31 October 2008

Untitled--Part Ten

"Last session was rough for you."
"It's just that I know we're nearing the end of Mom's life and it's hard to deal with, especially now."
"Why is it hard to deal with now?"
"Because I am a mom without my mom to seek advice from.My sisters are great, but...well, they're not Mom. And I miss her."
"That's natural. Are you willing to start from where we left off?"
"I think I can."
"Good, let's begin there."
"The alarms went off all at once, and there was such a commotion..."

Nurses crowded the small room, waking Amie from her nap. She scrambled into the hall, where we stood in the shadow of Dad's arms, huddled together like newborn kittens. As quickly as the cacophany of shouts and orders began, it ended, and the nurses and doctors filed out of the room.

The doctor came up to where we were standing, her eyes grim.

"She's stable for now, but her heart is getting weaker by the hour. We're moving her to ICU as soon as we can get a bed." She patted me on the arm and looked over our heads to Dad. "Do you want to call anyone, make arrangements?"

"She's already done that," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. We could feel his arms trmble as he struggled to maintrain composure. I disentangled myself from his embrace and stood up as straight as I could manage.

"I'll call Gramma and see if I can reach Alyssa on her cell." I looked at the doctor, who nodded, her eyes lined with concern. "How much longer do we have, do you think?"

"Not more than a few days, at most," she said. A small sob escaped from Amie, and I turned to see Dad bury his head in her hair. "Thank you, Doctor."

After calling a cab for Dad and Amie, I waddled back up to my room and grabbed my cell. I called my sisters and my grandparents, and checked the time. It would be about seven-thirty am in Chicago, so I dialed my editor's number. She picked up on the third ring.

"Andrea, how are things?"

"Not so good. My mom doesn't have much time left."

"Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that. What can we do?"

"I'm glad you asked that, Janice. I think we may need to revisit my contract, maybe make some changes until the first of the year."

"How do we need to change it? Do you need more time off?"

"Actually, I was thinking..." I laid out the idea that had been forming in my head since the plane touched down at Portland International Airport. I was nervous and fearful I'd lose my job, but to my delight, Janice was more than pleased with the idea.

"I know it's not political analysis, but-"

"Pregnancy, childbirth, single parenting--they're all hot topics for print lately. I think this would be a fabulous idea. Plus, you can work from Portland and be near to your family. I'll talk to the Living editor and see what we can do."

"Thank you Janice. This is only temporary, and with the elections this year, I bet I could work it into both sections."

"I don't doubt it. Get some rest, and I'll call you this evening." With that, the line went dead, and I sagged back into the hospital bed with relief. I closed my eyes and drifted off into an uneasy sleep until the nurses came in to discharge me three hours later.

Amie met me at the elevator doors in the lobby. "Mom's been moved to ICU this morning, so she can't have visitors for the next twenty-four hours. I decided to see if you were hungry?" Her eyes were still puffy and raw, her voice scratchy. I grasped her hand in mine and tried to smile.

"Famished." I made small talk the whole way to Elmer's for breakfast, telling her about the conversation with Janice as we slid into our seats at the restaurant.

"So, you're staying in Portland?" she asked. "For how long?"

"At least until the end of the year."

"And the babies?"

"Are due in February, so I'm just going to stay here until December. My contract is up in December with the Tribune, so at that point, they'll either renew it or they'll release me from it, which means I can stay permanently."

"So, where will you stay? Your room is, well, destroyed." A flicker of guilt crossed her face, and I patted her hand.

"I'm going to stay with Alyssa at the farm. They have that guest room adjacent to the office. It's quiet with the kids in school and I'll be able to work." Amie's face relaxed at that, and she sipped her coffee.

"Who should we call about the room being repaired?"

"Alyssa is on it already. Big Andy has some friends that are general contractors. They're stopping by this afternoon...which reminds me. Why aren't you in school today?"

"Dad called me off. I haven't been home but to change clothes and shower."

I signaled the waiter. "We'll take our orders to go, please."

"So your editor was okay with the arrangements."
"Yes. She and the Lifestyle editor thought it was brilliant, and so I worked the rest of the contract out."
"Did they renew it?"
"Actually, yes. The articles were so popular, it was promoted to a Sunday front-pager at the end of November. It's been there ever since, and it came with a nice bonus and less hours I had to work. It's been a great help."
"Are you back at work now?"
"Yes, but it's hard. I do articles on being a new mom, but I feel like it's not the whole truth, and I feel like it can run to fluff, which is not me. I can't talk about the dark side of my life now as a single mom of multiples, because I legally can't. It's very restrictive."
"Well, it could complicate matters. Does that bother you?"
"I'm not sure it bothers me to not talk about it in my articles--but the whole situation hurts me more than I can explain."
"We'll discuss that next week."

10 September 2008

Untitled, Part Nine

"This is a very nice office you have here."
"Thank you."
"I definitely prefer it to the hospital. It's more relaxing."
"That is always a bonus. What would you like to talk about today?"
"I don't really know. It's been nice not to have to focus so much on me lately, you know?"
"How about we discuss the night you spent in the hospital--the phone call you got?"
"Oh, that."
"You're clenching your fists. Is that out of fear or anger?"
"Oh, anger, definitely. I couldn't believe he did that to Amie."
"Amie is...your youngest sister?"
"Yes, she's seventeen. We always called her 'mom's little surprise' since she was born on Mom's fortieth birthday."
"I think we should discuss the phone call, since it has direct ties to the current goings-on in your life."
"Oh, all right. I guess it's no good trying to pretend it never happened, is it?"
"It's also not healthy for you, Andrea."
"I know. Well, it was two a.m., and I had fallen asleep for the first time soundly in over a month..."

The phone was buzzing, jarring me out of a deep sleep. I reached over and picked it up, trying to figure out where I was, as the surroundings took on an ethereal glow in the light of the hall trickling from under the door. The unfamilar shape of the phone, coupled with the recliner-like bed, reminded me. The hospital. I brought the phone gingerly to my ear, being careful not to disturb the bandages holding my broken nose in place.

"Andy?" It was Amie, her voice soft and breathy.

"Amie, what's wrong? Where are you?"

"I'm downstairs with Mom." I sat straight up in bed, the bandages on my nose forgotten. "She's fine, but can you come down here?"

I realized that she was not breathless from fear; she was trying not to cry. I struggled out of bed on to the linoleum floor, fumbling with my pajamas and robe.

"I'll be down in a minute, Amie. Relax, okay?"

