The Zygote Chroniclesby Suzanne Finnamore
The Zygote Chronicles is a riotous and poignant novel in journal form that spans the nine-month roller-coaster ride of pregnancy. Through the voice of a whip-smart, sass-talking everywoman whose sense of humor is as wicked as her cravings for meat, Zygote reveals the unsettling and uproarious truth about pregnancy and the prospect of motherhood. When she finds out… See more details below
The Zygote Chronicles is a riotous and poignant novel in journal form that spans the nine-month roller-coaster ride of pregnancy. Through the voice of a whip-smart, sass-talking everywoman whose sense of humor is as wicked as her cravings for meat, Zygote reveals the unsettling and uproarious truth about pregnancy and the prospect of motherhood. When she finds out she's pregnant with her first child, the narrator of The Zygote Chronicles is closer to forty years old than to twenty-two (the latter, she is informed by a homicidal-rampage-inducing pregnancy book, being the ideal age to have a baby). What unfolds from her very first wry yet heartfelt memo to her unborn child is like a series of X rays into a pregnant woman's soul, mind, and appetites. She captures the many sensory changes her body goes through with uncanny precision and crackling wit, and ponders why her once storybook marriage to the man she waited for all her life suddenly undergoes an alchemical transformation every time he eats garlic or onions. The Zygote Chronicles will resonate for any woman who has even briefly considered motherhood. The strange purgatory of pregnancy has been a fact of life since Eve ate the apple, but never has it been recounted in such brilliant, hilarious detail.
- Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
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- 5.72(w) x 8.76(h) x 0.68(d)
Read an Excerpt
It was in July that we began trying to conceive. Initially it was very exciting. We told people, they would congratulate us as though you were on your way over in a cab. There was need for lavish carnal activity, sanctioned by God.
Six months went by. Where were you, we wondered, newly humbled. Already you had clout, kept people waiting. There were no guarantees you would show at all: a diva.
"We're trying," we said.
Almost Christmas then, that zing in the air. I met your father in the Presidio for hamburgers and red wine. I recall light confidences, an overall air of gladness, the evening's hard slant of sun as we walked in. Later we slipped home to our yellow bedroom and you happened. Joe DiMaggio was at the bar at Lil's that night. I surely don't consider this a coincidence.
On the eighth day of the new year, the line on the home-pregnancy stick became a pink cross, an almost papal confirmation. Looking at it, I felt a crazy glee. Terror, but no real surprise. For days I'd had a physical sense of you, like someone standing behind me at a party.
That night your father came home and instantly ferreted out the test stick from the top of my rolltop desk. He ran upstairs, clutching it like a white plastic flag high above his head, triumphant. I remember that he ran. I remember it was a Thursday. The next day he started worrying about money and being forty-nine and wringing his hands, but that night was pure. Slowly we danced to Andrea Marcovicci, the evidence of you fresh. We went to bed early, clothesand shoes peppered across the floor. We rushed as though to join you.
There has been a great deal of stick-urinating on your behalf. The ovulation sticks, which didn't work, and the pregnancy sticks, which did. Now let there be an end to all stick-urinating.
The song we danced to was "It Might Be You."
* * *
Thirty-four weeks yet to go, I am thinking as we wind down the mountain and the moss-draped madrone trees lean out to greet us. It is called Madrone Canyon because of the trees' abundance, beautiful and lithe, growing at times parallel to the ground. They were here before us and will be here when we are gone. We are canyon dwellers, we three.
At the bottom of this mountain is a public park, nestled within a very bossy clutch of California redwoods that the road dissects. Its name is Dolliver, but because of the immense shady trees, the locals call it Dark Park. This is not meant to be a negative; darkness can be soothing. It's dark where you are now.
Dark Park has monkey bars, slides, and the thing that goes around and around that all the mothers are afraid of. There's a low pebbly creek, and several picnic benches within the seasoned redwood grove. It's all been arranged. The trees and the park and the creek are waiting for you, they have so much patience I feel somewhat shamed. Of course, it's easy to be patient when you're a tree.
Low in my body I feel something I must imagine: a tingling, gritty sensation. On the car stereo, your father plays a song for you. "Please Call Me, Baby," by Tom Waits.
Please call me, baby, wherever you are
It's too cold to be out walkin' in the streets ...
Your father says that you are not a classical baby, you are a blues baby.
This is what he looks like, your father: dark brown hair mingled with gray, soft skin that tans easily, silver glasses. Of average height, a primarily kind face with heavily lidded eyes that affect boredom but hoard interest. Women have always liked him. I liked him myself, liked him so much I married him. Watch out for this kind of thing.
I will tell you something else about your father. I was worrying about becoming ugly in his eyes. And he said, "Don't worry about getting big, because every month you are going to get more beautiful. And every month I will love you a little more."
I waited for him before I had you. Or maybe it was you who waited.
* * *
My best friend, Diana, is pregnant, her due date exactly a month ahead of mine. Be advised that you are in fact part of a diabolical scheme to have our babies at the same time and then go on to rule the world. At the very least we'll be large and threatening together. People will stand aside on the street when they see us coming, as a matter of practicality if not outright respect.
Diana and I met during the first day of junior high school in Oakland, California, in Mr. Cramer's American history class. Mr. Cramer looked like a hipster Santa Claus with brown hair and horn-rimmed glasses. He eventually ran away with a student, which I guess is as good a lesson in American history as any. Diana ran away to Los Angeles, New York, and finally to New Mexico, where she fell in love with her husband, but not before we became best friends and shared a few life-threatening escapades, all of which we now treasure like precious stones.
Diana will be your favorite older person. I know this in advance. Diana has red-gold hair, a deep voice, large Slavic features, and perfect skin. She will be the woman standing next to your mother holding drinks, this is how you will know her. Now is Diana's second pregnancy. Her daughter, Carmen, was born the year your father and I became engaged. Carmen is twice as tall and gorgeous as a three-year-old girl frankly has a right to be. She is whip smart and, if bribed even slightly, will get coffee for us.
Last spring Diana and I were on the phone exploring the idea of conception, and I said, "Well, we've got to have a deadline."
Diana said, "When?" and I said, "January one. Ninety-eight."
I was firm about it, as I recall. I held one arm up high in the air.
Diana was already a veteran. This led to many long conversations regarding ovulation and which precise points we were at in our cycles, and did anyone really know anything. We exchanged stories about who had gotten pregnant and on what day in their cycle they had done it. We talked about what days we did it last month and what days we were going to try this month. We did everything but break out the chicken blood and hoodoo sticks.
Your father did not join in these debates and was never concerned in the slightest that I would conceive. He had a faith that bordered on Catholicism, a firm belief that I could conceive at any time of any month. I think he genuinely thought it would take only one month, but it didn't. He was philosophical, I was cautiously optimistic. By that time we were having a tot of sex, which in and of itself was engaging. There are worse things than taking off all your clothes in the middle of the day and making a baby. It's not high on the list of unpleasant things to do.
After a few months Diana and I decided to become scientific; this meant daily personal phone calls from our offices and the use of ovulation sticks, which had worked for two teachers at her school but not for her sister. We would actually put the phone down, take the ovulation test, wash our hands, and come back to the phone to report our findings. Between ovulation analysis, sexual target dates, and general folklore, it was not unusual for us to spend an hour at a stretch on the line. We had the zeal and camaraderie of professional athletes. And we made it. She conceived around November 20, and I conceived around December 22. It doesn't get much tighter than that. Considering this now, I feel incredibly able. I know it was entirely up to you, the moment you decided to materialize here in the global asylum, but allow me this feeling of power. It may be the last time.
Months earlier I'd found a smooth white stone and written the word hope on it in red pencil. I placed it in our front yard, on a large rock next to the rosemary bush. When the first rains knocked the stone down into the dirt, by the roots of the sage bush, I brought it back up onto the rock. I gave it a place in the sun. Every so often now, I check to see if I can still read the word on it. It is still there.
* * *
I'm going to tell you about us, so you won't feel uninformed later. Ignorance is the backbone of oppression.
I work in advertising, as does your father. In the writing profession, advertising is the least work you can do for the most money. It has the benefit of being occasionally fun, all the while possessing the moral center of a Turkish prison. Advertising means drinking espresso and buying many CDs you don't have to pay for, and then at the last possible second having an idea that involves either the Eiffel Tower or pyramids. It means attending foreign independent films and discerning which unique or especially touching parts you can fashion into a hot-dog commercial. It is long, surreal meetings in which people wearing terribly expensive watches passionately debate the personality of bleach.
Advertising is pitching a large television campaign to a middle-aged white man wearing a puka-shell necklace while your partner sits crooked on his chair, wordlessly eating a bag of Cheetos, viciously hung over with one side of his hair sticking straight up. If at any time during your presentation the puka-shell man laughs, then you know you're going to full production. You're moving into full production even though you don't have scripts, because this is the kind of client who gets furious if there are scripts, because then he can't write his own campaign during the presentation. Which is what he's doing now as he says, "Yes. And the older man is helping the younger man paint the wall, instead of walking by." "Yes," you say. "Celebrate the product," he murmurs. "Yessssss ..." you say, coaxing a skittish dog into a car. "I love it," the Token Lesbian in the Position of High Power says; and everyone at the table is beaming now, your best friends in the world instead of what they were at the presentation last week, which was hillbillies with guns.
Once you are in production, advertising means a forty-year-old commercial director in a porkpie hat who has people bring him chai and talks about the process in hushed church tones. All the while saying no to everything the client asks for, especially if it means showing the product in any way. His wife will visit the set; she will be ten.
Much of this used to matter to me, what campaign got produced, who directed it, the proximity of whatever hotel everyone was currently staying at. Keeping away from the shunned hotels. But now it is fading with remarkable speed. I seem to be admiring it all from a distance. For the first time in my career, I am not wondering what the next step is. I know what the next step is. Out. I am getting on the baby ship. I am the baby ship.
* * *
I fell in love with your father with terrible swiftness. Within five minutes I thought, I could marry this man. Not in the sense that he was easy, but in the sense that I could love him that long and hard. I imagined there would be laughter involved. With laughter I felt I could endure marriage. How simple it seemed, how imperative. I was compelled to make a fast decision, as though God were playing blackjack with me for my own happiness, my life. I had to say, Hit me, God. Hit me.
It wasn't his demeanor that drew me to him. It was evening, he was tired and, I think, despondent. It wasn't charm or physical sheen, it was what I saw inside of him, signaling to me behind his eyes in a way he may not have been aware of. And I've felt basically lucky ever since, almost every day of my life. That's something else love should make you feel. It should make you feel fortunate.
It will be made clear to you in a stray gesture, the line of a throat. Something in the hands. There may or may not be any music playing. But there will be a certain velocity of the spirit, a sensation of dropping through clear space unimpeded, and you think, This is the one. I found you.
* * *
Today I called a friend to talk about you, and then I realized she was grotesquely unworthy. I never trusted her, she has this very competitive habit of vibe-ing me: if I have a hangnail, she's got gangrene. If I have cramps, she's having not just the heaviest period of her life but what she suspects is an early miscarriage. If I say there is a Mafia hit man in my living room holding a knife to my eye, she'll say, "So? I've had Mafia hit men holding knives to my eyes all my life." I've known this, but it took being pregnant to realize it fully.
I can see you're already this very small and tight Committee, and the Committee will say where we are going and where we aren't. What's good to eat and what isn't. Finding food that is good to eat has become a troublesome adventure. Almost nothing is as good as it should be, or as good as I remember it. Whereas before I was happy to eat whatever was put in front of me, I can't now. It has to pass each newly heightened sense, or most of them. There seem to be electoral votes involved. Twice this week I have ordered take-out pizza, eaten one bite, and thrown the whole thing away. Olives have taken on an insidious presence, as have green bell peppers. Instead of being mild facilitators, now they destroy everything they touch.
The Committee decided I wasn't going to be smoking anymore. And I thought it was me making that decision, because I didn't even know I was pregnant at that time, though I wanted to be. I stubbed out my last Marlboro Light on New Year's Eve; a brave and personal resolution, or so I thought. Now I know that you had just burrowed yourself into my uterus lining and had decided that nicotine was unacceptable. Fin.
* * *
I am just past eight weeks pregnant. I take hold of my cast-iron skillet, its heft alone enormously satisfying. I melt a nub of butter in the blackness, crack an egg on its hard, capable side; like most women, I admire a cooking implement that has the ability to maim. It was William Burroughs who said that no one owns life, but anyone with a frying pan owns death.
I scramble two jumbos, look at them, and suddenly they don't look like eggs. They appear to be precisely what they are, which is pulverized dead baby chicks: aborted chickens that had no chance to live, to see the world. Gazing into the viscous embryonic pool, I can almost hear their feathery screams. I may also possibly see an eye. Fueled by a rush of zealot hormones, an unnaturally harsh reality is emerging.
After cramming the pulverized chicks down the garbage disposal, I lie down in the bedroom as intensely purposeful enzymes race through my body like tiny malicious joyriders. One minute later, your father is lurking in the doorway, bouncing on the balls of his feet, saying he wants to see a matinee. Insisting that I rise and dress, that we leave right away. The smell of the popcorn alone would send me over the edge. As I contemplate this, I advance-sense the fake rancid-butter odor slipping up my nostrils until I almost retch.
It's eleven A.M. and I can't get out of my cat-hairy bathrobe. I feel like I drank nine martinis last night aboard a badly driven submarine, and your father wants me to snap out of it and see a film. He says The New York Times liked it, and to bring a plastic bag in case I need to vomit.
The first thing you need to know about humankind is that we are somewhat selfish. Rapacious would not be an overstatement. Once you grasp this simple truth, you hold the key to mankind. If there's a single space in the lifeboat and you are standing next to anyone but to anyone but Ghandi or your natural parents, expect a struggle. Men in particular are capable of remarkable acts of selfishness performed on a consistent basis over long periods of time. Examples include Napoleon, Adolf Hitler, Donald Trump, and the methodical extinction of almost everything on Earth. Even the best of men, like your father, are centered on themselves in a way most women can only contemplate.
Here it is Saturday morning, and I have found a modicum of relief from the harsh nausea and the egg madness by reclining in bed with my laptop and e-mailing Mad Augusten in New York. Your father is there in the doorway, seeming vaguely unlike the fine man I know and perpetually welcome the sight of: now he looks as though he should have a long, low black hat and a poker of some kind. He is saying I never want to go anywhere anymore. He is calling me dull, so I call him inconsiderate. We don't actually say these things, we imply. Along with extended stretches of contentment and occasional bursts of joy, this is some of what you can anticipate when you grow up and get married. Baby, no one expects it to happen to them.
If you are a girl, I don't think you should necessarily become a lesbian, although if the idea appeals to you, I wouldn't say anything against it. I wouldn't try to stop you. Men can be obstinate and difficult to live with. Unlike myself, a perfectly reasonable woman unless shown a bag in which I am to place my vomit.
If you are a boy, I apologize.
* * *
Mad Augusten is a thirty-two-year-old writer with a warm smile and the eyes of a serial killer. He lives in Manhattan and has never cooked a meal in his entire life, not even tinned soup. Instead he orders beef vindaloo, Cantonese lobster with ginger sauce, pork rangoon, and something called salad pizza. He pays for it, eats it, and leaves the cartons in his living room, every inch of which is piled with books. He has an eighth-grade education and has sold several books to major publishers; the first he wrote in two weeks. He once performed oral surgery on himself at three A.M. with a thumbtack and a large Scotch. He dates a man whom he has been seeing for years but is not his boyfriend, because Mad Augusten is too crazy to have a boyfriend. He falls in love with people and destroys them without actually meaning to, an absentminded knife thrower, a blind pilot.
He has a single Calphalon stock pot in the middle of his living room because his light fixture leaks when it rains.
"Are you on the top floor?" I asked him.
"No," he said. "That's what disturbs me."
You should have at least one friend like this, possibly more. Life absolutely requires the occasional unhinged artist.
* * *
Professionally, I am investigating my options. My assistant, K., is helping me. We are examining the official documents of corporate policy as it relates to years employed and time spent away from the job at full pay. We are cackling and fondling the shiny saddle-stitched corporate rule book and calculating the exact parameters of maternity leave. The timing of my employment and your conception have dovetailed in a bizarre yet fortuitous way: by accident, your mother has recently become a five-year veteran of the agency. I am also a vice president. There are hundreds of vice presidents here; however, I am one of the few with ovaries.
Full of furtive purpose, K. and I consult the calendar like astrologers. We make decisions based on fact and instinct. We cross-reference with major and minor holidays and something exceedingly nefarious called Personal Days.
The subject of returning to work after the birth is intriguing. My reentry plan is simple thus far. I will take paid leave and unpaid leave until the people from personnel come after me with torches. Because of the extraordinary nature of you, I don't care who gets my office. I know someone will get my office, and I don't care. This is how much you signify. You are what the account planners would call a tribe leader.
Your father telephones from across town. Today at your father's agency, advertising involves a talking toilet that discusses its role in society with its friend the sink. A talking toilet: the bottom lip is the seat, the upper lip is the lid. The sink complains because people spit toothpaste out on him.
"Don't get me started," says the toilet.
I ask your father how it happened that one gets assigned to work on toilet products. He himself is on barbecue sauce. "I don't know," your father says, musing. "But they've written some pretty good dialogue between the sink and the toilet."
* * *
I spoke with Diana today to see how her moving day from Albuquerque went, and she said that she christened her new house in Oregon by puking Thai food into the recycling bucket. I myself was so nauseated last night I lay awake for two hours, trying not to be sick. I won, too. Instead of concentrating on the waves of sickness, I thought of blue sky. Remember this.
Earlier, I had watched The Exorcist on television, which was probably spectacularly unhelpful because of the projectile-vomiting scenes. Yet I couldn't help watching, due to those quick, subliminal frame manipulations where the director slips in the demon face. The movie is structured so that everything is going along as usual, when suddenly you see a white-faced red-mouthed demon screaming, and then the scene reverts to normal. It's a neat little frill that I think made some epileptics have grand mal seizures. I saw that movie in 1973 with Diana. We were thirteen and I clutched her wrist until it was raw. When the demon face happened, we screamed. Twenty-two years later, we both married for the first time.
We go through everything together. This makes us the luckiest women alive.
* * *
This afternoon was my first visit to the OB-GYN. Her name is Dr. Gray and she looks like Florence Henderson, which seems right. We sat in her mauve office, and she asked me a lot of questions about how many cats did we have and is anybody Jewish. I answered everything in a stupor and stared at the framed scalpel on her wall. I wanted to ask her about it, but guessed I should save something for later. Just so we keep the mystery going.
She asked me about any other pregnancies before you, and I said, "One."
"Any complications with the abortion?" she asked. I looked at her and smiled, thinking, What planet are you from? There was the smallest of pauses. "No," I said. None except wanting to die. This does not count as a complication.
The good news is, she informed me that since I'm tall, I am entitled to gain thirty-five pounds. I don't believe I actually will gain much weight, but I decide to go along with her for now. I will pretend, for her sake and for the free vitamin samples. Then I sat naked in the examining room for twenty minutes, with a blue paper sheet draped across my public-property body. I read a People article about a television-sitcom actress and how crazy in love she is with this other actor, and how she has a face-sucking oxygen machine that makes her look younger, and how she wants to lose twenty pounds. The media is deeply concerned about her weight, but she seems to be happy nonetheless, although you never know. You really can't tell how people are doing from magazine interviews.
Sitcom Actress says she fasts and that she loves to fast, that it gives her enormous clarity. I will never be able to fast, I know. Maybe that's why I don't get to be on the cover of People or have any clarity. But still, if she's fasting, then maybe they're going to find out that fasting backfires, judging from the recent shot of her in a Hawaiian muumuu on the cover of The National Enquirer. Any cover is a good cover, though. That's another truism.
Finally the doctor came in and told me to slide down the table and put my feet in the stirrups. I did what she asked. If she had said, Okay, now bark like a dog, I would have. I'd known her forty minutes and she already had my absolute trust because she has delivered twelve healthy babies to women I personally know, one of whom was forty-six. This puts Dr. Lorraine Gray right above Moses and just below Picasso in my book.
Then she said, "You're due September fourteenth. Everything should be fine." And I just thought, Huh. How she knows that from just sticking her hands up me for a minute is a David Copperfield kind of fact, and I was not going to probe further. I take my manna where I find it. When I walked outside, the January sun was shining. This seemed meaningful, I took this also.
If you ever want a baby, make love every other day. That is how you happened. You were planned, tried for, summoned. You are the closest I will ever come to magic.
Excerpted from The Zygote Chronicles by Suzanne Finnamore. Copyright © 2002 by Suzanne Finnamore. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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