Staring at a future I never dreamed of, eating everything in sight.
His face settles into resting blankness, as he closes his eyes from sheer exhaustion. I fight the urge to cry into my pillow. I’m happy he’s asleep because I need some space, but it’s so quiet and, for the first time in 72 hours, it’s just us. Everyone else is at the airport catching flights from Chicago back to Texas, New Orleans, and Los Angeles—putting states between themselves and us.
I go downstairs, turn on all the lights, and sit down with a hunk of our leftover wedding cake and a bowl of guacamole that’s just fine once I scrape off the blackish top layer. There’s beautiful, fatty, verdant goodness under that grimy layer.
I call Debbie and tell her I’m scared.
She doesn’t make me say why, which makes me love her so much. She offers to come over, but thinks better of it when she sees the flurries. Plus it’s getting late. She spent all weekend at my wedding. I can’t bring myself to beg her, though I mention the cake is quite tasty.
I call Joyce and tell her I’m scared.
I don’t say freaked out. I don’t make excuses like I’m just tired/overwhelmed/hormonal. I tell her that I’ve crossed over to this new thing—wife—and it’s just that, well…
I never thought I’d be here. I mean, it took so long. Do you think my parents hate me for this happiness?
In her ear, I crunch tortilla chips piled high with two-day-old guacamole. The guacamole slides down smooth and thick.
I call Mary and leave a message. Jackie and Trish too. I think of calling my sister, but she’s wrangling her 10-month-old son at O’Hare, trying to get back to Dallas. Does she also want to help me make sense of my new life?
In a codependent swerve, I think of writing a letter to my parents, to say things that no one has said to them.
Like: the night was perfect, thank you.
Like: I’m not pretending I wasn’t lost to you and myself in a nearly fatal way for a long time, but still, thank you.
Like: Thank you also for the space—the miles and hours and gallons of space that I once thought would kill me with its boundlessness and smother me with its nothingness. But I found my way, even as I hurtled, tumbling ass-over-teakettle far away from you.
I can’t find a pen so I eat another sliver of cake that isn’t really a sliver, but a bona fide piece. After leaving a message for my therapist, whom I’ll see in 14 hours before boarding a plane to Argentina for our honeymoon, I see a dollop of mocha buttercream frosting on the keypad. I lick it off and go upstairs.
He’s dozing, his face buried in the crook of his elbow. I’m scared, I tell him.
He stirs. What’s that? I repeat myself. He asks, of what?
He laughs. Oh yeah?
I tell him how it feels: Like I’m stuck with him, and he’s stuck with me, and everyone else has fled the scene. The two of us is such a small world. I don’t know if I can breathe without more people. The quiet is making me batty.
He rubs my belly and reminds me that we can grow our numbers.
Yes. I’m eight weeks pregnant, but I don’t trust it no matter how many beats per minute the doctor recorded from the Doppler. All I heard was the galloping of a horse I couldn’t see, feel, or touch. Now, somewhere under all that buttercream frosting and guacamole, there is a promise with a heartbeat. An insistent boom, boom, boom that’s coming for me, coming from me.
I don’t let myself hope for the baby. She’s too rich a gift, and still too far away. It’s only November and she’s not supposed to arrive until July. She, for now, is a gift for another day, another me, another moment impossibly far from this one.
Let’s read our cards, he says. We go downstairs where there’s more light, and he reads me well wishes from cousins I’ve never met, law school friends I saw for all of five minutes, and family members who give me the creeps, but who are generous with their money, so that’s something.
The following morning, I go to group therapy. I hoist the fear, still wriggling with newborn life, over my shoulder to drag in and splay out for everyone. Mostly, they pat my head and tell me I’m fine. Cathy tells me not to take my engagement ring with me to Argentina. Thieves, she warns.
The session clicks on and I’m waiting for someone to offer the perfect bon mot for me to seize in my hands and take with me on my honeymoon. With two minutes to go, I remind them that I’ve got fear that needs curing.
The therapist says: You obliterated a lot of identities in a short period of time. Those twelve words: I wrap them in my grandmother’s linen handkerchief and slide it into my purse next to my passport.
On the plane to Buenos Aires, I’m hurtling through space again. Or still.
I was never supposed to be on a plane headed to South America on a honeymoon. Long ago, I was earmarked for spinsterhood, designated the child who would fail to launch in any fulfilling or interesting way. I was slated to become a school teacher in some god-awful Houston suburb, someone who wore hand-painted wooden apple pins on my lapel and thick stockings of the most asexual variety. I was to have the wardrobe of a woman nobody wants.
But now I’m a wife. I’m T minus 32 weeks from motherhood. I’m a lawyer with a graduate degree in humanities. I live in Chicago. I pay a Jewish doctor good money for twice-weekly therapy sessions where I sit with his Jewish patients to figure out how to move forward in my life to places like this.
I’m so far off script that I’m holding nothing but blank pages. So I make up my lines and spit out the simple truth: I’m scared. I’m scared of what I’m leaving behind, even though I’d been begging the God of my understanding to take it from me for years. I’m also scared of what’s ahead, though I’d been begging for that just as long.
I close my eyes and squeeze my husband’s hand, hoping to make some kind of peace with all of it: my fears, my identities past and present, and all the life we’ve yet to live.
Christie Tate is a writer and lawyer in Chicago who is writing a memoir about her adventures in group therapy.