"Umm-hmm." A small hiccup escaped her as she hung up, and I knew it was bad, whatever it was. Bonne Amie, we always called her, because she was everyone's sweetheart; talented, sweet, incredibly smart, and beautiful. It was impossible to hate her, even harder to make her upset because she saw the good in everything. She was the eternal optimist to my pessimist, and for her to be on the verge of tears was worrying.

I reached Mom's room and saw that all my family was there, speaking with a police officer. Amie was sitting on the chair in the corner, her heart-shaped face streaked with tears. Mom was reclining in bed, eyes half-mast, as the officer talked to Dad. She was holding his left hand in hers, her right twitching nervously on the coverlet. Alyssa and April were leaving, and each one hugged me tightly as they left the room, April's eyes growing round at the sight of my face and my belly. Amie saw me enter the room and rushed over to me, heedless of my size, throwing her arms around my neck.

"He-he was so angry with me, Andy. I-I didn't know what to do, so I called Dad and he told me to come here." Her tears fell hot on my shoulder, wetting the thin cotton nightgown. I wrapped my arms around her small frame, rocking back and forth. I didn't have to ask who "he" was.

"When did he show up, Amie?"

"About eleven-thirty. I had just gotten home from seeing a movie with Jessica, and he was waiting at the front door. He looked tired, so I asked if he wanted to come in for some cocoa." She paused and straightened up to look at me, the room silent. Amie gasped when she saw my face, tears leaking out of the corners of her eyes. "Oh, no, Andy, I'm so sorry!"

"Shh, don't cry. I'm fine. Take a deep breath. What happened?" I saw the officer taking copious notes out of the corner of my eye, and suspected he had been waiting for me to arrive.

"He came inside and I made some water for cocoa. I told him you were staying at Alyssa's and he said he knew, he had seen you. He made small talk while I made the cocoa, then he asked me if he could see your old room."

"Did you take him?"

"Well, not at first. I asked him why, and he said you had left something for him in there from before that he was supposed to get. I hadn't checked my cell phone yet, so I didn't know what happened at Alyssa's, and it seemed normal."

I nodded. When we were younger, we had a hiding spot for letters, trinkets, etc., in each other's room. When one of us would go on vacation or would be ill for a few days, we would leave stuff in our rooms for the other person to find. His was an old cigar box hidden under his dresser, mine was a little miniature hope chest under the floorboards of my dollhouse.

"So, he checked my dollhouse floorboard?" I prompted. Amie was on the verge of tears again.

"No, he didn't. He wandered into your room and sat on your bed. It was then I realized he looked different--there was something dried all over his shirt, and he...well, he smelled bad. So I asked him to leave and he got mad."

"How mad?"

Amie's face started to buckle, her eyes twisting into small knots. "He threw your porcelain clock threw the window and smacked me twice across the face. Then he ran out of the room-" She dissolved into tears and buried her face in my shoulder. I sat there, swaying gently, as the officer met my eyes. He nodded once, his face set and concerned.

"We'll have someone drive by the house," he said, and spoke spoftly into the speaker clipped to his lapel. I patted Amie on the back as her sobs subsided, her hiccups more pronounced.

"He was so mad, Andy. Why is he so mad? What did I do?"

"It's not what you did, it's what I did. What we did." I stroked my distended abdomen, the inhabitants now stirring. Amie and I sat down on the small couch, her flushed cheek settling on my belly as her niece and nephew tumbled and kicked. The officer left the room, Dad in tow, and the three of us sat quietly, waiting. I rubbed Amie's back, and her breathing slowed until I could tell she was sleeping, snuffling like she did when she was still little. Mom had also fallen asleep and I closed my eyes, grateful for the peace and quiet in the room.

Our peace was short-lived. Dad came back into the room, his hair twisted into spikes. I slid out from Amie with little grace, settling her more comfortably on the little sofa. I lumbered out into the hall after Dad, his eyes set and angry.

"He's completely destroyed your room, Andy. The walls have been punched full of holes, your belongings all broken or ruined, there's huge burned patches in the carpet, even all the linens have been covered in bleach. It's a complete wreck. The police are looking for him, but they told us not to hold our breath."

"He didn't do anything else to the rest of the house, did he?"

"No, just your room, but it's going to need to be completely gutted. I'm so sorry, kiddo." Unable to restrain myself, I began to cry for my childhood room, and for my parents. The didn't need this right now, not with Mom so sick. Dad put his arms around my shoulders, rocking me as I had done with Amie a few short minutes ago. "It's not your fault, Andy, honey, it's okay," he kept saying, over and over like a mantra.

I knew it was, though. Devon was taking this out on me, on my family; he was trying to scare me into doing what he wanted, and it was working. I looked up at my Dad, and tried to smile. I couldn't let Dad know how much I blamed myself; I couldn't burden him with my selfishness.

Then, an alarm went off and a trio of nurses came pelting down the hall to my mom's room.

"I'm sorry, I have to stop there. I can't do this today."
"That's fine, I understand. Devon's reaction still surprises you, though."
"It does. I never imagined he would get so violent--before, his anger was always verbal, never physical. But, then again, he was off his meds a lot longer this time around."
"And your sister?"
"She was a bit shaken up, but she understood. She was more afraid I'd be upset with her, as stupid as that sounds."
"I'd like to explore the rest of this night next week. Can you prepare yourself before then?"
"I think so. I hope so, anyway."
"Good. We'll see you then--same time."
"Thank you."

10 August 2008

Untitled, Part Eight

"Today is the last daily session for you."
"Yeah, and no offense, but I'm really relieved about it."
"Is it hard for you to think about going home?"
"No, not at all. I'm looking forward to it, to be able to see my kids again. It's been a long week."
"Let's use this session to clean up some questions about the previous sessions. Is that okay?"
"I guess. Is it going to help me somehow?"
"I believe a change of pace would be good. I think it will allow me to direct our future sessions more clearly."
"Well, if it's going to help. What do we need to do?"
"Would it be more relaxing if I did it more as a question and answer session today? That way, we can focus or redirect if something gets too intense or painful for you."
"I think that would be okay. What would you like to clear up first?"
"Our first sessions were so disconnected emotionally that I have some questions about the nature of your relationship with Devon. How you met, how the relationship progressed, things like that."
"Um, well, we've known each other since he was five and I was four..."

The moving truck had come and gone by the time we got back from our vacation to Seattle to see my grandparents. The former owner had moved to a nursing home the previous spring after a bad fall, and his son remodeled the old Craftsman house and put it up for sale. We all missed him a lot; he was the funny old grandpa on the block. He had been a retired teacher and used to babysit for me and Alyssa when our parents went out for the rare date night. I was curious to see who would move in next.

