3x a Million

"(3x a million)
That's all
Your devoted husband

Janet cradled her newborn child in her arms as she read his words, carefully sprawled on the tan paper. Her darling. Her dearest. "When you are happy, I'm in heaven" he had written. Her excitement for her first child was only rivaled by that of her adoring husband across the ocean. She had sent a simple cable days before, but she sat back down to write more – she wanted him to feel like he had been there.

In his third year of medical school at Cincinnati, Nick had been called into the army to serve as medic in the Western Front of World War II. Just months into his service, he walked down the path, the crisp scent of medical supplies intertwined with the faint odor of leftover blood. He stepped into a line of fellow platoon members waiting to see if he had a cablegram. The energy in the air was still, stale. Nothing out of the ordinary – simply another day in this routine they understood to be part of the fight for freedom. He heard the patter of feet shifting in the backdrop of his steady, rhythmic breathing; his breathe was light. The man in front of him stepped aside. Nick stepped up.

"Any news today?"
"Yes – you have a cablegram."

The air was sucked out of his chest, as if he had been punched in the gut. Was today the day? His hand shook as he took hold of the cablegram. His breathe grew heavy. Fear entered the room as his chest tightened. His eyes, once aimlessly wandering, focused only on this pale envelope. The thought, the possibility of the thought, shoved all the others aside. The soldiers, the camp, the war shrank as the joy that would come from having a son engulfed his mind. His fingers moved confidently, swiftly as he ripped it open. He stopped, bracing himself for what came next. Slowly, his gentle hands tugged at the letter. His eyes meticulously moved from line to line. His mind began to dance through the words.

"Boy born today both fine."

His big, Greek eyes widened. His mouth, resting in a line, turned upward as his teeth began to show. Smiling seemed like the only fitting response. This was the moment.

"Well, I'll be damned – I did get a boy – well I'll be damned," he said.

He screamed so loud the whole camp heard. His breathe heightened, almost feeble at the thought of it. He lost all sense of words in one moment and found himself simply smiling – his darling Janet had birthed their son.

Nick's life had not come without hardship or tragedy. As a son of Greek immigrants, Nick had heard stories of his father's time in Chicago pushing banana carts, unable to speak English. Not long after moving to the United States, Nick's mother, whom his father had never met, was sent from Greece for him to marry. Later, his parents, Demetrius and Kondelia, settled in his childhood home in Norwalk, Ohio to work at a restaurant that they would own for 40 years. Nick, the oldest of three sons, could remember his grief in college when he heard that a falling rock had killed his brother. The tragedy of one brother's death left him with his other brother whose short life was lived restrained to bed, never knowing what it felt like to walk alone or talk. So, Nick had experienced the lows of life which led him to see the joys with such clarity and passion that he could not contain his excitement.

In addition to his past, this news felt like fresh air in the midst of the sobering realities of the wounded soldiers he cared for. News of his son penetrated the dark cloud of suffering that daily surrounded him. Yet, the pain that filled his life quickly reclaimed the space of delight at the news. How would he reconcile the tragedy of death and the wonder of new life? His son, innocent at the moment, would have to come to terms with the brutal reality of death Nick faced in Germany; he would have to observe it, encounter it, be changed by it. Nick knew that though he was untouched at the moment, his son's simple understanding of life as an infant would become increasingly entangled with death each day he came closer to it.

He received news of his precious Jimmy on one of what he called "the happiest days of his life." He sat, surrounded by his comrades in uniform, tears edging their way out of his eyes as he wrote to Janet to share his reaction – was it elation or sorrow? Their son had been born! But their son had been born – he had missed it. He was simultaneously on the verge of shouting for joy and holding back tears. He recalled the moments of planning, waiting, expecting for this little boy. He thought of what his son looked like. He imagined a small baby, brown eyed and dark haired. He thought of his beloved Janet softly talking to his boy. He could hear the name "Jimmy" float from her "pretty face." He could see her "carrying on a big one-way conversation" with their son.

He paced. Putting himself in the scene. What would it have felt like to be in the delivery room? Maybe it's better that I wasn't there; I would have murdered the doctor seeing my Janet in so much pain. I'm not much good when my Janet is hurt. He could feel his hand in hers as she groaned in pain, pain well worth the joy that came on the other side.

Father. He was a father. He read back over the words on the cablegram and his pen fell back to the paper:

"I shall devote all of my time to making you and Jimmy happy (and the rest of the kids)... Honey, I am so grateful and so beholden to you. Thank you my darling – thank you a million times. With all my love (3x a million)
That's all
Your devoted husband

He hears beer bottles clank, rum spilt, the noise of poker chips settling to the table. But all that, the uproar of life, it doesn't matter anymore. He sits in the corner chair, his breath steady -- staring through the window, cable in hand, eagerly waiting for the next letter.