They were both my friends, which makes it hard to tell this story. I’ve known Brian since high school, and I gave Lisa the seal of approval to date him right after they met. She was cool. My ex-girlfriend and I hung out with them a lot, because we had weird stuff in common. For some reason, all of us gravitated towards musicology and ancient Japanese art, among other things, so we always had a lot to talk about. My ex and I broke up; they got closer. When they got married a few years ago, Brian wrote her a poem. I remember one line in particular, something that seemed like Brian would never ever say in real life: “nestled in blankets.” I thought they were a good match.
Brian was an evangelical atheist until the day April Noel was born. He was the kind who would do everything except go door to door to convince Christians of their own stupidity, like there would be a heavenly crown in his honor for every soul he kept from accepting the existence of Moses or whatever. It seemed like that was the only real problem they had as a couple, but it didn’t seem like a big deal to me. Lots of people get together just fine despite that. You could have a Jewish mom and a Buddhist dad, and it’s not a big deal.
Brian talked to me pretty soon after he found out that Lisa was pregnant. He told me that it was becoming obvious based on his discussions with her that something was going to change when the baby was born. And it wasn’t going to be the easy stuff, like not staying out as late or not smoking so much weed. It was going to be a fundamental change in the way that both of them lived their lives. Lisa had told Brian that they needed to come to terms with the disconnect between their philosophies. She was a Christian (nothing crazy, just Lutheran), and she believed that a child needed a good moral foundation. Brian fought back and told her that he could provide a good moral foundation without a god, but she wasn’t buying that. Lisa wanted the child to be raised Christian. Ultimately, it came down to self- sacrifice. Brian agreed that he would go along with it, mostly because it was going to be hard to have the conversation about where all of this came from when she was 10. He agreed on one condition: he might talk the talk, but he wouldn’t walk the walk.
The baby was big enough that the doctor recommended a C-section. They planned a Sunday afternoon to go in and have the procedure done. I met up with Brian for lunch to talk about business stuff on Saturday, but I could tell that he wasn’t exactly doing well. We were working on a deal for a mutual client, but he was completely unresponsive when I asked him about the most basic aspects of what he was doing to push it through. A baby’s a big change, yeah, and I’ve seen guys get cold feet about this sort of thing before, but it was ridiculous. I did the best thing I could think of in the situation. I did the opposite of what Lisa wanted: told Brian I had an emergency meeting I had to run to, but that we should meet a little later to grab drinks.
We met up at the club we used to go to before he got married, and it was a wild night, a last hurrah before he was a dad. Booze, tits, lines, and rock and roll in a fast car. I dropped him off at home at like 6, drove home, and went to bed.
I had stuff to do on Sunday, and we were friends, but I didn’t want to pry. I finally got a call from the hospital on Monday afternoon telling me that she had the baby, so I got my stuff together and took the rest of the day off. I had done a slightly illegal favor for one of my co-workers a few weeks before, and he had given me a box of Cubans in exchange, so I brought what was left of them over too.
I like going into a hospital right after a baby is born. It’s the only good reason to be in one, really. It looks so nice, with all the pastels and baby paraphernalia. I stopped at the little convenience store in the lobby and bought a bouquet of flowers. The woman at the counter said daffodils were the best for a newborn. I went to the front desk, found out the room, and went up. Lisa was on the far side of the room, so I got a quick glimpse of the mother on the near side of the curtain as I walked by. She was drugged up and serene, holding her child with the dad close by.
There was something immediately wrong with the atmosphere on the far side of the curtain. Lisa was holding the baby, April Noel Athos. 9 pounds and 3 ounces, twenty-one and a half inches long, brown eyes, no hair yet. Brian was sitting on a chair smiling and whispering something to himself, and there was a nurse in there, but she didn’t really seem like she was doing anything. I said my hellos, congratulated both of them awkwardly, and handed the flowers to Brian. He just looked at me and smiled broadly, kept whispering to himself, and put them on the little table next to Lisa.
Lisa thanked me for the flowers, and she seemed out of it. She was in labor for twenty hours, so that was logical. But Brian seemed more confused than she did. He barely said hi and was just sort of a non-entity in the corner. The nurse walked out of the room for a minute and came right back. When she came back in, she told me that she needed to check a few things for Lisa, and she asked if I could leave the room for a minute. I said sure and walked out.
