Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Please forgive me all my sins and transgressions. In the name of the Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit I promise if you help me through this I’ll never get pregnant again! Nine months of just pure, concentrated misery. And now this, this intense, unbearable agony… Never, never again.
“What, what– hold her? Too tired. In a minute… Give me a minute.”
Give me a fucking minute. Goddamn, you, Curtis Collins, for tricking me into this, this nine month Trail of Tears. And look at you, holding your little swaddling clothed bundle of joy. Jesus, you are fucking beaming like a thousand watt light bulb. Like you have your birthday, Christmas and holiday bonus all rolled into one, like you won the fucking lottery. God, how I hate you right now. If I had a gun…
“Elly, Wake up. Wake up, sugar, Cindy’s hungry.”
“What? What, I just fed the ravenous little beast ten minutes ago. Put her back to bed.”
“Eleanor, come on feed our daughter.”
“You feed her; you have nipples.”
I surrender to the two of them ganging up on me already only two days old playing the numbers game two against me. I need to make it clear from the start that this is not a democracy and it never will be.
“Ouch, ouch take it easy, please, you greedy gut. Ouch.”
“Elly, you OK? Can I help?”
“Yeah, run out and buy us a cow. Could you do that Curtis?”
I meet my sister at our favorite coffee shop. She stands and greets me with a hug and kisses my cheek.
“Elly, you look, look… Well, I’m glad to see you out of the house. How is Cindy? How much weight has she gained? Is she–”
“Henry, shut up about the damn baby. Shit! I’m sorry Sis, but between you and mom and every other fucking person I meet I’m sick of hearing about the damn baby. So spare me, please.”
“Eleanor, you sit down and calm down. You’re making a scene and not a good one.”
I plop into my chair. My sister takes my hands in hers.
“Elly, it hasn’t even been thirty days yet. You have to give it a little time, OK? Come on Sis, don’t cry. Don’t cry it’s going to be OK. We’re all so proud of you. Mom never shuts up about how beautiful Cindy is and what a good mother you are and just on and on. Yes, I’m sick of it too.”
“Hell yeah, you have always been mom’s favorite and–”
“Henry, that’s not true. You know it. Mom loves us both the same.”
“Elly, get your head out of your ass. Stop wallowing in your own depression rut for a minute.”
“Henry, I just had a nine pound six ounce–”
“See, see there you go sounding just like mom. ‘Such a gorgeous baby, nine pounds and six ounces, twenty-two inches and so sweet.’ Quit boasting and consider what you have done to me.”
“What? What have I done to you?”
“Mom is all up my ass. ‘Henry, you are two years older than Elly and just like in school she’s still ahead of you.’”
“Mom said that?”
“The bitch never liked me, Elly. I mean, who names their first-born daughter or any innocent child Henrietta? Who? She had it in for me from day one.”
“Oh, God not again. Henry, you are thirty-seven years old, and you have been whining about your name for thirty-five of those years. Sis, if you don’t like your name change it for God’s sake.”
“Change it? Change my name? Just up and change my name just like that, like snapping your fingers.”
“Yes! Just like that!”
My sister looks stunned like I had slapped her or shouted her actual weight and dress size to the entire coffee shop. I have given her this same advice since I was five.
“Eleanor, you are fucking brilliant.” My nitwit sister leans across the table and kisses me on the tip of my nose. “I’m so glad you’re my sister. Curtis can help me. Lawyers know about these things. Elly, I feel like a new person already. Thank you, thank you.”
“Henry, you know, every time, no matter where we start our conversation it ends up being about you. Have you noticed that?”
“And your point is?”
I don’t get to answer that because our cousin, Daphne, the motor mouth, baby factory, is at our table gushing like an oil well
“Henry, Elly, it’s been ages.” She paid an annoyingly long visit to our house four days ago. “How’s Cindy? I loved the pictures Aunt Clara sent and look at you Elly; you’re so brave out in public like this before you have recovered your… Well, Henry, you must be so happy for your sister, she’s leading the way, again, but your turn will come soon… Now, my first pregnancy…”
We are back at the coffee shop.
“She hates, me, gives me the stink-eye, makes faces at me when Curtis can’t see her. It’s impossible, simply impossible. Henry, I’m not mother material. I’m barely wife material.”
“Aaahh, you poor baby. Well, you tried motherhood for thirty-five days. Wow! What an effort. You make us all so proud. We should give you a medal.”
“Fuck you Henry.“
“Isolde, I’m Isolde. I filed the paperwork yesterday.”
“Isolde? Isolde? You changed your name from Henrietta to Isolde?”
My poor idiot sister. I hurt for her sometimes, but not now. She has made it all about her again. God, I want to slap the shit out of Henry, Isolde, asshole. This is all so hopeless. I’m glad I skipped two grades and caught up with her in elementary school. Serves her right.
“Are you OK Elly? You look shocked. Don’t be jealous. It’s easy. You can change your name too. I’ll show you how. Ellie sit back down. Where are you going? Eleanor, I have a secret. A secret about Daphne. Something you need to hear.”
“Henry, Isolde, whatever this better be good and it better not be about you.”
“Now, what I’m going to tell you is for your ears only.”
“What did she do?”
“Swear that you will never repeat what I’m about to tell you, OK?”
We lock our little fingers and cross our hearts with our free hands. We lean across the table and touch foreheads.
Isolde, whispers. “Daphne had post-partum blues so bad with her first child that she had to be hospitalized.”
“Dr. Morris said it was one of the worse cases he had ever seen.
