"Darko! DARKO! Wake up! We´re going to have twins. Boys! GOD JUST TOLD ME!"
Groggy from only a couple of hours of rest, my sleepy husband put his arms around me and said, "This has all been too much for you. Go to sleep. You need some rest. I should have gone with you today. I couldn´t get more time off. I´m sorry."
"Didn´t you HEAR what I just said? GOD just spoke to me in the living room. He told me we´re going to have twins!"
"Yes, okay. Get some rest."
There was no use pursuing this. To Darko, believing in God was like believing in Santa Claus. Coming from a country behind the iron curtain, he thought God was for little kids and very, very old women, or for people who needed a crutch; definitely not for him. In the morning, I leaped (not at all like me) out of bed and rushed to phone a ´chosen few´ with my astonishing good news.
All responded the same way. "Get some rest. You´ve gone through an ordeal. Everything will be all right. Don´t take it so hard."
Why doesn´t anyone out there believe God can talk? Surely if He could make us, He could talk to us. I was convinced He could. He DID - TO ME!
Months passed and Diana´s condition deteriorated. Her tiny body stayed the same size, but the growth on her back grew larger than she was herself. I built an invisible wall. I could not allow myself to get attached to her. It hurt too much. I couldn´t look at ANY small child.
Day by day, whenever the phone rang, I feared it was the home calling saying she had died. Fearful -- yet desperately wanting to be able to mourn my loss. You can only mourn for the dead -- not the living. My emotions and feelings were mixed in sheer turmoil. You bury the dead, mourn the loss, then continue with the business of living. In my dilemma I found I was mourning for ME -- NOT HER.
Darko and I had moved into our newly built home. Bills, bills, bills; mortgages, hydro, water, telephone and insurance bills. All were piling up, higher than we could imagine possible. The real estate agent had never discussed anything other than the cost of the mortgage payments. We also hadn´t bargained on the GO train which went through our backyard every thirty minutes. He failed to mention this little feature when he sold us that house in the dark cover of the night. We hadn´t anticipated these many extras.
We decided the only way we could buy groceries and buy furniture for this three bedroom home was to start our own business. I was once again thoroughly disgusted with the company I worked for. Keypunching and only keypunching was not as rewarding as I had thought. I definitely needed a rest after my last job, but I was soon bored. When a new position became available, I applied with seven others to be a Data Processing Manager. (I was working for a large Toronto bakery). The position would go to the one who got the highest marks on the exam they had scheduled. I, along with six men, spent three days writing exams. "PIECE OF CAKE." Data Processing was my best subject. I tied for first place. My superior took me aside to explain why the position was going to the ´man´. I would be having children, diapers, etc. They wanted someone who would give his ´all´ to the company. "Are you certain you didn´t shave off a mark or two on my papers, maybe?"
"How could you think such a thing?"
"Then why did you even let me compete to get the advancement?"
"I really didn´t think you had the know-how." was his only reply.
"SEE YOU, BYE!"
We began our new business by driving along the main streets of Toronto after dark and noting all the neon signs that needed repair. During ´working hours´, I would call the various establishments, our prospective clients, and inform them that our observant night patrolman had noticed their sign was defective and not a reflection of their professional image. It worked! We were in business. Still impoverished, but none-the-less, in BUSINESS!
We traded our lovely sports car, as much as it hurt, for a ¾ ton truck, a ladder and boxes of screwdrivers, and we turned a new page in our lives.
I longed to get pregnant! I learned that the ´rhythm method´ also worked in reverse. I´d try any short cut. Each morning before rising, I anxiously took my temperature. Unfortunately -- normal readings. No babies. No twins. Then I´d move to the floor in the third bedroom and canvas for business till Darko got home. Only a phone and a pillow, and oh yes, a large ashtray, but it was our ´executive office´. We were businessmen. I was Manager, Secretary and Bookkeeper. Prince Charming was President, Vice-president, Master Electrician and Bill Collector. IF these giant corporations could only see me sitting there on the floor, pretending to have a staff of dozens, they wouldn´t have given me the time of day. Rather than hire a journeyman, who we couldn´t afford, I would have to play apprentice many times and hold the ladder for Darko in the middle of busy streets, directing traffic around the ladder. Sometimes, I´d pass material and tools up to him so he´d save time and not have to climb up and down so many times.
These were the days before women´s lib. We really DID STOP traffic. I never went out of the house without four inch spike heels and a beehive hairdo. WHAT A PAIR!
By the spring of ´68 we had built up our business to a twenty-four hour around the clock emergency service. Industrial, commercial, and residential; weekends, holidays, Dominion Day, -- EVERYDAY. When Darko wasn´t sleeping, he was working. This hectic schedule left precious little time to drive me back and forth to Whitby. Having no transportation meant having to ask close family members for rides. Not many were willing to spend an afternoon in an old age home. I couldn´t blame most of them. I did blame my in-laws though. My father-in-law, prematurely retired, had wheels. He didn´t put 200 miles a year on that car. In thirty years it would still be brand new. What a waste. My mother-in-law wouldn´t even acknowledge she had a grandchild, much less go see her. Her attitude? Looking at a blind person could make you go blind -- so who knows the consequences of visiting ´HER´. I truly felt I understood. Coming from the background she did; her upbringing was full of primitive old wives´ tales. I almost EXPECTED this attitude.
Her love for me had completely died in one short day, back when Darko and I returned from our New York honeymoon.
"Why aren´t you coming to MY house for dinner? I have it all prepared."
Surprised that Darko´s mother was screaming through the phone, I half apologized, "We had it arranged that we would eat at my mom´s, and then pick up the rest of Darko´s belongings, and move them to the apartment. We´ll be there for supper, if you like. I wasn´t asked or told to come for lunch, I´m sorry you went to all the trouble."
We arrived about 7:00 p.m. As soon as the front door opened we were greeted with, "It´s about time you thought of us and not just your parents." The icicles hung off each word.
"My dad picked us up at the airport and we couldn´t ask him to drive us here first, especially since we had previously arranged for my mother to make lunch." What was she starting?
Before we were even seated, I was taken aback by her comment. No, it was more a statement. "Darko, tell ´Dana´ to write us a check for $7,000.00. We´re going to buy a duplex. You´re going to live upstairs; we´re going to live downstairs. We´re putting the house in our name so when we die we´ll leave it to you. Don´t worry, you´ll have your privacy, but you´ll both have to stop smoking." All this was said in one breath.
Amazing! When had she planned all THIS? She must be kidding. Yes, we did receive $7,000 as cash gifts, but the liquor and wine bill came to $2,200. The wedding albums would cost $900 and our honeymoon was more than $1,000. The T.V.-stereo another $1,000. We had less than $2,000 left for necessities such as a kitchen table, chairs, a sofa, a rug and maybe even a coffee table.
"You´ve known for weeks that we have leased the apartment for one year. We have also discussed the fact that we are never going to live with either you OR my parents." I was trying to keep my voice calm. The nerve!
"It´s a stupid idea, an apartment. Such a waste of money. WE´VE been looking with a real estate agent all this week and WE´VE decided WE´RE (meaning them and us) buying a duplex!", she retorted.
"Well you go right ahead, but not with US you´re not!" I responded in disbelief. My voice wasn´t loud or disrespectful, just firm.
Glaring at me indignantly she just continued, "We´re old. My son can´t just drop us like this. What will we do?"
"COME OFF IT!" Now my voice was loud. "You´re not old, you´re only forty-three! You´ve had Darko´s paycheck for three and a half years and now you´ll just have to do without it. He´s given you a GOOD start. Now we have to start saving for OUR future and OUR old age and HIS and MY family."
