They were like any other young married couple in love and expecting their first baby, anticipating the labor and delivery with typical anxiety but thrilled to be on the cusp of parenthood. Yet life has a way of striking down even the best-laid plans straight out of the blue, turning something that should have been a celebration into a devastating tragedy beyond measure.
Charles Gulotta’s haunting memoir, The Long Hall, is an intimate and painfully raw journey beginning with the sudden turn of events the day his wife went into labor and the years of grueling recovery they both faced long after. His story is told with incredible insight and honest emotion. At its heart are the central concepts of love and family, and how we must all find the strength deep inside to carry on even in the face of immense loss and grief.
Charles’ story will stay with me the rest of my days. It’s a compelling read filled with beautiful writing. I read this book in two days as I couldn’t put it down. It’s a rare book that manages to simultaneously break my heart and renew my spirit. I found myself alternately laughing out loud or weeping with grief.
The following is an excerpt describing the moment he and his wife, Jill, discovered she was pregnant with their first baby:
We found out in November of 1984. Jill had missed her period and was feeling strange, and already suspected what was going on. We bought a home pregnancy test, took it out of the package, and clutched it as if we were holding the future in our hands. Here was the thing that would give us the most significant piece of information we would ever receive, and I remember thinking that it didn’t look important enough. In fact, it looked a lot like those kits we had when I was a kid, the ones that told us if there was enough chlorine in the pool. Yet, it represented the link between not knowing and then knowing that we were going to have a baby.
It was just a plastic tube and a small bottle of liquid. Jill filled the tube with urine, and added a few drops to the bottle. We were supposed to check back in an hour. If a doughnut appeared in the urine, that meant she was pregnant. Seeing the words doughnut and pregnant in the same sentence seemed a little weird, but that’s what it said.
We were scared out of our minds and so we joked stupidly about the doughnut thing. If it was a boy, should we name him Duncan? With Jewish parents, does a bagel appear instead of a doughnut? When we finished the stupid joking, we still had fifty-eight minutes to wait. We decided the time would pass more quickly if we took a nap. Lying on the bed, I stared at the bottom of the windowsill for fifty-seven minutes. I thought Jill had fallen asleep, but she had spent the whole time staring at the back of my head.
When the hour was up we raced to the bathroom, turned on the light, and picked up the tube. Something shaped like a ring was floating in the liquid. We screamed, looked at each other, looked back at the tube, and screamed again. I had to remind myself that the doughnut was not the baby, but was just the chemical reaction. We looked again to make sure, then poured the doughnut down the drain, which also felt weird.
Later that day, we drove to Jill’s parents’ home, to tell them. Bob took the news with nervous silence, then a warm smile. Barbara looked at me and yelled, “What have you done to my daughter?” It was a question that would echo in my head for years.
The following details the fateful day she went into labor and the devastating turn of events that would change their lives forever:
We called the doctors’ office and the nurse told us to get to the hospital. So this was it. Here was that car ride I’d thought so much about, the one you see on television and you think, please don’t let it happen like that. I’d practiced it over and over in my mind. We’d done a trial run the week before. We’d been to the hospital for the new parents’ tour. We should’ve been ready, and we were. Everything was under control. My driving was smooth and effortless. We could have been going to the supermarket for a loaf of bread, except it was almost midnight, and you leave your house at that hour only for life-altering events.
After parking the car, I felt bothered for just a moment by the bright yellow EMERGENCY sign. I opened Jill’s door and she climbed out. Then we walked slowly through the doors of Bridgeport Hospital.
It was 11:40. The day we would have our first baby — July 12, 1985 — was itself about to be born. We were in that moment when everything changes. The bridge from here to there was twenty feet of linoleum. We stopped at the desk and answered questions. Name, address, insurance. A thin man in pale green scrubs appeared out of nowhere, steered a wheelchair up behind Jill, snapped the footrests into position, and pushed her toward the elevator. We had no way of knowing, but Jill had just walked the last twenty feet she would ever walk. Right there. That faded, scuffed stretch of hallway. She was thirty years old. I was twenty-nine. We had been on top of the world for the past four years. But the world rolls. Sometimes you roll with it, and sometimes it rolls on top of you.
Charles Gullota’s memoir is a must-read, it will forever change the way you view love and loss, life and death. It shines a light on the tenuous grasp we all have on our own lives, how our innate personalities and who we thought we were — our hopes, our dreams, the very essence of our being — can be snatched away, snuffed out in an instant like a flame. Yet, it’s tragedy that forces us to embrace the here and now, compelling us to fully live each day while we still have a chance. Only love has the power to heal us in the end.
Charles Gulotta is a freelance writer and incredibly popular WordPress blogger at Mostly Bright Ideas. His blog is a WordPress Recommended Humor Blog and was Freshly Pressed numerous times. I had the pleasure of meeting Charles and his lovely wife, Maria, a few years ago and yes, he is just as warm, witty, and insightful in person.