He was blindsided. In shock, plain and simple.
Why today alone he’d become a husband, an expectant father to be as well as a real dad – almost a single parent actually – and all this within the space of a few hours. But that wasn’t even close to the unexpectedness and mind-boggling manner of arrival with which his daughter chose to announce her entrance into this world, and no it wasn’t delivery by stork. Unless ‘Stork’ was the PC term for being ripped from a womb that was gutted (in the most clinical, non-eviscerated and non-disemboweling meaning of the word) with a sharp kitchen knife. There really wasn’t any politically correct terminology that encompassed this method of birth. Incongruously, the word ‘Labor’ didn’t cut it at all. He mentally shook his head at himself for the unintended pun. Well, not really, he realized. Unless your approach was a three-pronged assault. One: Labor, two: leading to birth and three: method of delivery via Caesarean cut. A correlated train of thought.
Trust the women in his life to upstage everything, even nuptials where they already were center stage or left of center, as it were. Being that her mother was the best-man to the groom, and the fact that at that point in time she still resided within her uterus, meant that, indirectly, she was involved in the wedding party, but it seemed that his baby girl had inherited the Catherine Avery flair for attention.
Although differently motivated, April was no slouch in that department either. Granted, she was highly competitive and boy did she love being proven correct (to be fair though, what woman didn’t, right?) but showmanship and credit was by no means her end-game. On a one-to-one basis some measure of gloating did occur, but that was endearing rather than obnoxious. On a global scale, the recognition she garnered however, was never sought after. It attached to her unwittingly and was sometimes even unwelcome. Those rare unsolicited occasions visibly made her uncomfortable with the bloom of color on her visage even travelling up to her ears. The heated blush that appeared was an immediate barometer of embarrassment and became glaringly apparent, upending like a strobe-light the status quo of her normally pale complexion. She was clearly not a celebrity-seeking prima-donna.
She was underrated but she packed quite a punch. She was a Trauma Surgeon, not for notoriety, but primarily to render assistance. Her actions were swift and precise and her words were never censored. Always with an undercurrent of kindness though. Personally and professionally she was honest to a fault (if you discounted the lateness of her pregnancy news!), and while this personality trait went unacknowledged and was unappreciated by many, he valued and respected her for the authenticity inherent in her speech. At times however, her bluntness and unfiltered thoughts and conversely her quietness (like the non-immediacy of her expectant condition!) fell into the category of things about her that he didn’t like to love.
Add to that her unwavering strength, always to the betterment of life. I mean she’d undergone a freaking C-section with ineffectively numbing ice in lieu of anesthesia. Ironically, her Emergency Caesarean was performed by a qualified anesthesiologist minus his unconscious inducing drugs. Oh and let’s not forget that said doctor also happened to be a surgical intern waiting out a 6-month suspension. This being the consequence of a botched, middle of the hospital hallway, Crash C-section when the hospital was on temporary lockdown and which resulted in the death of both mother and child.
Not confidence inducing at all. Well to him at least. April, on the other hand, placed her absolute faith and trust in Ben’s capabilities and it was galling when you consider that Ben was his friend. He’d been laboring under the misconception that he’d won ‘The Baileys’ in the divorce. There was that word again, the dissociative nature of which did not bode well for his peace of mind. Damn divorce. While he stubbornly resisted the implications inherent in his thoughts, a tiny unacknowledged part of him acquiesced to Ben’s past conversational gambit; yes, his judgement had been severely impaired, he did act in haste and he was experiencing divorce remorse. Sometimes illusion should just be, he reflected, before it morphed into disillusion.
Conscious, April had experienced the layers of her abdomen being torn asunder. This at least (strange to use that term, but it was the silver lining to a stormy outcome) by a sanitized kitchen blade and not the late Ellis Grey’s old and rusty scalpel that Ben had managed to scare up. And by late he meant deceased, not delay in timing. Could a living Ellis Grey with the same tools at her disposal have done it any better than Ben’s ‘McGyver’ plan, he wondered? Recalling a comparative expression from an old Alan Rickman movie he’d watched, he supposed that they should be grateful that Ben hadn’t used a dull spoon.
Unconscious, April didn’t get to feel her child being extracted from her body or the necessity for her being packed with dish towels. She never got to know that a healthy baby girl had been born to them.
Her near-meet with The Grim Reaper covered no set formula. She arrived at the hospital out cold and intubated, and escorted straight into anesthesia administered surgery. Thankfully she’d been medically knocked out for the repair mission after her real live acquaintanceship with the pointy-end of one of Meredith Grey’s kitchen knives.
At some point prior to the ambulance pick-up she’d obviously ceased (and perhaps seized?) to breathe. Scared him to Death. With a Capital D. Into a figurative almost-meet with the non-gender specific Ripper Reaper himself. The Hollywood meet-cute version of the Angel of Death led to unrealistic real death expectations. Unless Ben Warren was the diverse cast POC substitute Joe Black. In that case he had a bone to pick with Mr. Miranda Bailey.
Today ranked up there as one of the craziest days of his life. And that was saying a lot if you considered the upheaval of the last few years and the unexpected shock and awe of this one. Despite the explosive bombshells though, normality had been attained. If by normalcy was meant routine, ordinariness, regularity and the status quo of boring same ol same ol.
Not that he had anyone else to blame for the mind-numbing tediousness and lackluster loveless life that was his, but himself. Wasn’t this what he had wished for? What he had set in motion?
Decrying the consequences and the unanticipated regret would make him appear wishy-washy and that was something he wouldn’t allow. Averys were proud. Averys were decisive. Averys had an image to project and a reputation to protect.
As for him personally, Jackson Avery had his manhood to defend. He was not being sexist or patriarchal but he had to prove, more to himself than others, that he was not a chauvinist with expectations of Provider and The Little Woman. He truly wasn’t. Neither did his personality view marriage as a casual convenience, to be arbitrarily and lightly discarded. He really didn’t. It was not masculine bravado when you refused to be seen to be controlled by your lady, true?
He wasn’t whipped, he’d divorced her ass.
This was his petulant non-verbal response to Ben. Out loud what he’d said was a simple but emotionally laden “April and I are divorced.”
He suppressed the image in his head of Ben’s self-satisfied smirk, wordlessly echoing the trite phrase, ‘Me thinks the lady doth protest too much.’ Yeah, Ben’s unvoiced taunt screamed gender role reversal or more likely equating a feminine description to anything considered weak, soft, overly or overtly emotional. Any measure of emotion really. Patriarchal chauvinistic sexism at its finest.
What confounded him was Ben’s complacent smugness. How did the other member of this two-man crew, the first being him of course, gain the upper hand in their conversation? How did this adjunct to the newly refurbished Plastics Posse J-dog dare him in the category of patience, of all characteristics, while at the same time appear to placate him? And how did someone, the quintessential epitome of strong, silent and secure in his masculinity, make broad assumptions and sweeping statements, albeit true, regarding the love of a person’s life? Ben had obviously misinterpreted the official rule book; Real Men did not discuss feelings! Right?
How real men did bond, strictly no-homo, was by goading each other. Forgetting that this wasn’t a one-upmanship attempt with his diminutive Nazi nicknamed spouse (the likelihood of a victory in that situation being a snowballs chance in hell), Ben turned the tables on him. His method constituted a sort of commiseration, but in the way of male bonding, by provoking the other. It was macho posturing but of an unlikely category. Specifically, of having stamina, endurance and persistence. While size did matter (particularly in the bedroom), Ben’s provocation was not the sexually connoted phallic physicality variety but the proportion, duration and inculcation of patience. He conceded that of the two P’s, patience and physicalness, he could claim bragging rights to only one.
Grey-Sloan Memorial was far from your average health care facility. Well to be frank it had earned the reputation of Shit-storm Central. It was the hospital unafraid to entertain the wildest, weirdest, wackiest and sometimes no-hope cases, with doctors on the cutting edge of technology, arrogance and ‘Harper Avery Award’ level superstar status. So how was it that he, mild-mannered, even tempered, non-showy or attention seeking, had managed to represent the opposite of each of these character traits?
With tongue firmly in cheek and a small measure of self-contemplation, he acceded to some cockiness. The concession was his but the blame he lay at someone else’s door. That same somebody was the one responsible for his heirloom inheritance derived from the melding of the Avery/Fox gene pool. No one exemplified haughty superiority like Catherine Avery. Her claim to Fame, as it were.
Reverting to the exciting, out of the norm circumstances of this morning, he acknowledged that his marital status and one baby-mama drama was an elderly trauma patient’s dementia induced imagination.
When Louise had said, “Where were you? You left me all alone. You should have been there for me, should have taken care of me. That’s what a husband does,” he’d been knocked for a loop. And the kicker, “Don’t leave me, don’t…please…”
The mirror she held up to him held a sobering reflection, but while the barge had set sail traversing that river in Egypt, Denial covered a vast expense before the end destination of acceptance of his own culpability even glimmered on the horizon. Add to that his default method of personal conflict resolution being avoidance and disregard that the problem and resultant emotions even existed. Extreme DE-NILE. Sometimes a physical and sometimes a mental escape.