"You´ll see when you´re a mother. Three days I screamed in pain giving birth to him. This is the thanks I get? God´s going to punish you, you´ll see."
Darko just stared, saying nothing, as if he couldn´t see either of us. "Say something!", I thought. "Anything. Just don´t tell her we don´t have $7,000, then we´d really be in trouble, squandering all that money."
A short time later, we said our goodnights. "I didn´t think you were such a witch, Dana," she whimpered, tears streaming down her face. My face was set with a cock-eyed, stunned expression, which I was certain was embedding wrinkles two inches deep, if not turning my hair gray.
Our first evening in our unfurnished nest was ruined. "Why didn´t you say something back to your mother?"
"Ignore her like I do. She´ll get the message."
"She called me a witch. I was polite, I wasn´t rude or disrespectful." I would have been if I could express my feelings better in Croatian. I get tongue-tied.
"You should have just told her we didn´t have the $7,000."
"She wouldn´t have believe me." I could feel my blood pressure rising. I was shaking. "Me! A WITCH! After years of catering to her every whim. I´M A WITCH?" Now I could think of oodles of comebacks, in both languages.
"You´re a beautiful witch, forget it."
Looking back to that day, I could see a distinct curtain being drawn in my relationship with my mother-in-law that had never been there before. This would continue for many, many years. I took her son! I wasn´t going to give him back! The nerve of me!
Darko charged through our front door excitedly, "Come see what I just bought you. You´ll love it! You´ll be able to drive yourself to Whitby and see Diana any time you want."
"Oh-h-h, it must be a car! You got me a car! I´m thrilled!!"
Now standing outside I asked, quite puzzled, "What is that, Darko?"
"It´s a Peugot."
"Looks more like a pigeon. Am I going to fit in it? Is it safe ---"
"Sure as long as you don´t try to put your feet on the floor."
"Darko, THE FLOOR´S MISSING!"
"That´s okay, it´s okay. You won´t fall out. Look at it this way, you won´t need air conditioning."
"It doesn´t have side mirrors OR windshield wipers. I can´t drive without side mirrors."
"Sure you can, but I´ll have to get you windshield wipers. I´ll fix it up."
"How much did it cost, Darko?"
"Ninety bucks. A real bargain -- We´ll fix it up and get two hundred for it easy."
As it later turned out, I made over 30,000 miles on my pigeon and did sell it for $200.00. That´s another story, which started a long list of buying and selling cars at a marginal profit, each time working up to a bigger and better car.
Mom and dad had been running a variety store for just over a year. During the summer evenings, Darko and I would go to the store, hang around or play cards with my dad; our favorite pass-time, and cheap entertainment.
July 16th, 1968
The phone ringing could hardly be heard over the clamour of our card game.
"Donna, it´s for you," my mother said half surprised. "Who would know that you´re here?"
I knew who would. I had left all the numbers where I could be reached with the home in Whitby.
"Mrs. Martonfi, your daughter´s condition has worsened."
"Should I come right now?" My heart skipped beats.
"No, no, there is nothing you can do. Will you be at this number much longer?"
“Probably until midnight."
"We´ll call if there is any change."
The ringing cut through the silence of four people staring blankly into space. IT was inevitable. She was already more than eight months old. She fought for life much longer than anyone had anticipated.
"Mrs. Martonfi, your little girl just passed away quietly. She didn´t suffer nor was she in pain. Bless her heart. Would you notify us when you´ve made the funeral arrangements?"
Was I relieved she had passed away? Possibly, but Seeing her body becoming more and more deformed as the weeks passed was more than words could express. She felt no pain but I couldn´t imagine something that looked so RAW not being painful.
She´s in a better place now, thank God. She´s a little angel, in heaven. I had to believe that. How else could I cope? How else could I look forward to my TWINS and attempt a life of happiness?
To this day, the funeral is a hazy blurred image of people crying over a tiny white coffin. Why are they crying? Now? They should have cried when she was born - not now. She´s in God´s hands now.
