Love at first (postmodern) sight

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(Host) Commentator Philip Baruth talks about technology, modern medicine, and the oddities of life and love in postmodern America.

(Baruth) It was one of those back-to-back appointment days, working through lunch to meet all of the deadlines, one of which was to meet my wife at the hospital at 2:25, no later, so that we could go up to her appointment together.

But when I get to Fletcher Allen, Annika’s not in the lobby; so I figure she must have gone upstairs already. I race into the elevator. But once upstairs, I see she’s not there, and I’m about to get into the elevator to go down to the lobby when I realize that there are twin elevators, and the minute I get into one heading down Annika will inevitably get into the other heading up. It’s just that kind of day.

Finally the doors open, and Annika steps out. She’s out of breath, she says she’s feeling a little dizzy, a little nauseous, and then we’re past the reception desk and into the examination room.

The technician who comes in seems like she’s been having a busy day too. She picks up a plastic bottle of clear gel and squirts a big swirl of it onto Annika’s stomach. Then she tells us, “You’re going to be looking at that monitor, right up there.”

And that’s when everything slows way, way down and just stops. Because on this big flat-screen monitor, suddenly, is the image of our unborn 12-week-old child, looking directly out at us from the amniotic gloom, rubbing his or her tiny hands together slowly, patiently. It’s as though he or she has been waiting all day for us to get the technology together to allow this little sit-down. We all just regard one another for a few seconds.

The nurse moves the wand that is filling my wife’s stomach with sound, and then I’m looking at this little being in cross-section, and I’m watching the heart beat from the inside.

Just to clarify that last little bit, I’m not watching his or her heart beat from inside my wife’s stomach or even from inside his or her own body. I’m watching the heart beat from inside the heart itself. We’re a watchful presence inside the heart of our unborn twelve-week-old child.

And when the nurse moves the wand, suddenly the child faces away and swims past our gaze, because, like all children, he or she wants parents close by, but not too close, and having your parents’ dual consciousness lodged in a cross-section of your heart is, arguably, too close.

It’s a miracle, but then we’ve got miracles coming out our ears in the first days of the twenty-first century, and so I don’t do what I should. I don’t fall down on my knees and worship my wife for creating this newest love of my life; I don’t pledge to work the entire rest of my life to build a new wing for Fletcher Allen in return for this all-but-impossible in-utero meeting with my next son or daughter. Instead, I kiss my wife and thank the doctor and leave the room, picking up speed as I near the twin elevators because I have another class in 15 minutes. It’s a class on postmodernity specifically the vanishing point between reality and representations of reality and I not only have to make it there in 15 minutes but I also have to think of something interesting to say.

Philip Baruth is a novelist who lives in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont.

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