The realization of Louise’s neural deficits regressing her to a past where she mistakenly identified him as her husband, had thrown him off kilter for a brief moment but his training had swiftly kicked in and he’d immediately tried to calm and reassure her. Dictated by circumstance and taking a leaf out of his ex-wife’s book on patient care and etiquette (thankfully not escaping as the other idiomatic expression referencing leafs indicated, specifically ‘make like a tree and leaf’) this meant that Patient Louise became as she thought she was…his wife. Silver Fox Cougar to his Toy Boy if one were to heed amused intern gossip.
He’d cocked it up though. Believing for a brief moment that perhaps lucidity and awareness had returned to her but continuing on the same tack when that hypothesis was swiftly debunked, he considered that maybe he could help snap her out of the episode of regression she was experiencing. He tried explaining that she’d been brought to the hospital by her son Donnie, the son she didn’t know she had. The upshot of that misunderstanding being that JLo were having a baby.
JLo. He sniggered at the amalgamation of their names. It was comical (not her condition of course, but the resultant miscalculation) and even though the joke was at his expense, he owned it. Perhaps there was a tiny degree of self-deprecation involved but the majority of the incident was entertaining and perchance diverting. Why should IICC or better yet IC squared (Intern Isaac Cross and Co…duh!) be the only ones laughing it up? Where was the fun in that?
“She’s here…she’s been waiting for you,” he smilingly held their little one up. Riding on the high of a euphoric coupling of relief and delight he concentrated solely on the latter sensation. Introspection and analysis would come later, when he was alone and ready to face the underlying meaning of the day’s events. Under a different set of circumstances, he would hold up the baby in Lion King Formation and perhaps hum a few bars of ‘The Circle of Life’, the opening song from the movie. April would micro manage his baby holding technique and perhaps lovingly scold him. She would be charmed though by the pride inherent in his actions. His Simba had arrived. She was and would continue to be the essence of the Avery Legacy. Divorce being the presiding condition however, he simply held The Legacy up to her mother’s face.
“Excuse me Dr. Avery, your wife is awake,” Cross sniggered, interrupting the moment.
“Oh, is Tatiana here today?” April questioned.
And he was floored.
“Who is Tatiana? I’m talking about Louise. How many wives you got here Dr. Avery?”
Apparently Dr. Isaac Cross had been absent on the day they covered sensitivity training and appropriate bedside manner.
Cross had been messing with him about Louise’s confused state of mind and yeah he acknowledged that they were a sick bunch for finding amusement in the situation. He figured that their highly stressful occupations required a diffusion of tension and a tempering of the inevitable crash after an extreme adrenaline rush. So in most cases Laughter became the Best Medicine.
“Uhhm…err…aah…” he nervously chuckled as he tried gathering his thoughts for a short explanation of the situation while at the same time attempting to process April’s question.
He deduced that she was still groggy and slightly out of it with the focus of all her attention centered solely on the miracle in her arms. Although, her grip was a surprisingly steady one. Enough to render him redundant. At this point his hold on the baby was simply window dressing.
“Go on, I’ve got her,” April softly remarked, seemingly more alert yet uninterested in becoming enlightened regarding the fake afflictions of his fake marriage.
Though startling, the resolve in her voiced order brooked no refusal. He immediately capitulated. But he ensured that a nurse was on hand to assist.
Unaware that Cross was not trailing him, he swiftly set-off, his mind a jumble of asks.
What did she mean by that odd question? She’d always supported his career and had the utmost faith in his abilities, many a time even superseding his doubts. So why bring Tatiana into the mix now? It was no random comment either and neither was the enquiry made in jest. Wasn’t it generally known that people were most honest and uninhibited when inebriated by drink or high on drugs? Or in this case coming off anesthesia? Where was she going with this?! What was the significance of the implication inherent in that question; equating a long-term patient with the role of wife? It’s not like he ever prioritized patients generally, and Tatiana specifically, above his family? Right?!
Today too was out of his control. It pained him that he wasn’t there for the birth of their child. He’d had no inkling however, and he wondered at his own carelessness in not responding to the voice message from April. He’d been too occupied with surgery to attend to missed calls, whoever they were from and well Louise had needed him…
Okay, so he’d become close to Tatiana over the years and perhaps confiding in her about the status of his marriage hadn’t been entirely appropriate. April didn’t know that though and anyway where was she when he needed a confidant? He’d never had to tell her these things before! They’d constantly and consistently been in-sync, she’d always known his mind…before Samuel, that is.