"Dana, the very next long weekend we´ll pack a picnic lunch, some blankets and drive to the cemetery for the day." Until this statement, I thought mom-in-law had already shocked, mortified, and stunned me more than anyone ever could.
"I´m not going to a cemetery, for a picnic!", I stormed back. "Why didn´t you want to see her when she was alive? Now you think we´re going to have a family gathering, a standing date, at a cemetery?"
"We have to pick a name plate for her." she replied, camouflaging her previous macabre statement, pretending to have been misunderstood.
"We can´t afford a name plate just now. There´s time for that. I´ll know where she is without a marker."
"Dana, you are so mean and cruel, you don´t deserve children." she replied.
The first long weekend after the funeral, Darko and I found ourselves, at the insistence of his parents, standing over a tiny grave with this inscription:
December 7, 1967 - July 16, 1968
"Isn´t this a nice surprise, Dana? I picked it out myself. Paid for it, too."
"Why couldn´t you spell her name right?" My voice was hardly audible from the strain.
"It doesn´t matter how I spelled it. I PAID FOR IT!"
"How did you manage then to get the last name correct? Is it just a problem you have with first names?" I was really beginning to hate this woman. Did she do it on purpose? I didn´t mind her not knowing how to spell my name after more than five years, but this was inexcusable. "GET OUT OF MY LIFE", my mind screamed. "Just stay away from me!"
An excited, familiar voice came blurting through the phone, "Donna, Paul and I are moving to Grimsby. Could you and Darko lend us a hand?" It was Anna, one of the high school gang. She was bubbly, energetic and fun-loving. I related to Anna because she had recently lost her first baby to crib death. She had come through her tragedy with no visible scars, and was now pregnant again. If she could make it -- I could too. I had twins to look forward to.
"Sure, Anna, we´d be happy to."
"Steve and Millie are coming and we´ll make a fun weekend of it. Pizza, Chinese food, eat, drink, the ´woiks´. You´ll have to sleep on the floor in sleeping bags -- bring your funny thermometer. Are you still trying or has something taken root?"
"Nothing yet. Do you think maybe I should be using two thermometers?"
"Listen, you´d be the first person I know to sense the fluttering of a new life the morning of its conception."
"Lives, Anna, lives. Plural, THINK PLURAL."
The six of us were like a comedy team from an old Laurel and Hardy movie. Horsing around, joking, being silly. If you can imagine, me in my pigeon, crammed with clothes and household goods, all the way to Grimsby? I was relaxing and really unwinding with not an immediate care in the world, except for the probability of this car actually making the trip.
I realized that this was the crucial, mid-month, ´try for twins´ cycle, most conducive for getting pregnant. In the privacy of my own heart, and according to my thermometer, the miracle of conception was possible. God´s promise -- possibly this month.
Upon awakening, stiff from the hard floor, I mechanically reached for my thermometer, as I had repeatedly done many mornings before. This time, I was jolted awake, probably the first and only time in my entire life. I am NOT a morning person except THIS morning. Where´s Darko?
"Darko, Darko, Honey!" I was now pounding on the bathroom door. "This is it! It registered BELOW normal!" Gasping between breaths, "I´m pregnant! WE´RE PREGNANT! We´re having our twins!"
I knew that if I was up, certainly EVERYONE else was up. I zoomed downstairs, feet touching every third step, babbling, "I´m pregnant, I´m pregnant! I´m having TWINS."
All gawked at me like I had just given birth upstairs to six ducks and came down wearing two heads.
"Good for you," Paul muttered.
My mind raced into the future. First thing Monday morning, I have to phone Dr. Moore and tell her I´m pregnant and arrange for appointments. She´ll be so thrilled. I sensed a special doctor-patient relationship with her. She´d become a part-time mother hen, encouraging me, explaining why it´s harder to become pregnant when you´re overly anxious.