“Oh, my God. I’m so sorry. I never knew. Why didn’t you–”
“It’s a secret dummy.”
“Yeah, but she seems so fine. I mean, look at her four kids in five years. How did she–”
“Dr. Aja healed her. I’m texting you Dr. Aja’s number as we speak.”
“Drugs, is Daphne on drugs? I don’t want-“
“No drugs. Dr. Aja just listens. Daphne said Dr. Aja hardly spoke at all.”
“Yeah, I bet. Who can get in a word around our constant chatter cousin?”
“Tru– e that.”
“Sounds too good to be true. Is Dr. Aje an MD or a medicine woman, a mystic healer or what? What does she charge? Will she want my baby or my soul?”
“Don’t be silly. She charges $200 an hour.”
“What? That’s crazy. My soul might be a better bargain.”
“She’s Yorba. And, no this is not a rip-off. For the first week Daphne went for one hour five times a week and then for three times a week for one week and then Dr. Aje told her to go home and love her babies and her life.”
“Well, whatever your priestess did it seems to work. I just… Don’t like fooling around with this kind of stuff, you know?”
“I will go with you if you’re afraid.”
“I’m not afraid – much… It just… God, I hope it works. I pray it works. It has to work.”
“Eleanor, she may heal you, she may not, but I won’t let you down ever.”
God, my nitwit sister, always finds a way to make me cry.
“Elly, quit bawling, and listen up. Now, when you’re in there with Dr. Aja ask her if she will bless my new name. Ask her is it a good luck name. Ask her–”
“Henry, this is not about you.”
“Of course not. You’re doing this for Isolde.”
“Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Elly, you look like you lost your best friend. What happened in there? You were only in there for about fifteen minutes. What happened? What did Dr. Aja say?”
“Henry, I mean Isolde, Isolde what a stupid ass name. I’m sorry, Hen– Sis.” I stand up straight. I will not cry. I will not whine. “She said she could not help. She said I was beyond help.”
“Bullshit! Come on what did she really say?”
“Just what I said. Kinda, she said I could not be a good mother in these circumstances or something like that.”
“So, what does that mean? Did she explain what she meant?”
“She might have. I went blank a little after she said she couldn’t help me.”
“A divorce! Why? What in the world are you talking about? That makes no sense Elly. What about Cindy? She needs you?”
“Curtis, I want to be a good mother. I do, more than anything in the world. I want to be a good wife to you. I would sell my soul for that. But, you see this is not working. So, you’re a better parent, you are. You can have the house, the Volvo and anything else you want or need.”
“What about, you? I need you?”
“We’ll see. I need this. I need this very much. I need to get back to work, to get back to me. Curtis, I’m not abandoning you guys. I’m trying to find a way to make this work.”
“So, Sis that’s it. We’re getting a divorce.”
I wait for my sister to protest, to call me a fool, to berate me, belittle me. She does none of that. She’s my rock. She helps me and Curtis and Cindy make it through those first rough months.
And she meets Curtis’ sister from the UK, Paul short for Paulette. It’s love at first sight. Isolde changes her name back to Henrietta. Thank God.
“I can’t believe it’s been a year since the divorce. Elly, you look lovely radiant. Is someone rocking your world? Aww, you’re blushing. So cute, is it the fat cop or the slimy broker?”
“I had a date with Curtis last night, all night.”
“Oh, you little slut you, sleeping with your ex. How novel is that?”
“How, is Paul? I never see you that much anymore. You’re always jetting off to the UK.”
“Yeah, and every time I call you are kicking it with Curtis or on a play date with Cindy.”
We sit there in our favorite coffee shop looking across the table at each other, comfortable with the silence, comfortable with each other.
“So, what’s the big deal that you just had to see me? I have a play date with Cindy at three.”
My sister motions for me to lean into her. We touch foreheads over the table.
“Paul and I are getting married in June. We’re getting married here. You’re the first to know.”
“Well, I hope Paul knows.”
I’m happy for her and Paul and us, all of us.
“Elly, would you-“
“Of course, I will be your maid of honor, silly.”
“Oh, but I already asked Daphne.”
“But, you just said I was the first to-“
“Got cha, Got cha good!”
“I hate you, Henry. You’re a worm.”
“Look, Sister, I’m about to be your sister-in-law, and I want you to think about something OK? Now, just think OK? You don’t have to answer right away, OK?”
“Isolde, what’re you up to?”
Henry grimaces when I call her by her former name.
“That’s a low blow. Look, Paul and I want kids.”
“Wonderful, Cindy will have a sister and a niece all in one. Are you going to adopt?”
“I hope so. See I was wondering, just a crazy thought, that you and Curtis, I mean if you had another… baby… Well, we could adopt that baby and… Both our blood, like you know, oh, crazy, I know. I know. Just a crazy idea. Real crazy.”
“It’s insane, asinine, repugnant, just plain weird and… Have you told Paul or Curtis–”
“No, no hell no. I’m not that crazy. Sorry, Sis. You know me.”
“I will never, ever go through childbirth again, sorry Henry.”
The idea is stuck in my head like a catchy tune. I mean it’s crazy, but something Curtis and I could give to the people we love most in the world and still hold our child close… Naw, never just a crazy idea. I’ll talk to Curtis. We can have a good laugh. But, but what if he says yes… no way. That will never happen.
“Push, push, you’re almost there. One more big push.”
“Curtis, shut the fuck up!”
If only I had a gun.
Header photograph: By Liz Roll (This image is from the FEMA Photo Library.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons