For a few weeks in November, I unexpectedly became a father. I, Luke Danes, was someone's father.
I didn't recall getting anyone pregnant. Anna: don't remember her being pregnant, wasn't there when she gave birth. During our short relationship, she said she was on the pill. I had no reason to disbelieve this.
That day in November 2005 was the single best day of my life. It was the day I found out that April was mine, my daughter. For a few weeks in November, I discovered something about myself: I liked being a dad.
Until the day that my paternity was confirmed, I was positive that the most wonderful day of my life was the day Lorelai looked me in the eyes as we made love for the first time. I was convinced that something so wonderful would never happen to me again.
Then I became a father.
Until Lorelai, I never imagined I would become a father. After Lorelai, I imagined I would experience a full-of-wonder, harrowing rollercoaster ride of a pregnancy with Lorelai. But I became a father without benefit of the love of my woman.
Instead, I became a father without the support of a family and whatever friends I had. When I found out about April, I did not have a mother who might burst into tears, saying, "I had almost given up hope!" I did not have a dad to clap me on the back, congratulating me with a wink. I'd already been robbed of that moment when a father finds out that his own son is embarking on that same journey.
Then there's Lorelai, my friend, lover, wife, and so much more. At the time, she was my fiancée and she only gained pain from this development. My kid should have been hers. Our kid would have given me an entirely sweet and thrilled Lorelai. We would have shared each month, me bringing her healthy foods, Star Trek-themed toys, and she begging for coffee, chocolate and all sorts of inappropriate foods. Oh the work it would have been. And I would have loved it.
And then there's Stars Hollow: the town would have had a meeting--gathered 'round us. Taylor'd probably would have insisted the birth be filmed live at the Twickham House for the town website. But Stars Hollow would have celebrated--not just for Lorelai, but also for Bill Danes. Liz would have been especially thrilled. She'd probably have showered me with bad advice and baby bling.
So, 2005. That spring, when Lorelai told me that kids would be nice, I rejoiced in a dream long since given up. Me, Luke Danes, grinning from ear to ear. Luke Danes got a hot babe to agree to bear his kids (notice she said kids, not kid!) in spite of the goofy flop of hair I grew out trying to cover my increasingly balding head. Hearing her say those words was happiness on top of happiness on top of happiness. And then, in November, April exploded into my life, and the happiness I felt with Lorelai doubled overnight, not in the least bit marred by the circumstances of her discovery. I sat in my boat and thought about taking her out to the lake, connecting April to my father through the boat. I became that guy I never thought I'd be: the one who makes plans.
But, my kid was born without me, and she wasn't Lorelai's.
April should have been the kid of my Twickham fantasies. Born in Stars Hollow...surrounded by a loving father and friends...gathered around Lorelai, not Anna. Me helping Lorelai through labor...hard labor, overly-dramatic Lorelai labor, pleading-for-drugs AND coffee labor. And I would have helped her.
See, I've always been good at reassuring Lorelai. Maybe it's because I'd always been the only person who could see through the front to the real Lorelai. I always imagined it'd go somewhat like this:
She'd be moaning, saying she was a failure as a mother, couldn't get the kid out.
I'd stroke her hair, and gently rub her arm. I'd say. "You are not failing."
Lorelai would answer back with something like "I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do."
I'd tell her "It's okay. You're not going to fail. You can do this."
It would be like the time Rory was turning twenty-one during "that time" as we later referred to it. She was afraid that Rory wouldn't remember their lifelong plans. I just kept on reassuring her (myself, truth be told as well), stroking her hair.
Instead, April's entrance into our lives was more horrific than any scene on ER, worse than my worst nightmares. There was no shouting; just silence as I pulled Lorelai into a world she never should have been part of, as I watched every dream we'd just dared begin to dream change…as I became that guy, like Lorelai's ex, that guy who had a kid and broke another dream of Lorelai's.
But stuff has a way of arranging itself logically. She got over it. I didn't.
So, I eventually did have April...for a couple of weeks in November.
I remember when Kirk told me she was in the hospital. The diner was silent. Lorelai drove us to the hospital.
