Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Details

I stood outside the bar, my heart beating shallow rapid pats beneath my sternum. The sky was gray and heavy, threatening rain. I was on the phone with my best friend's little sister, and I was very, very late. She had just been dumped, unceremoniously and casually, by her partner of five years only a week or so prior. So lately, we had been on the phone a lot, sometimes urgently as she cried, and sometimes in comfortable silence while we ate dinner and browsed the internet, separate but together even hundreds of miles apart. I say my best friend's little sister because it is factually accurate, but for all intents and purposes she is also my little sister and I love her fiercely. Given half an opportunity, I would unceremoniously and casually crush her ex's pinky fingers beneath my SUV before sitting him down for a good long chat. Unfortunately, time was not what I had to spare that night. She had called me when I was leaving my house, which meant I had thirty-three minutes to talk with her before arriving at my destination. At minute forty-four, my heart jogging along in my anxious chest, I tried to gently end the conversation.
"Sweets, I'm so sorry, but I have to go. I have a...thing I have to go to." (In my head, I chanted - don't say date, don't say date, don't say date. Nothing says "fuck you and your broken heart" quite like someone else going on a first date.) "How about I call you after, if you're still awake, okay?" She agreed, and I hung up.
I barreled into the bar. I was officially almost twenty minutes late. I was not fashionably late. I was inconsiderate-bitch late. The bar was crowded and yet I found his face in seconds. I remember thinking, Whoah, and then, Shit, I wish I hadn't ruined this by being late.

I apologized and flashed my most winning smile. He accepted, more graciously than I deserved, confidently ordered a water while I ordered a beer, and proceeded to enthrall me for the next two hours. In the car on my way home, I texted my best friend, Call your sister. I was supposed to call her back but I'm busy ;)

* * *

In the dark last night, I held our palms together, carefully lining up the fingers. I tell him how my brain is like a library card catalog, each drawer filled with hundreds of carefully printed white cards, all containing detailed information (much of it useless): here is one with all the lyrics to the Backstreet Boys song, "I Want It That Way;" here's one with a brownie recipe, here's one with the terrible things a nursing school preceptor said to me one dark Tuesday night in med-surg clinical in October 2012, etc, etc. I imagine either the vast swaths of more useful information I could hold, or the oasis of calm that might exist in there if I could stop remembering every little thing. He tells me his brain is like a 3-D web of ideas that connect to each other in complex ways, that the small clusters connect to bigger ones, and he can see how they all relate but when he zooms in close, it's like an impressionist painting that only makes sense from far away.
I don't remember details, he tells me. 
I can't remember anything but details, I reply. 
He drops his hand to my belly and I roll over, eyes heavy. I think, he says softly, that between the two of us, we'll figure it out.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Dream

Gonna pack up and set aside maternity clothes for you...
reads the text from my midwife friend and my heart does a swooping leap and dive that leaves me a little sick.

I delivered her second baby a week ago yesterday. She is my anchor here, our friendship having grown like a sturdy little tree over the last two years, slowly but steadily, tiny leaves of vulnerability opening up between us over the weeks and months. Her first-born can say "Auntie" now, and then grins with pride, waiting for my reaction. He is mischievous and tow-headed and I love him fiercely. He rolled over on my yellow rug at four months old when she told me, We're going to have another one, after swearing up and down that she only wanted one child. I smiled, unsurprised. And waited another six months with her until they started trying again, consoling her gently when periods came and went. We would laugh, saying ruefully, We know too much, and it's true, we do - it is both agonizing and utterly unremarkable to be an expert in all things obstetrics and women's health and then to be a pawn of fate just like everybody else. It didn't take long. That sturdy toddler is twenty months old now, learned to say "baby" and kiss her belly, not a clue what was coming. She came in at 3 AM, I didn't remember it hurt this fucking much, got in the tub, held my hand, walked and rested and swore, tried to manage her own labor, stopped when I snapped at her, watched her baby's heart rate on the monitor till I turned it away, smiled at me in between contractions, said quietly, just once, Don't leave, and eventually, laughing, pushed for all of fifteen minutes and I wept, tears coursing down my face as I lifted up her second little tow-headed boy.

We were walking in the woods near her house three months ago, the dogs skipping ahead. I want to have a baby, I said. Maybe I'll just do it alone. The words hung there, terrifying and raw. She didn't miss a beat. I think that's great. Then our kids can be little together.

It's not what I pictured. I wanted the guy (or the girl) and the dog and the house and the chickens and the babies. It's not what I got, though. Cheryl Strayed gets it:

"Oh, the dream. The goddamned man + baby dream....
But please remember that the dream you have of finding a long-term romantic partner and having a baby is not just one dream. It's two. The partner dream and the baby dream are so intricately woven that you can be forgiven for thinking they're one. It's lovely if it is rolled up into one. It's more than lovely. It's convenient. It's conventional. It's economically advantageous. It's hella good when it's good.
But it isn't what you have."

* * *

I don't have it all worked out. I still don't know most of the answers to only some of the questions. But I'm starting to think that unconventional and inconvenient might be what I've got. Because I've also got friends like her, helping me along.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Solitude

I decorated the porch for this apartment. It's on the third floor, and it faces south and west and the sun slants in, warm and quiet as the days grow steadily longer. It faces a tiny patch of grass and an alley and several other apartment buildings from which I can fairly often overhear people fighting, so it's nice, but, you know, it's also the kind of porch you get off the back wall of an affordable apartment. I put up twinkle lights and chairs and a little metal side table. I filled three pots with herbs and hung a planter and a thermometer with a cheery red needle. I almost never go out there. I don't sit in the chairs except briefly, sometimes, when I get back from a run. I have never, not once, plugged in the twinkle lights. I water the herbs and the planter out of habit. The porch feels like so many other things in my life - like a stupid naive field-of-dreams-type fantasy where I imagined that if I built it, they would come - "they" being someone to share this with. Someone to sit on the porch with me. Someone with whom to install a carseat safely into my sturdy, family-friendly SUV. Someone to eat the pile of leftovers sitting in my fridge until they rot.

And yes, through it all, I am fine. Painfully so. I am really good at being alone. I cook healthy food and I pay all my bills and I work my ass off and never call in sick. I'm open and friendly to cashiers and patients and coworkers. I take the dog for hikes and I go to concerts and I go out to dinner and I go see movies in the theater and I read epic novels from the library and watch interesting shows on Netflix and I talk to my parents and I nurture my friendships and contemplate relearning Spanish - and I do it all alone.

A colleague and I made small talk last night at a going away party. He asked me about why I take my dog to daycare thirty minutes away when I'm at work. I looked at him steadily. We've been friends for almost two years now. Because there's no one else to take care of her for twenty-four hours at a time, I said. He blushed. My perpetual singleness embarrassed him.  He had married (way above his station) and had two beautiful children by the time he was my age.

I told my therapist about Richard. About our relationship and how tumultuous it was, how I felt like I was always guessing at what to do and how to be. Why did you stay with him for so long? she asked me. For a lot of reasons, some of which I mentioned. But mostly because I worried - rightly, as it turned out - that he was my last shot at having a partner and a family on the approximate timeline I'd envisioned.

I change the radio station in the car when love songs come on. I drag my dog into the bed with me most nights, bending myself around her warmth. I cry, briefly and hard and then stop, telling myself savagely, The world doesn't owe you a partner. The world doesn't owe you a single fucking thing.