A Hole In My Head
The day everything changed.
I don’t think I have a terribly expressive face. Most of the time, you wouldn’t be able to tell what I’m thinking about by looking at me—if I’m lost in thought, I probably just look like I’ve gone to sleep with my eyes open.
Well, that night I looked exactly like I felt, but that was only because of the hole in my head.
This is where I should probably back up and tell you that the story I’m telling is one of a Halloween night past, and the big bloody wound on the middle of my forehead was made out of spirit gum, tissue paper and fake blood, an especially deft bit of stage-makeup work my wife had learned how to do in her time as an actor. We had been invited to an elaborate Halloween party—a multi-level soiree across four floors of a friend’s downtown creative firm’s offices—and the theme was “death”.
We both loved Halloween—we still do, but in a much different way—and at the time we loved conceiving of elaborate, time-consuming ideas for esoteric costumes that only a small handful of people might recognize without explanation. The party’s theme was death and so naturally, we decided to go together as The Crime of the Century. I would be Stanford White, the celebrated turn-of-the-century Beaux-Arts architect, and she would go as Evelyn Nesbit, the young fashion model and actress whose jealous husband Harry Kendall Thaw would, in June 1906, shoot and kill White in a fit of jealous rage while the three attended a glitzy party on the roof of Madison Square Garden.
The sensational murder—believed at first by others in attendance to be an elaborate party trick, a fact that makes me think we undersell how fun parties must’ve been back then—led to our first Trial of the Century, the OJ Simpson trial of its era, a media circus where Thaw’s alleged madness was weighed against White’s suddenly-public tendencies of lecherousness and abuse.
I had spent several weeks searching for just the right elements for the costume: a three-piece suit from a thrift store, an ascot made from a butchered tie, a fake mustache from the pop-up Halloween store, a set of faux-period-appropriate blueprints made by misappropriating the big laser plotter at my contemporary architecture office.
That faux-bloody hole in my head was the pièce de résistance, of course, and now it projected my inner monologue to the other passengers on the subway:
My head hurts.
There’s nothing that can change the tone of your day quite like finding out that you’re going to be a father, and it happened that I’d found that out just that morning. It wasn’t unplanned, mind you—we’d been married for two years, and had just decided to start trying for our first child.
Intentional or not, though, there’s a big difference between talking about having a baby and the reality showing up in a bright blue line on a pregnancy test.
It’s roughly the same difference as talking about going skydiving and watching the plane grow smaller as you freefall through the clouds.1
The subway ride downtown to the party probably only took half an hour, but I felt as though the next two decades of my life were flashing before my eyes.
We have to go to the doctor.
We have to get her on my insurance.
We need to buy a crib.
My insurance is better.
I need to get some books on this.
I need to get better insurance.
We need to find a place for a crib in this tiny apartment.
Are there books on this?
This apartment’s too damned loud for a baby.
“What To Expect When You’re Expecting”?
A baby’s too loud for this apartment.
I’m not even the one expecting.
I bet this apartment still has lead paint in it.
I don’t know what the hell *I’m* expecting.
We’ll need to plan a whole nursery.
I wonder what the dog is going to think about this. She’s used to being the center of attention.
We’re going to need to pick a name.
The baby will take the bedroom.
I hope I don’t accidentally pick a serial killer’s name.
We’ll sleep in the living room for now.
Are there any serial killers named Hines?
We need to take a class.
I probably don’t want to know if there are any serial killers named Hines, actually. That’s a whole other can of worms. I’ve got enough to worry about right now.
Breathing classes, right? I’ve seen those on TV.
Can I raise this kid to like Cleveland sports teams? Is that ethical?2
I wonder if there’s a class that can teach me to breathe right now.
Strollers look like they cost a lot of money.
I need to get a better job.
We need to move out of the city.
I’m not ready for this.
My head hurts.
I’m not ready for this.
I hope we’re doing the right thing.
I’m not ready for this.
I’m not ready for this.
The party was every bit as extravagant as I’d expected; a good friend of ours—my wife’s old roommate—had worked at this company for a little while, but I still wasn’t quite sure what exactly the company did. I just knew it was a “creative” company that coached other companies on how to be creative, and this meant that they had a lot of very creative employees, the kind of people who would go absolutely over-the-top for a Halloween party, and even a couple of people clever enough to give your costume a once-over and approvingly nod “Stanford White and Evelyn Nesbit, huh?”
