My Eskimo

Years ago, I read an old story, an often repeated story, about a man who’s at a tavern, becoming drunker and drunker. He’s telling the server how he recently lost all faith in God.

“I crashed my plane in the tundra,” he says. “I lay there in the wreckage praying desperately for help, but God didn’t lift one finger to help me. Not one finger. I’m done believing.”

“But you’re here,” the server points out. “You were saved.”

“Yes, but not by God,” the man replies. His voice full of disdain. “Some Eskimo finally came along.”

I call my oldest friend, Jill. I’ve known her since junior high.

“Go buy a test,” she says. “It’s the easiest one you’ll ever take. No studying needed.”

“But Rob’s out of town,” I counter.

“It won’t matter if he’s not there. You’re not going to be pregnant, anyway. Just take it, so you can relax.”

She’s right, I think hanging up. There’s nothing to worry about. We were careful.

The test though does not agree.

“I’m pregnant,” I say to myself. “How could this have happened?” A heaviness settles on my chest. I try to catch my breath. My ears ring. Oh, no, this was not the plan.

Married for nine years and firm in our resolve not to have children, Rob and I live a relatively unhindered life. Unlike our friends, we eat out, hike, go to movies, the beach, travel. We’ve been to Europe, most of the United States, Thailand, and have made a big move away from family to Oregon. All things we do, because we don’t have kids. Our most recent trip to New York and Washington, D.C. is perfect, but deep down I know I’m done traveling for a while. I feel the pull to focus on getting my life together.
Three years earlier, I quit my job in customer service, creating space for something that is bigger, better, more fulfilling. Something that makes use of the talents I know I have buried deep inside. When someone asks, I say I am a writer, but I do little writing. I get up in the morning, busy myself until night, then fall asleep knowing that for ten hours I can hide. No expectations. No failing. No one to disappoint. Just sleep.

For three years, I float directionless, holding on to an oar I am too afraid to put in the water. I pray for the wind to push me forward. I pray for the waves to move me along. I pray, I somehow get to the destination that will give my life purpose.

But I do not pray for this.

When I emerge from shock, I am sitting on the couch. Both of my cats are curled up on my lap. They haven’t been this close to each other since their feud months ago.

“I must be in bad shape,” I say, then laugh. I pet each of them and don’t feel like I need an ambulance anymore.

Rob is stunned at the news that we’re having a baby, but moves to happy much quicker than I can. I envy that he goes to work and can forget, at least for a few hours. Months of throwing up and trying to see a future differently than the one I’d planned, leaves me feeling used and angry. My life has changed without my permission, and I can blame no one but myself.

Time and time again, I come back to my deepest fear. How can I bring another human being into this painful world? I know the answer on a hot July morning after twenty-four hours of labor and a lot of deep breathing.

When the doctor places the boy I just delivered onto my chest, the first thing I notice are his hands. They are long and elegant like my dad’s, and I feel some relief. I know instinctively that he will do great things. I tuck the infant into the crook of my arm and it feels comfortable. Of course it does, I think, he is the same size as my cats. We name him River and take him home where I try to forge some form of routine.

But there are times in the first few weeks, as I go about the day, keeping River fed, rested and happy, when an uneasy feeling hits me. It’s a question deep in my gut.
When are the parents going to come get this baby? It subsides and I keep going.

The months go by and it is summer again. My lips burn when I place them on River’s forehead. Heat rises from his listless body. We are a family that doesn’t take much medication, so I watch his temperature and search the Web for information on natural remedies for fevers in one-year-old’s.
“He’ll be alright,” I say to Rob, not sure if I’m asking or telling.

“Oh yeah,” he agrees, then goes out to finish cleaning up the mess from a shed we decided to take down that day.

Hoping some sleep will help, I lay River on the bed.

I’m not sure what happens next. With my highly vigilant eyes do I see something change in his tiny body? Or have I been waiting for this to happen since reading that high fevers may result in febrile seizures? Or do I just know? Because when River’s eyes roll back and his body goes rigid, then jerks, surprise does not stop me. I do what is needed.

I scream for Rob. Then scoop my son into my arms and take him to the sink, splashing cold water onto his skin to lower the temperature that must have reached higher than the 101 I last remembered.

“Call 911,” I tell my husband when he arrives.

He does and we wait.

The paramedic encourages us to take the ambulance to the hospital. He’s not concerned about the seizure, but why River’s temperature is so high. I hold my groggy son to my chest and lay down on the stretcher. When they lift it into the back of the vehicle, I make some stupid joke about me being heavy. I’m grasping for lightness, and failing.

Immediately when we arrive at emergency, we are ushered into an examination room. Rob takes care of paperwork, while I try to normalize what is going on to my awakening son. The sparkle in his eyes is returning and I breath deeper. A nurse gives him a hand-made stuffed toy to soften the steel surroundings and pointy instruments. He cuddles it close.

The doctor doesn’t know what has caused River’s fever but wants to be safe and orders a syringe of antibiotics.

“Can I have your hand little one?” She gently asks my baby.

I watch as River reaches out his tiny hand, trusting her completely. It doesn’t look as big and certain as it did when I first noticed it a year ago.

“This is going to hurt,” she says, bringing the needle close to his skin.

I turn away, knowing deeply, she is right.

I am in the kitchen and a song is stuck in my head. I don’t realize which one until I sing it out loud.

“Some day your prince will come. Some day you’ll find the one…” It’s from Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” I smile, remembering how it played endlessly in my brain the months before I found out I was pregnant.

With his pudgy face and toothless grin, River doesn’t look like a prince, as he busily takes the pots and pans out of the cupboards. This is a daily event for him now, emptying the toy box and making stew out of his “guys.” Soon, I won’t be able to move without stepping on something.

My life can no longer be traveled through unhindered. And I no longer wish to be asleep. I have had my prayers answered. River, my Eskimo has come along.

About Sara Bednark

Sara Bednark is inspired to write by the most beautiful place on earth, her home in Portland, Oregon. She holds a BA in Political Science and English, and a Certificate in Conflict Resolution & Mediation. She has self-published two picture books and is currently working on a middle grade novel.
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