I was past the point of anxious. Desperate was more the word. Desperate for a baby to hold in my arms and rock to sleep. I´ll have to get a wooden rocker - tenderly, gently, rocking. Too bad I already have one crib. I heard that the large department stores would give you an additional crib if you delivered twins and had bought well in advance of knowing that you needed two.
Doctor Moore´s gentle face showed a trace of concern. "Now let´s just take one step at a time. We won´t know for certain for some time yet. We´ll wait till you miss your period."
I didn´t miss any periods with my other pregnancy. "Do you think it was because she wasn´t normal?"
"We don´t know at this point." Her voice was gentle and soothing.
"If you have a showing, it doesn´t necessarily mean anything is wrong with the baby."
"BABIES, Dr. Moore, BABIES!" I corrected.
Lovingly, yet firmly, she replied, "Don´t do this to yourself, Donna, twins do not run in your family. Don´t build your hopes to the point of being disappointed with only ONE baby. Let´s just concentrate on one healthy, bouncing baby, for now."
She just didn´t understand.
"Don´t take any medication whatsoever, not even an aspirin. If you have a headache -- then have a headache. NO PILLS."
"What about my smoking? I chain smoke, you know." Everybody chain smokes these days.
"Your anxiety would cause more harm to the child if you quit now than the nicotine would. I know better than to advise you to quit. I definitely suggest however that you cut down to a bare minimum.
In the months that followed, my feet hardly touched the ground. Even with monthly spotting, I knew that God wouldn´t send me two babies to turn around and take them both away from me. He´s just not that kind of God.
Even with my very few close friends, like Anna, I couldn´t share my innermost feelings and thoughts. They couldn´t comprehend GOD, let alone whether He was up there talking to anyone. ´It just doesn´t happen.´ Relatives, aunts and neighbors were even worse.
"How could you get pregnant again?"
"Why would you risk bringing another crippled child into this world?"
"Aren´t you frightened that IT´S not normal?"
My mother just cried. I didn´t know whether out of joy or grief, because she´s always crying. Other people breathe, my mother cries.
No, I wasn´t frightened. I had a peace about this pregnancy. A peace about my soon to be born sons. I knew deep, deep inside that God was in control, though I often wondered why He wasn´t the first time.
By June I was literally as big as a barn. A stranger at a plaza stopped and asked if I would be offended if he took a picture of my side profile. "Offended? I´d be honored. If you knew what it took to get this size." Nothing short of God Himself, I almost added.
From the rear, I had a waistline. Starting at about where your arms hang, at the side, I jetted out as if I had a concealed television set under my dress, including hi-fi speakers. I noticed, many times after, camera buffs clicking away as I waddled past.
It was in this humungous condition, sprawled on a lawn chair, soaking up the sun (if I had to be big, I didn´t have to look like a mountain of cheese) that I met Sharon, soon to become a lifelong friend. Walking directly toward where I was laying, she impressed me with a gentleness and grace that made her unique. Tall and slender, she had a warm smile that was only matched by her height. When she got within hearing range, she proclaimed, "I live only a few doors away. How far along are you?"
"Hello," I tried to sit up, "I´m just barely six months."
"Wow! Are YOU EVER BIG! I´m pregnant too, into my fifth month."
"You are not," I blurted, before realizing what I was saying and tried muttering an apology.
"Oh listen, don´t apologize, my baby has enough room to stand up straight in there."
I liked her immediately. Thorough the course of the afternoon, I discovered that she was a nurse, originally from Saskatchewan, living a few doors away among seven relatives (all from her husband´s side); going through a drastic time -- absolute culture shock.
"What a relief to meet someone who´s not Portuguese. Ninety-nine percent of the people on this block are Portuguese. My mother-in-law can´t figure out why ONLY you and your husband live in this three bedroom house. She´s trying to get four more relatives to move in with us and fill up the basement. She´s been watching you from behind the curtains in the living room. Everyone peeks from behind curtains around here. I´m going to go insane. I want to move away so-o-o bad. The seven of them, plus hubby, baby and I, makes TEN."
