narrated by Emma
It’s easy to stand opposite someone and say that everything will be fine, to promise that it will work out. Sure, it works out, but that doesn’t promise it will be good, it doesn’t mean it worked out well at all. It just means you didn’t die from it, but maybe someone else does, than what is there to offer?
Grace tells me it’ll be fine, first it was going to be the moment I felt the baby kick, than I’d get that motherly enthusiasm. Or when I saw the ultrasound, or when the baby had hiccups. These things, she has read in her baby books, all help mothers to bond more with their unborn child. I drive down the highway, and pass these signs, never taking the exit, never connecting. Each month passes agonizingly slow, and horrifyingly fast. Nothing will revert back at the end of this, but what was there to go back to anyway?
I do the motions, I oblige Grace and go to the Mini Sprout to pick out something for the baby. I know she wants to be the pregnant one standing in this hellish baby boutique; it doesn’t make it better that I wish it was her too.
She clicks and hums and oohs and ahhs over a tiny pink tutu and little blue bootees. I oblige, but I can’t humor. It’s hot under the lights, my neck hurts, and all I want is a Coke and to lay out on my sofa.
I can’t do that though. I get home, and Chris is playing his games. If I was half as interesting as those pixels than maybe I could actually need space from him, but I’m not. He bobs to the side when I step past him; his thumbs keep pressing the buttons.
It’s ether this, or fighting.
It’s always the same thing. Video games, the stupid idea he has that we can even begin to be good parents. They aren’t the cause, just where we end up.
I walk off, he goes downstairs to the neighbors.
When he comes back upstairs, he apologizes. He’s trying, he urges, but why am I so damn difficult? I bite my lip, I don’t have any answers.
We make up, and go through it all again the next day.
It was a week before my due date, Chris got a promotion at the auto shop, and wanted to get us a better place. He was positive he’d have the car finished right after before the baby would arrive. He spent all winter working outdoors even when it was freezing. He’s proud of himself for fixing this beater up, and thinks I will be once it’s done.
Doesn’t he deserve someone who will be proud of him for his efforts?
We check out this apartment, he fixes cars with the guy, and they want out of their lease. Chris can’t stop smiling, and being masculine with his friend. He always seems like someone else when he’s around others, happier, friendlier.
I spent my life looking up to Grace, I don’t want anyone to look up to me.
It’d be simple to leave, the ring on the counter, a sheet of paper underneath. Just writing, “it’s Matt’s,” everything would be solved. It would be a lie, but no one would know except me.
I’m planning it, thinking of where I could go, and asking myself if I could really leave the baby behind. I would have to, and in my gut, I know I could. Grace could raise it better than me, and who better for them to look up to than my own inspiration. I’m mulling these things as I go about my days, annoyed with the heartburn, insomnia, and kicks to the ribcage.
Grace and Benjamin are closing on three bedroom house, soon they will begin trying for a baby and it’s all she can talk about. Our babies could be a year apart just like we are, and oh, the plans she makes. She’s occupied with these thoughts, cheerful enough for the both of us, but always watching me. It’s not fair to her that I’m such a demanding sister.
Her duplex feels more like a home than I’ve felt since we moved from our home on Division Street, Oliver was just a toddler in his crib. It was a tiny house, with only two bedrooms, all three of us had to share the one room, but times were happy. Mom laughed, and sewed and aspired for her bridal boutique, back when it was fanciful and not demanding. And Dad, he was around more, he’d throw us in the air, build snowmen with us. Division Street, that was my only home that was good.
I’m lost in my thoughts for much of the visit, and Grace has stopped talking sometime ago without my realizing.
I’m always gone before Benjamin comes home, but here he is, twenty minutes early. She hears him on the steps and is on her feet to be in his arms just seconds after he walks through the doorway. I watch uncomfortably, unsure where I should avert my eyes.
I swallow hard, knowing this is what I want, but unable to find it. A companion, a home, to be loved. Grace made them seem simple to obtain.
Benjamin turns to me and smiles nicely, inquires about myself, Chris, the baby. I realize he must have strong feelings against me, I know I upset Grace though she’ll never show it to me. I’m just her messed up sister, that is screwing up his best friend’s life, just another one of the family that is too demanding, and too much of a mess. But he never acts that way towards me, and I want to believe he genuinely likes me.
I excuse myself, and head out into the cool evening air. Millwood is always cooler than the city with the higher elevation, but also more open spaces. It’s easier to breath out here, I can see why Grace chose it to settle down in, but it’s too quiet for me. I call Chris on his cell, I need him to pick me up.
I leaned against the duplex, and sunk to the ground while I waited. Grace once told me I had to be honest if I ever wanted anything worthwhile. It seemed rather ridiculous when she had told me, but sitting out here in the quiet of Millwood I begin to wonder.
Chris pulls up in his car, it even shines in the moonlight, and I am proud of him. He steps out to escort me to the car or help me carry stuff is his excuse, he thought we might have shopped, he explained. Instead I just stand there, feeling incredible weight of guilt.
