Creative nonfiction by Dan Gordon
Most people like snowflakes and what they represent, I don’t. To me snowflakes mean emotional baggage. I used to like them when I was a kid. I even liked them into my thirties. It’s funny how things change as you get older. Things you liked you can’t stand and things you couldn’t stand you develop cravings for. That’s how it is for me with snowflakes.
I remember the blizzard of ’76. The snow coming over the hood of my dad’s Caprice station wagon as we drove to get milk. I loved the snow tunnels and forts, the snowball fights and igloos that we built. For a young man, this was a dream of the most welcome nature. Imagine, at seven years old, scurrying back and forth under a thin sheet of ice to multiple fortresses you had built to try and pelt the neighbor across the street who had done the same. Or even better, using the element of surprise to bombard a group of friends with premade snowballs while they walked down the street. From then on, the promise of snow not only meant unlimited fun, but excused absences from school as well. Except for school closings none delivered.
Since then I have survived many blizzards. I enjoyed none as much as that one. Now they mean work: shoveling, rigging and starting generators, and worrying when all the conveniences one pays for will return. It was for this reason that I moved to Florida. That is where my hatred of snowflakes began but not for the reasons you might think.
I was working as a tugboat captain for a company based out of New York and that is where I happened to be at the time. New England is where the business the boat was engaged in took place. On October 8, 2001, exactly four weeks after 9/11, I received a call that I never wanted or want anyone to get.
It was my wife’s (OBGYN). Through the static of voice-mail, he explained that he needed me to call him and not to call my wife. The first thing I did was to call home; no answer. Then I called him, he answered on the first ring. He explained that my wife had not been feeling well and that she had come to see him that morning. My mind was whirling with worry and sleep as he informed me, from what seemed like worlds away, that during a sonogram he could not detect a heartbeat. He said that she was resting comfortably in the hospital and that he would induce labor in the morning. He also suggested that if I could make it home, it would be best given the situation and asked again that I not call my wife. I had gotten ten hours sleep over the past four days. I was wide awake.
Over the course of my maritime career, I disregarded maritime law twice. I pegged the throttles and did not give a shit what damage my six foot wake caused. I called my relief, explained the situation, and said, “Come in or don’t come in, I’m leaving.” Leaving a boat without shaking your relief’s hand is a firing offense, I couldn’t have cared less. I said roughly the same thing to the dispatcher. I also called the airline with the only flight to Tampa available and told them I needed a seat. When they told me that the flight was booked, I told them I sit on the wheel. When they asked why, my terse reply was: “Bereavement.”
When I got the boat to Brooklyn, I ran to Flatbush Avenue. I was a smoker so that didn’t go well, but it got me to a cab. On the ride down Southern State Parkway, I looked out the window but saw nothing. Coming so close to 9/11, I guess I was used to viewing the world through a lens of detachment. When I got to the airport the woman at the ticket counter knew my name and had questions. When I explained she politely asked me to verify my story. I dialed the Doctor, who answered, and handed her the phone; she refused and handed me my boarding pass a few seconds later.
Waiting in the terminal, I called my neighbors to pick me up and had to explain the whole thing gain. I asked where my son was and they didn’t know. I obeyed the doctor orders but I did call home to hear her voice on the answering machine. I got a drink, boarded, and promptly fell asleep next to a guy wearing an ornate robe and a turban. This was October 2001. Other passengers were giving me dirty looks when we landed and I was jarred awake. He shook my hand and thanked me for sleeping on him.
Jackie and Jake were great neighbors. We often leaned one another for things. I will always appreciate that they looked out for my wife when I was away. Jackie was also expecting her first and was clearly frazzled. We swung by the grocery store on our way home because I was hungry and Doc had asked me not to come to the hospital until eight in the morning. I thanked them for the ride and entered the loneliest place I had ever been; my house. It was one in the morning, I debarked the boat in Brooklyn at six-thirty.
The next five hours were some of the longest in my life. I had a drink and ate two of the driest barely cooked pork chops I have ever eaten. By five, I had had enough. I got in the shower, took a last look at the nursery and got in the minivan.
At six I entered my wife’s room. She was sleeping. I kissed her and she stirred but did not wake. In addition to my father, I have heard and read many men who hold the opinion that there is no woman more beautiful than one with child, I agree. So I sat down in the complimentary chair and promptly fell asleep. At this point, twelve hours sleep in five days.
An hour and a half later the Doctor woke me up. He asked me how I was and I didn’t answer him. Not because I didn’t want to, I just couldn’t find the words. He offered to bring me something to reduce anxiety, I refused. Finally, I asked for a cup of coffee. While walking he asked me, “when was the last time you slept?” “For how long?” was my only reply. In the staff lounge, he told me that the nurses where giving Debi drugs to induce labor. He again asked if I wanted him to prescribe something to let me sleep. I was more sarcastic than I intended: “Doc I haven’t slept much in the past three weeks and I don’t think drugs are going to help that pattern at the moment.” He examined me like a microscope examines cells. I was crying. “I’ll send a nurse for you in a few minutes.” He said as he got up.
The nurse that came for me was a piece of work. A no-nonsense, battle-tested biddy with a cheery disposition and a love for her work. It was a good thing I had an escort because I would not have been able to navigate all of those twists and turns so well. As we walked, Betty explained how a lot of systems worked by way of conversation. I tried to seem interested but I don’t think I succeeded. When we neared my wife’s room she said:
“Here is your snowflake.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“It is how we remind people who are taking babies home how lucky they are.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Think about it a minute and you will.” And then I did.
Hours later as my wife slept, I was pacing the halls. I noticed, then, how many snowflakes there were.
I fucking hate snowflakes.
Daniel Gordon’s hobbies are sarcasm, dry wit, and making fun of people who have demonstrated enough stupidity to earn that distinction. In his spare time, he writes, reads, drinks, and is generally a burden on society when not attending college or working in retail. Born in New York and having lived in the South for over half his life, he is proud to have recently earned the title “Halfback.” A friend coined the term, citing his New York heritage, that he moved down to Florida, and that he settled in North Georgia is loosely described as: “half way back.” He leads a busy life and lives with his wife Debi in the foothills of Appalachia.