On my wedding day, I wore all black because we were only getting married at the courthouse and besides, pregnant women can't wear white. No one was there except Dan and I and the witness, who was this lady we propositioned in front of the pancake house for twenty dollars. I stood there and felt like crying. I didn't hear a word the judge said. Dan just started at me with that expressionless gaze of his and then got teary-eyed when we were pronounced husband and wife. I think it was at the thought that he would have to be with me eternally or until he found someone else who made him happier.
I missed my mother and I missed by father and I missed being little and taken care of. Instead of feeling happy, I felt trapped. There was nowhere to run. When the judge said, "You may kiss the bride," Dan took my hands limply and kissed me on the mouth. It felt strange, like I wanted to wipe it off. Then I started laughing hysterically and couldn't stop. He gave me an evil look and said to the judge, "Thanks a lot, sir. We appreciate it."
"No problem," the judge said kindly. "I wish the two of you the best of luck." I wasn't showing yet.
We walked out of the courtroom and out into the dusty sunlight, husband and wife. I didn't feel like a bride. I felt like a girl out on her lunch break to take care of a speeding ticket. Dan was wearing jeans and a tee shirt with a hole in it. He looked at me and said, "Where to?" and I just shook my head because I couldn't speak. The witness, who was still with us, looked at Dan inquiringly. He dug into his pocket and pulled out a twenty. She took it eagerly and ran off, almost tripping on her flip-flops.
"Let's just drive and see where we end up," I told him. He looked at his watch. "Don't you dare say you have to be somewhere in half an hour or I will kill you, I mean it." I made my words seem like a threat.
"Jesus, Marianne, chill out," he said, pissed off. "Like I would do that."
Like you wouldn't, I thought meanly. In some ways I wouldn't even care if he took off. I wanted to be alone. All the other couples coming out of the judge's chambers looked happy and fulfilled. I looked like a fat, unhappy person with a gloomy and sullen groom at my side. I had already gained twelve pounds and I was only in my third month.
We got in my car and I headed south. I rested my elbow on the window. I looked at Dan out of the corner of my eye. He didn't look at me. I kept driving until I ended up in San Diego. We stopped at a McDonalds to eat and I stared at my ring finger, feeling nothing. Dan paid. By then it was five o'clock. Dan said, "Want to find someplace to spend the night?" and I said, "Sure." We ended up at a Motel 6 and slept in separate beds.
I woke up feeling nauseous and threw up into the dirty toilet, watching my past swirl in with the pregnancy puke. Dan came in and held my hair. Then we walked over to my disheveled bed and finally had sex, which seemed to take forever. I felt the baby swimming between us. I felt a little closer to Dan.
We left that morning and went back to our house in the valley. Dan drove. When we got home, he took a nap. I sat in the middle of the backyard. The grass felt good on my bare legs. Dan knew a lot about the gardening and landscaping. As a result, our grass was green and lush. I looked at the clouds. They reminded me of flowers. I wondered if Dan and I would ever love each other. Then I pushed the thought out of my mind and instead tried to remember what it felt like to be a child. It was difficult, but I tried. It's hard feeling all grown up when you get married. It's like someone has said, "Okay, now you're an adult so act like one." But I still felt young. I wondered what marriage really meant.
When I was six months along, I took a drive one Monday morning to my old neighborhood. I wanted to see the old house. Dan didn't ask where I was going and I didn't tell him. I left at seven o'clock in the morning and crammed myself into my small Honda. I felt like a kid having an adventure. I knew Dan would be mad if he knew where I was going. He thought I should let go of the past.
It took me two hours to get there. I stopped along the way and ate at the same pancake house Dan and I had eaten on our wedding day. Our crazy witness was sitting at the counter eating eggs and toast. She recognized me when I waddled by her. "Oh, hey," she said. "How's it going? Where's the groom?" Today she was wearing a tee shirt that said, "Peace thru Music" and a red bandanna tied around her curly hair. She looked like a biker.
"At home," I said. "Snoring."
She shook her head and smiled. "Damn husbands."