I think the last time I’d been at a Halloween party this sober, I went as Robin to my older brother’s Batman. (Just thinking about this gave me a brief moment of resentment for my future child’s older-sibling privilege.) She was pregnant now, though, and there wasn’t a chance that I was going to grab one of the champagne flutes or test-tube drinks being passed all around us. This teetotaling was a product of both being a supportive partner and being absolutely terrified, and I will never divulge what proportions the two factored in.
Needless to say, though, the newfound abstinence was going to give us away in minutes, so—despite it being far too early to announce anything publicly—we made an immediate and breathless confession to our friends as soon as we saw them.
Of course, they were overjoyed for us.
Who wouldn’t be? It’s a joyous moment. It’s supposed to be joyous.
I was overjoyed too.
I think I was.
I was too scared to be sure of it, though.
There are very few clear inflection points in one’s life. Most changes happen gradually over time—often so slow that the day-to-day change is impossible to see as it happens.
I can count precious few specific moments when I know that the trajectory of my life was altered.
The first time I tied on shoes and actually went out for a real run. (April 1, 2002.)
The car accident that rainy night on I-65 outside of Elizabethtown that the insurance adjuster said probably should’ve killed me. (September 21, 2002.)
The night I rang the buzzer of that ground-floor apartment on 89th Street and the woman I would spend the rest of my life with opened the door. (October 17th, 2009.)
The time a Cleveland sports team didn’t blow it. (June 19th, 2016.)
Nothing actually changed on October 31st, 2014.
She had already been pregnant for several weeks, technically—that’s how these things work—and the baby wouldn’t be born until summer. There would be time to find the answers to all the questions I was asking myself, or at least time to come to terms with the fact that this was happening whether I had the answers or not.
That day stands as perhaps the biggest inflection point on my chart, though—the moment when one lifetime careened off into another, the day when our future was irrevocably changed. An old world died, and a new world struggled to be born.
Within just a few short months, we’d have left the big city for the relative space, comfort and ease of a much smaller city closer to our families. Soon late nights out at hip, exciting restaurants would give way to early dinners at home; spontaneous travel would be traded for clockwork-regular stroller rides around our suburban neighborhood. Where we once slept in until noon, we were now up at the crack of dawn and usually three or four times before that.
Our lives would never be the same again.
If that sounds bad, well, it might’ve sounded bad to the guy in the cheap three-piece suit that night, too.
It’s been anything but.
A part of me wishes that I could appear in front of my old self and tell him to relax, that it’s all going to be okay. That you don’t need to get anything perfect as a parent and that that’s good because you absolutely will not get any of it perfect. That you will spill bottles and lose pacifiers and you might even let the baby roll off the changing table the one time you let your guard down for two seconds too long. That you will stumble and you will strain and you will feel like you’re absolutely about to break, like that one morning when the baby was just a month old and I was already back to work and hadn’t slept a wink and I set my big iced coffee on the roof of the car as I was getting out and it fell and spilled and I shed delirious tears in the parking lot of my office and then still had to go inside and work. That those first months are brutal and moments like that will happen but they will fade and become funny memories sooner than you think, that it’s a slog and then suddenly the baby smiles back at you and you figure out just how to bounce them to soothe their crying and how to make them laugh and you’ll chase that feeling for the rest of your life. That watching them grow from screaming little bundles into happy toddlers to rambunctious kids to actual people who surprise and amaze you and make you laugh and love you and need you as much as you love them and need them is the greatest thing you’ll ever get the chance to do.
I wish I could tell him that. It wouldn’t help, though.
None of this can truly be told, even as much I’m trying to tell you now.
It has to be lived to be understood, day by day, hour by hour, joyous success by embarrassing mistake.
He’d need my advice like he needed a hole in the head.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)
New here? Here’s a few things you should check out:
In Defense of Weird Regional Foods — The culinary thesis statement of this newsletter.
All of the Other Reindeer — My longform-journalism re-imagining of a holiday classic story.
The Kentuckiana Hot Loin — The most-beloved recipe I’ve ever shared on this site, and a great example of the format of every Friday newsletter here.
Ironic, I suppose, that I would use this analogy, as going skydiving had been a ‘bucket-list’ item of mine for a long time that I lost any desire to pursue the moment I had children depending on me.
It is not.