’d pick us up and drive us to church or take us out to a movie or restaurant he could barely afford. There was the feeling he was relaxing with us, that we, his kids, were part of his recreation, and there was also the feeling that he was doing the best he could and if we were to ask for any more than that, he wouldn’t be happy.
But that was years ago. Since then, he’d married and divorced two more times, having two daughters with his third wife, who was a year older than I was. She and my half sisters lived ten miles south, and he primarily saw them on weekends, the way he used to see us. Ever since I was old enough to sit in a bar with him, my father and I had had the easy rapport of drinking buddies; we sipped and talked about whatever came up: lifting weights, a good book, politics and women and dirty jokes. But I don’t remember him ever asking me what I might want to do with my time on this planet. Once, at a party at his house when he still had legs, I overheard him tell a friend of his, “I never tell my kids what to do with their lives.” This, in many ways, was fine with me. I seemed to prefer to learn everything on my own the hard way anyway. And I rarely, if ever, sought out teachers.
“What’s on your mind, man?”
“Fontaine wants a baby.”
“Of course she does.”
“But isn’t it irresponsible to have one when you’re as broke as we are?”
My father was looking over the railing out at the trees and sky. He took a drag from his cigarette and shook his head. He told me that lack of money will always be a problem for most people, but that shouldn’t stop anyone. “I just believe, son, when the woman wants a baby, then that’s it. It’s time to have that baby.”
I found myself agreeing, nodding my head.
“Besides, all that shit work you have to do, when you know it’s for diapers and food for your child, it makes all work holy.”
Holy. This was one of my father’s words. He was a Catholic, and I was not. He believed there was a God who loved him; I did not. He believed he was being watched over, while I felt strongly that I was entirely alone and the only good that would ever come to me would have to come from my own hard work and occasional good luck.
Still, driving away from my thrice-divorced father’s house, I felt better, for I believe if my wife wanted a baby then that should be that. Women only had a few years to get this done, and who was I to say she could not?
Then she was pregnant, her belly growing by the week. It was a cold winter and it snowed a lot, and whenever we walked up the shoveled icy sidewalk to our apartment, I’d take Fontaine’s arm and hold her close. I imagined her slipping and falling, she and the baby imperiled. I read books on nutrition for pregnant women and learned that if the fetus didn’t get enough calcium, the mother’s body would take it from her own bones. I made sure my wife ate yogurt and drank milk four to five times a day. When the baby began to kick, Fontaine would kneel in front of our record player, her curly black hair down and around her shoulders, her back straight, and she’d place our stereo headphones against her protruding belly and play Mozart, Motown, and Stevie Wonder. From the couch, I watched her do this. It was like watching a flower blossom into a shape you didn’t see coming. We were beginning to feel less like two and more like three, and all I felt about this was joy.
Then there was the bright light of the operating room, a gloved nurse handing me our newborn son. His mother’s labor had been hard and painful, more than twenty-eight hours long, her cervix never fully dilating, and now she lay conscious on the table with an oxygen mask over her nose and mouth, looking up at us, quietly weeping. Just below her breasts, there was a short curtain to keep her from seeing the surgeons sewing up her abdomen, but seconds earlier, the moment our son was born, I had looked over that curtain and watched him being lifted from the incision, his tiny face handsome and raging just before he blurred and my voice broke and I told Fontaine, “He’s a boy. He’s a boy.” Wiping my eyes and staring at him, I thought, It’s you. It’s you, for I recognized him from some other time and place. How was this possible? But I did, I recognized him, and now I was carrying him behind the nurse to the warming table, his fine hair wet as he cried with all the air he could summon from his small, pink chest, the stub of his umbilical cord still attached to what would become his navel. I lay him under a warming lamp, and the nurse handed me a pair of shears. I opened the blades. I was afraid to get too close to his skin.
“A little more, honey,” she said. “You won’t hurt him.”
Snipping my son’s umbilical cord felt like cutting through coated wire, an act he didn’t seem to notice. The nurse began to clean our baby with a warm sponge, and I couldn’t stop staring at his eyes and nose and mouth and chin, his tiny chest and nipples, his rising and falling abdomen as he kept crying, his penis and thighs and ankles and feet. I couldn’t stop crying either, and I leaned in and stroked the side of his head with my thumb. I told him I was his dad and everything was going to be all right. Everything. I promise.
