“I hope it’s another girl,” Husband said, opening the door to the clinic.
“I like hearing you say it,” I said. “It might be.”
The first ultrasound revealed it was a girl. But it also showed something else.
“We’re seeing a dark spot on her heart,” the technician said over the phone a few days later.
“What does that mean?”
“It could be nothing, but to be sure, we’ve got you scheduled for another ultrasound.”
My heart sank. But Peace settled on top of it.
“We’re still seeing it. A dark spot,” they said three more times after three more ultrasounds.
“If you’re not gonna worry, I’ll worry for you,” a friend told me.
But Peace was my persistent companion back then.
“Ventral septal defect. A hole in her heart,” I told people over and over.
We weren’t opting for prenatal surgery, and we weren’t being advised that way either. We’d just wait and see how it turned out after she was born. Some days, my worry morphed into angry tears. And then Peace grew thick enough to dry them.
We remembered Flicka and Ricka’s “birth defects”—at least that’s what the doctor had called them. Both girls had light red birthmarks between their eyes.
“They’ll get brighter when they cry or are angry,” the doctor had said with a chuckle. “Then they’ll fade away in time, and you’ll hardly notice them.”
“It’s where God kissed you,” I later told the girls when they asked to hear their birthmark stories. Now I thought about our yet-to-be-unveiled baby. She bore God’s mark too.
At thirty-eight weeks in the pregnancy, I got a phone call, but this time it wasn’t from an ultrasound technician.
“I’m calling to hear more about the childcare you do,” a woman said.
“Sorry, you must have the wrong number. I don’t do childcare.”
“Is this your phone number?” She rattled off my digits.
“Yes. How did you get it?”
She explained, and the memory of the flyer came back. Sometime in 2002, near the beginning of our life in north Minneapolis, I had a flickering urge to make some extra money. If I wanted to stay home, what better way than to do childcare for someone? On a whim, I had dropped off a flyer—with my phone number on tear-off tabs—at our little local library, asking the woman behind the desk if she would post it for me. Then I had forgotten all about it. I had never seen it hanging on the library’s bulletin board, so the subject of the flyer surfacing now, two years later, was a miracle. Curiosity needled me. I had to meet Rachelle, the woman on the other end of the line.
Rachelle lived only six blocks from me, and later that week, she came over with her two girls, Ireland and Willow, and her husband Jim. Husband was home to meet them too. We learned that while Jim was a stay-at-home dad, sometimes he needed a respite from caring for two-year-old Willow. Ireland was eight years old and in school, so she wouldn’t normally need coverage.
While the men visited, I took Rachelle on a tour of our house. She was warm and engaging, and her eyes brightened at the art on the girls’ bedroom walls. She was an artist too, she said. She asked my childcare rates. I threw out a number, and she said she’d talk with Jim about it and let me know.
The visit ended, and I felt the warmth of connection. Another in-road into the neighborhood I was determined to embrace. As Rachelle, Jim, and the girls climbed into their car, we waved at them from the window.
“What a great family,” I said to Husband.
“When you were upstairs, Jim told me something.”
“He has cancer. That’s why he needs help with Willow sometimes.”
Stunned, I couldn't think about anything else after that.
Rachelle called me the next day.
“Your rates are reasonable, and we’d love to have you watch Willow. After your baby comes, and you’re ready, of course.”
“Rachelle, I heard about Jim’s cancer. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. Now we’re happy we met you. It'll help so much.”
“I’m glad I can do it. I’ll let you know when the baby’s here.”
After seeing the baby’s insides so many times on the ultrasounds, we finally got to see Dicka’s outsides.
“She looks like her sisters,” I said when she was born. “She’s perfect.”
A day later, a nurse carted her away. We followed, our hearts pounding, and witnessed Dicka’s exam in another room of the hospital. The cardiologist didn't say a word as he focused on the screen, swirling the lubricated wand around on her bare chest for too many silent minutes.
“She’s good as new. No sign of the hole we saw before,” he finally said. “They close on their own sometimes.”
Dicka wasn't born with the mark between her eyes like her sisters. Instead, she got the kiss on her heart.
We drove our new baby home from the hospital. Climbing the front steps, I flicked my eyes over to the bustling activity next door.
A man stepped out from behind the open end of a truck filled with furniture and belongings. Even though he held a bulky box, he managed a wave.
“Hi, Dallas,” I said.
“Who’s that?” Flicka said.
“He’s our new neighbor. He’s moving in today.”
I thought of new stories—ours, Dallas’, and Rachelle’s—all tied together by geography and my craving for neighbors to have faces in a city neighborhood. When I first met Dallas, I had only imagined the happy times ahead. And when I first met Rachelle, it had seemed innocent enough; I hadn’t imagined the pain marked out for her—and us, by sharing life with her. And like our backyard sod that had found its place, our roots pushed deeper too.
*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date/
*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.