St. Paul, Minnesota (one day before)
I am on stage. The show is going well. The audience is one of those shouty, fun ones that doesn’t like sitting down. I love them for it. The band is playing good and loud. I am surprised at how easily my spinning mind has set aside other thoughts to allow me to concentrate on the songs. They are flying by me now, each one with its own personality, each with its own needs. I need to remember during one to keep the tempo down, and another needs just a bit more energy during the bridge. Little things, but they keep my mind occupied and fully engaged in the show, which is really the only way to play a show.
It’s the last night of the tour. Belongings have been gathered and packed from around the bus. We’ve all talked about what a great set of shows these have been. Some of us will have to leave right after the show, so some goodbyes have already been said. We are halfway through the concert when the power of what is about to happen to me hits me square in the chest. I feel the force of it like a wrecking ball made of laughter and tears. It is sweet and scary and wonderful and terrifying all at the same time. During Zack’s bass solo, I take a deep breath and hold it. I’m not going home tomorrow. I won’t be going home for awhile. I’m on my way to meet my new daughter.
Portland, Oregon (five days before)
I’m not needed at the venue until three, so Haley and I have rented a car to take Bea, our five-year old, to see a waterfall.
After the waterfall, we find a place for lunch, and just as the waiter is bringing our food, I get a call on my phone.
How are you, Josh? Is Haley there with you?
I know right away what this is. The world gets very small. Yes, she’s here with me.
A little girl has just been born. Her birth mother has chosen our adoption profile. I look at Haley. We’ve been waiting for this moment a long time.
We began talking about it on our first date. At the time, I knew very little about it, but I fell in love with Haley instantly and she had wanted to adopt her whole life. We decided it would be a part of our future. Then we had Bea and went on the road together for four years. When we began to want to have another little kid around, we both knew that it was time. We researched our options and decided to speak with Wide Horizons For Children, an amazing adoption organization operating in the Northeast. We filled out a lot of paperwork, had some meetings, attended some classes and did a lot of dreaming.
As part of the process we made a profile of our family that spoke about who we were and what we believed. We included photos, of Bea berry picking or dancing around during soundcheck, of grandparents and cousins and friends. We submitted the profile to Wide Horizons and waited.
Now, after two years, could we fly across the country and come to the hospital as soon as possible?
Seattle, Washington (4 days before)
Haley and Bea and I are waiting for a break in the traffic so that we can drag their bags to the waiting car. It’s been a crazy day. As soon as we heard the news we went straight back to the venue to share it with the band. Everyone has been walking on cloud nine since. I feel so lucky to be able to spend my life on the road with friends that have become family. To be able to share this moment with them is especially sweet. The bus arrived in town from Portland before dawn, and we’ve been up, planning travel with my tour manager Katie and our band travel agent, Joan, packing bags and dealing with last minute adoption details. We’ve decided that Haley and Bea will travel to meet the baby, and that I will travel to meet them in a week, after the run of shows is done.
We jam the bags into the back of the taxi and Haley and Bea get in. Haley and I look at each other, almost in disbelief. What we had talked about all those years ago is about to happen.
After they leave I feel aimless. I walk down the street and buy a cup of coffee that I don’t even want. I go into a couple stores, drifting. I try to imagine myself as a father of a newborn again. What have I forgotten about that time? What will I learn? Will I be able to handle it? And what about Haley and Bea? Where are they now? Have they gotten to the airport alright? Where have their own thoughts taken them? All of the questions lead to more questions and soon it’s time for me to head in to the venue and get ready for the show. Back with the band, it’s time to get to work. As happy and excited as everyone is, the trick is now to channel that energy on stage, and to do that we have to be focused on the show at hand. So even though my life – all of our lives – have shifted, we stand in our usual huddle, talking through the songs to come, and as we do I start to calm down. Just as each song will lead on to the next, each day will open on a new one. There will be challenges, but we’re up to them. Decisions will be made, and we will be ready to make them. Through the doors I can hear the crowd.
Some Somewhere (Day of)
Haley and Bea have picked me up at the airport in a rental car. For the next little while we will be living out of a motel near the hospital where Moxie is. I’m feeling shocked and bleary from lack of sleep, but so happy to be back with my family again. While we drive, Haley tells me about the last several days, about meeting Moxie for the first time, about the amazing nurses and doctors, social workers and motel front-deskers that have pulled together into an informal community around our family and its newest member.
The drive takes us down the interstate, through fields of fast food restaurants, truck stops, billboards for caves and family-owned petting zoos. The sun is warm on the hood of the car, and we roll the windows down, feeling the Southern air on our faces as we drive. At a stop to get something to eat, Haley tells me about meeting Moxie’s birth mother, about standing over Moxie’s bed there in the NICU with her. The two had stood arm in arm over the bed telling her that both of her mothers were in the room with her, that she was loved and welcomed by the World.
I am in the NICU myself. I am washing my hands and arms. The nurse asks me if I am ready to meet my daughter. I nod. It’s all I can do. She pulls up a chair and tells me to sit. Then she lifts the sheet in front of her incubator and carefully lifts Moxie out.
She is so small that “small” stops working as a word.
She fits in the hollow of my hand.
She breathes quickly, from a spot just beneath her ribcage.
She is so pale that she is almost translucent.
She opens eyes that shift in color from blue to hazel to brown and back.
She closes them again and sleeps with a fierce determination, plunging into it like a pearl diver into the sea.
I look up and through the glass that separates me from Haley and Bea. They are smiling hard. We are all smiling. There are no tears, just a great welling in my chest. I find myself again taking a deep, deep breath and holding it.
The next day, Bea and I drop off Haley at the NICU so she can hold Moxie, and, because only one person is allowed in with Moxie at a time, the two of us head out of town to go on a cave exploration tour at one of the nearby caverns. The morning is cold and rainy. When we get to the caverns, I buy two tickets and we wait with a group of people for our guide, who turns out to be a local teenager. We all gather beneath the teeth of a rockfall that occurred sometime in the last five thousand years. A path leads down into the rock face, and a door keeps the caverns beyond hermetically sealed from the outside world. I think about the explorers who first found the cave, and I think about Moxie. Bea and I walk through the doors and into a long, dimly lit hallway. Ahead of us, the voices of our tour group ricochet against the walls until they finally bounce free and into an enormous, vaulted space, festooned with stalagmites and stalactites, watered by an underground river. What wonders lie beneath the surface of everything. What whole new worlds exist just beyond our imagining. When we are lucky and brave and heedless and plunge ahead, we can find ourselves in extraordinary new places. Lost in the moment, temporarily out of my equilibrium, it takes me a moment to realize that Bea has taken my hand.
“Dad, you don’t need to hold your breath.”