I felt like saying, believe me, it's okay, but I didn't. I just walked to my booth, following the hostess with the chipped tooth. The witness didn't say anything about me being pregnant and I was glad. I sat by myself in a booth that faced the gas station and ordered eggs, pancakes, and bacon. Just then my cell phone rang. As I fished in my purse for it, I cursed myself for leaving it on and blushed because people were staring at me. I hated being stared at. Then I cursed myself for having a cell phone in the first place, but Dan insisted. He probably thought that one day I'd just run away.
"Hello," I answered, eating.
"Marianne! Where are you?" he asked, sounding surprised to hear my voice, as if anyone else would answer. "You didn't even leave a note." I heard the refrigerator door open and close, then the click of his glass as he set in on the counter. I knew the creaks, squeaks, and sounds of our house too well. I felt like I was there eating breakfast as Dan talked. It was kind of surreal.
"I'm eating and then I'm going to see my old house. I won't be home too late," I told him.
He said, "Why didn't you tell me? I would have gone with you," and I shook my head vehemently even though he couldn't see.
"No. You would have been bored. This is just something I have to do," I explained.
"Marianne, come on."
"I'll be fine! Don't worry, okay?" The waitress, whose name was Sunshine, held up the half-empty coffeepot and smiled. I shook my head and smiled back. I was full of smiles for someone named Sunshine. You had to be.
"Whatever." He sighed. "Listen, I got called in to work so I'm going to take off in about half an hour. You know even though I'm not saying anything that I think you're a fool for going back there. No point to it. But do whatever you want. I'm not going to stop you."
"Okay. Thanks for not saying anything," I said sarcastically. I bit into a forkful of runny eggs, feeling my teeth clash with the metal. The eggs slid off and hit the plate. I scooped them up with a spoon and licked it clean. Before I was pregnant I couldn't eat when I was stressed.
"Be safe," he said, which is something his mother used to say before he went to school every day when he was little. I knew this because she told me. He never liked to talk about being a child. He thought it was pointless and a waste of time.
“I will." We hung up and Sunshine came over. "More eggs?"
I sighed. "No, that's okay. Just the check." The crazy witness waved at me when I walked out the door.
I drove to my old neighborhood and pulled up in front of my old house. I suddenly remembered my mother and instantly felt as if someone had punched me in the stomach. I hoped the baby was okay. The tree that was split down the middle was still in the front yard. The new people hadn't bothered to cut it down. The wheelbarrow my father had designed and built that used to hold fresh roses was still there. Now there were dandelions inside. A child's bike was strewn across the front lawn. I opened my window further and breathed in the scent. Everything still smelled the same. If someone would give me a dozen neighborhoods to smell, I would know this one. Just as I would know the smell of Dan's cologne, my mother's sweet touch, my father's unusual cough.
The baby kicked.
I got up out of the car slowly and stood there facing the house. It needed to be painted. I was kind of afraid. I thought how it would look if I simply walked to the front door, rang the bell, explained who I was. If they would let me in. No one could turn away a pregnant woman, even if she did look too young to be having a baby.
I decided to do it. I thought of my grandmother, who always used to tell me I could be anything I wanted to be. We used to listen to the children's record, "Free to be You and Me," and act out all the parts of the songs. I used to force her to play the Bert and Ernie game, the one where Ernie forces Burt to eat a banana. I thought it was hilariously funny. My grandmother thought it was stupid. But she played it with me over and over again anyway. I hoped that was the kind of mother I would turn out to be.
I felt flooded with my past as I approached the front door. I rang the bell. A flustered young woman answered the door, probably about ten years older than me and pretty. Two screaming children were running around her. She looked tired. She had blond hair and blue eyes and droopy hair. I always noticed people's hair. You can tell a lot about a person about their hair.
"Can I help you?" she asked.
I peeked around her to get a look at the house. The minute I saw it I wanted to cry. Everything looked different. The entire place was painted blue and there was no carpeting. It looked as though a wall had been torn out to make the living room bigger. It didn't look like my house.
"Hi," I said. "My name is Marianne Jones and I used to live here. Actually, I grew up here. I know this sounds really strange and everything." I tried to sound kind and funny so that she'd like me. "I've thought about this house a lot and just wanted to see who was living here. See the house." I waved to her kids, who scowled at me.
"Oh!" Her face relaxed. "Jones. I still get your mail."
"Really? We moved over twelve years ago."
