It was 7 AM when Darren was finally allowed into Issey's room. They had removed her breathing tube and she was awake but groggy.
Talking was difficult and Darren had been warned to not let her speak much.
"Hey love." He kissed her cheek. "Try not to talk just nod. Do you know what hospital you're in?"
Issey indicated that she didn't.
"They brought us to the Komensky Center at New York Presbyterian when they decided to deliver because Memorial isn't really set up for newborns. They have one of the best NICUs in the country here.
She nodded and closed her eyes then looked at him pleadingly.
"I saw them, I held them, they're beautiful. Both over 2 pounds so that's really good news, Marsh is over 3 pounds! I had to tell then their names, I'm so sorry I couldn't wait for you."
Issey waved his concern away and tried to smile through dry, cracked lips.
"You gave me a scare but they said they think you're going to be fine. They wouldn't let me in while they were born, was it terrible, the parts you remember?"
"Scary" she whispered.
"I'm so sorry Is, I know this isn't how we planned any of it, and it's Christmas Eve, but I had to let them do it."
She reached for his hand and thumbed over his knuckles, nodding, it was okay, it had to be done.
They're going to let you see them tomorrow maybe, but I took pictures on my phone."
She reached out making grabby fingers, a new light in her eyes.
"Before you look I want you to know, they have lots of tubes and wires but it's all been explained to me, it's all really normal for preemie twins, don't be scared okay?"
She nodded again and he handed her the phone.
She cried, silently, looking at one and then the other then back.
Darren pointed to each tube and wire, explaining each as they had been explained to him. Issey knew most of it, she had spent a lot of time researching preemie twins and what problems could occur.
When he finished she sent the pictures to her own phone then opened the notes on his starting a new page.
they don't feel real
Darren read over her shoulder. "They will when you hold them."
I expected to feel connected to them but they could be anyone's
"Wait until you're with them, it took me a minute too but then it just, happened. You'll see."
"I promise. They're magic, just like their mother." He kissed her head.
I want 2 c them now!
"I know love, but you can't get up yet ."
"It wouldn't fit in the room"
hallway, is there a window?
"Yeah. I'll ask okay? But right now your mom and dad wanna see you okay?"
please tell the doc I HAVE to see the twins
"I will. We can only be here 2 at a time so I'll go ask while you visit."
"I love you too."
Her mom cried, her dad told her how cute the twins were but teared up when he hugged her. She seemed frail, it had been hard to notice before with the bulk of her pregnancy, most of which remained, but somehow, now, the slightness of her wrists and grey of her skin seemed more prominent.
They told her how Darren seemed completely at sea without her for even those few hours, and about how obvious it was that his family loved her.
It was nice, but all she could really think about was whether Darren would be able to make an impassioned enough plea on her behalf.
Her parents let her know they were stepping out so Darren's parents could say hello.
Darren's parents both told her how beautiful the twins were, how happy they were to be grandparents, how they were praying for her and knew she would be home with her kids soon.
Darren and the head nurse came in so his parents said their goodbyes with a promise to return later.
She let them kiss her while she worried about the absence of a wheelchair.
"I want to see them." She whispered before the nurse could speak.
"I know, and you will." The nurse was a strong willed woman, used to dealing with the demands both rational and not, of the very ill.
"You need to let your body get a little more rest first. It's too soon for you to be up and around."
"Just a second, just for a second."
"You need to stop talking, you're doing yourself harm."
Issey motioned for paper which the nurse brought to her with a pencil.
"I can't rest until I see them. Please?!"
The nurse read it and thought for a minute. "It's going to have to be very fast."
Issey nodded like a crazy person.
She went and got the wheelchair and reminded Issey to get up very slowly. When she was settled in the chair, a surprisingly painful and exhausting maneuver the nurse took all of the IV bags from the hanger on her bed and transferred them to the wheelchair.
"You have to wait until we get someone to bring you upstairs, he should be here soon."
The nurse left the room and Darren and Issey held hands in silence while they waited.
Issey wanted to be excited but she was exhausted and overwhelmed, the terror of feeling nothing when she saw them clutching her insides like a fist.
When they arrived in the hall Issey had to stretch uncomfortably to see through the window while Darren went in and explained the situation to one of the nurses.
She said something with an animation of flurried hand movements and Darren returned to the hall.
Issey just knew he was going to give her bad news.
"She says you can come in, they'll make a path."
In they went and she was parked between the two incubator units holding her children, their children. The incubators were high and difficult to see into from a seated position so she began to stand which everyone reacted to in a panic.
Another nurse, the one in charge, or so it seemed came over. "Is this your first time seeing your little ones?"
Issey nodded and Darren explained their situation.
"Do you feel well enough to hold them?"
Issey's eyes lit up and she indicated that she did.
The nurse removed Marshall carefully and placed him in her arms.
