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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber

The Best Day of My Life and I Almost Had to Kill Someone

The night before Phyllis gave birth to our wonderful daughter Sasha, I was entertaining a friend of mine – a 5th degree black belt I trained with in Los Angeles. He and his girlfriend had come down for a brief visit and I took them to our favorite barbeque place in Palm Desert.

This wasn’t any ordinary black belt. He was a nuclear physicist, and his roundhouse kicks were as powerful as the radioactive material he worked with. We had a lovely evening, without Phyllis unfortunately. Being ready to pop after nine months was not conducive to a night of partying and mayhem.

Since my buddy was Japanese, I questioned him and his girlfriend about certain aspects of Japanese culture and philosophy that I found intriguing. To answer my questions, they would communicate between themselves by writing in Hiragana (Japanese written symbols) on napkins, since his girlfriend's grasp of English was minimal at best.

Phyllis was doing as well as she could at home when we returned, so our guests retired to their room and we tried to get some sleep. At 6 am Phyllis woke me up and informed me that her water had broken. I was well aware that this was going to be a ‘C section’ birth. Sasha’s position was a bit convoluted, and we were (almost) prepared for what was going to happen.

I scribbled a hasty note on their bedroom door, and we hopped (I hopped, Phyllis pretty much slunk) into the Dodge Caravan I had just purchased for the trip to the hospital. This was my first new car ever. I had made up my mind that our new baby was not coming home in an old, beat-up vehicle. Since I was still Jewish at this time, I used my voluminous negotiating skills that actually made my salesman wither as we closed the deal.

It was a quiet Sunday morning, but I still ran every red light between Rancho Mirage and Palm Springs to get Phyllis to the E.R. as quickly as possible. It wouldn’t be the last time I would run red lights for her, but that is a story for another day…

With a mix of panic and pride I rolled her into the maternity ward. We sat patiently. About 15 minutes later the nurse came in with an announcement: “The doctor is playing tennis. He will be here as soon as he finishes his doubles match.” I can easily go from 0 to 120mph of rage in well under six seconds, and I probably broke my record that day.

I don’t remember what I said, but I’m sure it wasn’t nice, and had I been a Catholic, a quick trip to Confession would have been my next stop. I kept time by pounding my fist against my thigh – not an activity I would recommend. Eventually the doctor strolled in so the main attraction could commence. I was in the operating room holding Phyllis’ hand, blabbering like an idiot. I caught the odor of burnt flesh as the doctor made his incision.

They had put a drape up so I couldn’t watch the process -- they said too many fathers faint at the sight of the baby being plucked out. As they lifted Sasha out, Phyllis and I smiled as best we could. She was healthy and beautiful, and we could not have wished for anything more.

Then reality hit me like Mickey Mantle connecting with a fast ball. I had a photo assignment about a block from the hospital that I was unable to cancel since it was Sunday. I had thrown my gear bag in the back of the Dodge as we left the house, being as prepared as I could be for that day. I went to the waiting room where Phyllis’s mom and Joe and Tony (life-long family friends) had gathered to wait for the birth. I hastily scribbled SASHA SYLVIE on a sheet of paper and held it up to the glass so they could see our daughter’s name. They had given Phyllis a mild sedative to help her through the procedure, and the medicine was wearing off as they wheeled her into recovery. While she is wincing in pain I said goodbye as I proceed to my 1pm assignment.

It is difficult to convey the flood of emotions that were pouring over me at that moment. I got to the event, said hello to my clients and began photographing the people who had gathered for the festivities that day. About 15 minutes into the shoot my knees buckled and I collapsed to the floor. The reality of where I was and where I was supposed to be hit me like a freight train. My client came over and lifted me to my feet. Noticeably concerned, I rattled off what had just happened an hour ago.

He told me that the shoot was over and to please hurry back to my wife. His concern and compassion were genuine, and I scurried over to the hospital to be with Phyllis. She had stabilized by now and was doing as best as could be expected. This was back in the day when they didn’t boot you out of the hospital after the baby was born, so Phyllis and Sasha remained overnight.

I returned to a lonely and empty home. Marcus and his friend had driven back to Los Angeles, so I was very much isolated for the evening. I went out to our local Sushi restaurant in Palm Desert to celebrate our daughter’s entrance to the world, and when I mentioned this to my chef, all the other patrons bought me bottle after bottle of hot saké. I went home with a full belly and a smile on my face.

The next morning I returned to fetch Phyllis and Sasha. A trip to Sears the previous week yielded a car seat for her ride home that was built strong enough to resist a hurricane, tsunami, and earthquake. It was so massive that when we buckled her in for the ride back, we lost sight of her momentarily as the seat engulfed her in a degree of protection not seen since the development of the Sherman Tank.

Slowly and cautiously we returned to Rancho Mirage, glancing back at Sasha every 10 or 15 seconds. I don’t know what word comes after nervous in the dictionary, but we were there. After locating our daughter in the car seat after the second or third attempt, we marched to the front door and went inside.

As the door closed behind us, Phyllis and I looked at one another and simultaneously blurted: “What do we do now?” We had absolutely no idea what to do with this fresh little bundle of day-old baby in our arms. Frantically, Phyllis phoned up her mom who immediately joined us from her home across the highway. We got a couple of lessons in Parenting 101 and began the life-long process of raising a child.

I let the doctor live to return to the tennis court, probably the single greatest act of charity ever witnessed in the known world.

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