over the years, more than any other.
The day was September 2nd, 1977, just one more in what had been a string of hellishly hot days in West Tennessee. At exactly five o’clock Bruce Hopkins punched his time card at the Peterbilt auto plant outside of Nashville and climbed into his ancient AMC Hornet. There was no air conditioning in the car, the late summer sun beating down on the faded black paint as Bruce wound his way towards home. Every few seconds he would wipe away a handful of sweat and fling the droplets out the window, the breeze catching them and pulling them away the moment they left his hand.
The Eagles’ Desperado blared through the one working speaker as Bruce drove towards home, the sound distorted
by the static threatening to overtake the sound at any moment.
Why that point was important Kris had never known, but it was one his father was always sure to include, as if the song was foreboding of what was to come.
Bruce made it home at half past five, his clothes plastered to his shoulders and the backs of his thighs with sweat. Giving a heavy groan he climbed out of his car, leaving the windows down, knowing there was no chance of rain on the horizon.
On his mind were two things. A cold shower and an even colder beer.
Neither one came to pass.
Bruce made it halfway to the door before his young wife Tilly burst out to meet him, a hand on her hip as she leaned back and tried to balance the fully realized fetus aching to exit protruding before her. Thick blonde hair was plastered to the sides of her face with perspiration, her cherubic-like features contorted in pain.
“Is it time?” Bruce asked, already knowing the answer, a look of shock splayed across his face. His body froze where he stood, trying to determine if he should help his wife or run to start the car.
“You see that dripping down on the sidewalk?” Tilly asked, her voice little more than a wheeze. “I ain’t peeing.”
Bruce’s bottom jaw dropped as he leaned back and peered around her, noticing the uneven trail of water spots trailing behind his wife like a snake along the sun baked concrete.
“You’re not peeing,” Bruce muttered, his mind wrapping around the words and their meaning. “That’s not pee. She’s not
“You don’t have to announce it to the neighborhood, just get me to the hospital,” Tilly moaned, walking forward and grabbing Bruce by the hand.
The physical contact was what he needed to snap into action.
Bruce helped his wife into the Hornet and headed for the hospital, covering the three miles between them in just five minutes. Behind him he left a litany of angry drivers and blown stop signs, his entire focus on the passenger seat.
A simple sign, yellow letters on a green background, welcomed all visitors to the hospital. An arrow pointed guests to the left and deliveries to the right, half-full parking lots stretched out in either direction.
Bruce ignored both directives, aiming for the front door and sliding to a stop just four feet from it. A thick line of fresh rubber smudged the sidewalk behind them, its stench engulfing the car.
“Honey, I don’t think we can park here,” Tilly said, her breath coming in ragged pants. One hand she kept under her stomach, almost willing the child to stay in a little longer. The other she used to paw at the passenger side door, trying to extricate herself from the car.
Her fingers never found their target. Instead it was Bruce, ignoring her comment, already out and around the front hood, that wrenched the door open and helped his wife to her feet.
“I’m sorry, sir, you cannot park here,” a deep baritone snapped.
“Try and stop me,” Bruce replied, one hand holding Tilly’s, the other on the small of her back. Together they turned towards the front door, seeing the owner of the voice standing before them.
The man was an inch or two above six feet tall, his short brown hair styled into a flat top. A too-small security uniform strained across his shoulders and midsection. His hands rested on his hips as he peered down at them, their reflection visible in his mirrored sunglasses.
“Sir, I’m sorry, but you have to move your vehicle. Now.”
“Listen here, Captain America,”Bruce replied. “My wife is going into labor. I will move the car once I know she’s taken care of and not one minute before.”
The guard opened his mouth to respond, but was cut off by a diminutive woman in blue scrubs pushing a wheelchair.
“Jesus Christ, Donnie, can’t you see the woman’s in labor?” she asked, glaring at him as she circled his backside and brought the chair to a stop alongside Tilly. “Please, Miss, sit.”
“Thank you,” Tilly pushed out, the words just audible amidst a heavy gasp.
Bruce kept her hand in his, walking beside his wife, bent at the waist by her side. “We made it, Dear. We’re at the hospital.
You’re both going to be alright.”
A polished black boot sidestepped into his path as he went, cutting of his route to the door.
“I’m sorry, sir, but you have to move-“
“I got it!” Bruce said, rising to glare at the rent-a-cop. “Moving the damn car.”
Once more he bent at the waist, leaning low and clutching his wife’s hands in his. “I’ll be right behind you. I’m going to be
right outside the room the entire time.”
“You’re sure?” Tilly asked, fear flooding into her features. “Bruce, I can’t do this without you.”
“You’re not going to, Honey,” Bruce replied. “I’m no more than a minute behind you. I’ll be the first person you see when you wake up.”
“Sir, we really need to get her inside,” the nurse said, already rolling Tilly forward.
Bruce leaned in and kissed his wife on the forehead, squeezing her shoulder in assurance as she passed through the double
doors into the hospital. “I love you!”
The doors swung closed before Tilly had a chance to respond.
It was the last time Bruce would ever see his wife alive.
The nurse that came out into the hallway after the delivery was supposed to be smiling. She was supposed to see him pacing the hallway, an orange stuffed football in his hand, and shake her head at the nervous young father. She was supposed to pull her mask down and tell him he was the new parent of a healthy baby boy. That the child and mother were both
She was not supposed to be crying, her surgical mask stuck to her cheeks by fresh tears. She was not supposed to shake her head and explain that Tilly was hemorrhaging internally when she arrived, that the blood loss was too great.
She was supposed to congratulate him, not offer condolences.
He was not supposed to become a father and a widow in the same moment.
It took almost an hour for Bruce to pull himself together enough to see his son. By the time he got there his face was puffy,
his hair a disheveled heap atop his head.
The same nurse that wheeled Tilly into the hospital was there waiting for him when he finally emerged from an empty exam
room, ready to meet the only connection he still had to his wife. She nodded her sympathies to him and led him to the nursery, taking him to the crib set alone to the side.
The sight of him laying there, his pink flesh scrubbed clean, tufts of hair already starting to peak out from his scalp,
brought fresh tears to Bruce’s eyes.
“Would you like to hold your son?” the nurse asked, her voice low and even.
Bruce’s head rotated from side to side, his gaze never leaving his son. “Not yet,” he whispered. “I don’t trust myself to have
the strength right now.”
The nurse nodded as Bruce looked down at the football still clutched in his hand and took a step forward. Using his index
finger, he lifted his son’s arm and slid the ball beneath it. The young boy curled his body around the soft cotton, never once rousing from his slumber.
“He’s going to be a football player, huh?” the nurse asked as Bruce retreated back a step and looked down at his son, the ball almost as large as he was.
“Definitely,” Bruce replied, his voice relaying a confidence he didn’t really have.
“What are you going to call him?”
“Kris, with a K,” Bruce replied. “His mother picked it. She always liked the way it looked written out.”
The nurse pressed her lips tight together, her face downcast with the sorrow of the moment. “Kris with a K is a good name for a football player.”
“A quarterback,” Bruce replied.
“Yeah,” Bruce said, nodding for emphasis. “Every time Tilly would feel him thrashing around inside her, she would shake her head and smile. She’d always tell me any baby could kick, but ours was special. He was in there throwing.”
Some people might find the tale depressing, maybe even a bit macabre, the kind of thing a father shouldn’t tell his son. Kris
never felt that way though, knew his father didn’t either.
The point of telling the story was never actually about the passing of his mother. The point was so that everybody else knew
exactly what they both had from hour one.
Kris Hopkins was a quarterback. He was born that way, and he would probably die that way.