Before I can stop myself, I blurt out that I’d slept with Matt until a year ago, and the countless others that I didn’t even remember their names. If Grace was right, honesty would make things better, it would take the guilt and heal the black hole. It’d find me a companion, and maybe love.
He stares, wordless, mouth slightly open, and I begin to cry.
He doesn’t speak, but gently kisses my forehead. “I was going to leave you,” I admit it, “are you going to leave me?”
A soft breath hits my bangs as he exhales. “No,” he answers after a moment.
“You probably should,” I force a laugh but it’s sad and fails at bringing comic relief.
“I don’t know how to be a Mom.”
He rubs his finger on my hand, “You’ll learn.”
In a distant evergreen, an owl hoots, and a dog barks from one of the neighboring houses, it’s bark echoing into the sky.
“I hate your video games.”
It’s his turn to laugh, and he pulls me closer to his side. “I know. I’ll cut back.”
* * *
A week after my due date, and I pretend to help Grace move into her new house. I’m on strict rules to not lift a single box from Chris, not that Grace nor Benjamin would let me near one if I even had the desire, which I don’t. Sometimes I think they don’t know me at all.
All she needs now is the picket fence and the little blonde baby on her hip to complete the perfect little life she’s created. I’m not jealous though, she’ll be a great Mom.
There are supplies to gorge ourselves with banana splits, which was the real motivation for my visit, I tease. It’s inside that the labor begins, the back pains had gotten worse the past few days, but I’d brushed them off.
Benjamin’s fireman personality kicks in, and he tries to keep me calm, while Grace calls the ambulance, then Chris.
“I can’t do this.” I chant between ragged breaths, I don’t stop until we arrive at the hospital. The paramedic wants me to go in on a stretcher or wheel chair, but I flat refuse.
We arrive just after two in the afternoon, Dr. Morgan checks in on us, and leaves me to labor, suggesting I walk as long as possible. The sun begins to set, and still there is no baby.
Chris rubs my back, and tries dry humor when I’m not in the middle of a contraction.
Grandma and Grandpa come to the hospital, they are all waiting for the baby to arrive. My parents aren’t here, Chris called them though I told him not to. He’s a lousy liar, and I relish that feature of him.
Even without my parents, there is many who are here, anxious to meet the baby, and I can’t help but feel the same.
Nurse Caroline comes in to check on me regularly, each time leaving cause I’m not quite ready.
When she comes back after eight, it’s time to push, and now I’m wishing she’d say it’s not time again. There was comfort in that, and now that the moment is really here, I go back to chanting that I can’t do this, that I don’t want to. Dr. Morgan assures me that it’s too late for all of that.
She encourages me that I’m doing good, that I can do this, that it will all be worth it. A piece of me wants to disagree, but I can hardly concentrate on anything but the events going on with my body.
Then she announces, “It’s a boy!”
I panic, “Isn’t he supposed to cry?” And before she can answer, I hear his cries, gurgled and muffled, than clearer and louder. I blame the hormones on the moisture in my eyes, and I lay my head back watching the doctors clean him. “He’s here.” Chris beams at me, and I can’t help but smile back.
After a few minutes, they take him into the nursery just to clean him up a little more, and Chris goes with to show him to the family. Everyone loves him, he tells me later.
I don’t see how anyone couldn’t love him.
After everyone goes home, it’s just us. Hospital equipment beeping around us, soft soled shoes shuffling in the hall, muffled voices and charts being moved about. Chris rests on the recliner, and Chaz in his bassinet, and I just lay there sleepily watching him. When he begins to stir, I move to comfort him.
Chris made me promise I’d wake him when Chaz needed to eat again. With Chaz eating noisily, we stared at one another, than back to Chaz, our faces a mixture of awe, love, and absolute terror.
Grace can’t get enough of him, and I encourage her to give Chaz a cousin. A flicker of a smile crosses her lips, and she looks relieved. Some books, she had said when we were sitting on the porch, say that bonding happens after the baby is born.
We get two days in the hospital, we write down the number of wet diapers, and soiled ones. Nurse Caroline assists if I can’t calm him down, patiently showing me how to swaddle him for the thirtieth time. Dr. Morgan checks his stats and blood sugar, and looks him over, and praises how healthy he looks. It makes me feel good inside, I’m already proud of Chaz, and all he’s done is be born.
I don’t know how to be a Mom outside of the hospital walls, and it feels like a crime that they’d even consider sending the perfect baby boy home with us. But they do, with encouraging smiles, and a wellness check up scheduled in one week.
Notes: Originally I was not going to have Emma raise the baby. The living room with Benjamin and Grace is literally when I saw a change in Emma’s character. She rolled wants for Chris (she never does that), and “approved” Grace and Ben’s kissing, her fear of marriage rolled away. I took it that she wants some of that companionship. She had to tell Chris about the cheating, cause he has a memory of it, so she came clean.
Emma is a special character to me, little pieces of people I hold dear. It wasn’t planned that way, it’s just how she’s evolved.
Thanks for reading this mega long update.