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Tales from the Crib
By JENNIFER COBURN
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2006 Jennifer Coburn
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI wasn't entirely surprised when Jack said he wanted a divorce. Our marriage had been rocky for the last few years. On another day, it could've been me asking to end the relationship. But on this day, Jack's timing could not have been worse. I knew we had serious problems, but this was not the ideal moment to call it quits.
We'd been to marriage counseling, taken several unsuccessful weekend getaways, and even, embarrassed as I am to admit, enrolled in a Tantra Yoga class together. Each was more of a disaster than the other.
Our therapist actually dumped us after six months. I never knew they could do that, but one day we showed up at Dr. Lee's office and he wasn't there. There was no note, no apologetic phone call, no explanation whatsoever. I called three times to try to reschedule, but Dr. Lee never returned any of my calls. I knew he wasn't dead because a few months later I saw him at the movie theatre with two young boys I assumed were his sons. I know he saw me because he self-consciously snapped his head in the opposite direction and sped away. Jack didn't seem at all bothered by Dr. Lee's disappearing act. He said he was probably just busy, and he'd get to us when he had time. Why do men think this modus operandi is acceptable in every context? I needed a real patient-therapist breakup. Who was Dr. Lee so busy with anyway? Other couples with more interesting problems than ours? Couples he thought had a fighting chance at marital success? Loath as I am to confess this, I once drove by Dr. Lee's office and tried to peek in the window to see another couple he was counseling. My near miss of a parked car scared me away from future stalking of my unfaithful ex-therapist.
The weekend getaways were so full of promise, I still wonder how they went wrong. Actually, that's not true. I can plainly recall the points when our romantic weekends soured. Every trip has a few glitches, and depending on the state of the relationship, these snafus can either bring a couple together or drive them to each other's throats. I know a couple who was kidnapped on their honeymoon in Mexico. Ten years later, they still admiringly recount how cool the other was under pressure. "Karl is fluent in Spanish, so he was able to negotiate with the kidnappers," Audrey sighs. "Oh no," Karl always protests. "If it weren't for your suggestion that they take your grandmother's ring, we would have never gotten out of there alive." They've recalled this nightmare a dozen times and still tell it as though it's a great love story. I'm happy for them, really. It's just a depressingly stark contrast to Jack's and my lemon-oil incident during our last romantic weekend together. I'll get to that in a moment.
My friend Zoe recommended a Tantra Yoga class for Jack and me. She said that she and her boyfriend took the workshop and suddenly became amazingly in synch with each other. "Mind-blowing doesn't even begin to describe the sex I had with Paul this weekend," Zoe said as she rested her exhausted head blissfully in her hands. "Everyone I know who has taken this class says it has completely and totally transformed their relationship," Zoe promised. Since Jack and my fourteen-year marriage had disintegrated to a veritable piece of shit, a complete transformation sounded like just what we needed.
During our first day of the Tantra Yoga workshop, we were told to gaze into the eyes of our partner and try to see his soul. I actually saw a Knicks game. Instead of focusing on my husband, I started looking at the other couples and, I don't know, maybe I was jealous, but they looked silly to me. When I say I started laughing, I don't mean a dainty little giggle escaped. I burst into hysterical, uncontrollable laughter where tears rolled from my eyes. "What's so damn funny?" Jack asked.
"I'm sorry," I tried to stop laughing. "Let me catch my breath." But the more I tried to stop, the more I laughed. It took a full three minutes to stop laughing, and while the teacher seemed sympathetic if not amused, she suggested that Jack and I take a class together called Orgasmic Laughter. We declined that offer, but picked up a brochure for a lovely looking resort in the Berkshires. We rented a cabin with a cozy hot tub, fireplace, and king-size bed with a comforter so thick a couple could get lost in it. The full-wall-of-glass window overlooked an overgrown forest of lush trees and giant-leafed plants. It was like Jurassic Park without the dinosaurs. The landscape was carpeted with dark moss, rocks, and a stream. In the cabin, a small CD player offered Jack and me classical and jazz music, as well as one selection called Nature's Soundtrack. There was a luxurious calm and a rustic sensuality about the place, which was accentuated by the scent of freshly burnt firewood and clean, pure rain.
Jack's and my cabin at the inn was probably the most romantic place on earth. Until we arrived, that is. On our first night, I suggested we run a warm bath and set a few dozen candles around the rim of the tub. That always seemed to work in the movies. My girlfriends and I just about died during the bathtub scene in The Bridges of Madison County, when Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep slid out of their real lives and into unforgettable, eternal love. I had twice as many candles as they did, and my secret weapon-lemon oil.
When I was in Longevity Natural Foods a week earlier, I stared at the hundreds of tiny black bottles of aromatherapy oils that lined the wall. A nice woman who worked there approached me and asked if I had any questions. I told her my husband and I were taking a trip together, and confided that our marriage had been rather stressful for some time. "Do you have anything that will help us, you know, slide out of our real lives and into unforgettable, eternal love?" I asked.
"Why don't you try this?" the woman suggested, handing me a small bottle of lemon oil. "Put two drops of this in your tub and you'll bliss out together."
I figured if two drops was good, twenty would be excellent. She had no idea how much more stressed we were than the average, overworked couple. It might have been thirty drops of lemon oil I put into the tub. I don't know. It was dark and I just turned the small bottle upside down and shook most of the contents into the water.
At first, Jack's and my bath together seemed idyllic. "This is nice," he said, reaching for my shoulders, pulling my back against his chest. I settled into Jack's body like an old, comfortable chair. Enveloped by warm water, Jack's embrace was heaven. His arms reached around to the front of my body and he began to sweep my hair behind my back. As Jack's firm, calloused hands moved across my stomach and toward my hips, I took a deep breath and tried to release my feelings of physical inadequacy. I had gained twenty pounds since Jack and I met in grad school. My stomach and thighs now looked as if they'd been spackled with dough. But chunky women could still be beautiful these days. All the magazines were saying so, as they trotted out articles about how my size twelve was the same as Marilyn Monroe's. Besides, I wanted to let go of my body angst because I knew Jack would sense it. Zoe says that, like animals can smell fear, men can smell confidence, and that there is nothing in the world sexier than a woman who feels gorgeous. Silently, I repeated the mantra I learned from a Goddess Body workshop I took with my mother and cousin Kimmy last month. I am a goddess and my body is to be worshipped. Easy for those two to say, but it took several repetitions before I stopped repeating Yeah, right after my positive affirmation. My attention snapped back to the present as Jack abruptly stopped touching my hips.
"Lucy, do you feel something tingling?"
"Honey, remember it takes me a little longer to get warmed up than-"
"I'm not talking about being turned on, Lucy," he snapped. "I meant does your skin feel funny?"
More frantic, he shouted, "It's getting worse. The stinging! Doesn't your skin feel like it's burning?!"
As soon as he mentioned it, a thousand tiny pinpricks attacked my body. Then they spread to create an all-out burning on every part of my body that was submerged in water.
"Oh shit!" I said, standing up naked in the tub. "It must be the lemon oil."
"The what?" Jack demanded, now also standing and scratching his arms frenetically.
"The lemon oil, the lemon oil," I repeated, as if that would explain everything. "I put lemon aromatherapy oil in the tub to help relax us."
"Well done," he snapped and moved on to scratching his legs.
"I don't think you should scratch it, Jack. You'll just irritate your skin."
"Irritate my skin?! Whatever the hell New Age snake oil you put in this tub is irritating my skin!" And with that, things got worse. Jack slipped and fell back into the tub and a tidal wave of unholy water splashed into his eyes and all over his face.
Like Audrey during her honeymoon kidnapping, I would be grace under pressure. Jack and I would one day tell the story of our lemon bath together and how Cool Hand Lucy saved the day. I grabbed his arm and took charge. "Jack, you're going to be fine. Let's get you out of this tub and rinse your eyes with fresh water." As I led my blinded husband out of the tub, his foot knocked over one of the candles and set the bathroom rug on fire. It was a small fire, but big enough to burn part of Jack's left foot. I didn't know if the lemon oil was flammable, so I filled a small bathroom glass and dumped fresh water on the burning rug. Twice. Then a third time before it was fully extinguished and the smell of firewood and rain was overpowered by burnt wool and lemon.
After a few minutes, Jack's vision returned, and I ran clear water through the shower for us to rinse our stinging bodies. "God, Lucy, that was awful," he said, sounding much softer. "For a few minutes there, I thought I could be blind for the rest of my life. And all I kept thinking was I might never see my family. I might never see my gallery. Blind, Lucy! Do you know how bad that would suck?"
Jack picked up the bottle of lemon aromatherapy oil and read the back of the label. "May irritate skin," he said. Subtext: You might not have nearly blinded me if you'd simply read the label, you idiot. Sub-subtext: Can't you do anything right?
That night, I stupidly asked Jack if he wanted to light a fire and snuggle under the cloud of a comforter. "Lucy, my dick has no top layer of skin. I'm not exactly in the mood right now," he said rolling over.
Believe it or not, the next night we had amazingly passionate sex. It wasn't making love. It was sex compliments of an excellent bottle of red wine our waiter insisted we try. Our night was release-stress, really, but I wasn't about to complain. I was so grateful for the contact that I just played the hand I was given and hoped it would grow into something better eventually.
I think that's the night I got pregnant. In fact, I'm sure it is because it was the only time we'd been together in months.
Nearly five months later, I prepared Jack's favorite meal-prime rib and garlic mashed potatoes with Caesar salad-and planned to tell him about the baby over a glass of red wine. Here's how the fantasy goes: I look ravishing, stunning, really. As I put Jack's dinner on the table, he says something lovely about my cooking, the effort I made, and how much he loves me. I pour a glass of wine for him and tell him that I know we've had a tough road of it over the last few years, but that I want to get our marriage back on track. My eyes well with tears of joy and I tell him I have some exciting news. He asks why I'm not drinking any wine-then, in an instant, he knows. He jumps from his chair, this time knocking nothing over and starting no fires, lifts me in his embrace, and tells me he's overjoyed.
Here's how the reality went: I looked pretty good. Not bad. I was bloated but relieved that it was because I was pregnant and not just a cow, as I'd originally suspected. I didn't have quite as much time to primp as I'd planned because I kept repeating the home pregnancy test and calling the people at Planned Parenthood, asking them to please check my test results again to be sure they hadn't accidentally switched my results with someone younger and more fertile than me. The clinician assured me that since I'd peed directly onto the stick that we both watched turn pink, a lab mix-up was impossible. Anyway, just as I was about to tell Jack the news, he blurted out that our marriage had run its course and he wanted a divorce. "I love you as a person, but I'm not in love with you, and honestly I don't think you're in love with me either."
At the moment, I want you dead.
"So what did you want to tell me?" he asked. It was a home pregnancy test commercial gone terribly, terribly wrong.
Chapter Two"How could you not know you were pregnant for four months?" Jack demanded.
"I thought I was starting menopause."
"It happens!" I defended.
"What about the weight of an entire first trimester of pregnancy?!" he asked, as though he was talking to an utter moron.
I started to feel more righteously indignant than apologetic, which is a great feeling to take into an argument. "Look, Jack, I just said I thought I was starting menopause. Women gain a little weight. Our periods stop. It's not like I'm a twenty-two-year-old fertility goddess, now is it?"
He sighed in surrender because he knew I got him with that one. "You know the doctor said I'd probably never be able to conceive again. You know we never use birth control anymore. I'm just as surprised by this as you are. You're not the victim here. No one tricked you into anything. You can still have your stinking divorce. You know I'd never do anything to stand in the way of you and your child. I know how you feel about being a dad. Don't act like I've wronged you by getting pregnant, Jack. This didn't happen to me alone." Jack sank into his chair, pursed his lips, and nodded his head. I knew this gesture too well. It meant I was probably right, but he needed a few minutes of quiet to digest it all. I've made the mistake before of interrupting Jack's precious silence by interjecting a thought or two, and was always quickly met with a crossing-guard hand signal to stop. He'd then remind me he needed time to think. This time, I just cleared his plate and waited for him to respond.
"Okay, I assume that given everything, you're going to keep the baby?" Jack asked. I nodded.
Given everything. Everything. What an amazingly nonspecific blanket statement for what we'd been through over the past few years. When I was thirty-three, I got pregnant for the first time and miscarried in the first trimester. I soon learned why people don't tell their friends and family until after the three-month mark. It's incredibly taxing to have to keep answering the same questions to beaming faces who want to know what names we're considering, when the baby is due, and whether I'm planning to take time off. The next miscarriage happened a year later after fourteen more failed attempts to get pregnant. This one was a bit earlier in the first trimester, so no one knew except Jack and me. That was enough, though. I could already tell he thought the miscarriages were my fault. He would never say such a thing, but blame emanated from him like stink from a garbage dump. It wasn't as though I drank or smoked, or went bungee jumping while pregnant, but coldly, silently, Jack wondered why I couldn't do a simple thing like keep a baby growing inside me. All of his friends' wives did so without much problem. The third miscarriage was also in the first trimester, and this time Jack was so detached, I told just about everyone about it in a desperate need to connect and mourn the way I should have been able to with my husband.
I was one of those people who always thought miscarrying in the first trimester was no big deal because there wasn't enough time to get attached. What I hadn't realized was that I'd been attached to the idea of having a baby since I was a child myself. I was in love with the possibility long before I saw the thin pink line. I realized that in the first trimester, pregnancies were more about hopes than babies, but I still missed the baby that would never be born. I missed the hope that died.
Excerpted from Tales from the Crib by JENNIFER COBURN Copyright © 2006 by Jennifer Coburn. Excerpted by permission.
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