Ascending

There are stretches of highway in West Texas where the road just goes and goes. Where the distance to the horizon seems as long as the horizon is wide. These are the stretches of endless miles where the mind can contemplate without barely an interruption. Where one thought can remain lodged at the forefront of your consciousness, and the only chance to escape it is to pull over and fall asleep.

For thirty minutes she found that escape in her car at a vacant roadside rest area. She reclined her seat and drifted off, entering a dream occupied by a line of ten tornadoes–each a different shade of blue–moving over hundreds of acres of flat farmland. Oddly, the colorful twisters were not threatening, but were, in fact, tilling the soil; working the land. And they did so in complete silence, with not a hint of tornadic turbulence. Their violent nature had seemingly been harnessed to operate without destruction. They magically swept around old farm houses and lifted safely above herds of vulnerable livestock. Families stood out in the open, mesmerized by this supernatural scene: speechless and trusting, and nearly collapsing to their knees in awe of the dutiful and attentive twisters.

When she awoke, she up-righted her seat, then rolled down her window. A comforting wind infiltrated the car, sending strands of hair dancing across her face, and triggering the memory of her dream. The tornados…why were they quiet? Why so helpful? And why so blue? She stared down the open road, out towards a distant mountain range. This remnant of her dream–this color curiosity, wherever it came from–felt quite real, as if it was taking shape in her conscious world. If this wind engulfing my car had no sound, but rather color, what color might it be? She paused, then thought, Blue. As soothing as one of the bluest tornadoes.   What was the likelihood that she would have ever evoked the color blue from the absence of sound without the memory of her dream? Was this some sort of premonition? Color and sound–what was the relationship?

And that was all it took. One word–relationship–to bring back the one single thought that made her pull the car over and escape into sleep. The one thought that incessantly gnawed on every square inch of her brain: the bittersweet feeling of love.

*         *         *

Like so many close relationships, it was born from incredible moments, such as their first kiss in the rain. No matter how deep the thunder grumbled or how ominously the lightning struck, they were determined to stay beneath the oak tree, shielded by nothing more than a canopy of branches and leaves, and a blind faith that convinced them that their passion was unstoppable. The safe passing of the storm was a sign that no matter how chaotic the circumstances, their adrenalized infatuation would defeat all. Spontaneity was king: water balloon fights in the shower, piggy-back rides on hiking trails, making love in a clothing store’s dressing room, and racing shopping carts in the grocery store parking lot. Laying side by side on a cool bed of Bermuda grass, beneath a full, burnt-orange harvest moon, nothing needed to be said. They were drinking in all the details–consuming all the things that mattered.

Yet, as much as she hated to confront the reality, one day she fully recognized that their relationship was constrained by an outside force. One that was stubbornly unforgiving, and would eventually sever their bond. As the months rolled by, and their intimacy surged well into the second year, she began to express a strong desire to have a child–the one missing link of fulfillment in her life. They would surely get married and, no doubt soon after, they would begin their own family. The topic often consumed their conversations. She was all over the map talking about the future newborn: the baby’s room, stroller rides to the park, the first Christmas, the first bus ride to school, and growing old together with a son or daughter who would bring into this world a newborn as well. He didn’t have much to say during her long-winded wonderings of the future. He sat silent and listened, but in his duty to do so, there was a distance in him–a separation of interest. What he knew he was certain would be the deal breaker. A thousand kisses under that oak tree in the rain bore no weight against her want for a child from her womb.

Inevitably, the investment of their passion was going to run dry. Dissolve far more quickly than it had taken to build. The future was clear: there was nothing but an imminent farewell. He held the one card that he had no choice but to play against himself: he announced that he was infertile. And there was no easy way to lower that hammer. But the news would not shake her. There was a way around this. Medical science would pull through. Certainly the brightest minds were well aware of the dejection that infertility brought. Certainly science was on the cusp of something great. But optimism sometimes has its limits. Hard as she would try to sell herself that adoption was just as viable, her maternal instincts would override it as mere irrational thinking. And as hard as she would try to be rational, one thing kept getting in the way: the essence of him. That all-encompassing feeling of love. Torn between staying with the first person who had ever offered her love beyond definition, and declining that love to seek out having a baby with another man, she found herself nowhere but lost. It was the rift in the relationship that would eventually create the final divide. The heartbreak of a star-crossed love.