"Well, we still get it," she said. "It's nice to meet you. Don't feel stupid. I probably would do the same thing if I had the chance, except I grew up in Seattle and don't see us going there any time soon. My name is Candace and these little runts are Travis and Amanda." We shook hands.
Amanda seemed disinterested and I was disappointed. I wanted to imagine another me living in this house and growing up here. But she wasn't like me. I could tell. Travis didn't look at all like his sister. He ran around and around, chasing a tiny dog that reminded me of a rat. "Hi Travis and Amanda," I said.
"Hi!" Travis came up to me, the dog at his heels. "Are you pregnant?"
His mouth opened wide. "Does that mean you're going to have a baby?"
"When?" Candace asked, inquisitive. "You look so young."
"In three months," I said, wanting to go inside but at the same time not wanting to. She must have noticed. "Why don't you come inside and have some lemonade. We were just about to have lunch," she said. "Really, it would be my pleasure."
"Well, okay," I said greedily, following her. The more I saw of the house the more stunned I became. I pointed to the hallway. "There used to be brown doors there," I told Candace. "My dad put them up because my brother couldn't take naps in his room unless it was dark. My parents would find him asleep in the hall anyway. He said it was because he wanted to watch my mother's soap operas." I could picture so perfectly the way she looked, sitting there, eating cottage cheese and ketchup, scraping the bottom furiously when she was through. Watching stupid soap operas.. She was a young mother, too, like me.
"Oh yeah, those doors!" she said. "We took them down when we remodeled the place. They were too outdated." She put her hand over her mouth. "Whoops. That was kind of mean. No offense to your dad."
"None taken," I said, even though it kind of hurt my feelings. I stood by the screen door. I looked out at the yard, which had dead grass scattered in patches. Dan could do a lot with this place. "The yard looks so small! I can't believe this," I told her. But she was busy cutting peanut butter and jelly sandwiches into quarters. She poured a glass of lemonade and handed it to me. Her nails were bitten off. I wondered what she was nervous about. I wanted to know more about her.
"Things always look bigger when you're younger. That's just the way it goes," she said.
"I guess so," I said. Then there was nothing else to say. I wanted to look at my old room but I didn't know how to ask. After all, it was Amanda's room now. We watched the kids eating as if they were the world's greatest entertainment. I looked out the window and remembered the hours I spent playing in the yard. I felt sad and tired, as though all my blood had drained out of me. Then I started getting uncomfortable. The baby kept kicking me. I looked at my watch even though I didn't want to go home. I didn't know where I wanted to go, where my home really was.
"I should be on my way," I said. I handed her my empty glass. "Thanks for the lemonade. It was delicious," I added.
"No problem. Thanks for coming by. I hope you have a safe delivery." I realized she meant giving birth and I smiled. I smiled at Amanda but she looked away. Travis was still running around with the dog, holding his sandwich in one hand.
"Thank you so much for letting me in," I said.
"You're welcome." She walked me to my car, watching me arrange myself behind the wheel. I suddenly remembered watching my mother struggle in her old car the same way when she was pregnant with my brother. I remembered one time in particular. She was wearing a blue checked maternity dress and was driving our dog away to a new home. "We can't have a dog with the new baby," she had explained. I couldn't stop crying and ran after her car. I couldn't catch it. I had loved that dog. It was my best friend.
I waved goodbye to Candace and then drove away. The minute I hit the freeway, my cell phone rang again. I knew it was Dan. I didn't answer it because he was the last person I wanted to talk to. I was mad at him for some reason. I stretched out my driving time and made it home in three hours. When I got home, he was sitting on the couch watching television. I went into the bedroom and cried in the dark.
I caught him in bed with another woman. I didn't know that really happened. I never thought I could walk into my own house, go into my own bedroom and see Dan screwing some woman. It was out of my realm of thought. I just imagined it was something that happened to people on talk shows or in movies. But this woman was sitting on top of him and all I could see was her long black hair. I couldn't see his face. I just heard moans. I flipped on the light, said, "Jesus Christ," and flipped the switch off. Dan and the woman froze and I ran out into the street.
I fell to the ground on my knees, which was hard because I was in my eighth month. Dan ran after me. He was only wearing a pair of boxer shorts. The ones I slept in because they were comfortable. He expected me to cry. Instead I looked at him seriously. "You son of a bitch," I said calmly. "Who the hell do you think you are?" The one thing people had always said about me was that I was tough.