It was obvious from the overflowing, unsolicited conversation, this gal needed companionship as badly as I did.
"I can just tell we´re going to be the best of friends. We´ve got a very common problem." I joked.
"What? Our babies?", was her obvious conclusion.
"No," I laughed, "our mothers-in-law."
Exchanging stories I learned she´d been married for eight years and many doctors had told her she would never be able to conceive.
"Surprise, surprise! It might be small, it might be standing up, but there´s definitely somebody kicking in there!"
The gaiety of the moment was interrupted when Sharon spotted a dead pigeon by the side of my house. "That´s supposed to be a bad omen, you know." I noticed a frown cross her face.
"I wish they´d all roll over and drop dead," I proceeded, "I can´t hang my wash outside without re-washing a good portion of it."
Her frown changed to a sheepish grin, "We have a pigeon coop with thirty-four homers. They sometimes fly till they drop from exhaustion. There should be a law. I swear my mother-in-law cooks them. I never eat chicken over there, just in case."
"YUK. Only pigeon I want to see around here is the one parked in my driveway."
With the weekend looming ahead of me like a dark cloud on a sunny day, having a friend that could relate to having an insensitive mother-in-law, became invaluable.
We were invited for Sunday dinner, by you can guess who. Seated beside mom-in-law on the sofa, she raised both her arms to the top of her head, leaned back and said matter of factly, "This baby isn´t going to be normal either because you´re smoking too much." (I have never smoked in her presence) "I´m concerned. The smell of smoke bothers babies. You don´t deserve children anyway. They´re all going to be deformed because of the way you´ve treated me."
My face crimson, my fists clenched, I gasped, "TREATED YOU?"
"Taking my son. I´m not allowed to see him. When I think of the three days I spent in labor with him, sheer agony. I almost died."
"NOT ALLOWED TO SEE YOUR SON" I retorted. "You see him every Sunday."
"I need an appointment, though," wailing through the tears. I had seen those tears before. She could turn them on and off like a tap.
"YOU have no concern for this baby or what bothers him -- otherwise you´d lower your arms because YOUR odor offends anyone within five feet of you. As for your son -- you only care about his paycheck."
WOW! That was strong stuff, even for me, but she had just cursed my babies. My ´in-laws´ just became my ´out-laws´. Dad-in-law, never saying more than hello and good-bye, was now rising to his feet, proclaiming sharply; "If you´re going to upset Mama like this, you´re not welcomed in our house anymore."
Sheer relief flooded through my body. The facade was down. I wouldn´t have to be subjected to these, ´ROAST DANA´ Sunday dinners anymore. IT was their decision, not mine. In my condition I didn´t know how many more weekends like this I could tolerate without becoming physically violent. Why had I put up with it for so long?
"Sharon, guess what! Good news! I don´t have to be roasted by my out-laws ever again. They just threw me out! I´m planning a celebration for next Sunday, you´re invited. DON´T YOU DARE BRING YOURS, you hear?"
It was an act, a put on. I was still trembling. When did she turn into such a hateful battle-ax? Was it because I didn´t call her MAMA like she had wanted? I didn´t even call my own mother Mama. I´d called her and my dad by their first names until I was three years old. My grandmother had raised me till then.
After we came to Canada, I spent over a year being raised by a great-aunt. One day she stuck my head in the oven and set my hair on fire. That was an accident, because she was merely trying to dry my hair, but I was still greatly traumatized. She would also tie me to a chair, every night for over a year, so that I couldn´t get up until my homework was done. Once, she hit me so hard that the chair and I tumbled down a flight of stairs. The mention of her name terrifies me to this day.
I´ve called no one MAMA and I wasn´t about to start now