Dad took Alyssa in and put her to bed; she had gotten motion sickness in the car and was tired. Mom and I went outside to check the mail. Outside, on the front lawn, a dark-haired boy was driving his Matchbox cars on the long, flat drive in front of the house. My mom looked over at the fair-haired woman on the front porch and waved. The fair-haired woman waved us over, and we crossed the street.

I lingered on the sidewalk while my mom made the introductions. While the women chatted and made small talk, the dark-haired boy came running over to me. He had ruddy cheeks and a sweet smile. I hung back, shy and unsure, but that didn't deter him, as it had so many other kids my age.

"Hi, I'm Devon. This is my new house!" He stuck his sunbrowned hand out to me, offering me a white Corvette. "Wanna play cars with me?"

"Um, okay," I said, shy smile spreading across my face. I followed him over to the walkway where he had drawn a very elaborate race track in chalk. We spent that afternoon and the next, vrooming and honking our way around the course, pausing only to draw new streets or add buildings. We were pretty much inseperable after that, running back and forth between our houses all summer.

"Did you favor one house over the other as you grew up--did you spend more time at your house or over at his?"
"Devon was always the leader. Kids were drawn to him like flies, and so we spent a lot of time doing things his way--which meant at his house."
"How about the family dynamic, anything jump out at you?"
"No, they seemed normal to me. His mom was more lenient than mine, which I suppose was as a result of her illness. It made her house the 'fun house' on the block, since there was less strict rules, and she tended to have junk food available to us at all times."
"How about the way you two interacted with one another? Was it more of a brother-sister thing?"
"For most of our childhood, it was. I developed a crush on him in sixth grade...but then again, so did the other girls."
"Did he ever encourage you to be more than a sister-like friend?"
"Encourage? No, I had confessed in junior high school that I had a crush on him, but he always said he wanted to preserve our friendship as it was."
"And how was it?"
"It was...well, it was complex. He started to get more aggressive in junior high school. It was around that time that he started playing more sports and I just thought it was normal. I have three sisters, so he was the only 'brother' I knew."
"Was there an incident that stands out in your mind as maybe a turning point in your relationship, when you thought he might have developed feelings for you?"
"No, what stands out to me is the night we got into a huge fight and I suspected he needed help..."

It was Senior Shut-In night. We had Fall Homecoming earlier in the evening, and the shut-in was a massive chaperoned slumber party for planing the prom and the Senior trip at spring break. Devon was the class president, and had coerced me into staying for the shut-in. I had wanted to go home after the game--I hated slumber parties in principle and I never really fit in in high school. I only went to the football games because Devon was playing. I was shy, smart, and completely bookish, and the thought of having to pretend to enjoy myself and make small talk with my classmates made my blood run cold.

But, I stayed to please Devon. I had gotten into this pattern of standing up for myself, and failing miserably under the weight of his personality. My dad always joked about how Devon was a natural ruler, and I suppose I became his favorite subject; I was easily swayed under the power of his arguments. I had never really relinquished my crush on him all those years ago, and I saw my acquiescence to even his most crazy schemes as a way to keep him close to me. I had watched a procession of girlfriends flit in and out, and I kept hoping one day he'd turn to me and confess his love like I had six years ago. Only this time, I wouldn't reject him like he did me.

That night was no different; he had me completely entranced and willing to do his bidding. Within the span of two hours, I had somehow found myself on the decorating committee for prom, run by the head cheerleader and three of her closest clones. I had also volunteered to make up flyers for the Senior trip to send to the parents, and by the time we took a break around midnight, I was on the verge of consenting to be on the prom queen electoral committee.

I went to the bathroom, slightly dazed. I locked myself into a stall when I heard a gaggle of classmates come in, giggling and talking. I recognized one of the voices as Carrie, one of the cheerleaders on the decorating committee. I was about to flush when I realized they were talking about me, so I kept completely silent and listened.

"So, do you think he's going to get Miss Mousie to do any more gruntwork, or should we actually let her off the hook for now?" I heard Carrie ask the throng as she padded in the bathroom. I glanced through the small crack in the stall door and saw the side of her Victoria's Secret pajamas and her cute little slippers, surrounded by other similarly clad friends. Holding my breath, I listened, my heart thumping in my chest.

"She's so pathetic! You would think Devon would have stopped talking to her years ago--I mean, it's totally obvious she's in love with him!"

"And totally obvious he's using her to get what he wants done done. You think she's blowing him?"

"C'mon, Carrie, they've been friends since kindergarten."

"So? I was friends with Kyle in kindergarten, and I don't even speak to that loser any more. Actually, maybe Miss Mousie should be his BFF from now on--I'm sure they would be happy together forever." A chorus of giggles erupted in the bathroom.

"They would have the most weird-looking kids--they'd all have that dishwater blond hair of hers and his huge nose."

"Oh, and his unfortunate facial hair--even the girls!"

"Eww, and that weird way she has of always rubbing her lips with her thumbnail! Those kids would need a therapist and a stylist on call twenty-four seven to be normal!" More snorts and giggles filled the air.

I dropped my hand to my lap, face burning. I was glad they couldn't see me, or that they didn't know I was there. I just hoped they'd leave the bathroom soon so I could sneak out and call my mom to come and pick me up without Devon knowing.

The herd, still giggling and dissecting all my worst features, left the bathroom. I flushed in silence, my face crimson and my feelings hurt. Did Devon see me this way? Was he using me to do his bidding? I slouched out of the stall, washing my hands and splashing cool water on my burning cheeks. I left the bathroom in a fog, my only focus the bank of pay phones outside the bathroom exit.

Devon was standing outside the ladies' room, smiling. "Hey, Andy, what did you do, fall in?" His smile slid off of his face as he looked at me. "What happened in there? Did you see a ghost?"

"Are you using me, Devon?" The words came out in a rush, my cheeks burning and my fists clenched.

"Using you? For what, Andy?"

"You know I didn't want to be here, and now I'm on these committees, and the girls are talking and I..I just can't do it, Devon! I'm no good under pressure!" I threw my hands up in the air and made as though to go around him towards the phones.

"Hey, it's okay, I get it," Devon tried to put his arms around me. I shoved him away, angry, and the concerned look gave way to something else.

"I'm going home, Devon," I said, trying to push by him again. "You need to find someone else to do your dirty work. I quit."

"No, you're not going home, Andrea," he said, voice tight, eyes flashing. "I will not let you walk out on your responsibilities, not after you willingly volunteered on them."

"Volunteered?" I barked, my temper rising. I put my hand on his arm, trying to shove hoim out of the way, but he was immoveable. "I was pushed into taking them on, Devon, and you know it."

He clamped his hand tight around my wrist and steered me into a dark corner near the bathroom. His breath was short, and there was a terrible coldness in his eyes. My wrist was being squeezed tighter in his grasp; the next morning would bring a small series of bruises on the inside of my wrist where his fingers dented my flesh.

"You will do it, Andrea. You don't have a choice. I'm in charge here, and you'd do best to remember that." I looked into these cold, angry eyes--the warm brown irises had been replaced with a flat blackness that chilled me to my core. I shuddered involuntarily and shrank back, afraid of him for the first time in my life.

He pushed my hand away and seemed to come to his senses. The cold stare gave way to a pleading I was familiar with, a look I knew would cave to. I couldn't even bring myself to look at him.

"For me?" he said, the familiar cajoling note in his voice. I nodded, mute; I knew he'd never believe me about Carrie and her friends, and I just wanted to get away. I spent the rest of the evening on the fringe of the conversations, and was able to find someone to take my spot on the decorating committee the following week in homeroom.

"Did you ever tell him he had frightened you?"
"No, I didn't think I needed to. I thought he had realized he'd gone too far, because within a month, he began seeing a therapist."
"Was his anger spiraling out of control, then?"
"No, his grandpa died suddenly, and he went into a deep depression. That's when he was initially diagnosed with bipolar disorder."
"But he never used force on you except that one time, correct?"
"No, not until the day at my sister's."
"Do you think it was because he knew you would comply with his requests?"
"Yes, I do now. I think he knew he could have gotten me to do anything, and so he used my love for him as a tool to keep me in line."
"How does that make you feel now, knowing that?"
"Honestly? I feel stupid for being so passive, and I am so pissed at him for using me that way."
"well, our time is up for today. We'll pick up with this next week."
"Will we be meeting here or at your office in town?"
"Where would you be more comfortable?"
"I never want to see this place again, truthfully."
"Then, I'll see you at my office in town. We'll call to set up your next session tomorrow."
"Thank you."

22 June 2008

Untitled, Part Seven

"You look calmer today."
"I fel calmer today. Less like a caged animal, more like me for a change."
"Do you think it has anything to do with our sessions?"
"A bit. I also think it has more to do with knowing I'm out of here in a few days."
"We should discuss your mom's death."
"Why? Do you think I'm using it as a crutch? Or is there a psychobable term for it?"
"No, I think it will help you deal with real life when you go home."
"My mom's death--or what happened to speed it up? You really want to talk about that, don't you?"
"If you think you need to."
"I don't need to, but I want to. It's time I grew up all the way."
"That's an interesting way to view it."

I gasped involuntarily when I saw her. My mom always had the prettiest hair, auburn and silky, straight like mine. Now it was fluffy and insubstantial, like a halo of red-gold clouds. I had seen her through two chemo tratments, a round of radiation, and she never looked this frail. I knew it was the last battle, and she had made her peace with death. She heard me and cracked her eyes, smiling faintly. Her lips were chapped and shiny; someone had been in recently to put lip balm on them and to change her catheter bag. My heart ached for her, and for her grandchildren, both born and unborn. This was so unfair.

"You made it, baby." She patted the bed next to her left arm, tubes and lines snaking out of her arm like translucent worms, providing her the small comfort she needed to deal with the pain of dying. I smiled, blinking rapidly, and sat in the chair next to her bed, not wanting my bulk to weigh her bed down uncomfortably. Her hand sought the swell of my belly, where its tiny occupants were sleeping. I put my warm hand over her bony, cold one, being careful not to bump the lines and needles.

"I came as soon as I could, Mom."

"I know you did. How are you feeling? What happened to your nose."

"An accident, nothing more. Don't worry about it; we're fine."

We chatted inconsequentially for a few minutes, the steady hum of the hospital enveloping us like a coccoon. I told her about my new job, and the possibility of moving to Indiana to be the lead reporter at a newspaper there; she told me about the twins' swimming lessons, and the half-finished deck Dad was building on the back of the house. The babies, lulled into wakefullness by my voice, were cresting under Mom's hand, which was still cold, despite my hand covering it. Like vultures, we were circling the conversation Mom really wanted to have, and I let her. I knew, sooner or later, she would ask. I would have to decide whether to tell her the truth or not.

"Is your apartment big enough for the three of you?"

"Yes, so far. It's got two bedrooms that are pretty big, and a nice sized kitchen."

"Close to work?"

"I take the El, like I took the MAX to work at home."

"Is your doctor a good one?"

"She's great, Mom. Really nice, and a mother to twins herself. I got really lucky."

"And the father? Where does he fit in with all of this?" she finally asked, coming to the heart of the matter. Do I tell her the truth, or do I lie and paint myself the Jezebel who can't keep her legs together in the big city?

"He knows, but he's not in a position to really have much of a say in their lives."

"Don't you think his parents have a right to know? After all, you're carrying their grandchildren."

"I do. I'm just not sure how to tell them what happened."

"Honey, they're parents. We know how it happened." She smiled, a familiar sarcastic expression creasing her half-closed eyes. "I think Terry and Emily have a right to know, don't you?"

Shocked, I sat there, mouth agape. Who told her? How did she know? The question never left my lips; as I sat there, I heard the answer coming from behind me.

"Hello, Andrea." I swiveled around to find Heidi standing in the doorway, her left arm in a cast. "I see you've seen Devon."

I stood up, placing Mom's hand back on the bed. I leaned over, kissing her paper-thin cheek. "I'll be back later, Mom," I said. "Get some rest."

Heidi and I walked down the hall to a small waiting room. I wasn't sure whether to be angry at her, upset at myself, or feel sorry for the both of us. I chose common ground, and gestured to her arm. "When?"

"About a week ago, when he stopped taking his medication," she said. "He called me all kinds of names and accused me of doing some vile things. I tried to leave, but he grabbed my arm and spun me around." She rubbed the back of her head unconsciously, remembering the struggle. "Somehow, he pinned me facedown to the floor, with my arm under me, and when he rolled me over, it broke." She looked at me, my eyes competing shades of violet and black, a large splint holding my broken nose securely. "I see he took a more direct approach with you."

"Yeah, he did," I said, mind racing. "What was he accusing you of? He said some things to me that I'm not sure I can believe. Not with the way he was this afternoon, not knowing you."

"Being unfaithful, for one. He accused me of sleeping with everyone, from the ringbearer to his best man."

"He said you 'confessed' on your honeymoon, that you knew about us."