Issey's tears flooded not only her face but the baby's as well. She touched his face and held his fingers in her own, letting all of the fear wash away in the wake of pure, unconditional love.
Marsh fussed just a little and she instinctively pulled him closer, laying his head near her heart. He settled and closed his eyes as if he knew this to be the safest place in the world.
They stayed like that, with Darren kissing Issey's head, then Marshall's, talking soft nonsense about love and hope and the future.
The nurse took Marsh back, explaining that he needed to stay inside his incubator and couldn't come out for long. She settled Marsh in and reached for Ella.
Ella cried loud and indignant at being bustled about which made both of her parents smile. She balled her fists and her face was red with anger as she landed in Issey's arms and Issey could only laugh, "You're Mommy's girl alright." She managed.
Ella was not as easily quieted as her brother but Issey moved the blanket a touch and stroked the bottoms of her feet which did the trick. She looked up at Issey with large round eyes and seemed to acknowledge that this was where she, too, belonged.
She had less time with Ella, who was smaller and only able to hold her body temperature a very short time.
Back in her room she wrote on the pad of paper. "You were right, Thank God, they're magic, just like their Daddy."
They kissed very gently because of her poor mouth and Darren told her she needed to rest. She wrote for him to go back to the apartment and sleep. To do his show that night and then visit her after.
Disagreeing with her was fruitless so he kissed her cheek again, told her he loved her, twice and left the hospital feeling like he had nowhere to be but there.
Issey went to sleep shortly after he left.
When he returned, ignoring her directive to do the show, he came with flowers for her and tiny teddy bears for each of his children. He noticed other, older babies, had them tucked next to their incubators something the babies, no doubt were unaware of. It made him, and probably the other parents as well, feel as though they had some sense of normalcy. This is what you did, you gave your little ones small cuddly toys. Parents. The word settled on him for the first time. I'm a parent.
Issey had had visitors it was clear. His brother had called to congratulate him and evidence that he, and probably Lucy too had been there greeted him at the door in the form or two gigantic walking balloons saying Welcome Niece and Welcome Nephew. The niece balloon was a pink cat with bows in her fur. The nephew a monkey in a diaper and blue baseball cap.
The room was so filled with flowers it smelled vaguely like a funeral parlor. He tiptoed around reading the cards so as not to wake the still sleeping Issey.
The pink peonies and blue hydrangea in an arrangement that could only be described as massive was of course from Chris and Will. A delicate double orchid in an expensive pot with river stones was from Ryan. Her sister and brother in law had sent two arrangements, one an all blue arrangement in a blue ceramic elephant with a balloon that said Baby Boy on it and a soft pink arrangement in a pink polka dotted giraffe with a balloon saying Baby Girl. There were more, some names he recognized, some he didn't.
A new nurse came in and saw him taking it all in. "This is nothing, we had to stop bringing them in. There's a refrigerator full of them downstairs and they keep coming."
Darren smiled before he noticed the mild annoyance in her face. "How is she?"
"She's struggling. They're probably going to try to move her back to Memorial tomorrow."
"Is it wise to move her already?"
"Not if you ask me, which no one does."
Darren gave up on conversation and let her work. She checked some machines, looked at her IV bag, gave it a squeeze and left the room.
He bent to kiss her cheek and pulled back quickly. She was on fire. The nurse had to have known and he didn't feel comfortable enough to go tell her so he picked up his wife's phone. 36 missed calls. 23 new voice mail. Her text messages had an 18 above it.
"She's so hot." Sophie said, walking in with a coffee.
"I know. I don't think she's doing very well."
"Good luck getting anything out of nurse sourpuss."
"She's a bitch right? It isn't just me?"
"No, she's a bitch. Maybe if I had this job I'd be a bitch too."
Darren couldn't say he disagreed. "I'm scared, Soph. I'm so glad she came to the show but I think it was too much. I shouldn't have let her. I shouldn't have brought us out here where it's freezing, on a fucking plane that's basically a flying incubator of germs. I should have put my foot down and kept us where she was better off."
"You know she'd never let you get away with this self blame shit right? Issey doesn't do anything she doesn't want to do. The doctors okay'd all of it."
"Not the part where we snuck home and she didn't come right back to the hospital."
"Based on the conversation I had with her before that happened I'd say that was one of the few things that had made her truly happy in awhile."
Dr. Burchsted came into the room surprising Darren. "What are you doing in New York?" He said as he stood to greet her.
"I heard there was a great show on Broadway that I had to see." She gave him a smile then turned to Sophie to introduce herself.
She checked Issey's chart and looked at all of her monitors while speaking. "I hear the babies are both doing well. Issey really gave it all she's got to get them into this world healthy."
"I just hope she has something left to get herself healthy too. I can't do this without her. She's so fevered." Darren felt much more comfortable expressing his fears with Dr. B.
