If you love to read the newspaper in the morning, and if you have a 2-year-old and a baby, and if your nanny doesn’t work weekends, then you know the only way to enjoy the newspaper at the weekend ranch is to get up early enough to drive in the dark to the old Shell station halfway to town, drive home, quietly work the espresso machine so as not to wake the baby, and then get your uninterrupted 30 minutes of reading time as the sun rises over the far ridge across the field. And if you’ve messed up your life like I have, such that you’re constantly being pulled and pecked at by clients, employees, and family—like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, lying there with your stuffing pulled out and your Brioni suit empty and wrinkled while you frantically work your BlackBerry, barking orders—then you know how precious the rare, quiet half hour with the paper can be.
The other weekend, it all came apart. I had just settled into the big leather chair and opened the sports section, my cappuccino steaming at my elbow. I froze, midway to putting my feet on the coffee table, at the ragged sound of the baby beginning to cry. Morning ruined? I heard my wife get up and take the baby back into bed with her. Saved!
Then: loud, icky thump. Ominous silence.
I saw the trees outside the window bend toward the house, as the baby sucked all the air out of the immediate vicinity. Pause. SCREEAAAMMM!
I rushed into our bedroom and saw my wife hysterically holding our baby, his face covered in more blood than I’d seen since his C-section. I was struck by a single thought: thank God this didn’t happen on my watch. I’m exaggerating, of course, but that thought was definitely holding the hand of the actual thought I was having, which was: when would be the best time to play this trump card?
My wife frantically dabbed at his cheek with our bedsheet. I helped with a pillowcase. Our bedroom looked like Vietnam. He had a deep, horizontal cut right below his left eye, but the blood flow was already stanching, and his sobs were lessening into whimpers. Tough little bugger, I thought. Plus, the scar was in exactly the same spot as the raised war wound on the GI Joe action figures I had in the ’60s. No doubt he would think it was cool as he grew into a boy. The morning would be salvaged after all.
My wife was still hysterical, though, and insisted we take him to the hospital. My fumbled argument about butterfly bandages and not wanting the baby to suffer the pain of stitches went nowhere. Luckily, my wife’s mother was spending the weekend at the ranch with us, and she came flapping into our bedroom, pulling her housecoat over her nightgown. I faded to a ghost as they washed the baby’s face and examined the cut and discussed the logistics of driving back to Dallas while I stayed home with our still-sleeping 2-year-old. They quickly decided that I was not to be trusted with such a task. I would stay behind, pack things up, and come back the next morning. My wife and her mother would take both kids home to Dallas, and my mother-in-law would watch the 2-year-old while my wife took the baby to the hospital. I protested strenuously, if insincerely, but the dust was already swirling behind the SUV as they drove away.
My heart sang like a bird. The ranch seemed to double in size. I took the pickup out to the eastern fence line, bumping fast over the fallow field, just to hear the grass brush against the undercarriage. I drove to the greasy diner in town for a leisurely lunch with the newspaper and an old New Yorker. Two beers with my burger and a slice of rhubarb pie with ice cream for dessert.
Back at the ranch, my afternoon and evening alone spreading before me like the white sand beach at Las Ventanas, I was planning my nap and reading schedule when the phone rang. It was my wife. They were still in the waiting room of the ER at Children’s, the cut not deemed harrowing enough for a standing surgical team. It would be another couple of hours before a doctor would see them. My mother-in-law, back at the house with the 2-year-old, needed to be relieved. I had to come home, now.
I thought, for the first time, of our sweet baby boy, hurt and scared. And my wife, her day fraught, uncomfortable, and nerve-wracked for six hours straight. And I thought, Trump card? Not this time. I locked the door and headed back to Dallas.
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