"I did--about you and him, anyway. Truth be told, I expected it to happen. He's always been good at manipulating you."

"So, you didn't sleep with Tony?"

"God, no! He's Devon's best man, his college roommate, and he is three inches shorter than me!" We laughed nervously, the tension dissolving as I relaxed. I decided to tell Heidi about what happened, and the conversation Devon had with me at my sister's. She was pissed and angry and scared all at once. I knew how she felt.

"I didn't have a tubal in Colorado! How dare he make this my fault!" she hissed furiously, her eyes mere slits. "I am not the one who didn't want to have kids--he dropped that bomb on me when we got home. Said it was 'too risky' with his mental history, that he didn't want to pass it on to a child. I tried to tell him it would be okay, but he-augh!" Heidi stood up, pacing nervously. Her uninjured hand unconsciously ran through her short blond curls, making them stand out at crazy angles. She sat down abruptly, causing me to jump in surprise.

"He had a vasectomy the day you left," she said. She reached into her purse and pulled out a much-creased sheet of paper. I opened it up, recognizing it as a doctor's statement. She pointd to the third line down, and my stomach bottomed out. "He didn't even give me a choice in the matter," she said, "just went and got the snip. He knew I wanted kids, kept saying we could adopt or get artificially inseminated."

"Heidi, I am so sorry. Believe me, though, he didn't know I was pregnant. Nobody at home did until a few days ago."

"I know. I think he planned this all along, but his parents--especially Emily--won't listen to me. They know about you, and they've begun to treat me like some leper. Devon told them the same stories he told you."

"Have you talked to them?"

"His mom hangs up on me, his dad asked me to file for divorce. Said he didn't want to see me get hurt anymore." Devon's dad, Terry, knew better than all of us. Emily was also bi-polar, and he had lived with it all his life.

"Did you?"

"File for divorce? I did last week, along with a restraining order. That's why I keep coming to see your mom. I was afraid he's hurt her to get you to come home."

"Did that make it better with them?"

"Hardly. He called them after he saw your mom, told them you were pregnant. Now even Terry won't return my calls."

I hugged her suddenly, made awkward by my pregnancy. "I am so sorry for all of this, Heidi," I said. "I wish I would have told you how he was off his medicaation. Maybe I could have spared you-"

"I wouldn't have believed you," she said, interrupting me. "I resented the fact that you were his closest friend, that you were his oldest friend, and that he loved you more. I can't explain it, but I always knew we wouldn't be together for life. But, then he asked me to marry him, and I thought it would be okay." She dropped her gaze to her shoes, sniffing. I put my arm around her, trying to comfort her. How I knew this feeling; had known it all my life.

"Go home and get some sleep," I said. "It will be okay. I'm home now, and he's seen me. You don't have to worry." She hugged me back fiercely, then let go.

"Be careful, Andy," Heidi said. "I don't resent you anymore. We've both been used by him, and we need to help one another get better." She suddenly caressed my belly, smiling sadly. "Someday, maybe I'll get the chance to feel life inside of me."

"You will. You just haven't found him yet." We stood up and embraced one more time. She waved good-bye and set off towards the elevators. I turned and headed back to the nurses' station, where they told me my mom was sleeping. I decided to head back to my room on the floor above--they'd be coming to do rounds soon, and I had already been gone longer than the half-hour visit my nurses gave me permission to take. I asked the nurse to call up and let them know I was on my way as I turned towards the elevators.

I got to my room and put on the pajamas my sister had brought me. The nurse came in and attached the fetal monitor to my belly and took routine vitals. She left, and I closed the door, making the room dim and cool. My first night home, and I'm sleeping in a hospital bed, I thought wryly. So much for happy homecomings. I climbed into the bed and shut the lamp off above my head. The room was quiet and I felt safe; the bed was comfortable, and I dropped off to sleep immediately.

I almost didn't hear the phone ring an hour later.

"I have to stop there, it's too hard to talk about right now."
"Did you have a restraining order out on Devon yet?"
"No, I didn't. I didn't realize until I saw Heidi how bad he had gotten."
"Did you anticipate what came next?"
"No, how could I? He'd always been volatile when he's off his meds, but I didn't think he'd be so destructive."
"Who was on the phone?"
"His dad. I'm sorry, I can't-"
"That's okay. What did you do?"
"I went down to my mom's room. My dad was there, and I could tell they got the same call."
"And how did they take it?"
"Not today, I'm sorry."
"There's no need to be sorry. We'll pick up there tomorrow."

17 June 2008

Untitled, Part Six

(Ed. Note: There is a bit more cursing and rapid mood swings that may be a bit confusing. I'll try to keep it in context, though. Enjoy!)

"How are you feeling today, Andrea?"
"Like you don't know the answer to that. I feel like shit."
"How are your hands?"
"They hurt, and I wish I could have hit the bitch one more time."
"Why did you attack your new roommate?"
"She saw the pictures of my children and called me a cheap whore. She deserved it."
"So, now you're back to a private room?"
"Yes, but they're not letting me call home. I hate this fucking place."
"Well, let's get to why you hate this place. Is it the food?"
"Stop it with that patronizing bullshit. I hate this place because I don't need to be here. I'm not crazy."
"Nobody said you were. You're suffering from post-partum depression-"
"Doc, you and I know that's not why I'm here. I'm here because of him."
"Devon. He used me again, and they think I'm crazy now. I should have known he'd never change."
"How did he use you? And why do you say again?"
"He always makes me out to be the bad guy, to take the fall. This time, it worked."
"Let's explore that."

Alyssa picked me up from the airport. I saw her eyes widen as she took in my belly, and the pallor of my skin as I left the security checkpoint. She hugged me tightly, her reed-thin arms barely encompassing me. In a few weeks, she wouldn't be able to hug me, and I needed all the help I could get. We walked down to the luggage carousel, making small talk, avoiding the elephant in the room: me.

"How was the flight?"

"Long. The guy in front of me decided to put his seat all the way back, then never fell asleep. And the movie was terrible."


"A bit. 'Course, I'm always hungry these days." I gave her a small smile, and her eyebrow did a crazy little jig up into her hairline. She smiled back.

We got my small suicase and walked out to Alyssa's minivan. We had dubbed it the Purple People Eater when she bought it--an apt label, since the grey plush interior practically swallowed you when you sat down. Normally, it bothered me, but today the too-soft seats provided a soothing coccoon around my pendulous body. The landscape had hardly changed--while Chicago was a cold, desolate wind tunnel, Portland was experiencing a bit of Indian summer in late November. We rolled down the windows, chatting about my niece and nephews as we left the airport and headed west towards I-205, bound for Alyssa's Gresham home. As we hit the highway, I closed my eyes, listening to the other traffic rushing by and the warm air washing over me like a prayer. I could tell that Alyssa was dying to tell me something, but I decided to pretend I was dozing. I couldn't deal with her admonitions--plus, I knew she was ganging up on me over lunch. My ruse failed.