"Marianne...I don't know what to say." He looked as though he wanted to cry. "Things are just so tense between you and me, and you're so big and uncomfortable. I guess I just needed comfort."
"I hate you." I meant it.
"Come on now." He just sat on the sidewalk. I noticed a strange car parked on the street. It was the woman's, obviously. I don't know how I could have missed it.
"Tell that bitch to get out of my house," I said. I couldn't believe she was still in there.
He did as I said. He went into the house and came out a few seconds later, the girl in tow. They barely looked at each other. She was Asian with a small, lithe body. I kept thinking how I was going to wash the sheets in scalding hot water, then burn them even though they were my favorites. I sat down on the curb. I put my chin in my hands. She drove off silently. He walked slowly back to me. I felt like throwing my wedding ring in his face.
We didn't say anything for a few seconds. Then I spoke. "You realize," I said, "That this changes things."
He was quiet. "Let me just try to explain-"
"I mean," I continued, "After this baby is born, I don't know what's going to happen. I know you didn't want to marry me anyway. I know you don't even want to be with me." All I felt was pity for myself for getting into this mess and for the baby, who never stood a chance.
"That's not true," he protested. "You're my wife. God, I'm so, so sorry. I've ruined everything!"
I wanted to slap him. "Husbands don't do this. They don't fuck someone else when their wife isn't home!" I waddled back into the house. He followed me. I sat at the kitchen table. He sat down, too. Then I went into the extra bedroom. I couldn't bear going into our bedroom. He stood at the doorway.
"Look, things have been tough lately. I know that. We have to talk this through. You think I wanted this to happen?" he asked. "I'm trying to talk to you. But you never hear me."
"Go away." I turned my face into the pillow.
He went away.
Five hours later, I heard his key in the lock. I was thinking how I worshipped silence. I reveled in the way my baby was turning every which way, trying to get comfortable. When he came into the room, the whole energy changed. He was crying. "Let's start over," he wept. "Please." He put his head on my stomach. Before I knew it, my hands were stroking his hair.
I created my own private world after I caught Dan. I wanted it to be that way. I decided I didn't want any negativity in my life. I basically ignored him. I counted the days until I gave birth so I could leave him and start over somewhere else. Where, I didn't know. I thought of calling my mother and seeing if I could stay with her. But I knew she would say no because she thought I was crazy to be twenty-one and pregnant. Since the divorce she had become very bitter about life.
Then I thought of calling my father. Except that he didn't care anymore. After the divorce he said he didn't want anything to do with my mother, my brother or me. He took off with some woman he met at the bar where he worked as a bartender for thirty years and went to go live in Florida. If I called him he would pretend not to know me. He would say, "Marianne? I don't know a Marianne," and hang up. My brother said he would help me out except he was barely making ends meet himself. He was sleeping on various friends' floors and doing some telemarketing job at night. He was only eighteen.
There was no choice but to stay with Dan. He tried to make me talk. He cooked me gourmet meals at night and offered to rub my feet, which were very huge and swollen. He never went out. He went straight to work and back. The only words I spoke were yes, no, and pass the butter. Every time I said anything he acted like the Messiah had spoke.
At night, he talked about how he wanted to marriage to work. How he had grown to love me, how he realized now that me getting pregnant was probably the best thing that could have happened. He begged me to forgive him. He even talked about the woman, Anna, who he had slept with that one time. I didn't want to hear it.
I thought about my life. I thought about things I had always wanted to say to people, but didn't. How I wish my father would talk to us but how much I hated him for leaving. That I wished my mother would love me more. How when I met Dan all I wanted was to find home. But I still hadn't found it. I didn't know who I was. I looked in the mirror and saw a bloated, fat, miserable person. One day in late August I was sitting in the backyard eating a Popsicle when I felt my water break. It soaked through my underwear and hit the grass. I said, "Shit." Then I went into the kitchen to get Dan, who was eating a tuna sandwich off a purple plate. It was cut into four squares like he was a child.
"It's time," I told him. He looked at me inquisitively. Then he noticed my legs, which had water dripping down them. I started feeling pain. It felt like cramps. I started to cry. I wanted someone to tell me it was going to be okay.
