I’m grateful for the whirl of the microwave humming that is followed by the smell of silky butter in the air. As if the microwave and air popper are creating some song, the popcorn thumps to its own beat and produces white puff balls that roll into an awaiting bowl. Once I combine the popcorn, butter, with a dash of salt, the crunchy taste of my movie meal lifts my mood, and I’m ready to settle down to binge-watch almost anything.
I’m waiting in the sterile no-scent room of a reproductive clinic where chubby-cheeked babies with expectant glistening eyes stare back at me from framed photos on the wall. Everywhere I look, happy newborns and toddlers are dangled in front of me in a carnival-like atmosphere as if they were a prize I could win if I followed the rules of the game. The truth is: I already haven’t followed the rules. So, would a bouncy, blue-or-pink-clothed bundle of drooling joy escape me for the rest of my days? Secretly, I hoped not. Publicly, I told my friends and family it didn’t matter.
“He’ll see you now,” the receptionist says to me.
I enter the doctor’s office and settle into a chair on the opposite side of a grand mahogany desk. Odd to me sometimes, how the medical profession is set up that the Doctor sits over there, I sit over here, and together, we’re expected to come up with a plan to fix my problem. Yet, right from the start, I don’t feel we’re playing on the same team.
Bespectacled doc flips through his notes and says, “We have several problems. Your fallopian tubes are blocked and you’re not ovulating. We can attempt hormone therapy. But you’re not a good candidate for in vitro fertilization given your age and other problems.”
His words cut me.
Smiling, I nod, and say, “That’s alright. I didn’t want to go to extreme measures. If it happens, that’s great. If it doesn’t, well, my fiancé and I, we tried.”
He closes the file in front of him and folds his hands over the folder. “Listen,” he curtly says. “Given your age, you’re close to the end of the time when I’m permitted to help you. It sounds like you don’t care, either way. So, if you’re not committed to this, why should I invest any more time?”
My mouth gapes and my cheeks burn. I slowly say, “Uh…well…Antonio wanted to see if it was a possibility. He would like children.”
The Doctor snivels at me and says, “That’s your fiancé?”
I nod my head. I’ve lost my ability to respond with words.
“Well,” he says. “I suggest you give him the information that I shared with you today. If he still wants children, maybe you guys should think about parting ways.”
I begin to nod my head as I gather my coat and purse. “Thank you for your time,” I manage to say as I slowly reach for the door. As I stride out of the office I gather more speed, and when I’m out of the building I run across the parking lot towards my car with tears streaming down my cheeks.
I’m embarrassed that I even tried to seek out professional help—and angry that the Doctor never asked me why I didn’t try to have children sooner.
Knotted chains clink against the freezer that stores leftover meatloaf from last Thursday’s dinner.
Maria’s eyes are wide. She flicks them from right to left, then left to right.
Tugging at the sheets she pulls them up to her chin.
Pressure pinches against her temples.
Sweat gathers on her back.
Heart palpitations begin.
One second later.
Broken glass. Stale Eggs. Cigarette smoke.
Glass lies everywhere. The egg-smoke climbs upwards towards the ceiling fan and spreads out across the room.
In the inside of nowhere, I can see them.
But, do you see me?
Green hills overlook the North Atlantic Ocean. In the water, rocks protrude from the watery abyss. The sharp edged natural swords have sent many ships to their graves with those who travelled on them.
On top of the hill is where I stand. A white light blinks at me. Thunderous electric lightening crashes above the historical watchtower that helps to guide ships into port. Briefly, the light illuminates the dark sky.
Thunder crackles again.
In the window of the lighthouse I see a small, pale, angelic singular face peer back at me. I’m too far away though and I don’t trust my eyes. In these conditions, I know my mind will play tricks on me.
Somewhere in the distance I hear a screeching sound of a baby’s cry.
Instinctively, I turn, searching for the location of the noise. But I know the infant isn’t real. It might be a phantom baby that’s come to haunt me.
Glancing towards the lighthouse, I search for the child. He’s no longer there though. Ghost child and a phantom baby are working together today playing with my subconscious.
I inhale the cold sharp air that surrounds me.
The baby’s wail begins again—louder—and with a fiercer intensity this time. In that moment, I’m hit and I’m lifted high into the air, before I fall backwards on the emerald fields.
I can’t move.
My eyes flutter at the four-year-old boy who stands above me with soft curly hair and green eyes who holds a small infant. He gently moves my arms together to form a cradle and places the crying baby there who’s wrapped in a pink blanket. Tears roll down the sides of my cheeks when the little girl’s crying slips into a contented gurgle. She rolls closer to me and then drifts off to sleep.
White light illuminates the boy who smiles down at me and my sleeping baby.
“I wish I could.”
These are the slithering, hissing sounds of absolute words that protect me—from me.
Conformity is a harness that holds me up, preventing me from falling off roofs, off buildings, or down cliffs and is my life preserver that keeps me alive. But a harness is weighty: my feet drag along the roof as I fumble to manipulate the line while scouring for the tools I need to place the next shingle down. After some time, physical fatigue sets in and I misjudge where I’m placing my feet and hands; I slip and start sliding down off the roof only to brace myself lace minute before going over the edge. The harness provides protection, but is not absolute. I’ve heard stories of people who’ve died while wearing such a device.
When I finally unstrap the harness from my waist it’s a release and I glide down sidewalks as if Tinker Bell has given me fairy dust to move. Once my body is able to move freely, the fairy leans in and sings-whispers Shakespeare’s words from Hamlet into my ear to unclog the gutters of my mind:
“To Thine Own Self Be True.”
I’m waiting. Patiently.
Then again, perhaps not so patiently because if I were, that would mean my shoulders would be rolled back and I would be happily staring at a wall.
But I can’t seem to do that. Ever. While seated in the waiting room area of the doctor’s office I’ve already read about shootings, stabbings and earthquakes. I click on another article about an elderly couple who were victims of fraud and lost over $100,000 of their retirement savings. My mood begins to trudge dangerously close to despair. I realize I need to change gears. I rummage through my purse and pull out my paperback book and a few moments later, I giggle a little.
Tina Fey’s, Bossypants, is a good distraction from the world’s misery but it still can’t hold my attention completely. When the door chimes, my eyes bounce up to see a woman who’s pulled the front door open and carries an infant slung to one side of her hip. Behind her, two small hand-holding girls follow them. One of the girls is probably five or six-years-old and she continues to hold her sister’s hand. The little one wobbles in her boots: obviously, new to the walking thing.
The six-year-old is Deputy Mom. I smile.
Mom switches sides with the infant while she simultaneously fumbles to get her wallet out in search of her Health Card. The woman glances over at the older child, wearily sighs, and says, “Mandy, can you take Julie and sit down over there?” Her head bobs in the direction of the clustered chairs.
I glance up briefly to see the older sister slowly guide her unsteady little sister to a chair. A second later, I notice the older girl unzips her sister’s coat, tugs her hat off, and places them on the chair next to her now seated sibling.
I stare down at my book. Deputy Mom clearly takes her roll very seriously. I continue to smile at the beauty of it all. Big Sister takes care of Little Sister. After all, Mom’s hands are full. Big Sis is ever watchful, always guiding – forever there.
I continue to force a smile. It’s hard though. Something is tugging at me and is bubbling its way to the surface. I push the emotion back down by taking big breaths in and try my best to focus on Bossypants. I can’t sob in the middle of the doctor’s office. There’s no clear reason. People will wonder about me.
I miss him, a voice quietly whispers in my head.
“It hurts,” Kara says while tightening and releasing her hand. A few moments later, she stares down at her bleeding elbow.
“Suck it up, Buttercup,” her mother responds while washing the pots from last night’s dinner. She reaches for a towel and moves on to drying as the dishwasher hums in the background.
“Where did that saying come from? The Princess Bride?”
“Don’t know. But it seems appropriate given the level of whining you’re doing about it. Everyone falls. Get over it. Brush yourself off and move on. That’s what everyone else does.”
“Do they Mom? Does everyone? Because it seems like if the fall is too hard, and you hit your head or something, sometimes people don’t get up.”
Her mother blinks wildly as her hand stops wiping the speckles of water off the pot. “Are we still talking about the fall?”
Kara takes a deep breath in. Should she go down this road with Optimistic Momma to Buttercup? Sighing she says, “Sort of.”
“Listen Kara, everyone falls. Whether that’s literally, or figuratively. Just get back on the horse, or the bike. Or whatever, they say nowadays.”
“Really, Mom,” Kara responds. “What happens if I don’t want to? What happens if I’m tired of constantly falling down by tripping on a curb, slipping on ice, or someone, or something knocking me over.”
Her mother throws her towel in the dish drainer and places her hand on her hip. Lips twitching she says, “Lots of people have it worse than you, Kara. And everyone has their problems. They don’t act like you do.”
“How do you know? Did you ask them? Maybe they do complain, but no one’s listening!” Kara exclaims in a fit of exasperation. Her neck is stiff. Head throbs. Muscles all over her body ache from the jarring that she felt when she slipped on the icy driveway.
Quietness settles between them. “I think it’s ridiculous, Mom. There are all these books and movies out now that celebrate people being different. But what we still say is each person’s experience is the same. So, we say everyone has the same life. They don’t. They simply don’t. Some people live on the streets. Yeah, I know there are people that have it worse than me.” She stares at her mother for a few seconds, pauses and says, “But some people live in wealth their whole lives, stay married to the same person for fifty years, and die two days apart, as well! Everyone has different lives. And how they translate those life experiences are different too.”
“Well,” mom says with a huff. “What do you want me to say, Kara? That it’s terrible that you had a miscarriage, your husband left you shortly after, you lost your job because you had too many doctor’s appointments after, and your friend died at the same time?”
Kara blinks back the tears. Her mouth trembles.
Quietly, her mother says, “Boxers get back up whenever they get knocked down.”
“Not always. Too many hits can be fatal. They hit the right part of the body, and their life is over.” It’s a statement of fact. But there’s honesty there too.
Mom shifts uncomfortably. Eyes well up with water. She hesitates and nods at her only daughter saying, “I don’t want that to happen to you, Kara.”
Through tears, Kara says, “Me, neither Mom. I just need some time to heal.” There’s a pause and then she says, “And yes, it does help when you acknowledge I’ve had a shit time of it,” she says giggling.
Mom smiles through the tears, nods, and stretches out her hands while saying, “We didn’t do that in my day. I’m sorry. Come, here,” she says as she hugs her daughter.
“Grandma, Grandma? When are we going to bake those chocolate chip cookies?” five-year-old Jessica says.
“Come on, Grandma!” the little girl shouts. “You’ve slept enough!” with that she reaches over to shake nana’s arm. Instinctively, she pulls away with a sudden snap of her hand as if she’s touched a hot stove. But, it’s the opposite of that. Instead it’s as if Jesse, as her grandmother liked to call her, has placed her hand on ice that cuts.
“Grandma?” Jessica whispers.
“What the hell, man? Just cut me off like that!” Brian’s hand makes a fist at the driver now ahead of him.
Shaking his head, he says, “Jesus. People are driving like we’re in the middle of a heat wave here! Look at the roads people: that’s black ice on the road, mixed in with a whole lotta snow!”
Brian’s eyes flick up to his rear view mirror. He’s not certain the reason at first. But then he catches sight of the Nissan Pathfinder that’s barreling down behind him as it pushes snow off the road and onto the sidewalk. The driver still isn’t slowing down.
There’s nothing he can do. There’s a crunching sound as the SUV hits the breaks. The truck’s wheels lock on the brown, salted, icy, snow-covered road as it begins to slide slowly at first, and then swings around and charges into the driver’s side of Brian’s car.
The SUV doesn’t stop. Medal twists. Glass smashes.
“Hey, you!” Carmen shouts at the red coat-wearing woman she hasn’t spoken to in almost six months. It’s not because the ladies had a fight. The reason is a simple and a common explanation: lack of time because of too many other obligations; and because at the end of the week they’re too damn knackered.
“Hey! Oh my goodness! I haven’t seen you in ages! How’s everything?” Dana enquires.
“Good, good. Jobs great. Kids, are getting big. Oh, Brent and I are celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary on Saturday!”
“Has it been that long?”
“Yup,” Carmen says with her chin raised proudly.
“Geez, that’s fantastic! Congratulations. Are you guys doing anything special?”
“Yeah, we’re having a party with friends and family. You should come!”
“When is it again?”
“Are you guys still living at 185 Wimbledon Lane?”
“Yeah, still there,” Carmen says chuckling. “Now, you have no excuse NOT to come! Okay, well, I’ve got to dash as I need to pick the kids up from their music lessons. Shit. Didn’t even ask though, how are things with you?”
“Good, good,” Dana says. “We’ll catch up on Saturday. Go!”
“You’ll come then?”
“Great. See you on Saturday!” Carmen says as she turns and continues to jog in the direction of her car.
(Later that day)
“We admitted her into the hospital today. She was complaining of indigestion: felt some nausea coupled with chest pain. We gave her some aspirin as a precautionary measure. She was in her mid-40’s and on observation, was well within her normal weight range. Unfortunately….”
Water criss-crosses stones and pebbles and creates images in the water. Reflections of gold-orange leaves that cling to trees behind Karen are clearly a mirror of what’s behind her. Along the river shore it’s peaceful: with the sound of lapping waves and the dots of white, blue, yellow, orange flowers – there are so many wonderful colours!
Karen stares into the bubbles that twist and turn over the rocks. As she gazes into the water, her face instantly contorts and her expression changes from a relaxed-I’m-on-holiday-manner, to one of fearful concern. She braces her hands against the railing of the wood bridge and stretches forward as she struggles to see what looks like a white cloth in the water.
The material bubbles to the surface and rests on a rock. Karen stares at it for a few seconds. Then waves wash over the ivory fabric, and it disappears below the surface once more. With nothing more to be concerned about, she turns and walks away.
Beneath the water, two eyes stare blankly at the people who cross over the bridge, waiting for someone to notice them.