And One Blue Pussy
There are a number of reasons I think this won’t work, but sitting there watching the movie, it’s clear to me that I can’t watch this happen, that it means nothing but gore to me, even though Wendy says it’s the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen: the intense cramping, the slow leak of blood, and then the crowning, everything you know and love stretched beyond recognition, the ripped vulva, the gush of grey fluid.
The film ends on a stuck, jumping image of the baby’s smushed head, the mother’s face. She pushed so hard her cheeks are purple with broken blood vessels, her eyes dark underneath like she got punched. One nurse fiddles with the VCR. She points up at the screen.
Don’t do that, she says about the mother’s face, but she doesn’t say how not to.
The other nurse snaps the lights back on and we sit in a circle of chairs. There is only one other same sex couple – mother and daughter, the daughter about sixteen and the mother under forty. They’re not quite the same as our same.
It feels less like a birthing class and more like a domestic violence circle, like we should be in a church basement, antsy and angry and remorseful. The nurses pace at the front of the room, they repeat the same mantras about respect, about listening to your partner, about anticipating her needs, making her comfortable, about knowing when to touch and when to back away.
One of the nurses has a frosted bob and a ring on every finger, she looks like someone who should work in a bank, or someone who might do your nails, sell you earrings at Macy’s. She doesn’t look like a nurse to me. She goes on about what things to bring along, lotion and pictures, a boombox. She keeps calling it that like no one has moved on to anything less cumbersome, and then she mentions Kenny G CDs to relax you. She says it more than once. You’ll want something soothing, she says, like Kenny G, although one time, someone did bring a loud rap CD. She and the other nurse, a woman who is maybe 42 but has adopted the style of a woman in her sixties, in high-waisted pants and hot-rollered hair, they share an uncomfortable titter about that.
Wendy leans into my ear, she moves my hair to the side and she whispers that if I bring a Kenny G CD into the mother baby room, she will kill herself and take me down with her.
I wait for any of it to be interesting, for the spark of recognition that this will mean something, anything to me. Then he catches my eye while the nurse talks about the rainbow. A man in a baseball cap that says CASH, a yellow t‑shirt that shows tattoos up and down both arms, green and swirling sleeves made out of skin. He looks young, his face unflawed by anything, lines, whiskers or otherwise. We sit there in a fluorescent room, on padded straight-back rose colored chairs on a mauve rug in a circle: him, me, all of us with women who are round by varying degrees and the nurse begins to talk very slowly about meditating on the colors of the rainbow. About visualizing the eight colors of the rainbow. I see him count on his fingers after she says it, and mouth the word eight to me.
After the meditation we get white powdered donuts and juice from a long table at the back. The women compare bellies and swap due dates, ask about strollers and if you’re going convertible with the crib or regular. Do you have a car seat yet, day care, staying at home, craving, drinking enough water? One of the other mommies asks Wendy if we are sisters.
She rubs my arm. Jan’s my partner, she says.
How exciting for you, the other mommy says.
Terribly. I reach for another donut, and he sidles up real quiet, also reaching.
Even if you count indigo, he says, you still only have seven.
I try to remember which one is his, which roundish woman, in a circle with Wendy, all of them standing the same way, supporting their backs, rubbing or itching their bellies, and I see the one with red hair, the copper fall of pony tail and a stretched green shirt.
It’s not mine, he says, when my eyes land on the redhead’s belly.
I glance back at Wendy and then look him in the eye. They are so light blue they are almost clear grey. Me neither, I say.
Somewhere in there I grind to a halt. Dig my heels in like I used to getting in the bath so you can’t pull me any further without dislocating something. It might be when she brings home the paint chips. Lavender and sea grass and something called honey bee, which I tell her sounds like a terrible color for a baby’s room, sounds dangerous and conjures up images of swollen lips and epinephrine injections.
Why not just call it anaphylactic shock? I say. And she does it, she looks at me like I am the worst girlfriend ever, the worst mother-to-be, which I have to remind her I am not. I am not the mother-to-be. I am nothing. No part of this transaction she’s drawn up without me. It’s the beginning and the end of everything.
The beginning involved identifying our unique fertility problem. Intrauterine insemination is ideal if your partner has low sperm count, or poor sperm mobility. They wash the sperm before they put it in. It’s a selling point for them: the washing. Not the dirty kind of sperm you get from sex. And I’m sure, too, that it’s medical, that washing has something to do with the success rate, which is either outstanding or I have a particularly fertile girlfriend, the choicest of choice mothers, pregnant on first try.
At class, we line up with our pillows, you see us walking from the garage, two by two with pillows right from our beds which says a lot about anyone if you’re looking, who brings stripes and who brings flowers, which ones are solid or dark or satin.
His and hers don’t match. And not in a way that suggests a mere back up in the laundry room. His is red flannel ticking. Hers, geometric blue cotton. High thread count if I had to guess. So I mention this to him, on the heels of our rainbow conversation last week, and while Wendy is getting a water bottle from the vending machine.
