"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.
"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."
22 June 2008
"You look calmer today."