When we got there, Anna was of course at her side, along with a bunch of women that all seemed to look like her, and some hospital people in white coats. Anna told me that her heartbeat had stopped momentarily. Then a doctor said, very quietly, "We have a heartbeat." The room became silent. I began panicking in my mind, thinking, 'Why doesn't she cry? Why isn't April crying? She's been hit by a car. She should be crying, she's in pain...'
The room remained silent. Lorelai's hand lay flat against my back. I waited, then turned and stoically walked out into the corridor, and waited for a very long time, and finally there was a cry...the most piteous cry of agony; a cry of despair as I heard myself moan her name, "April!" And Lorelai, she was there. She's always there.
Later, I went back. April was in a coma. Anna motioned that I could sort of lay down beside our kid; not daring to hold her, I was stunned and disbelieving that all of this, any of this, was happening. I sent Lorelai out of the room, secure in the knowledge that she'd be waiting outside, that she'd be there for me should I need her.
I touched her, my April. Her skin was soft. April with the soft skin and nerdy demeanor. Would I have named her April? My April, who didn't know that to know me was to be doomed.
In the middle of the night, a nurse came into the room and woke me up. The doctors wanted to take another MRI...No, no, I wanted to shout, I'm her father...even as they wheeled her away...aware that to them, I had absolutely no legal right to her.
Lorelai stayed outside, keeping vigil with me, separate yet together. She let me experience the nightmare as I requested, let the nightmare unfold for the next few hours. Emotionally, she never left my side. Later, I discovered that when I'd fallen asleep, she came in to watch over her for me.
April continued deteriorating. Oh God, she never called me Daddy. I was just Luke, the guy with nine fewer strands of hair. A man both elated at her presence and angry with her for causing a disturbance in the force--messing up the only true happiness I'd ever known.
During this time, April still had many tests, in spite of my protests and in spite of Anna's getting almost physical a few times. But each time, they brought her back, and I held this agonized little girl's hand, my child in all ways. I can hardly remember any of it except for the agony. I remember April's agony, I remember my agony, and I remember Anna's agony. I remember her smell. I rubbed her tummy, held her hand. Even in her pain, she seemed to relax as I touched her.
April began having seizures in the afternoon, and no matter how much medicine they gave her, she kept having them. These were not awful-looking, TV movie-of-the-week seizures, but subtle twitches of her face and eyes. Up to this time, I still thought it was possible that maybe she'd get better, maybe the words "brain damage" would leave our lives, that time would reverse itself, that maybe everything was going to be okay. "Dad, I'm fine," kept reverberating through my mind. But I knew, I knew it was time to let her go.
Later that night, I slipped out and talked to the doctors. They told me that April'd had enough. I'd come up with a plan, the kids in the Twickham house, but it was all shot to hell now. Anna came out and talked to me. I was confused, why did she want my help? She told me that once April stopped breathing, the hospital would surely put her on a respirator, and she would likely lie vegetative for an indeterminate period. April needed me, us, Anna and me, needed to make sure the respirator would NOT happen.
I needed Lorelai to help me. She looked awkward and scared. I said, "Lorelai, I want you to help me think this over, to be careful we're doing the right thing. I want to be sure..."
If it were Rory…were the unspoken words between us.
"Luke, are you sure?" Lorelai asked.
"I'm sure," I answered, and in her eyes, I saw that the trust we shared carried over in understanding and acceptance.
"Call a priest," Anna requested.
I looked at her and said, "But why? Why now?" And then I suddenly realized what she was thinking and Lorelai said, "Luke, April is dying."
"You don't have to do this..." Lorelai continued.
I felt exactly as if someone had placed a gun against my head and pulled the trigger. I imagined my brain hurtling backwards out the window behind me.
Anna implored, quietly, once more, "Call someone, anyone, a priest, a minister, a rabbi...I don't care..."
Lorelai squared her shoulders, left quickly, and in a few minutes, the hospital's on-call chaplain came in. She sat down and held Anna's hands.
"Anna, I'm going to stay with you. Is there anyone else I should call?"
Anna looked at me, I shook my head.
"Rory," Lorelai's small voice added, "I'll call Rory."