I say, Your pillows don’t match.
And he says, We don’t live together. He holds his pillow low and loose over his waist, makes his own belly out of it, just hanging there.
One of the lights is out tonight, leaves a dark spot, like a cloud hanging in the front corner of the room, and the nurse calls us in, is clapping her hands to round us up again. Breaks over, just like hell you go right back to sitting your ass flat in a windowless room, on an uncomfortable chair.
Come have a beer with us, he says before I can ask him any more about his situation.
With who? I say.
He raises his eyebrows. The dads, he says.
He has a ponytail that hangs halfway down his back. Blond and mostly straight. I don’t notice it until he walks away – because of the cap, because of his face. Like a mannequin’s face, carved out of wood or plaster, seamless and smooth and all the same color, even the lips. Like you could pose his stiff arms in a polo, that his fingers would hold the shape of dainty pointing, you could hang your keys on them, place them at his waist, or his collar, fanned out like the fingers on the baby Jesus in an old painting. He walks away and I see the ponytail, longer than mine, and way longer than Wendy’s. She cut her hair in her first trimester and now couldn’t make a ponytail if she wanted to.
Not many of us go out. The bars in the hospital neighborhood are college bars, and it’s June. The one guy who goes with us won’t fully sit on the seat, and his wife texts him through his entire beer. He never puts the phone down and it keeps pinging, he keeps looking, he fumbles through short messages with his fat thumbs. Right after, he says he has to go. It leaves us in an empty place on a Monday night, with some piped in Grateful Dead, a lone bartender with a mess of dreads, a big belly and a salmon pink t‑shirt.
I wait for him to make his own explanation. He says, Who wouldn’t want to date a redhead named Bridget?
I’ve dated a redhead named Bridget, I say.
He says his friends set them up, and only told him that she was unpredictable, that he would love her, but that she would surprise him.
I also dated a redhead named Sam, I say.
Sam, he repeats, fishing.
Samuel, I say.
You’ve had boyfriends, he says, not a question.
Sure. I’ve had boyfriends. I’ve had twenty-five boyfriends, all named Sam, I say. Smirk. He orders another round.
What’s that from? he asks, like it’s a line from a movie. Behind him, the bartender wipes in a circle.
Andy Warhol, I say.
Andy Warhol had twenty-five boyfriends named Sam? he says.
They were cats, I say. Sugar Magnolia comes on. It’s a book: Twenty-five cats named Sam. I cross my legs then under the table, and finish the title for him, closing my eyes when I say it. And one blue pussy.
He appears to work something out of the side of his cheek with his tongue, which is pierced through with a round steel ball that clicks against his teeth. It goes pretty quick from there, talking and not talking, my foot on his foot under the table. His arm against mine above the table. Drinking, paying, walking to the car, the quick negotiation of who will drive and where, and when I ask him later, how many girlfriends he’s had, to at least try and even up the score of question asking, he only says not enough.
Wendy and I went to a women’s college. For her, it was a family thing, her aunts, cousins, her grandmother even. I went because they gave me money and because when my brother went to State, he slept with about 100 girls.
That’s a hundred girls, my dad said, who were willing to sleep with your brother. So who knows who’ll charm the pants off of you, he said.
There were boys and boys and boys, before and after Wendy, because she scared me, the round blueness of her eyes and the permanence of her hand in mine – she always slips it in when you’re not looking. Not the confident hand holding of equals, but a littler hand, folded and tucked into your own, suddenly just there, when you’re walking through a crowd. The way she talked about her Nanny’s house, never a hard argument, but a plan slipped by you before you could disagree – a brick cottage on a street with picket fences and a sidewalk. We could live there someday: two gingerbread lesbians.
You surprised me, I say to Wendy. She strokes the soft inside of my arm. It makes me sleepy and tingly, like my head is held up by something else. A wire, taut to the ceiling.
It’s not like we didn’t talk about it.
We lean with the island between us. We use the island for parties, for company, for holding big wooden bowls of chips, glasses of wine, for gathering round. One of the things that drew us to the house. Wendy holds her hips out further to accommodate the size of the belly.
Right, I say, but talking about it doesn’t mean do it. It’s not like you asked me whether or not I ever eat cheesecake and then went out and bought one.
But it happens all the time, she says.
It wasn’t an accident.
But it happens, she says.
Not with us. I take my arm away, the nerve endings sensitive, over-touched. I can’t accidentally get you pregnant, I say.
My point, Wendy says.
That is the point, I say.
What do you mean it’s the point? It’s the reason you have sex with me?
Not the reason, I say. But a reason.
Are you kidding me? she says. She backs away from the counter and leans on the refrigerator in a shirt she would never normally wear, flowered with a peter pan collar. She itches up both sides of the belly. Are you kidding me with this?
So you’re telling me, that if there was some way, if you had some magical power to get me pregnant, you wouldn’t do it.
Wendy, if I had magical powers, I say, getting you pregnant would be the last one I would choose. The last one.
Really, she says, hands full on now, and with her hands on either side you can see how small it actually is, just a pouch there, below her navel, swelling upward someday to leave little space for breathing. You wouldn’t want this to somehow be ours, she says, instead of just mine.
I think of him looking at the ceiling, the way his eyes rolled up, pretty, his mouth open. His blue green tattooed arm against mine on the table. I think about my own skin. About family, for better or worse, around a kitchen table, kids and spilled milk and all. About our house, with its granite countertops that Wendy insisted on, marbled deep with black flecks that glint in the sun, about what I saw at his house, old teal laminate counters that were covered in bottles, full and empty, about shoving hard against it, the rail of the counter in the small of my back. The only other room there, a living room half the size of ours, a futon instead of a bed, the walls lined with books and records and pictures from parties and picnics, of friends and girlfriends, postcards from far away places, that advertise friends’ art shows or books of poems. Candles that are burnt down to the base, have melted into the shelf or the top of the stereo. Incense sticks jammed into the spaces left uneven by picture frames, or window frames, blowing fragrant smoke around the room, about coming home smelling like a head shop, and tasting like something else.
No, I say.
She walks away then and I stay for a long time, still leaning, listening longer than the sounds of the slammed door, the running water, the drawers opened and shoved back in, hard.
In another week, another movie. This one, as old as we are, it could be our own births we are watching up there, 1970s bell-bottomed mommies with long greasy hair, mustachioed daddies in cowboy shirts, or tube socks that you can’t discern under their Wranglers. One woman complains loudly on screen that she’d eaten sausage and peppers. The class chuckles. She has a heavy downstate accent. The woman with the sausage and peppers gives birth in a flowered room on flowered sheets with a flowered hospital gown. Her husband, dark haired with a grand mustache. Her pussy dark and hairy like the husband. The baby, with a dark mass of hair, a soft wrinkled head. The taste of peppers, metallic in your mouth after watching.
He works at a bakery on Sundays. I suspect, hope, that he also does something else, but at least on Sundays, he’s in the bakery, a hot room with a huge fan, where he sits perched on a stool, listens to Johnny Cash and sells loaves of stretch Italian to people having Sunday dinner. When I go in, no one else comes in. He says it goes on like this for hours.
On the counter, two plates. One with tips, mostly quarters, but a dollar in there too. Another with ripped pieces of bread. I pull a stool around to the other side, the customer side, and he pushes the plate toward me. Says it’s the best bread in the world.
Did you make it? I say.
He shakes his head, slow, barely a movement. I would never say that about my own bread.
But people do, I say. People feel that way about their own stuff all the time, this superior attachment to it, a need to let everyone else know how great it is. I say something like this.
He says, Those people are assholes.
Here’s what doesn’t happen: I don’t go home, look at in utero pictures of babies, scrunched up, sucking their thumbs, and replete with eyelashes and fingernails, and have some heartfelt Hugh Grant moment where I transform from being the asshole to the good guy. Or girl.
I bring her some bread, and a pint of spicy tomato oil to dip it in. We have a meal out of it, the counter in between us again. We start out not talking, but then she tells me something that happened at school, a playground story, and goes on to say that my mother called, that they are picking out the bedroom set for the baby, a convertible crib in walnut. I think about sitting at the kitchen table at home, the whole thing, the plastic placemats and metal legged chairs, the loud ticking of the clock on the stove, where we all ate around that one table jammed in there because there was no dining room in that house. About bread passed between us. About telling them, ten years ago, that it was Wendy. That we were not roommates. Not friends. I remember saying, We’re not friends. As if that explained it.
We eat the whole loaf. I tell her it’s the best bread in the world. She agrees.
Later we lie in the space that is ours, where I can detect the edges of the world, right there, only what you can reach with either arm out to the sides. Watching her come is like magic. When everything that roils underneath rolls into that full boil, breaks the surface, comes up for air. We make sense again.
Her belly is split down the middle with a treasure trail. All the hairs coming together like arrows. The bottom, heavier than the top. You’d think it just all pops out at once, but the weight of it is in that thick pod at the bottom. I put my hand there. Wait for movement, but nothing.
It puts the baby to sleep, she says.
Me too, I say.
It’s better, she says.
Coming. With the baby. The weight of it, she says. It’s stronger. Her voice is sleepy. She rolls from her back, where she’s not supposed to be – deprives the baby of oxygen. She rolls to her side and everything adjusts, settles, points up the way it’s supposed to, but sideways.
She is something else now, I think, right down to the meat. Right down to the stuff you think is the same, or important. Or both.
Her fingers graze her own skin, her eyes closed now, turned inward. It might be the only thing, she says, that makes this great.