Part 10: Is it real?
KATHY AGUIAR IS A JOB counselor, but maybe she can be forgiven if not much job counseling gets done today. She scampers around the Wakefield office of the state Department of Labor and Training, poking her head into offices and cubicles to let everyone know that, finally, it worked - "We're pregnant]"
"I don't think I've ever seen anybody so happy," says Paul Bonvouloir.
The office responds in kind, with hugs and squeals and talk of a baby shower. More than one veteran parent advises Kathy to "get a lot of sleep now."
"I'm so happy for you]" cries Connie Parks, running at Kathy with arms outstretched.
Connie's the one who, upon learning that Wendy's first two attempts to conceive through artificial insemination had failed, informed Kathy that she'd seen a nature show on TV about procreation. It said the female body is so monogamous, it actually kills off unfamiliar sperm - a tidbit that lifts today's good news into the realm of the miraculous.
"Do you know how much better you look?" Nancy Griggs tells Kathy. "I saw you Friday and it was not good, and now it is."
The next atta-girl is from Becky Mahle, who considers herself a bit psychic - "I said, Kath, it's gonna happen. I know. I felt it. I just felt it was so strong."
Kathy doesn't doubt it. "Thanks for all the prayers," she tells her. "You gotta be an aunt. Auntie Becky."
Amid all these warm wishes, Kathy's mind turns to Joe, and as soon as she can, she calls him up: "Honey, hi, how you doin'? Are you still calming down? Grounding yourself here? Reality setting in? What do you think?"
When she hangs up, she reports that Joe is happy, but "He's a wreck."
* * *
"It's hard to explain," Joe says.
He's back at Vito's Oil Express, his friend Mickey's company, where, feeling restless and needing to be around people, he'd spent the day.
"It doesn't make sense but it does. You go into that other thing, that numbing thing, when you can't identify something or see something like it is. You just go completely" - he wipes a finger across his forehead and expels a puff of breath. "I guess I call this a traumatic experience. I know that I'm off a little bit. I just can't process it. When I start to relax and settle down, it'll come to me."
He says he felt like the odd man out at the pregnancy-test party, because he couldn't cry - though he noticed Wendy didn't cry, either.
"Joe," Mickey tells him, "people react in different ways to different situations. My father died, I didn't cry till I was by myself. Get in the car and go for a ride on 95 or 295, or go to my house and cry."
"I was in that state," Joe continues. "I go into the stare mode - Is it real? Is it not real? This is stuff we went through back 30 years ago in Vietnam . All the time, I'm thinking, this isn't really happening."
He'd spent a restless night, he says, and so, apparently, did Kathy. When he awoke at 1 a.m. to use the bathroom, she was at the kitchen table, eating Rice Krispies.
He didn't talk to her - he was trying to stay in a sleepy state so he wouldn't be up all night - and later he felt guilty about it: Why didn't I talk to Kathy? Maybe she needed talking to. Why didn't I say something to her, something nice. Why didn't I go over and sit down and say, "What's going on? How you feeling? Anything bothering you or are you just hungry?" Try to communicate with her and get her feelings.
This is just one of a hundred different worries Joe's had since he woke up this morning, which is why he dressed very fast and headed to Vito's Oil Express to see Mickey.
"I need to talk," he announced when he arrived.
Mickey could tell that Joe was scared, and why shouldn't he be? "It's a big jump. He's not a 21-year-old."
The pair climbed into the truck and made oil runs to Scituate, Cranston and South Providence, talking the whole time about fatherhood, and about the families they know, how bad or good they are. Mickey, 41, is divorced and has a 19-year-old daughter, and though he is seven years younger than Joe, he has assumed the role of Joe's counselor.
"He's a caring guy," Mickey says of Joe when they return.
A child "probably couldn't have a better father," adds Bob Ambrosino, Mickey's partner.
"Oh, thank you, guys," says Joe, settling into a chair. The problem is, he doesn't feel as natural at it as Kathy, who sees a baby and just has to hold it.
Relax, says Mickey. "It's nothing that you can't handle, because you're more than qualified."
Joe nods, wanting to believe it, but then he raises another issue - freedom.
"We can't just pack up and go like we have done for the last 14 years we've been together," he says. "Now we have somebody that we have to be responsible for."
Well, that's true, says Mickey. "Can't just put the baby in a closet and say, I'll see you in a week.' "
Though Mickey offers no solution, just talking about these issues helps Joe; everyone agrees that he is much calmer now than when he arrived this morning.
Because he long ago had abandoned all hope of fatherhood, he is more innocent about baby matters than most first-time dads. He doesn't know, for instance, that "I hope it's a boy" should be quickly followed by "A girl would be great, too. The main thing is that it's healthy."
Joe is also oblivious to something called the "terrible twos," which Mickey defines for him as the stage when babies "flush toys down the toilet."
Not a problem, Joe answers: "My best friend owns a fuel and heating and plumbing company. We'll be all set, won't we, Mick?"
Mickey laughs, and then there's a bit of silence, as he grows thoughtful.
"Joe's kinda humble, a little bit," he says. "He fought a lot in Vietnam - probably more than he'll tell you. It's time for him to sit back and enjoy this life. And part of the enjoyment of life is having a baby.
"Joe's deserving of it. He's seen so much death in his life. He fought for our country. He's seen thousands of deaths. I think it's about time he sees life."