Rory still, to this day, describes what it was like to be told that her future stepsister was dying; she remembers what it was like to drive down the freeway surrounded by stars and sadness.
We--Anna, the chaplain and I--stood at the foot of the bed for a while, as nurses and doctors worked on her. April was now clearly dying.
Sometime after midnight, Rory arrived. Lorelai went to her. I looked out into the hallway, and saw them walking down the hall. Lorelai was so quiet, walking in a kind of procession.
The doctors left, and Anna held April in her arms. I sat at the foot of the bed, whispering to myself, and the chaplain stood behind me. After a while, I turned around and saw a crowd with its noses pressed up against the glass, looking in: nurses from around the hospital, janitors, housekeepers, and the hospital operator, ambulance attendants. It was as if they knew how sacred the moment was. I don't know why they all came but they came and April's beauty and our grief were thus shared.
The door opened, and Lorelai walked in.
I could not meet Lorelai's eyes. Why did my kid have to die? Instead, I stared out the window into a night of stars and sadness. I looked at the night for the longest time, trying to make sense of a universe where solar systems explode and kids die. A world where a ten-year-old girl is taken from her family. A world where children are raised without their father's consent or knowledge.
I don't remember much of anything else, except for Lorelai's hand over mine.
It was right around two in the morning.
I had perhaps a small amount of hope, tiny, tiny. Maybe it was the lack of sleep. Maybe it was because Lorelai and Rory kept things moving smoothly. Around 6:00 AM, I was reeling, tipping over as if drunk, from fatigue, so I lay down on the floor. I'd rested for a half-hour or so when I felt Lorelai's hand on my forehead. I was so stiff and sore, it took me over a minute to sit up; she waited and then crouched down beside me and took both my hands. But I felt entirely alone.
Yet again, there was the sense of a gunshot.
I stayed with April all day.
Someone (Rory? Lorelai?) had somehow arranged to get a rocking chair put into April's room. Anna sat there, me watching her, thinking of how April had touched me, this crazy being, this young messenger of science, this angel.
And then I went to her. I held April. I tell you, there were moments in that room that were magical. I kissed her and covered her with my love.
I suddenly decided there was no hurry. Anna had no extended family. So then, I decided, that since April was really mine, that I would write her funeral program. Weird, huh? I called Kirk, actually called Kirk, and was answered with his heartbroken voice. I called Liz and asked her to pick out a casket, an unbearable horror about which Liz and TJ are unable to speak to this day. I love them both just for doing this. Rory fielded the phones, dealt with the details. And Lorelai was my mainstay, she let me talk; she let me write, she helped me do absolutely anything I needed to.
The next day came. With the doctor's help, Anna and I picked a time when we would declare April officially dead. I was determined to make it happen the way Anna wanted it to happen. I hope it happened the way April would have wanted it.
When the time came, I asked Rory and Lorelai to leave. Lovingly, a nurse removed all of April's tubes. I sat in the rocking chair, holding Anna in our little private world. Another nurse played music. At noon, they disconnected life support while I tried to pack a lifetime of missed memories into those few moments.
Her heart beat and beat and beat.
A nurse kept feeling for a pulse, listening to her chest, and still her heart kept beating, it beat and beat and beat. A doctor came in, reached for a stethoscope and listened that way; still her heart kept beating. The music played and I rocked Anna.
Every few minutes, they listened to her heart. It kept beating and beating and beating.
After about half an hour, I cleared my throat and said she could go, that I understood, that it was okay. That a month was good enough for us. Her heart kept beating and I rocked Anna and the music played and I talked about how much I had started to love April and how I would take good care of her memory forever and how I loved her and loved her and loved her. I rocked Anna and rocked Anna and rocked Anna and when the doctor listened again; her heart was a little slower but still completely regular and real. We rocked some more.
The music on the CD was done; the room was silent. Her heart went beat/beat/beat/beat/stop.
I can't remember what kind of music it was.
And that was the end of April's life. I sat with Anna for five or so minutes, then helped her over to the bed.
I only had her for a few weeks in November. Anna'd had a lifetime.
I walked out into the hall. Lorelai was there, looking at a picture...of Liz and me as children. I saw her place it in her purse, as she awkwardly stood. As soon as I got to her, I closed my eyes, enveloped myself in her arms.
