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Your daddy dropped the bomb a few hours ago. The evening news droned softly in the background as we sat on the sofa after dinner, sharing a Corona and sucking on lime wedges. I was in the middle of telling him that Mike and Calista couldn't get a sitter for next Sunday's dinner plans, when he interrupted me. "We're just not ready to have a baby," he said quickly, as though he had been storing up this announcement like a held breath.
His words didn't surprise me. We've been discussing the possibility of getting pregnant since February. Though lately, as the leaves slip into their vibrant shades of autumn fire, I've begun to think that if you are ever going to be conceived, I'll have to take a needle to my diaphragm.
I waited a moment after he spoke, pulled a long swig off the beer, then set it carefully on the coffee table in front of us. He posed expectantly, leaning forward with wide eyes, waiting for me to agree with him. "Huh," I said, folding my hands carefully on my lap. "Well, then. Sounds like you've got it all figured out. But I'm curious, hon. What exactly does 'ready' mean?"
Pressing his lips into a dark line, he crossed his arms over his chest and shot me a frustrated glance. He hates it when I ask him to explain himself; hates it even more when he doesn't have an explanation. "I just don't feel all the way ready, Sarah," he said. "Okay? Isn't that enough?" I shook my head, moved toward him on the couch, and teasingly poked him in the belly. "Nope. It's not." He pushed my hand away and asked, "Why?"
I sighed, flopping back against the worn cushions. "Because, Gavin. Nobody ever feels all the way ready. I think it's more of a process-type thing. You get more ready as you go through it, you know? You learn things. Calista and Mike weren't 'ready' when she got pregnant with Davie, and they're great parents." Your daddy snorted and rolled his eyes, saying, "Yeah, great parents. Nice marriage too. If I have to hear about his emotional distance or her PMS one more time, I'm going to shoot myself." He took a section of lime and shoved it in his mouth, skin side out, covering his teeth. He smiled hugely, crossing his eyes at me. "Very attractive," I said, laughing. "I'm trying to be serious here, all right? We've been married five years. Our relationship is solid, don't you think? You love me forever, right?" He paused, pretending to have to think about his answer, then nodded as he pulled the mangled fruit from his mouth. "Yeah ... I guess you're a keeper." I swatted him on the arm. "Hey! I mean it. I want you to want this as much as I do." Tears rippled the edges of my words.
Your daddy placed his hand against my cheek, a gesture that generally calms me. "I get what you're saying, Sarah-bara. I want to want it too, but I need to catch up with you, okay?" I sniffed and nodded, wanting to grab him by the shoulders and shake him, screaming, "No, no, it's not okay!" He took the last swig from the bottle, kissed the top of my head, and went to take a shower. I waited until I heard the water start to rumble through the pipes before I went down the hall and into the closet of space that serves as my office. Messy towers of press releases and promotional CDs littered my desk; I had to dig through a couple of layers before I found the cordless phone. I called your Auntie Calista.
She was in the middle of getting Davie into his pajamas, but when she heard the tremor in my voice, she passed the baby off to Mike and told me she'd go into their bedroom before we continued our conversation. I pictured her settling back into the fluffy pillows on their bed, phone tucked between her ear and shoulder. By this time of night, she would be in her usual evening uniform: gray sweat suit and white socks, her thick black hair pulled back in a tight ponytail. Her face would be shiny and clean, moisturizer applied evenly. Calista has always prided herself on an efficient beauty routine, while I'm more the type who calls it a good day if I remember to scrape off old mascara before piling on more.
Choking a bit on the words, I told her about the conversation with your daddy. "He just doesn't understand what I'm going through. I want to be pregnant so much. I feel this ache, this kind of intense longing down deep in my bones, you know? Every time I come near a baby, I swear, my uterus contracts. Like my body wants it as much as my heart does."
"Wait a second," Calista said. "Is it that you want to have a baby, or more that you just want to be pregnant?"
"It's kind of a means to an end, Calista," I said, slightly annoyed. "I can't exactly have a baby without being pregnant first."
"Well, duh," she said. "I only mention it because the whole time we were growing up, you swore you'd never have children. You thought people shouldn't bring more lives into the world because of war and pain and prejudice and all that jazz. And now suddenly you're all baby, baby, baby."
"It's not suddenly," I protested. "I started feeling this a while ago. Back when you had Davie." I practically moved in with Calista after his birth a year and a half ago, helping her, witnessing the peace that softened her when she looked at him or held him in her arms. I think it was then that it began to dawn on me that our children are our hope, our possibility of success, the ones who might bring a healing touch to the damage we've done to the world. They're what we have left to believe in. "All right, then," Calista said when I told her all this, "buck up and believe. Let it go. Stop pushing him. It'll happen when it's supposed to."
Your Auntie Calista has the ability to put these things into perspective. I've loved her since we were five years old, since that first day of kindergarten when she cut four inches off Tammy Beck's blond ponytail for saying I was ugly. She is the dearest kind of friend, the friend who helped me put in my first tampon, the friend who told me about blowjobs that blowing doesn't really have anything to do with it. She's your auntie by soul relation only, but she's the closest thing to a sister I've ever known. So as far as I'm concerned, she's family. Family is supposed to know the worst things about you and love you anyway. Well, that's how it is with Calista and me. We piss each other off sometimes, but only because we know what buttons to push.
I heard Davie's muffled screaming in the background, then Mike's booming tenor insisting that Calista get off the phone and come put her son to bed. She sighed into the receiver, a small growl at the back of her throat. "My son, he says. God." She sighed again. "I gotta go, sweetie. Hang in there. I'll call you tomorrow."
As I sit here, shuffling papers, trying to organize all the work I have to get done tomorrow, I realize how right she is. I know I can't push your daddy into being ready, whatever that may mean. Something has to cross over in a person to make them believe they can do it, they can be somebody's mother or father, and it just hasn't happened to your daddy yet. But I know he wants it to happen, which at least means we're headed in the right direction. So, okay. I'll try to be patient. I will close my eyes, take a deep breath, and believe.
It's Monday morning and I am exhausted. Calista, Mike, and Davie came over for dinner last night and I went all out, making fresh bread and clam chowder from the secret recipe passed down to me by my Nana Cecille. Scrawled on an old pink note card in Nana's spidery script, the recipe calls for fresh clams never canned and an abundance of garlic. Nana swore the concoction traveled generations in our family before finally reaching her kitchen.
I wish Nana had lived long enough for you to meet her. She was my mother's mother, and for a few years of my early life I spent more time with her than I did at home. She'd dress me in one of Grandpa's old striped shirts with the sleeves rolled up, set me on a rickety wooden chair in front of her ancient gas range, and let me stir her thick chowder. I remember, even then, all those years after Grandpa had died, how those shirts filled my nose with the mellow spice of pipe tobacco. Soon after I turned five and my mother declared war on my father, I began sleeping over at Nana's fairly often. On those occasions I liked to wear one of Grandpa's shirts as a nightgown, curling up next to Nana on her dusty old featherbed. Now I think that perhaps she liked it too. Maybe with me lying there, wrapped in the scent of him, in her dreams she could believe her husband was still alive, warming the space beside her.
The first time I asked what it was that made her chowder so special, Nana told me the secret ingredient was sea-fairy dust. From the pocket of her cherry-dotted apron she'd pull out a tiny bottle with an elaborate pewter screw-top, holding it up with reverence. "See this, peaches?" she'd say she always called me peaches. "This is what your grandpa brought back from his fishing trips out on the sea. One awful night he got lost in a terrible storm. The waters were gray and angry, tossing him about, here and there. Out of nowhere, tiny fairies appeared and guided him home, then blessed him with this special dust. This is the magical-tasting stuff that makes up the wonder of this soup." She held me close to her billowy breasts and let me cradle the container in my palms. "Oh, Sarah, your nana loves you so much. Someday, when I go to live with the fairies, I will leave this to you. It will be yours to share with your own daughter. Your mother has never had much interest in cookin', has she? But you, my peaches, you are a gifted young chef." And then she'd let me sprinkle the fairy dust into the creamy, bubbling liquid. I promise, when you are old enough, to let you do the same.
Yesterday morning, while I chopped onions, garlic, and potatoes, I sent your daddy down to the Pike Place Market for clams. "You sure you don't want to go with me?" he joked as he pulled on his favorite purple sweatshirt. "Maybe we can convince the fish guy to let us toss orders again." I shook my head. "Hah. Fat chance, buddy. I'll see you when you get back."