By Caroline Langston
The biggest snowstorm in fourteen years was bearing down on the East Coast, and I was scared that I was pregnant again.
Thursday at my part-time job, I’d fielded the e-mailed news bulletins that had called for some two feet of snow falling by the next afternoon, and asked my boss if I could take comp time on Friday to get ready.
I was already four days late, by my calendar—nothing to worry about, in theory, except that I was rarely late. My body felt just slightly rounder, heavier; my joints ached. At home, looking out the front window at the front lawn that was still patchy green and bare, I poured myself a second glass of wine.
The next morning, Friday, I drove my 5-year-old son to kindergarten, our baby daughter riding tandem beside him in the back seat of our Honda Accord. I struggled with him to put his hat on in the windy parking lot, using my hand to rake back his long blond bangs that my husband and I kept forgetting to cut. Hoisting the heavy baby carrier over my arm, I walked him to the door of his little bohemian Montessori school, watched him shake the director’s hand and trudge off inside.
Then I drove to the Safeway under low-hanging gray skies, news-weather radio blasting, thinking back and forth about how it could be possible. In the end, I couldn’t say for sure that it hadn’t happened, and that was the problem. Of course we’d be committed to any new life, no matter what. That was not in question.
But it was nonetheless true that I couldn’t imagine a worse possible time: my husband’s nighttime job—which he passionately loves—riddled with changes and stress; our small house already small enough with the four of us; our son feeling neglected since the arrival of his sister. “How come nobody pays any attention to me?” goes his high-pitched plaint, and every time it makes me want to take him in my arms. To say nothing about my job, the book that I’ve tried to start writing?
Plus I was even older now. “Are you sure you don’t want the amniocentesis?” the doctor had asked over and over at the high-risk ultrasound place for the over-38s, when I was expecting my daughter. At four months she’d had cysts in her brain that had given us four weeks of anxiety before mysteriously clearing up on their own.
This new uncertainty hovered like a weight on my shoulders as I drove through the crowded parking lot of the Safeway, looking for a space, and managed to shoehorn myself in among the tightly-packed cars. Inside, the store was swamped and there were no more carts, so I followed a woman from the checkout back to her car, helped her unload her groceries with the baby on the asphalt beside me, then tucked the carseat into the cart and headed back in.
The car radio had said to be ready to “shelter in place” for a week. So I moved slowly through the aisles, filling the cart with double and triple of everything I’d ordinarily buy, planning out menus in my head, and grabbing a few treats (like Ben and Jerry’s Crème Brulee ice cream) that I’d ordinarily never purchase. I bought the jugs of emergency water I’d long been planning to get to keep in the basement. Realizing there were not enough candles at home, I grabbed a pack of Manischewitz Shabbat candles, and placed them on top of the pile.
Meanwhile, the baby smiled up at the fluorescent lights hanging from the ceiling, and was fussed over by the other customers waiting with overflowing baskets in the epically-long lines: mothers and grandmothers of all kinds, and a man wearing the uniform of the Potomac Electric Power Company, who was buying giant boxes of Little Debbie cakes and said that, depending on the snow, he might have to sleep in his truck for days. On our side of town, there’s not the usual public distance between folks in a store, and on the verge of this snowstorm, Safeway roared with the good-natured din of all of us.
On our side of town, I remembered, children are always a blessing. At last I put in a bouquet of tulips, thinking that if we were going to get stuck inside, at least we’d need beauty.
The bill came to $196 and I was once again grateful for my job. Another customer followed me out to my car and helped unload the basket so he could have my cart, and we smiled and wished each other Good Luck and Stay Warm. By that afternoon, after I’d picked up my son from early dismissal and unloaded the whole other trunk of supplies, the first silvery flakes had started to fall.
The snow kept falling, and falling. By afternoon, the snow was up to 26 inches.
Throughout the day I looked at my family from somewhere far off, as if they were a Maysles Brothers documentary I just happened to be watching, and I knew I would have to talk to my husband about what I suspected. On Sunday, after my Orthodox church across town cancelled services (we couldn’t have gotten there anyway), I told my husband that I was heading to Mass at the Catholic church, his church, a block away, and then I confessed what I was afraid was happening.
My husband’s face fell—that face I love, dark-browed and sharp as a woodcut drawing—and he looked very, very tired for a minute. He quietly said, in a kindly voice, “We’ll manage somehow. We always do.” Then he went outside to shovel.
I put the bundled baby in the sling and walked very, very carefully in my snow boots down the middle of the street past giant drifts to St. Ambrose, where Fr. Kevin was welcoming all those who could come on foot. I breathed in the smell of the wax votive candles, so different from the beeswax candles at my parish.
The line in the day’s Gospel stood out for me as if God had come down and shouted it, Luke 5:11: “So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything behind and followed him.”
They left everything. If they left everything, then so I could too. Okay, I said to God. Okay.
The blood, when it came later that day, was as dark and rust-colored as the pigment in an aged painting. At first I blinked, surprised by what I saw. I felt a wave of grief pass over me.
In the end, it was a blessing. But the other would have been a blessing, too.