"She's had a tough go, you know I'm not one to sugar coat things so I'll be honest, she's critical right now. I'm not happy with her condition and I have concerns that the cancer is getting the opportunity to spread.
We need to get her radiation treatment as soon as possible but she isn't well enough to begin."
"They want to take her back to Memorial tomorrow." Sophie interjected before Darren got the chance.
"I heard, I don't think it's wise to move her until she's more stable. That's why I'm here. I can manage her care better if I'm in the room to fight for her. "
"You have no idea what that means to us, we're both so grateful." Darren shifted his chair closer to her bedside.
"You may have to take care of those kids without her, maybe for awhile, maybe forever. She's going to have to be tough and so are you. This is not the time to fall apart. I'm going to do everything I can, but you need to understand that this is only the end of one road, there are more challenges ahead."
"This one!" Her tiny face was streaked with tears.
"Tonks, it isn't appropriate to wear a tutu today. Please help Daddy, right now, I'm very tired." Darren pled with his daughter.
3 years old and with a definitive mind of all her own Ella, nicknamed Tonks for her ability to change both facial expression and disposition in the blink of an eye, stomped her feet. "I don't wanna go!"
He pulled her into his lap, "I know baby, but we've talked about this day for a long time and you promised Mommy that when it happened you would be a good girl and help Daddy, remember?"
Joey showed up in the doorway smiling a little. "Go get Marsh dressed, I'll help Ella."
Darren thanked him and went to his son's room.
"Tonks, buddy today is a tough one for old Dad, he had a long night, let's cut him some slack okay?"
Tonks pretended to ignore him and tried to work her way into the bright purple, crinoline tutu.
"I'll make you a deal. If you wear this super cool outfit Mommy bought special for you just for today I'll put the tutu in your carry on and ask Aunt Sophie to let you wear it while you're on the plane back to her house okay?"
"Ok." She gave it to Joe and watched while he very seriously and ceremoniously added it to her carry on.
While he dressed her in the outfit Issey had bought months ago in anticipation of this day, wanting to have everything ready so Darren would have only the bare minimum if things to do, he tried talking to Tonks about what was going on.
"Dad's going to take you to see Mommy and say goodbye to her before you go to Aunt Sophie's for awhile."
"I don't want to go."
"It will be fun, you love playing with your cousins."
"I wanna stay with Mommy."
"I know, but Aunt Sophie really wants you to come help her bake cakes."
Darren came in with Marsh in tow. He was the spitting image of his father with a messy mop of unruly dark curls and eyes the color of good whiskey. He tapped the toes of his new shoes, liking the slapping noise they made in the floor.
"Joe, I don't know how you did it but thank you."
"I'm the Tonk's whisperer." He hauled her up onto his hip and shouldered her bag. "You ready?"
"As I'll ever be."
Darren's head pounded with the lack of sleep. The night before had been long, Issey had again, given her all and he wished, not for the first time, that he could have traded places with her to relieve her from the trauma. Bringing the kids to the hospital to say goodbye had been her idea, he thought it was asking a little much of them but it was what she wanted so he allowed it.
Sophie waited in the hallway. When they arrived Marshall ran to her and hugged her but Ella stayed aloof.
Sophie and Darren shared a look over the kids heads and he pulled the two of them close to him.
"Remember everything we talked about. No crying, no climbing all over Mommy, just a quick hug goodbye okay?"
The kids both nodded by the moment he opened the door to Issey's room they each launched themselves onto the bed.
Issey laughed and hugged them both. While Darren looked completely done in by the night before Issey looked refreshed and radiant.
"Guys we talked about this you can't..."
"Oh Daddy, let them be, they're fine. Don't you both look so nice in your new outfits. Were you good for Daddy this morning?"
"Where's Alex?" Tonks wanted to know.
Darren went to the small carrier and picked out their hours old baby sister. "Here she is. Remember , gentle and quiet okay?"
The twins marveled at this new thing, slightly bigger than the pups Walker had fathered but not nearly as cute in their eyes.
"Isn't she cute?" Issey asked them.
Marsh agreed but Ella just continued to stare at this new stranger. It was Alex's fault she had to go away and she wasn't ready to forgive.
They took pictures in every conceivable combination. Alex slept through most of the commotion but opened her eyes wide when placed in her brothers arms for the first time. It wasn't possible but everyone agreed she seemed to give him her first smile.
Author's note: I would like to thank everyone who journeyed Issey's Road with me. You have all encouraged me when the muse was weak and for that I am eternally grateful.
I have spent so much time with her she has become a part of me, one I am loathe to let go. Because of this I will begin a new story soon. Watch for, Growing Up On The Road: A Love Story of Musical Gypsies - a Memoir by Bellatrix "Tonks" Criss.