*             *               *

She was done with the tears. She had wept enough mourning of their final separation. Lord knows he was the greatest gift that she had ever received, but a child from her bloodline was the one gift that had yet to be opened. Driving on that open stretch of endless West Texas highway, she was en route to anywhere to rebuild from the bottom up. The memories of him would always be there. Outside of sleep, that was an inescapable fact. To be in love, but realizing that love wasn’t enough–how would she ever be able to carry the weight of that reality? She needed a physical detachment as a whole. A fresh beginning.

For two-hundred miles she continued westward, making her way into New Mexico. The unlikely event of blowing out a front tire would lead to the first encounter of the helpful man who, two years later, would be the father of her first newborn child.

Though her husband lacked the fiery passion that poured from her previous love, she still found herself in a place of contentment. And he was, above all, a man who would do his fair share of raising a child. He was trusting and compliant. He was all that any mother or child could ask for. In times of good or bad, he wasn’t going anywhere. Loyalty was a given. Nothing was more evident to prove that, than when tragedy struck.

They had taken a scuba diving trip to Belize. A 10-day vacation to do nothing more than get away and see the sights, both above and below water. It was on their third day of diving when–perhaps she was feeling a bit too confidant–she took the liberty to descend too quickly. In the process of not allowing for adequate equalization with the increasing water pressure, she critically perforated both ear drums. The result was a middle ear barotrauma–an unfavorable condition that led to her permanent loss of hearing. Unable to fly due to cabin pressure, they had to board a cruise ship in order to return home. Severe as her condition was, and recognizing there were obvious lifestyle adjustments to be made, through it all she found peace: she was his prize, and he would do anything to assist her. Though she could still speak, she felt it important to learn sign language, which they mastered in no time. In fact, they created a few original signs of their own: a fist to the head was, “coconut brain”, a choke hold on one wrist was, “stop talking so much!”, and a slow finger drag over the top of the tongue was, “Meet me in the bedroom”. Needless to say, adjusting to the sudden loss of hearing wasn’t easy. There was knowing what things sounded like, but an inability to turn up their volume from a memory. There were the days of staring at a group of trees. Just staring, and tilting her head to one side like a dog might in order to hone in a specific sound. In her case, she just wanted to hear the birds. What once had so often been background noise, was now something that she wanted to experience front and center.

And then there was the one sound that brought her down more than anything: the one sound that she had yet to hear–the first cry of her forthcoming newborn infant. An ultrasound showed that a girl was on the way. What would her voice grow to be? And if she could sing, just how would she ever capture its audible magic? Adjusting to the deaf world was work. Luckily, her husband was up for the job as well.

On a thunderstorm-infested evening, she went into short-lived early labor at their house just before midnight. Active labor was impatiently knocking on the door as her dilations were steadily increasing. This baby wanted out. It was not an easy drive for her husband as horizontal sheets of pelting rain attacked the car. They were six miles from the hospital. He had to guard his speed for fear of hydroplaning into a ditch. Beyond the beam of his headlights, everything was pitch dark. Only when lightning occurred did they get a quick glimpse of their surroundings: telephone poles, a distant barn, and trees on the horizon. The windshield wipers could not keep up with clearing the water. Just ahead he could barely make out the sight of an overpass. Despite her labor, he had no choice but to reach it and stop as the storm was now depositing golf ball-size hail. Repetitive indentions in the car’s exterior were beating like a hundred drummers. He heard them. She felt them. And then, a sudden, dense round of larger size hail pulverized the windshield, spidering cracks in multiple jagged directions. This atmospheric violence was, at last, thwarted by the protection of the overpass. Another ten seconds of fist-size hail and the windshield would have collapsed into their laps.

When he stopped the car, he signed to her asking how she was doing. She said out loud, “Scared.” He held her hands, looked into her eyes, and voiced slowly for her to read his lips, “Our baby will be fine.”

