It’s a hot August night in 1991 at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, and the delivery room is filled with bright lights. A film crew is documenting a woman giving birth. After almost 12 hours of active labor, it’s time for her to really push.
A few anxious rounds of counting to 10 and many deep breaths later, the doctor says, “Ooooh there you go, lots of hair.”
“That’s it, the baby’s coming!” the red-haired nurse says with excitement.
That’s when I enter the picture, with a head full of red hair of my own.
* * *
I know this scene well. It’s my own birth. Not many people can say they’ve watched their own delivery, but I can.
In fact, I’ve watched myself be born more times than I should probably ever admit to. I’m doing it again tonight for the ninth time this week, sitting on the floor in my studio apartment with my eyes fixated on the television. The sight of my fiery red hair making its debut will never fail to amaze me.
The video of my birth in no way resembles your typical home video. It’s more like a documentary, with my parents and family, and then finally me, as its subjects. Every single reaction of theirs is recorded in the truest manner, and edited as well as early ’90s technology could allow. That’s because it was not shot by a proud father-to-be, but instead a professional film crew. I was paid $300 to be born (the check went directly into my first college fund, I’ve been told), and the footage was used to make an educational video for other expecting parents to watch during Lamaze birthing classes. Hundreds, if not thousands, of other people have watched me be born, too.
If you live long enough, you create some regrets. Some people also make the difficult choices that alleviate their regrets. In Oregon Humanities magazine, Loretta Stinson writes about her moment of clarity, the night when she saw her fifteen-year relationship to an abusive alcoholic for what it was, and decided to walk out on him, her self-deception and her hopes, and to quit putting her own life on hold while he drank and injected his paychecks away. No more abuse. This is how she left him:
It’s best not to say too much and not to look at him for too long when he’s been drinking, kind of like running into a bear in the woods—you just back away slowly and try not to piss him off. The fights can start just by the way I look at him. He says it’s my face. My face shows too much of what I’m thinking no matter how little I say, but maybe that’s just what he needs to believe because he has to be mad at some-one and I happen to be available. Tonight I’m just watching him start to spin. I can see by the way he’s crashing around pissed off about nothing that it was never my face that pissed him off, never anything I did or didn’t do. He needs a reason to fight with me so he can leave to drink more, and that’s what he intends to do no matter what I do or don’t do. This idea is a revelation.
How terrifying. I’m glad you’re recovering, I write back. I’m at a dinner party in Rome and I think I’m having some kind of breakdown. I’m scared. I’m not sure who I am anymore and I don’t have a concussion to blame it on. Or Percodan. Can you email Percodan?
Sounds like we’re in the same place, he writes back. But listen: I know who you are. You are passionate and joyful. Try not to be scared. That is not your true nature.
It hits me like a slap that if my husband has ever said anything like that to me, I cannot remember it. That in fact his last words to me were along the lines of “You think you’re so put together and you don’t even see yourself. You’re a fucking trainwreck.” And that mine to him were “Thanks. Happy anniversary: enjoy your celibacy.”
I turn my face to the wall because I’m tired of crying in front of people.
— Amy Glynn, in berfrois, takes us through an identity-shattering — and rebuilding — experience: the simultaneous decline of a marriage and withdrawal from psychotropic drugs in the dizzying, intense eternal city, Rome.
When your wedding doubles as a covert operation. A look at the complications of CIA marriages, and how secrets often lead to separation:
The Fredericksburg woman divorcing her husband laid out all the messy details, including the most secret of them all. Her husband, she wrote in now-sealed court documents, is a covert operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency. His CIA job, she said, poisoned their five-year-old marriage.
“[He] used me and our daughter . . . to run cover for his undercover operations . . . I never felt safe, never knew who people were or why they were interested in us or why they were photographing us,” wrote the woman, who is in her 30s, in December. “As a result of [his] different assignments I never had a good support network of people I could trust or rely on to help out.” And, she claimed, her spy-husband had little interest in household chores. “[He] never so much as washed or folded a load of laundry, swept or mopped one floor, or changed one dirty diaper.”