"I talked to Mom and Dad and told them. Dad's a bit shocked, but Mom is over the moon." This shocked me--I figured my mom would be having kittens, while Dad would be taking it in stride.

"Thanks. Do they know who the father is?"

"No. That's your decision to tell them, but..."

"But what?"

"Devon knows you're home. He came to see Mom last night when I went home and she told him everything."

"Everything?" Suddenly, the warmth of the day left, surrounding me with the arctic chill of midwinter. Alyssa, taking advantage of my silence, blundered forward.

"He's going to be at the house this evening. He wants to talk to you. Alone," she added, answering my unspoken question.

As if feeling my agitation, someone kicked me in the ribs, causing my skin to ripple slightly beneath my form-fitting dress. I put my hand over the foot? hand? and massaged gently. The babies had been active the whole trip, constricted as they were by the seat in front of me. I wanted them to sleep; it felt like a rave had gone on in my stomach, and every internal organ was tender.

The thirty-minute trip felt like a funeral procession--traffic was whizzing along, and yet my heart stood still. I didn't want him to be there; I didn't want him to see me and know. I just wanted to disappear. Chasing these thoughts around in my head, I was shocked to realize we'd just pulled up into the circular drive outside of Alyssa's spacious home.

We unloaded my small suitcase and walked up the steps. My nephews came barrelling out of the house, shouting, "Auntie's here!" and wrapping their little arms around my swollen legs in joy. My brother-in-law, Andrew, came out of the front door. His eyes also widened at my stomach, but he smiled and wrapped his arms around me, hugging me close. "Welcome home, stranger." My head barely reached the shoulder of my brother-in-law, "Big Andy." A third-generation horse trainer, he smelled like hay and sunshine. Immediately, I was seventeen and learning how to ride for the first time.

I closed my eyes and smiled, tears leaking out of the corners of my eyes. Home, I thought, as the last knots of tension released. My sister clapped her hands and called from the foyer, "Lunch is ready!"

Shrieking in joy, the boys let go of me and ran into the house, following Alyssa and Andrew. The smell of pasta sauce wafted from the spacious kitchen, and I sank gratefully into a small armchair near the back door. My nephews, Brady and Craig, clambered up on the ottoman next to me, their five-year old minds whirring and spinning.

"Auntie, why are you fat?"

"I'm not fat, Brady, I'm going to have two babies that are twins, like you and Craig."

"Are they boys or girls?"

"One of each."

"Can we see them?"

"Not right now, but you can feel them." I took their small hands and rested them on the sweel of my stomach. The babies kicked and pushed, sending the boys' hands up and down on the waves of my skin. They squealed and took turns pushing back until my sister took pity on me and put lunch on the table. I was tired, but peaceful; somehow, everything would be all right, I told myself as we ate.

Our peace was short-lived. Halfway through lunch, a knock at the door roused us from our companionable silence, while the boys chattered on about the new barn kittens and the horse that had just foaled. Andrew excused himself and answered the door.

"Is Andy here yet?" That unmistakable baritone hit me like a ton of bricks and I blanched. Devon. My nephews, who worshipped Devon, tried to bolt toward the door like puppies, but a stern look from Alyssa subdued them.

"She's napping, Devon. And you're drunk," Andrew said, shielding the view into the kitchen with his body. I stood up quietly, and took my nephews hands, leading them into the nearby bathroom. Their eyes were wide but they stayed quiet as I washed their hands and face.

"Uncle Devon doesn't need to know I'm awake, okay?" I said to the boys. They smiled at me and Brady looked up.

"It's a secret?"

"Exactly." Alyssa had said the boys were into secrets this week; they were obsessed with being spies and secret agents. I counted on them to not give me away. Satisfied that I was safe, we opened the door, and I crept quietly into my sister's office across the hall. Alyssa was washing dishes, and caught my eye as I crept in. She tried to say something, but I closed the door and turned around, barely stifling a scream. Devon had managed to talk his way into the house after all.

"I thought you were asleep."

"I thought you were gone."

"Why didn't you tell me, Andrea? They're mine too."

"No, they're not. I-I met someone."

"Nice try. I know when you're lying. You stutter."

"Shouldn't you be getting home to your wife?" I put as much venom and spite in that word as I could, hoping to distract him from the issue at hand--namely me and my belly.

"You did this on purpose, didn't you?" His tone chilled me. His soft brown eyes had a coldness, a cruelness I remembered. I could smell the whiskey on his breath, and the smell of him. He hasn't showered in a couple of days, I thought, and comprehension dawned on me. He hasn't been taking his meds, I thought fleetingly, and my hands began to shake. I tried a different tack.

"Why would I do this on purpose, Devon? I wasn't ready to be a parent."

"So why didn't you take care of it?"

"I tried! But I couldn't."

"Because you want my money? You wanted my marriage to end?"

"No! No, it's for their sake. This has nothing to do with us, or with you--"

"The hell it does, you lying bitch. You know Heidi doesn't want kids."

"No, Devon, I didn't, I swear! Please, believe me, this was not--I wasn't going to ask you for anything. I didn't even want you to know."

"You would have kept my kids from me?" He advanced on me, his face gone white with anger. His hands were clenched in fists, the knuckles shiny and red.He's been hitting something, I thought, and the world stood still.

"No, it's not like that at all." Trying desperately to defuse the situation, I sat down on the small loveseat and looked at Devon. "I couldn't go through with an abortion, not after I heard the two heartbeats. I wasn't even sure I was going to keep them until just a few weeks ago."

"But you are and you weren't going to tell me? They're my kids, Andrea! How dare you not tell me!"

"I didn't want you to feel obligated." My words were barely a whisper. I had clenched my hands in my lap and looked at the floor, averting his gaze.

"So what do you want, then? What am I going to do now? Heidi left me because of you." My head snapped up, and I looked into his eyes, still cold and flinty. "You happy now? You win."

"No! That's why I didn't tell you! I knew you guys had a rough go of it-"

"Ha! A rough go? Heidi found out about your last night home, and got revenge by fucking our best man the night before the wedding, throwing it in my face twenty minutes after we left the reception? Then, on our 'romantic' honeymoon, she tells me she doesn't want kids, that her trip to Colorado was for a tubal, and now you show up pregnant with my kids and tell me you were trying to protect me?" He was pacing frantically around the room, running his fingers through his too-long brown hair.