Seconds later, multiple bolts of lightning lit up the sky, illuminating the one thing they never saw coming: the tornado. Their car was no longer a place of refuge. He helped her out and guided her up the steep ramp that led to a rectangular concrete formation beneath the girders of the overpass. This was no easy hike for her condition. At their last sight, the tornado’s location appeared to be a fair distance away, out on the horizon. But now, as they wedged themselves between the girders, they lost all view of that direction. With each contraction, she fought to make herself comfortable. The struggle to give life and to protect herself was tiresomely painful. Swirling debris began to dance in a chaotic pattern beneath the overpass. It was a calm scene, but only momentary as a straight line gust of dirt and more debris accelerated along the highway. Part of a fence and a large section of a tree uncontrollably blew past, just missing their car. All of this she viewed in complete silence as the wind churned and carved off the top soil of New Mexico. Preparing for the worst, they forced themselves back as far as possible into their crawl space, knowing that every single inch bought them another inch of security.

And there she huddled, watching the scene unfold beneath her. She wondered if he could hear the twister. Was its horrifying sound on top of them? Another contraction set off an agonizing pain in her lower back–sharp as a knife, and stubbornly refusing to let up its grip. She closed her eyes tight with clinched teeth to fight it. Mother Nature might make up her own rules, but under no circumstances was she going to take away this baby.

Perhaps she was too focused on the pain of her labor, but during her battle to find comfort, she found herself sitting upright, with her back propped against a slab of concrete. Her breathing was heavy as she felt the baby crowning. Neither of them were prepared for this, but preparation was hardly a worry. For a thousand years the will to be brave had always taken on the world by itself. The motherly instinct to do whatever was necessary had always prevailed. All of her fears; all of her doubts suddenly vanished–she was going to give birth.

*         *         *

Beneath the dirt-covered highway overpass, he sat next to her as she held their newborn daughter–their eyes streaming with tears of undefinable bewilderment at the miracle of life. The storm, now past, left behind a trail of splintered telephone poles and trees that were stripped of their branches, entirely up-rooted, or left bowing to the earth. It also left a comforting wind that wisped strands of hair about her face. Strangely, this calming moment felt very familiar–a memory from two years past on a lone stretch of West Texas highway. It was a time of her life for escaping and starting anew. And within that remembrance there was the dream that she had always held onto: ten blue twisters tilling the soil, preparing the land for new growth. At each major turn in her life, she began to notice that there were calming moments that contained pivotal signs of promise, despite the adversities at hand. In particular, her lost first love, the scuba diving incident, and this storm had all led to something much larger than she had expected. Yes, this also included her everlasting inability to ever hear again.

Ten feet below the ocean’s surface in Belize, the two of them had been looking down into the darkening abyss. This particular spot was named the Great Blue Hole, where the deepest blues eventually gave way to an enclosing darkness that plunged over 400 feet. The moment he looked away was the moment she descended, wanting to know nothing more than just how far down she could dive. But her speed was too rapid for the depths she was descending into. The pressure on her inner ears was unable to be equalized, and the uncontrolled decompression, just shy of being fatal, led to the critical rupturing of her eardrums and the ensuing permanent loss of hearing. A tragic and unforgettable moment for anyone. But for her, now holding her newborn, she recalled the undeniable allure of her ascent to the ocean’s surface: the darkness that had cocooned her, had unveiled a deep hypnotic cerulean blue that, perhaps, held more beauty than she could ever handle.

That was until she looked down at the incomparable beauty of her newborn daughter who cooed softly with wide open eyes. Though this was the one sound she had yearned to hear, the moment had arrived in silence. The sound of her daughter’s laugh, her songs, and her cry would forever elude her. There was no way to capture its perfect translation. It was an audible gift that only the privileged many would witness. Unless, she thought, unless…

Turning to her husband, she looked him in the eyes and asked, “Tell me…our daughter’s voice…if you had to describe it in color, what color would that be?”

He smiled and signed back to her without hesitation, “Oh, that’s easy….blue.”

 

Copyright Ros Hill 2016

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