I first noticed the blood when I was changing his diaper on the apron of the stage. This was at the high school where Fontaine taught dance, and I was there to pick her up and drive her home. The rehearsal had just ended, and while Fontaine was talking to one of the dancers and he rest chatted gleefully while drifting up the aisles of the dark theater, it was clear our four-week-old son’s diaper needed changing so I laid him down on a blanket under the colored gel lights of the stage. Maybe if I had not done this in that hazy purple light I would not have seen what I saw, a thread of orange in our son’s stool. I finished cleaning and dressing him, then carried him and his open diaper out to the lighted foyer. That thread of orange seemed to be gone, but then I looked closer and saw traces of what had to be only one thing.
When I showed Fontaine, she was concerned but calm. Like my father, she had a deep and private faith. But I was a boy again, living in a shabby house on a shabby street, getting chased down it by other boys out to get me, and now they were out to get my son, too, this sleeping infant against my shoulder I already somehow loved far more than I loved my own heartbeat, my own breaths that were shallow now as I rushed out of that theater to buckle him into his seat and drive him and Fontaine back home to where there was a phone.
Our doctor told us to bring him in first thing in the morning.
“But shouldn’t we take him to the emergency room?”
“No, not yet.”
Early the next morning, our doctor, a kind woman with six kids of her own, examined our infant son and said, “I still don’t think this is serious, but we’ll do a GI series to be sure.”
I said: “Doesn’t he have to drink barium for that?”
“Yes,” she said. “He’ll have to do it through his bottle.”
Fontaine and I looked at each other. Her black hair was held back, and again, she looked calm. I picked up our nine-pound son. He grunted against me, his belly more distended than it had ever felt before.
The upper and lower GI series was scheduled for the following morning. That week Jeb and I were in his shop, close to finishing the construction of custom cabinets, and his deadline for delivery was just days away; I’d be hurting business if I did not go in to work that morning. Fontaine said she would call me just as soon as they had the results. She said this to me as we lay in bed, Austin swaddled and finally asleep in his baby basket on the floor beside us. I rose up on one elbow and peered down at him. His face was so small. On his head was the knit cap we put on him because we kept the heat low. Even in sleep, his expression was slightly strained, like he was never quite comfortable and when was someone going to notice this? I pictured being in Jeb’s shop in Charlestown a few miles away from the Boston hospital where Fontaine and my son would be. It wasn’t that far, but still, I imagined my wife having to feed our infant barium from a bottle by herself. This felt like abandonment to me; I was abandoning my family when they needed me most. But we also had to pay our bills, didn’t we? I got paid by the hour – no work meant no money – and I couldn’t let Jeb down either. Fontaine was beginning to drift off against me, but I climbed out of bed and wrote the phone number for Jeb’s shop on a piece of paper. I placed it under her car keys on the kitchen table then knelt at Austin’s basket. I leaned down and kissed him lightly on his small forehead. He smelled like clean skin and wool and something sweet I couldn’t name.
Minutes later, lying in the dark beside my wife, I prayed for the first time. If I’d prayed even once in my life before this moment, I do not recall doing so. But now I was silently asking God to help our son. Please, let this not be serious, and if it is serious, please – whoever you are, whatever you are – please heal our baby of it.
I felt like a hypocrite. But as I closed my eyes I also felt just a little bit better, even if I did not believe anyone or anything was truly listening or cared.
When the call came the following afternoon, I was standing at the drill press, drilling identical holes one after another into medium-density fiberboard. On the other side of the shop, Jeb was gluing and clamping together cabinet boxes, a smoking cigarette between his lips, and his partner Bob, a quiet man with two grown kids and an ex-wife, had just finished ripping maple stiles on the table saw and switching it off, and that’s when he heard what I did not, the black phone on the wall ring.
My job was simple, but the holes had to be perfect, and even though I seemed to be boring into the center of each penciled X my brother had drawn for me, I kept seeing Fontaine holding our son in her arms, trying to get him to drink some chemical element that probably tasted terrible – and then what? – was our baby put into some kind of X-ray machine? I didn’t know, and it felt irresponsible to me that I didn’t know.
“Andre?” Bob’s deep voice, his hand on my shoulder. “Your wife’s on the phone.”
The telephone was in a corner of the shop. Taped to the wall was a sheet of emergency numbers, a water-stained bank calendar from three years earlier, a pencil stub hanging by a string. It’s the image that comes when I hear again my wife’s voice in my head, high and nearly breathless, as if she’s running in the dark away or toward something and there isn’t much time – birth defect, malrotated, life-threatening.
“What? What do they fucking mean life-threatening?”
“Yes, they think.…” She couldn’t say the rest, and I couldn’t hear anymore and then I was out of the shop and driving too fast through the streets of Boston toward my wife and son and the doctors who’d just given her this news.