We held April's funeral three days after her death. There were lots of people there: my family (Lorelai, Rory, Liz, TJ, Jess), Anna (and her family and friends), Sookie, Jackson and the kids, Babette and Morey, Miss Patty, Kirk and Lulu, Taylor (Taylor!), Andrew and Gypsy, the Reverend, Lane and the guys, and I swear everyone who ever worked for me at the diner. And Nicole and Rachel. Even they came. The service was so excruciatingly painful that I thought I would vanish, ascending with April to the stars. Lorelai actually walked out; she could not bear my grief. Rory later told me she spent most of the funeral throwing up in the ladies' room.
After everyone left, I silently waited...for my destiny. Lorelai returned, still clutching the flowers she held when we first arrived at the funeral. We stood alone, a macabre perversion of a wedding scene, the couple in front of the altar. Lorelai turned to me, with a look of grief beyond all grief on her face. If I did not love her before, I loved her then.
I refused to treat April as if she had not existed. Anna had picked out a cemetery plot for April, in a children's cemetery. Lorelai held me and talked about the spirits of the children singing and dancing at night. She reminded me that her spirit was what was important, not her body.
Lorelai and I walked out into the wintry sunshine. At the gravesite, there were no more words said there. Just like her childhood, I have no real memory of April's burial. I remember Lorelai brokenly agreeing to watch the casket get lowered because I could not. I remember Lorelai's flowers. I remember turning away. I remember Lorelai walking side-by-side with me as we left the grave.
I have vivid memories of how I met April, but almost none again about those months after November, after I returned to Stars Hollow. I did not go back to the diner for a few weeks. I visited the cemetery every morning, and sometimes I sat by April's grave for long periods. In the afternoons, I'd sit at my parents' graves, or in the boat in Lorelai's, I mean our, garage.
At our house, I mostly remember the silence; no one seemed to know what to say. The silence. Unimaginable that a house full of Lorelai would be so silent. It was as if she was saying, "I don't know what to say." And me replying, "I'm fine, really, I'm fine."
I remember I couldn't be alone anywhere, except at the cemetery and in my boat. I remember sitting at all kinds of places: the diner, and restaurants, and movie theaters and the Dragonfly, with all kinds of life bubbling around me everywhere, while I sat still, stunned.
And then I went back to the diner, an utterly excruciating experience. In spite of what I know was Lorelai's complete discretion, somehow it seemed that everyone either knew, or much worse, didn't know, about April. Working, particularly working in the same place I had first met April, was unspeakably terrible. So, sometimes I would just walk out. Lorelai understood. I would walk around town, and there things would be worse still: strollers, families, babies, toddlers, kids...incoming missiles of pain and shrapnel around every corner. It was like that for months. And months.
I visited her grave whenever I could. I decorated her grave with toys, marking the milestones she was missing.
Mostly life was just dark. Internally, I was bleeding tears. It was dark everywhere, in every conceivable position and place. It was dark in the diner, it was dark at Lorelai's. Lorelai. I shared the dark with Lorelai, in my truck, on the phone, on every holiday and on every anniversary of April's death. I had a dark day when it snowed and I had a dark day when it was sunny and beautiful.
Once, and only once, did I actually show tears in public. Well, not in public exactly...with Lorelai. She reached across and kissed the tears off my cheeks, which made me cry more.
Life became about nothing but survival. I couldn't go out, except to the diner. All I did was work and try to figure out how to live through another month, another day, and another quarter of an hour.
It helped to sit and think of Lorelai, and about a family. In a way, I am the lucky one. Unlike Kirk, I did get to be a father, if only for a few weeks in November.
Now, I think a lot about April's mother. I remember the pain etched on Anna's face. I think of what a gift she'd truly given me: caring for and loving my daughter for me. Safekeeping. And, always there was Lorelai and how she stood with tears in her eyes.
I remember all that Lorelai did for me. How she...she loved me. How she loved me enough to speak kindly with Anna. How she loved me enough to overcome her insecurities for my sanity. How she loved me enough to save my boat. I remember walking into April's room and finding her wonderful presence, standing in the room alone with April...sobbing, sobbing, sobbing, and not realizing I saw her. I remember that all we could do in the face of so much anguish was touch each other.
