by K.M. Zahrt
Today, February 18, 2015, marks the first anniversary of the craziest day of my life, which marked the beginning of the craziest year of my life. I’ve tried to write about this before, but the words simply didn’t work quite right. Today’s the day, if it ever will be.
One of the reasons I’ve found it difficult to write about this has been because the starting point is hard to define. Based on how you look at it, the events of that day were anywhere from slightly more than nine months to slightly more than nine years in the making. My wife, Katie, would probably say nine months is plenty, but I think the best place to start may be about six and a half years before that day.
About six and a half years before February 18, 2014, in August of 2007, I boarded a plane with my new bride. We had been college graduates for four months, married for almost three months, and unemployed, living on love (and wedding gifts). I had only recently taken a despair-relieving, somewhat-related-to-my-degree job as a closed-caption editor in Grand Rapids for $10 per hour (the job promised to increase to $11 per hour after a 90-day probationary period, with an opportunity–using the term loosely, there–to get a whopping $12 per hour if I wanted to take additional training), when a real opportunity arose for two English teachers to round out a team of six at a newly established private school in a “Where did you say that was again?” region of China. We weren’t English teachers, and we weren’t thinking of traveling to China any time soon, but what choice did we have? That was the craziest day of my life up until that point; luckily, it also turned out to be one of the best decisions we ever made (funny how that works).
At any rate, on that 15-hour flight, in a green composition notebook I had picked up at Walmart for fifty cents (our budget was tight), I scribbled the first sentence of what would become my first novel, Odd Man Outlaw. I still have that notebook, and the sentence I wrote that day, August 30, 2007, reads: “Eddie turned the nob to HI, and felt the cool air breeze between his fingers.” I was writing by hand of course, so naturally I abbreviated “high.”
When you sit down to start writing a novel, there’s a useful idea that goes something like this, “Just start writing. It doesn’t matter. Most of it will probably get revised or thrown out by the end of the process anyway.” That’s certainly what I was thinking that day. However, after a year and a half of falsely believing the book was finished three different times only to reorganize or rewrite entire sections once again, in the spring of 2013, it was finally finished. By November, the book was in the process of being published by an independent press out of Tennessee. And, that sentence I wrote sitting next to Katie on that plane five and half years earlier? Believe it or not, a version of it, only slightly modified, made it onto page 59. In final form, it reads: “He turned the air conditioning to high and felt the cool air breeze between his fingers.” Crazy.
Near the end of 2013, Katie and I were expecting our firstborn to appear on February 10, 2014. Also, crazy. That was about the time I received word from the publisher that Odd Man Outlaw was going to be released on February 18, 2014. So, the thoughts began: Wouldn’t it be crazy if the baby was born on that day? It could happen. Katie was adamant the baby was not going to be that late. Our baby would not do that to her.
Well, he did. He was late. We went in for a check-up that week, and the doctors were talking, “How long can we wait?” And, what if this happens? And, what if that happens? They hooked Katie up for a stress test, which she passed with flying colors. Then, right before we were about to leave, a doctor came in to do a “quick ultrasound” just to “check things out.” He played the joystick game on Katie’s belly for a while. At last he said, “Forget everything we’ve told you.” On one hand we were stunned; on the other hand I was relieved because everything was going over my head anyhow. Then he said, “He’s breech. We’re going to have to take him.” That, of course, I understood straightaway (I probably asked him to explain himself six times).
They wanted us to go in for a C-section as soon as possible. The earliest availability they had was Tuesday, February 18. So, that’s how I found myself wearing a hair net, dressed in scrubs, holding shoe coverings in one hand and receiving updates from my publisher on my cellphone in the other hand, while I waited, alone, in the hallway outside of the operating room before I was called in to meet this guy for the first time:
The craziest day of my life, so far, has been the day I became the father of a boy and a book on the same day. It’s going to take one hell of a crazy day to top that one.
Happy Birthday to you, Benjamin Orion! And, Happy Birthday, Odd Man Outlaw!