"Devon, when did you last take your meds?" I asked softly, my words barely renting the air. I stood up and tried to put my hand on his arm.

I was too slow to stop him. He spun around and punched me in the face. Dimly, I heard a pop as my nose broke and I saw stars. I half-fell back on to the loveseat, my hands clasped over my bleeding nose. Devon got on his kness in front of me, his voice cold and hard. He wiped his hands on my ruined dress as he whispered into my ear.

"This is all your fault, you cheap whore. I hope you can live with what you've done." My breathing was becoming more ragged as the blood filled my mouth. Devon opened the door to the office and strode out. I dimly heard the front door slam, and my sister's scream as she came in. The world went gray and black as I saw the pool of blood on the hardwood in front of me and I fainted.

"Why did you faint?"
"I can't stand the sight of blood. Plus, my best friend just called me a whore and I was pretty sure he hadn't taken his meds for quite some time."
"Medication for what?"
"He was bipolar. He'd stop taking his meds, and this mean, deceitful, hateful person would come out. This was not the first time I took the brunt of it, but it was the first time he'd ever struck me."
"You went to the hospital?"
"Yes, and ended up being admitted for the night. For observation, on account of the pregancy and all."
"Did you get to see your mom?"
"Yes, I was able to take a walk down to her floor later on that evening."
"Was she awake when they told you?"

02 June 2008

Untitled, Part 5

"My meds are changing. I only got two pills today. Yesterday, I got three."
"Yes, they are. It's time to explore the inner feelings surrounding your break."
"Don't I get a say in this?"
"No, I'm sorry. You're not here voluntarily, you have little say in what the doctors do."
"Sounds peachy. What can I expect?"
"You'll be able to emote. You're going to have to start feeling again, Andrea."
"I don't want to do that."
"Why not?"
"Because that's what got me here, isn't it? Can I go back to my room now? I'm tired."
"No, Andrea. We need to talk. What do you want to talk about today?"
"I don't know."
"How about your mom's reaction?"
"No, definitely not."
"Well, then let's talk about who knew first in your family."
"Fine. It was my big sister. I knew she'd be there to pick me up from the airport and that she'd understand. At least I hoped so."

I called my sister to give her my flight information. She was the only one who could pick me up the next afternoon, and I decided she needed to know what to expect when she arrived at the airport.

"Alyssa, I think I need to tell you something."

"What's up, Andy? Still nervous about flying?"

"Not so much, Lyss. It's--well, it's complicated." Alyssa could sense the change in my voice, the utter seriousness of my tone. I really missed my big sister. I hoped she wouldn't hate me for not telling her sooner.

"Andrea, what's wrong? Are you sick?"

"No, Alyssa. I'm pregnant." There was that word again, filling the void like a helium balloon. I had only been able to say that to my boss and my doctor, and I felt a huge knot unfurl at the base of my neck. I didn't realize how afraid I was of saying it out loud, as though it would make it somehow more real.

"Oh, honey, why didn't you call me?" The love and concern in her voice chipped a small sunny spot in my heavy heart, and I felt like I could breathe for the first time in six months. "Do mom and dad know?"

"Nobody at home knows, not even...Devon." I had difficulty saying his name, the consonants foreign and weighty on my tongue. It sounded halting and disjointed to my ears, and I wondered if Alyssa would make the connection.

"Devon? Why would you not tell...oh, honey. It's Devon's, isn't it?"

"Yes, they are."

"They? You mean, there's more than one?"

"A boy and a girl, due February. I'm six months along, Lyss." I was crying again, which seemed to be one of my two habitual states: crying and almost crying. My breath hitched as I swallowed, and Alyssa's soothing soprano came through the phone, making the tears flow faster.

"It'll be okay, little sis. Mom will be thrilled, and so will Dad, I know it. What do you need from me?"

"Make sure Devon and Heidi don't know I'm home, Lyss. I don't intend on telling him."

"Are you crazy? Why not? Don't you think he should know?"

"Do you think I haven't thought about that? No, he doesn't need to know. I am staying in Chicago, and I'm going to raise them on my own."

Alyssa sighed. I could almost see her shaking her head, hand on her hip, ear pressed to the phone resting on her shoulder. I heard the same sigh of irritation when she thought I was being a complete ass.

"Andy, you don't have to spare his feelings any longer. You don't have to go along with his schemes and bear the brunt of the responsibility any more--you're not his keeper. I thought you would outgrow that."

"And break up his marriage? I couldn't live with that on my conscience, and you know that! Besides, I am not blameless in this either."

"Making yourself a martyr to protect his marriage isn't fair to you or to your babies! God, you're still so naive. Listen, I'll pick you up tomorrow, and we'll get some lunch, talk this over, okay?"

"You mean you'll try to bully me into changing my mind?"

"If I have to."

"Fine, then you're paying. I'll see you tomorrow."

"I love you, no matter what. I'll see you tomorrow." The line went dead. I swiped half-heartedly at my wet cheeks and hung up the phone.

I waddled into the adjoining bedroom. I had begun preparing for the babies already--two dark wood cribs stood empty and unmade in either corner of the room. A small matching changing table sat between them, drawers empty. I had even bought a large area rug in greens and pinks to fill the space between, but could not bring myself to open and wash the small crib sheets and baby bedding I had bought last week. I couldn't face it; it was one of the three things that meant my decision was final, and I was afraid of what that meant.

It was a small victory for me. I managed to avoid crying for almost two hours while wandering Pottery Barn Kids, picking out pink dots and stripes for my baby girl, and green gingham and solids for the active little guy occupying my womb. I even began listening to the other mothers in the store to find out what they were calling their kids and perusing the names in the collections, trying each one out in my mouth like a candy. I even considered family names, but contemplating my mom's name as a middle name brought me dangerously close to the last two things I was dreading, too final.

Tears threatening to overcome again, I took a deep breath and decisively opened the bag closest to me. "They're not getting any cleaner in here," I said under my breath. Someone kicked me in affirmation, and I tore open the packages of the gingham and dots, making piles to wash. It wasn't until the tears fell onto a solid pink bedskirt that I realized I had been humming a lullaby, crying the whole while.

By the time I went to bed, the cribs were made, the changing table was full, and I had made a list of what I still needed to get. I collapsed into bed and into oblivion, only half-conscious of the soccer game going on in my midsection. "One down, two more to go," I whispered as I drifted off, too tired to dread the morning.