I think a lot about her hands; her shoulders and arms extended to me. I think a lot about her kindness. I think a lot about love: how it indeed has its own energy, its own sense, its own power, and how it can be felt and touched and heard, just like a pulse, just like time. Except it doesn't end; instead it streams, ripples, and runs its own current. I think I wasn't ready until Lorelai for that current to envelop me.
I think a lot about my family. They all reacted in different ways, and were deeply moved by April. Liz of course already had Jess, but April's brief encounter with us affected her. Rory was affected as well--survivor's guilt, in a way. Lorelai, Rory later confided, ended up seeing a therapist after having a very bad year. Liz refuses to go to the gravesite and still sometimes leaves the room when I talk about April; it's too painful for her.
I once told Lorelai that we were written in the stars. I now know that Lorelai and I have a path to follow, that our journey together, to love, is just unfolding. I need not be alone anymore, and I cannot get there, anywhere, alone. I need her.
Anna chose a beautiful site, lots of trees and birds. It turns out that Lorelai is right: I do feel the spirits of the children there, the kids who rise above their graves to play at night. I like to picture that they have encircled April and that they teach her to play with the toys I leave for her. Soon I'm going to have to stop leaving toys; she's outgrowing them. I like to picture that the cemetery at night becomes full of their light and their laughter. I like to picture that she, too, knows about love. I like to picture that she knows she has two moms, her mom, and the pretty lady with the dark hair and blue eyes who loves her dad.
April's tombstone reads:
It's funny how guys keep some of their most special stuff in their wallets. And then they stick those wallets in their back pockets and plop their butts down onto their special stuff.
My wallet has five special things in it. One is the horoscope. Then there's April's last school picture. A picture of me, Lorelai and Rory when she graduated from Chilton. My wedding photo, not the one with Nicole, but the one that really counts. And then there's the letter.
I mentioned that Lorelai was in therapy after April died. It was a pretty rough time for us for a long time afterwards. Lorelai left, no she really didn't leave me, leave us, she just left the situation. She took the Durham Group up on its offer, and went off on consulting jobs. I have to say, both Rory and Jess pretty much kicked some sense into me during that time. They talked me into going after Lorelai. And so it was that I was out of the country on the second anniversary of April's death.
Rory is so like her mom, more so the older she gets. She told me she'd stand in for me, watch over April that day. And she wrote me a letter, an actual letter because she knows I hate email.
Well I went. I'm surprised by how lovely April's grave is (now that's a contradictory term--lovely grave).
I got lost but I think it was mostly because I was overwhelmed when I drove in. I can't remember much from the funeral, so it's understandable that I'd lose my way.
I went into the office; they pointed me in the right direction. Wouldn't want to disappoint my step-dad.
It was sunny and very warm today. All the flowers were beautiful; there were some kind of birds hovering in, and that gave the place a bit of life among all the quiet. I brought a dozen baby yellow roses and a little note from me. I want April to know that the lady who would have been her stepsister carries her in her heart. I wiped away the grass and straightened the toy collection. I played with some of the toys. I thought of you and mom, and cried.
A caretaker came up and asked if April was my child and I said, "No, her dad who's in Europe with my mom is my step-dad, and I promised I would visit." I said she died a few days after Thanksgiving, that she'd been lost but then found, and I cried some more.
I walked around a bit and each grave marker I read produced another tear and another thought of April. I am moved beyond words having visited April.
Luke, you are so very much in my thoughts. April touched us all, not just for a few weeks that November, but for always. I'm searching for the sense of this, of what happened to you and April, and Anna...searching for the meaning of a few weeks in November.
I never did get to be a dad again. By the time I got my act together and Lorelai and I were ready, it just wasn't meant to be, I guess.
But we're happy. And there's going to be jam-hands in our lives. You see, both Rory and Jess are reproducing! Lorelai's hoping Rory's going to have Lorelai the Fourth. So I'm gonna be both a great-uncle and a grandpa, and I'm just this side of the big five-oh.
But for a few weeks in November, I was a dad.