It's odd how mid-July has emerged as one of the most significant periods of my life. Back in boyhood, I always loved the time--mostly because of no school and because I could play baseball, ride my bike, go on vacations with my family ... what's not to like?
Later, a teacher, I found that July remained a favorite month--the only month of the year when there was no school. Not that I hated school (I loved my job, except, of course, for those times when I hated it). I could read, relax, exercise, sleep late, have weekends free (no papers to grade!), drive around and visit friends and family and literary sites, take summer school classes at Kent State.
And in July 1969 in one of those summer school courses--American Transcendentalism, Satterfield Hall--I met Joyce Coyne, who had just graduated from Wittenberg and was taking a course only to have something to do. She had decided to stay home for the summer instead of heading east to Philadelphia, where she had been accepted into the grad school at the University of Pennsylvania. Her mom had skin cancer (it turned out to be a minor issue, fortunately), and Joyce had resolved to stay home and help. I of course noticed Joyce right away in class but made no "move": She was so intelligent, so attractive, so ... together (in 60s jargon) that I knew I had no chance with her. And so I sat silent, admiring from a few rows back in the class. Feeling that regret that borders despair ...
One day, after class, she spoke to me (I've written of this before), and by mid-July we were an item. She invited me to go to dinner with her and her parents on her birthday (the 20th), and a night or so later ... she ... proposed to me. To me! I was shocked--but no so much that I couldn't speak. I accepted. (Duh!) And have not for a single second in the ensuing forty-five years felt a single electron of regret. (I dare not speak for her, however!)
Joyce had had a fairly unremarkable pregnancy (only a man could say something so clueless, right?). We had found out around Thanksgiving that she was expecting, and I was excited. We had not "planned" to have a child at the moment (we were both busy grad students--and I was teaching, as well), but we had not, uh, planned not to, either. Joyce had developed a craving for eggs, and we were making scads of them every day. We attended natural childbirth classes sponsored by the Red Cross in Kent (confession: I was worried); the teachers told us that childbirth was labor not pain, a distinction neither of us found very useful (or accurate) later on.
We exercised, too. Took walks. Played Frisbee in the road of our cul-de-sac in Kent (College Court). One night--in the gloaming--we played one toss too long: Joyce did not see it coming, caught it alongside her left eye, and had a nice shiner for a while. (These days I probably would have been cuffed and charged.) She never blamed me, but I blamed me and felt horrible until the black faded to blue, to yellow, to ... normal.
On the morning of July 16, about 10, a spasm. And off we drove to City Hospital in Akron (where Joyce herself had been born) for the delivery. Which was not easy. Which was not mere "labor." Which was painful. So much so (she was not dilating fast enough) that the doctors gave her a saddle block, at which point I had to leave the delivery room (such were the rules in those days). I was ambivalent about that. I wanted to be with her, but seeing her in such pain--hearing her cries? It was nearly unbearable.
So off I went to wait, alone. Later--hours?--the news: We had a son. I raced to the room and saw them, and immediately some "fatherhood switch" went on--a switch I never knew I had, a switch that, subsequently, has never gone off. (I discovered another one, years later, a "grandfather switch.")
But then little Stephen Osborn Dyer became deathly ill. Sepsis. They swept him off to Children's, and for a week I was back and forth: City (where Joyce was very ill, too) to Children's and back again. The second time I saw my son, he had an I-V in his head and was lying in a little crib in neonatal ICU. The doctor told me that this sepsis was "the great killer of babies." I did not find those words comforting. What I did find comforting was the presence of Joyce's parents, Tom and Annabelle Coyne, who were with me for much of the time. They took me to dinner, sat with me ... I don't know how much of a comfort I was to them, but I will never forget their ministrations ...
Steve emerged all right. Joyce eventually strengthened. And on a day in very late July we were all home together for the first time. And then began the process of figuring out what it means to be a parent (when I get the answer/s, I'll let you know).
July 16, 2013
It was just a year ago, at lunch, with Joyce seated beside me, both of us weeping, that I put into my mouth a little white pill--Bicalutamide--and washed it down with a sip of pomegranate juice. This was the first step in the testosterone-deprivation therapy designed to battle the prostate cancer that had come surging back after a failed surgery to remove the prostate, a failed series of 30 radiation treatments--both at the Cleveland Clinic downtown. Joyce and I were crying because we knew that our lives would never again be as they were.
And they haven't. So much is still wonderful, of course (I mean, I get to live with Joyce), but other things have become odious--the hourly periods of intense heat and perspiration, the death of my libido, my lack of energy, my periods of Arctic darkness ... and more.
Mid-July ... "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"--or so says Dickens in the first long sentence of A Tale of Two Cities (a sentence, by the way, my 8th graders used to memorize). And so I look at mid-July--the best, the worst. But, on balance, the best ... by far.
All of that opening sentence from A Tale of Two Cities ...
IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way -- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.