"Tomorrow, I want to discuss your relationship with Devon."
"Didn't we already do that?"
"No, your long-term one. Your sister made some interesting comments to you."
"How many pills will I get tomorrow?"
"Just one."
"This sucks. I hate this."
"That means that you're already starting to feel. That's a good sign; it means we can begin to make you well."
"Whatever. I'm hungry. Can I go now?"
"I'll see you tomorrow."

23 May 2008

Untitled, Part Four

"Do you feel up to talking about your decision-making process with regards to the pregnancy?"
"No, I really don't have the ability to face that yet."
"Well, let's leave it for now."
"Thank you."
"Did you decide to tell anyone once you made the decision?"
"I told my manager at work, mostly for the time I'd need for doctor's visits."
"Why not someone close to you?"
"I didn't know how they'd react, and I wasn't sure I was keeping them to raise."
"Let's begin there for today."

It had begun to get cold in Chicago as I neared my first ultrasound date. My mind was swirling at the thought of seeing two little faces and two sets of hands, eyes, feet waving at me from the warm confines of my expanding waistline. It was surreal, and I still didn't really believe that I was pregnant at that point, even after the Dopplers and the measuring and the movement. I was living in two bodies--the pregnant one I was in, and the old me, where it was all just a strange dream.

Physically, I skated through the first trimester, but the second trimester had me tired, listless, and anxious all the time. Because I was high-risk, I was having a three-dimensional ultrasound today, and the odds were really good that I would know the sex of the babies. What wasn't good were the odds on whether I would tell anyone. I had stopped myself twice from calling my mom and telling her, especially since she had gone back into the hospital for pneumonia-related complications just last week, and was frail and sick still. I couldn't tell Devon; my stepsister had send me an email about Heidi and him fighting all the time. I didn't need to add more stress to their fledgling marriage.

With a jolt, I realized I had been standing outside a baby boutique near the El station for the past ten minutes, hot cocoa in hand, gazing into the window. I could see my reflection in the lengthening shadows of early evening, my grey wool coat unable to button over the burgeoning mass of my stomach, my suede ballet flats mere smudges on the glass. The diplay was a complete bedroom set up, with chic beding diplayed alongside little genderless outfits folded into cunning shapes, and a plush area rug under a richly stained crib set. I carressed the bulge under my coat unconsciosuly and shook my head, walking the stairs up to the platform and onto the train.

The office was in a new building, warm and comforting in its anonymity. I checked in early with a pleasant, bland receptionist in a pink cardigan sweater, and handed her my co-pay check. Shrugging off my coat, I sank into the plush armchair nearest me and took out the book I had been reading. Other patients' chatter was muted and out of focus in the quiet waiting room, with the occasional beep of the receptionist's phone lines the only distinct sound. I turned off my cell, not wanting to break the comfortable quiet, and opened my book.

I was called back ten minutes later, and led to a dim room in the back of the office. The technician handed me a warm blanket so I could take off my skirt, exposing the growing swell of my stomach, and left the room. I got ready and laid down, looking around the room. A flat-panel television was connected to an expensive-looking machine in the far left hand corner, and the room smelled faintly of buttercream frosting from the outlet on the wall. An upholstered wheeled office chair was next to it, and small, discreet folders held medical pamphlets--all very warm and non-threatening. I began to relax a bit.

The door opened, and the technician returned with a clipboard. We went through the preliminaries, then she dimmed the lights all the way and turned on the machine and the television. Applying a generous dollop of warm sonogram gel to my belly, she began the scan, pressing the wand firmly mere centimeters above my pubic mound. The first images showed up on the screen, rendering me speechless.

I was breathless, my heart in my throat at the detail of the scan. Every little feature of their faces showed up in a rich sepia tone. Baby A had my small pointed ears and snub nose, even at eighteen weeks. Baby B had a longer nose and Devon's strong jaw. The technician noticed I had been holding my breath and smiled.

"You can breathe," she said. "It's allowed."

I took a deep breath as the tears trickled down my face. "They're perfect," I breathed, my voice barely a whisper. "Is it too soon to tell?"

"It may be, since twins are a bit smaller, but we can see." She guided the wand closer to my navel, and showed me the umbilicus of Baby B. "It's a strong cord," she said, pushing slightly on my stomach to get them to shift. Baby B moved slighty, and there it was. "A boy," the technician said unecessarily. I smiled again, waving at the monitor at my little boy floating inside me, his thumb in his mouth.

The tecnician glided the wand down to where Baby A's bottom was cradled under my ribcage, applying more pressure to see if she could get a clear view. She tried for ten minutes, poking and prodding the little guy to make him clear the way without results. He seemed to enjoy the attention, his little fists pushing up at the flat spade of the ultrasound wand. Finally, she wiped my belly clean and sent me waddling to the bathroom. "We'll let you empty your bladder, then try again," she said. "They need a bit more room to maneuver sometimes."

I sat on the cool porcelain rim, feeling the suddenly familiar shift and roll of the two babies in my womb. I was lightheaded from the rush of emotions and the onslaught of light from the sterile bathroom. I finished up quickly and headed back to the room, where the technician was waiting, wand in hand.

"Ready to try again?"

I laid back and said a silent prayer to any deity who happened to be listening. "Here we go again," the technician said, spotting Baby B's tiny penis waving about in the amniotic fluid. "Budge over, little guy, so we can see your sibling." Almost as though he had heard her, Baby B flipped onto his side, allowing Baby A to flip, facing front. "Well, look here," the technician said, "You have one of each!"

"A girl?" I asked, a second small spring of excitement welling in my chest. "A boy and a girl?" The technician said something affirmative and gestured at the screen as I closed my eyes, a small smile forming on my lips. "Just like Devon," I thought, "to give me everything all at once." As quickly as the thought came, it went, leaving a new batch of tears and grief in its wake.

I realized in an instant that I had made my decision, even before I saw the two of them, floating and embracing one another in the watery confines of my womb. I just hadn't known it. I took the towel the technician offered, gently passing it over my belly and whispering softly to my babies.

"Hello, little ones. I'm your mommy."

"So, did you decide to keep them because they were one of each?"
"Partially. But mostly, it's because they became real little people to me at that moment. They had just been sounds or feelings until then."
"Were you ever planning on telling your parents or your friends?"
"I was going to wait until I was further along. I wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting into."
"What made you change your mind?"
"My mom went back into the hospital three weeks later."
"I see. So you came home?"
"I had to see her. The doctors said she wouldn't be leaving the hospital again."
"She was dying?"
"Yes. And I think I helped her die quicker when I showed up."
"We'll discuss that next time."