Jordana Hall has an M.A. in English from Texas A&M U-Commerce, and teaches English at Wiley College in Marshall, Tx. She will complete a Ph.D. in English Studies with an emphasis in children’s literature and literature theory from Illinois State University in December 2019. She shares a deep love a fiction with fiction with her husband and six children.
I was 39-years-old when my appendix ruptured while I was pregnant. Phineas was born in our home after only 5 and ½ months while I was recovering from emergency surgery. He was 13” long and weighed only 1.4 pounds. He fit in the palm of my hand. He lived for one hour; he changed our lives forever. This is his story.
Though he is tiny enough to be held safely in a single hand, I cradle the little body by cupping my hands together. His chest rises once and a thin arm lifts just slightly—it falls. His chest rises again . . . and again . . . and again. I count every rise and every fall. They are precious.
Just outside the door there is shouting, and footsteps rush up and down the hall. I hear everything through the thin walls, but the only thing that exists in that moment is in my hands. He breathes slowly, laboriously. Even if he could open his eyes, they would not look like the eyes of his brother, his sister, or even any other child. He is too new. He is too early. But he already holds a place of equal size in my heart, and it is bursting with fear and hope that war against each other in that moment.
“Stay. Stay! Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.” I pray like I have never prayed for before. In this moment I pray to God, but I also pray and ask Mary to speak on behalf of my son. She is a mother. She understands. I mutter the familiar prayer, and I rock back and forth, not for him, but for me. There is no comfort.
“They’re here!” My husband’s shout is frantic. I hear more shuffling and knocking against walls.
Grunts and worried shouting and fighting as brothers and sister fight for position to see and know, but Mark pushes them back. “Don’t look,” he says urgently, turning them away. “Don’t look,” and his voice breaks just as the paramedic bursts through the door.
I have not stopped praying, rocking, or staring at the thin chest that still determinedly rises and falls. Such a simple thing, breathing, but every breath fills me with pride and I smile through tears. “Oh, he’s not gonna make it. Too small,” the paramedic says, pulling up short as if all of the urgency has drained away.
“Shut up,” a second paramedic snarls, shoving past his partner and kneeling beside me as I sob and shake my head. I can’t stop praying.
“It’s ok,” he whispers. “We’re going to have to cut the cord now.”
He looks at me, and I know what he’s really saying. They will cut the cord that holds my tiny son to me even now while I hold him in my hands. My whole body rebels. I tremble and sweat. All I think and feel in that moment is NO!
The look in his eye as the paramedic stares back at me says “Yes. You already knew this.” The moment ends, but I am numb now.
Somewhere inside me I know that they have cut the cord. One paramedic has taken my son. He’s taken my son! Now I’m screaming and kicking. Trying to reach him again as the man carries him away. My husband is sobbing and reaching first for me, then our son, then turning and blocking the door again. It’s clear that he needs to do too many things at once. Is he husband? Is he father? Can he be Phineas’s father right now? Is that allowed? Are we allowed to think of the little boy who is still alive, but also clearly already gone? Can this be his moment, because I really want this to be Phineas’s moment. I know what my husband would choose, but I also know that Mark is unsure if that is a right choice. I can just see five young faces looking on in what must be terror—a look I’ve never seen on their faces before. I stop screaming abruptly and still.
The paramedic is moving me towards the door. I can walk though I still cry and shake. The rest is like a dream.
“It’s okay. We’re all going to be okay,” I say as I pass the sea of young faces that should look away, but can’t. And I’m just too tired and sad to make them. “Do what Daddy says. It will be okay.” I have just enough time to see my second eldest son’s face. He looks haunted. His eyes are red as if he needs to cry, but his face is dry.
Later he will cry, wracked with sobs, shoulders shaking as he begs for me to understand.
“I was happy! I was happy because they said that you would be fine! I’m so . . . I’m so sorry!”
The rest is a dream, or a nightmare. I’m taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Phineas is taken to the hospital in a separate ambulance, and they would later explain that he passed away before they even arrived. He lived for barely an hour, and during more than half that time he lay carefully cradled in my hands as I prayed for the soul that left us behind.
After some basic care I’m taken to the maternity ward. I lay in a bed identical to those where I gave birth to five other, healthy children. I listen while families in nearby room celebrate and laugh. Their tears are of joy. Later my husband shuffles into my hospital room, his face lined with exhaustion and sadness and holds my hand. A nurse comes to check on me and is sympathetic. She asks if we have other children.
“Yes,” Mark says, monotone. “Five.” “Oh. Then you’ll be alright,” she says simply.
I stare at her and hate her.
Two years later. Eight spaces fill the dinner table including our youngest daughter, Imodgen, but everyone is always mindful of the empty space
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