So what if Tatiana became his friend? It was all innocent and aboveboard. I mean he’d given her away at her wedding and standing in as her father figure he’d dispensed marital counsel to her too. So maybe the advice was slightly hypocritical since he was the fool doling it out but not taking it for himself. Perhaps the guidance itself was at fault. Bad advice. And besides April knew nothing of this.
So of course Tatiana never took precedence over April. I mean he’d prioritized the divorce – why he was almost late to Tatiana’s wedding! And when he’d bumped up joining April in Jordan to priority code red, in essence willing to follow his wife’s career (he wasn’t even gonna dredge up the other motives, that would require self-analysis that he was still not ready to contemplate) circumstance had intervened. Missing the flight had been a sign. A strong indication, kinda like the first time they’d broken up. Of course he didn’t believe in fate and signs, so yeah…
“Cross, what…” he turned around to question the intern, finding him lagging way behind. Exasperated, he waited for him to catch up before he continued on towards their patient.
“What did Louise need from me? Was she alert, aware of the surgery? Did she ask for me?” he shot off, eager now to get this over with so that he could return to his actual family and maybe get some answers from April. Beneath his calm exterior, his temper was on a slow simmer.
“I…I don’t know sir. You just told me to let you know when she woke up,” Cross stuttered and under his breath which Jackson was easily able to decipher, “besides you don’t want anyone to touch your patients. And patients always come first, you said.”
“That was before Dr. Cross! I’m officially on paternity leave now. Check with Dr. Bailey and whoever’s covering my post-ops go speak to them,” he replied clearly frustrated with the level of incompetence he had to deal with.
Doing an about-turn, he left Cross to flounder through the quagmire of the imagined marital state of affairs that was definitely not his. He had a real ex-wife and a baby daughter to return to. Today they were his priority.
Approaching April’s room he watched as the nurse he’d instructed to assist April with the baby exited, while a woman he didn’t recognize entered. Irritated at arriving second and having to wait he nonetheless decided not to intrude on the visit. Perhaps the interloper had mistaken the room number and would leave soon. He couldn’t be sure though, as he was no longer privy to April’s acquaintances. One thing he knew though, people naturally gravitated towards her. She was the mothering sort. Their daughter was lucky to have her as a parent and role-model.
Curious as to the mysterious identity, he hovered out of view of the room’s occupants while blatantly eavesdropping on the conversation happening within the walls of his hospital. Okay, no his, but the hospital he had a major (51% to be precise) hand in running.
“I see congratulations are in order! A little girl hey? What pretty skin, like Beyoncé! And how is mom feeling?”
“Yeah, she’s here. Impatient, so she came a little early, but we’re good. Thank you for the visit, Sharon. To be honest I didn’t expect that Lamaze Instructors were so interactive with their attendees,” April responded, clearing up the conundrum of who her visitor was. Similar to April however, he was just as confused as to the why of the intrusion.
“Oh, I was in the neighbourhood,” Lamaze Lucy laughed. “Actually I’m here to see one of my other couples who had a baby too and when I heard you were here I thought I’d drop in to see how you were doing. I see the dad isn’t here? Just like the classes. You came to every one alone and I worried that you didn’t have anyone.”
What the hell, he wondered? At face value her words seemed to connote concern but he possessed a discerning ear for racist discriminatory undertones. The unspoken phrase ‘Deadbeat Dad’ seemed to echo loudly between the comprehending females in the room and the impression of dripping scorn for him, the absentee black father, left a bitter taste. Who the fuck did this woman think she was to sit in judgement of him? He was perplexed too at April’s silence when no clarification was forthcoming.
“Anyhoo,” Sharon continued, “how was the birth? The Lamaze method must have helped and I remember you saying that you were doing yoga too. The breathing techniques of both make labour a breeze.”
His feelings were a jumbled mess. Interspersed with his previous internal temper tantrum was some disgust at this insensitive, interfering, moronic woman but the predominant emotion of the moment was disappointment, leading to sadness. He’d respected April’s privacy and her rights. As she’d said to him on the day that he found out she was pregnant with his baby, “My body, my baby.” It was his comeuppance, he figured. He’d asked for the divorce and in so doing he’d lost out on all the treasured moments. All the joy and anticipation of precious life. He’d only had one opportunity to touch her belly and that was when she herself allowed him to feel their baby kicking. Damn Divorce.
“Actually, I had a C-section, but the breathing exercises never went to waste,” April responded, her voice sounding quite exhausted now, but this still had no impact on clueless Sharon. Maybe he needed to step in and usher the unwelcome guest out.
“So does this cutie have a name yet?”
“Yes. It’s Jordan. Jordan Kepner.”