Our four-week-old son needed emergency surgery to correct something called a malrotated upper bowel. It happens in about one out of six thousand births, and it had happened to Austin. In his tenth week of embryonic development, Austin’s organs had finished developing outside what would become his torso. His spleen, liver, kidneys, and appendix then had to do a 270-degree revolution into the cavity that would hold them, finding their rightful place, the small and large intestines fanning out in that shape most perfectly suited to easy digestion. But with Austin that revolution never occurred. The organs, while functional, went into the wrong places, and the intestines twisted and bunched and never fanned out the way they should have. Most babies who experience this die, or the diagnosis comes so late their intestines no longer work, and then these children are hooked up to medical machinery for as long as they live.
I no longer see the face of the surgeon who told us all this; I only see his assistant, a man my age then or younger, tall and pale-faced and wearing black-framed glasses. I stood there in my carpentry sweatshirt, jeans, and work boots, sawdust feathered across my chest, and he nodded at me and said, as if I needed the language made simpler: “It’s life-threatening.”
Fontaine was holding Austin to her shoulder, patting his back and bouncing slightly. She looked pale and focused but calm, her faith rising up from wherever faith lives. But all I felt was flaming bees hurling through my veins, for I did not trust these men or this hospital. They were just other men who’d learned another trade, and what if they were wrong? But there was no time for a second opinion, and from whom would we get it? This was one of the best hospitals for children in the world. Wait any longer and our son might not make it, or his intestines might not, and he’d be attached to a machine the rest of his life. What was there to do but trust these men? Trust them and let go and have faith they could save our son?
Hours passed before they were ready to operate. There was a waiting room with a TV and magazines and deep chairs, black night outside the hospital windows. Austin kept crying and crying; because he was going into surgery, we were not allowed to feed him, and he hadn’t eaten in hours. We took turns holding him, walking him back and forth. Sometimes he’d fall quiet, and then rage again, his piercing wail in my ear. He sounded betrayed, and I felt neglectful and cruel.
A nurse finally came in and told us they were ready. She pointed to a wing of the building where the operating rooms were, and Fontaine and I hurried in that direction, Austin against my chest and shoulder. This faster movement calmed him down, and he seemed to take in the swinging doors we passed through, then the empty, quiet corridor, only a third of its overhead lights on. Against the wall in the shadows were three or four gurneys. Their mattresses were stripped, and Austin stared at them. Fontaine and I just stood there. I heard the faint buzz of the fluorescent lights above, nothing else. Fontaine may have said something about us being in the wrong place, I’m not sure, but now there were voices, low and feminine and cheerful, then soft footsteps, two women in surgical blue coming around a corner toward us. They were smiling, and they both had their hair tucked up, cotton masks hanging beneath their chins.
They introduced themselves as our son’s anesthesiologists. There was the shaking of hands, their eyes on Austin, and one of them took him from my arms while the other handed me a clipboard with a form on it.
“You just have to sign this, and we’ll be off.”
Fontaine and the doctors began to talk about Austin’s curly hair, his handsome face, but I was reading the form as quickly as you’d run barefoot over smoking embers: accidental death, not responsible, no liability, etc. I signed and handed the clipboard to the one who wasn’t holding Austin. Then they were walking away before I could kiss him or touch him, both women holding him between them, his small head erect on his neck, his tiny back straight as they carried him into deep shadows through another set of swinging doors that opened and closed swiftly behind them, Fontaine and I turned to each other, holding tight, our crying echoing down the hallway.
When Austin was two days old, his troubles undiagnosed, Fontaine slept all afternoon in the bedroom recovering, and I held him swaddled in my lap in a rocking chair I’d pulled over to the gable window. Outside it was snowing, the wind kicking up every few minutes and gusting against the glass. I’d turned the heat up, and now I was rocking gently back and forth, staring down at our son’s small face and hands and fingers. Sometimes I’d look out the window at the snow but not for long. I couldn’t stop staring at the sleeping face of this child we’d made, this child I somehow already loved more deeply than anyone I’d ever known or loved before.
A phrase came to me, words, it seemed, for what was happening to me that afternoon when nothing felt more important or pressing or essential than what I was doing at that very moment, holding our child, keeping him safe and warm: State of Grace. I don’t know where these words came from, and I did not know what they meant, but they moved through me like notes from an old cello miles away.
Hours later, when Fontaine had woken and was breast-feeding Austin in bed beside her, I took down our dictionary and looked up that phrase. The first definition I read was this: “to be surrounded by God’s love.”
God. Part of me resisted this. And another part, well, it just did not.
Fontaine and I sat in that waiting room, and we waited. If there were other people there, I do not remember them. If any of our families came, I can no longer summon who they were. But I see the flat light of that room, my reflection in the night windows of the hallways I’d pace every ten or fifteen minutes. It was long and empty, and as I walked it, there was the heavy-shouldered, hollow-chested feeling that I was being punished for that late afternoon nearly a year earlier when I lay on our couch and Fontaine came into the room looking so beautiful and happy to tell me of this unspeakable gift coming to us, and my very first response, before all that came after, was to reject it.
The sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons. The Bible now, a book I’d never read and had no intention of reading. But I had no words for the limitless love I felt for our son, or the shadow side of this love, and I needed some. I remembered Hemingway: “When you have a child, the world forever takes a hostage.” And there was Rilke, too: “Beauty is the beginning of terror which we are only just able to bear.”
Through the waiting room window, I could see Fontaine sitting straight in her chair, her eyes closed, her lips moving almost imperceptibly.
The operation took hours. In my memory, it took all night, because when the doctor called us out to that corridor, his eyes bloodshot but warm, the early sun was shining outside the windows behind him. A cotton surgical mask still hung beneath his chin, the stubble there beginning to show. Successful. That’s the word that comes. And surgery. And no complications. And congratulations. Fontaine and I holding each other, the doctor’s face blurring, his big hand in mine, my hand squeezing his shoulder. And it may have been then or hours later or maybe even the next day that we got the full details of how they opened up our infant’s belly. How they took out his appendix because if, years later, he ever had appendicitis the doctors would never know it because his appendix would be in the wrong place. How they could not move Austin’s other organs, but they could and did save his intestines, which saved him, fanning them out the way they were supposed to be in the first place.
“And that’s it?” I said. “He’ll be all right?”
“He’ll live a completely normal life.”
Austin may have come home with us that day, or the next, I no longer know. All I know is that profound relief, joy, gratitude were shooting heat through me like kisses from the gods, and I had to do something with it all; we had been given something so good, and I had to give something, too. I kissed Fontaine and told her I would be right back. I was half-walking, half-running down that hallway, looking for the first person who could tell me where I could give blood, anything. There were kind faces and helpful faces, men and women, fingers pointing to signs and elevators and closed rooms behind glass doors, all of this on a moving current of that I can only call love. Then I was sitting at a desk filling out a form, adding my name to all those willing to give the marrow of their bones to a stranger who one day might need it. A woman took a vial of my blood, but this did not feel like enough. I wanted to give something away right then, on the same day my son was spared. I kept looking for the blood bank but could not find it, and I wanted to get back to my wife and child. I wanted to hold him. I wanted to hold him close and never let go.
But we have to let go, don’t we?
This was more than twenty years ago. Austin is now over six feet and two hundred twenty pounds and wears a size fifteen shoe. He lifts weights six days a week and reads and writes and loves serious films and good music and all sports with balls in them. When he was a baby, the scar on the right side of his abdomen was pale and an inch long. As he’s grown, it’s grown a bit longer and deeper, though now it’s largely covered with dark hair. Every single time I see that scar, I feel only boundless gratitude.
Austin lives a thousand miles west of us, on his college campus in Ohio. He has an eighteen-year-old sister and a sixteen-year-old brother. With the birth of each, my capacity for love seemed to grow exponentially larger, opening up in me its attendant fear of loss but a deep reservoir of joy, too. So much joy, as if my deepest, truest life could only begin once I became a father.
Soon our daughter, Ariadne, a dancer and artist like her mother, will be moving to another campus, and not long after Elias, an athlete and drummer, will want to do the same. Fontaine and I will be two again. Back to where we began, for we do not own these three people that came from us. We were simply given them to love and to guide and to set free. And even though I still do not believe in an all-powerful and loving God, I know I’ll pray for my children’s health and safety daily and nightly, as I do now, as I will until I am no longer on this earth, for something is here among us: something I cannot see but feel; something I cannot hear but sense; something I cannot smell but know; that one late afternoon, this life will bring you to a door your lover may walk through smiling, and just because you’re tired and afraid and have little to no faith, you’re supposed to lift your head and breathe and walk with joy and trembling right through it.
Andre Dubus III is the author of six books, including the New York Times’ bestsellers House of Sand and Fog, The Garden of Last Days, and his memoir, Townie. Mr. Dubus has been a finalist for the National Book Award, and has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, The National Magazine Award for Fiction, two Pushcart Prizes, and is a recipient of an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature.