| By Stacy Appel
I was very young, though I imagined I was grown up. When I told him, the first thing he said was, “Are you sure it’s mine?”, which hit me like a slap. I remember staring at the buttons on his blue work shirt, the set line of his jaw, wishing he had hugged me instead. Although for a time we had been as physically close as two people can be, I suddenly saw he didn’t know me at all.
By the next day, he had digested the news enough to accept that, yes, he was the co-creator, and we were parents of a sort, if only of a small seedling inside my belly. He named the embryo “Gram,” for he figured that’s about what it must weigh.
“Hey, little Gram, do you want to watch TV?” “You want to listen to Keith Jarrett, Gram?”
He talked to my belly instead of my eyes. Beneath these mild words, an unforgiving silence had locked in, as if a song had halted abruptly and absolutely. So I knew we wouldn’t have a child together. This was a brief, awkward rehearsal for a play, an interlude, not real life. I remember how intoxicatingly warm the afternoon was, the early spring wafting in through the open sliding glass door off his Berkeley living room, sweet alluring fragrance of hyacinth and night jasmine beckoning from beyond the redwood deck.
He left the door open that night to let in the breeze while we slept; in the morning, startled awake by an odd banging from another room, both of us were shocked to see a raccoon scrambling through his apartment. Out it dashed across his deck, then shimmied down the pine tree to the ground, one paw clutching a wrapped baguette, our last, purloined straight from the kitchen cabinet.
I was young enough that somehow it didn’t seem polite to bring up the proceedings, even if I’d known how. So we stayed with camouflage topics—his work, my study program in southern California, the ever-increasing raccoon population. We ate silently, then watched late-night suspense movies. I threw up as quietly as possible in his bathroom and munched on Saltines he bought for me. Before I left at week’s end to go back to my apartment near L.A., all he said was, “Do you need money?”
“No,” I said, unable to tell him I needed so many other things: affection, real conversation, a soothing of this horrid separate feeling between us. At the airport he bought my plane ticket, not waiting with me in the terminal. One quick hug before he said, “Goodbye, sweet thing, come back soon,” as he had on my previous visits. The wide grin was the same one I was used to, but it didn’t match his stiff shoulders, the newly guarded eyes.
I stayed away from classes for a week or so, unable to concentrate on anything more than riding the bus through Santa Monica on this errand or that, reveling in the ripe abundance of my changing body. I felt safe, which struck me as peculiar. I’d felt so fragile when I told him, yet now my body felt sturdy, out-of-the-running, protected. It seemed to me that people looked at me differently even though I’d only been pregnant a few weeks and of course didn’t show. In the waiting room at Planned Parenthood, I patted my belly and smiled at the receptionist, almost forgetting why I was there.
The counselor was kind. “It sounds as if you’ve made up your mind,” she said, though she ran through all the options anyway, inviting me to take my time deciding. “You’re not too far along,” she told me gently. But I shook my head, so we scheduled a date for my return.
I navigated my way to the clinic again alone. When everything was over, the physician invited my older friend Susan, a mother of two, into the treatment room, where I was enfolded in an enormous hug. I walked crookedly beside her out to the car, too groggy to notice the sun setting over the hills behind us. At my apartment, she helped me into a flannel nightgown, then deposited me on my sofa, which she piled high with pillows. Out came a shopping bag she’d packed full of cookies, lemonade, ice cream, and chips. She jumped onto the sofa with me, tissue box and remote control in hand. “Sam’s taking care of the kids tonight,” she said. “This is an official slumber party.”
We watched the movie Little Women on television; somehow she knew enough not to turn it off, even when I started sobbing and couldn’t stop. She held me and wiped my eyes, she even cried a little herself when Beth, one of the film’s heroic March sisters, died. Susan fed me and fluffed my pillows. We talked until I drifted into a deep sleep buried in her shoulder. In the morning, I felt twinges, physical and otherwise. I tried not to remember that Gram’s father hadn’t called, hadn’t wanted to call, the way the procedure had hurt and the small room was silent.
As I made my way into the kitchen for tea, my once-ripe body felt exhausted and sore, empty. But as morning seeped in through the curtains and the kettle boiled, I noticed different colors within this grieving, like light glinting off waves. Despite deep sorrow, something broken in me now felt cared for and deeply connected. Shaken, longing for my old home and self in Berkeley, I also felt newly loved and loving. The mystery, for me, was how a life which weighed so little could turn out to weigh so much.
Stacy Appel is an award-winning writer in Lafayette whose work has been featured in the Chicago Tribune and other publications. She has also written for National Public Radio and is a contributor to the book You Know You’re a Writer When… by Adair Lara. Contact Stacy at WordWork101@aol.com.
Click here to go back to the main feature page.
Photo by Fred Goldstein.