There was a doctor waiting outside who asked if I was a member of the family or a friend. I told him I was a friend, and he had the grave countenance that you usually see when you watch doctors on TV. He told me what was going on: Brian hadn’t stopped singing the whole day. He had been carrying a red letter pocket New Testament with the Proverbs and Psalms, and he had been singing the whole time.
I got the whole story later from Lisa, but apparently she had been looking for Brian when she woke up on Sunday. She saw his car in the driveway and knew he couldn’t be far. She found him in the park sitting down with a notebook. He had used the lines of the notebook paper to create crude treble staffs and was scribbling notes on them manically, singing the whole time. She said that he was singing at the top of his lungs, probably waking up the neighbors. She knew he was on something. I can take the blame for part of that. We used to do all this crazy shit when we were younger, ayahuasca and acid, and there were some nights spent staring out the window convinced that the authorities had been catching on for a long time and were lined up out on the street. She asked him if he took acid. “Did you take acid, how much did you take?” But Brian shook his head no. We had done a couple of bags of coke, nothing more. He kept singing the whole time. She called the doctor and tried to reschedule the appointment and told him that they were having family problems, but the doctor said that based on the nature of the pregnancy and the stage that the baby was at, it would be unwise to postpone things any longer. Plus Lisa figured he was going to snap out of it by the time they got to the hospital. They went back to the house, him singing the entire time. Lisa grabbed the emergency bag, and they took a cab there.
By the time they got to the hospital, Lisa couldn’t handle dealing with him, and he still hadn’t snapped out of it yet. Supposedly a few of the nurses wanted to take him to emergency psych since he was so unresponsive, but they decided against it for Lisa’s sake.
I didn’t even want to think about the delivery and everything surrounding it. At least I was here now, and I had to atone for what I had done. Brian kept singing and looking down at the Bible in front of him. The lyrics were all psalms. King David’s psalms. That’s what he had been singing the whole time. I finally got him to quiet down the singing down a little, telling him he was scaring Lisa. He at least did that.
Lisa was exhausted now, and the whole room carried a weariness I had never felt before. No one knew what to do. The nurse asked me to take Brian out of the room for a little while. I went out of the room telling Lisa that April was beautiful and not to worry. Guilt was an anvil in my stomach.
Brian and I had some safe words from back during the experimental days, and I told him that his name was Brian Athos that I saw the fnords too. That was this stupid code phrase we used to remind each other we were regular people and that we weren’t being wiretapped by DoD agents, no one was after us after all, and everything was going to be okay. His eyes lit up with a spark of recognition and recollection, but he shook his head and kept singing. It was like it was some surreal musical where one character was singing and the rest of the cast didn’t know what the fuck was going on. We were all missing his lyrics sheet.
The good news was that Brian was starting to fade. This fantastically horrific day was wearing him down. I drove him back to my place so he could get some sleep somewhere other than a waiting room. On the way back I kept trying to shake him out of it, saying the meanest fucking things I could think of, saying, “Listen, why do you think everyone is looking at you like this?” Saying, “Don’t you know you have a fucking wife and a baby in that room that need you? Whatever is going on in your head, snap the fuck out of it.” He didn’t say anything. Kept singing, his eyes glued to the passenger side window, singing out his psalms about how the Lord would deliver him from his enemies.
He finally fell asleep on my sofa bed that night. I knew at that point that there were two ways this could go. Either he becomes a life-long crazy, or he realizes what he’s been doing. I was just hoping that he would wake up and be okay again.
Eight hours later, I heard him moving around downstairs. I went down and checked on him, and he was in shock. He just kept saying, “Oh my God, what have I done?” He sobbed and told me that it all seemed so real to him, that the world was going to end if he stopped singing. He knew it for a fact. He knew it beyond the shadow of a doubt that it was his duty to sing psalms to the Lord for all the days of his life, without ceasing, like Paul wrote. And now it wasn’t. He started trying to sing again and then stopped immediately, realizing the world hadn’t ended, realizing he was wrong. I tried to calm him down, telling him that horrible shit happens to people, that people snap, but it was going to be okay, everything was going to be okay.
But there was nothing I could say to make everything okay, because what is sadder than hearing the voice of God followed by silence?