He panicked. "Oh God. Here, let's get your bag and then we'll get into the car." He ran into the bedroom and got my hippie backpack. I used to use it to tote my clothes back and forth from his apartment. An old boyfriend had bought it for me in hopes that I could use it to stay overnight at his place. Wishful thinking. The guy was an idiot. Dan came back and held my shoulders.
"You okay?" he asked. I nodded. "Okay, let's go," he said. I could tell he was trying to calm himself down for my sake. I felt like I was in the middle of watching some bad movie that I wanted to walk out of.
We got into his truck. I leaned back while he put the car in gear and took off. He kept looking over at me to see if I was okay. He took my hand in his. I let him. For some reason I felt closer to him than I had in the past year and a half since I'd known him. I also felt scared, so much that I felt like I was having a panic attack and giving birth at the same time. I didn't want to give birth. I didn't want anything.
Ten hours later, I had a daughter. I was officially someone's mother.
My mother actually called. "Hi sweetie," she said. "How's my granddaughter?"
Sabrina and I were sitting in a rocking chair by the window, watching Dan work on the garden. He was wearing a big hat to keep out the sun. He said the next thing he was going to do was buy a little swing set for Sabrina and put in a tether ball court, like the one he had when he was little. He even wanted to remodel her room. The two of them seemed connected. It was the way she looked at him. For a newborn, she really focused in on his face. She didn't do that with me.
"She's fine." I had sent my mother a birth announcement a month earlier.
"Sorry I haven't called. I've been tremendously busy with work. I got promoted to senior account executive and I got my own office," she said proudly. "But I've been thinking about you a lot."
"That's nice," I said. "Congratulations on the job."
"Thank you! So, how was the birth?" she asked. "Painful?"
"Not too bad," I said. I felt like she was some distant friend and not my mother.
"It was horrible with you. I was in labor for over twenty-four hours! They were going to induce me but then you finally decided to make an appearance."
"I know. You've told me that before."
Sabrina kicked her legs, a sign that she was getting antsy. She let out a little squeal and began to cry. Dan looked up from his gardening. "Everything okay?" he called. I waved to let him know I was fine. I tried to quiet her but it was hard with the phone resting between my chin and shoulder blade. I smelled like baby barf.
"Honey, I want to come see you and the baby. What did you say her name was again? I know, it's horrible. My memory is just so bad. I wanted to go to this therapist who specializes in memory retention but he costs an arm and a leg." She laughed.
"Sabrina. Her name is Sabrina," I said, feeling nothing.
"Well, I want to come see you and Sabrina and Dan. Maybe during Christmas?" she asked.
Christmas was three months away. "Okay," I said.
"Good." She sounded pleased. "I'll call you."
"Have you heard from your father?" she asked, her voice turning tense. "Did you even tell him you had a baby?"
"What do you think?"
She didn't say anything for a minute. "I don't know," she said finally. "I don't know how things got this way. I just don't know."
"I see," I said. "You just don't know."
It was quiet for a minute. There were a million things I wanted to say but still couldn't. It was almost as if she was waiting for me to say them, the way she paused. "Well, I've got to run. Take care. And kiss that husband of yours," she said finally.
"Okay. Bye," I said.
Dan came in. "Who were you talking to?" he asked.
"Oh." He seemed satisfied. Then he made dinner. I took a nap with Sabrina, who was really tired. I let her sleep in bed with me. I pulled her close to my chest and had fell asleep. I felt Dan come in sometime later. I felt his kiss on my forehead and opened my eyes long enough to see him stroke Sabrina's head, and then I felt him float away into the darkness. I dreamed of my old house.
Jennifer Robinson's short stories and articles have appeared in Living Well Magazine, The Readerville Journal, Writers Monthly, Poetry Midwest, Full Circle, A Journal of Poetry and Prose, The Acorn Newspaper, Riot Brain Magazine, the anthology Looking Back: Stories of Our Mothers and Fathers in Retrospect (New Brighton Books, 2003), and upcoming in the book Two Faced (John Wiley, Inc., 2004) and Long Story Short. She also received the Los Angeles Daily News Award for Excellence in Writing.
Copyright 2004, Jennifer Robinson. This work is protected under the U.S. copyright laws. It may not be reproduced, reprinted, reused, or altered without the expressed written permission of the author.