TW: Miscarriage and Infertility
Colleen Richie wore bright clothes in the photos online, beaming over scores of 5-star reviews. She was no different in person. Bryce and I exited the elevator, where she stood wearing a teal two piece with chunky pink jewelry. The tiny red springs that were her hair were tousled atop her head in a bun. She walked with importance and reached her hand out to each of us.
“So lovely to meet you two. I think you’ll just love this place. I mean the view…”
We would have to follow her to find out what the view was, because she went clacking down the tile hallway.
She stopped in the center of the corridor and fiddled with keys in the breast pocket of her jacket before opening the door. Bryce entered first, and I trailed in behind him. The entrance sprouted in different directions with wide thresholds. It reeked of fresh paint.
Colleen pointed to a room tucked into the corner. It had the same open format that the other rooms did, big open windows that bounced light off every surface. “This airy spare room would be a lovely office space!”
I knew Bryce appreciated her for that comment, even before the grin spread across his face. On the way here, he squeezed my hand in his while the other clutched the steering wheel, and assured me that everything leading up to this moment was a sign: This is just more time to work on our passions. What he meant by that was his passion. He was a writer. Up until very recently, I was a kindergarten teacher. Teaching was my passion until the string of events that led us to this apartment. I wondered if he'd told this bubbly realtor why we were moving- if all of it was rehearsed, or if she was really just that good.
The kitchen had a wine rack and granite countertops, with an island separating it from the living area. “People dream of kitchens like this,” She waved her manicured hand over the surface like a showgirl on television, really selling the prize.
I paced the carpet. It was cream and lush. My sandals sank into it like I was the first to tread on it. I made my way to the windows and traced my finger over the skyline. I didn’t touch the glass, of course. I wouldn’t dare leave a streak on Colleen’s perfect world.
“Beautiful view” she said, in a tone that told me she thought she had read my mind. She hadn’t. I was thinking how dangerous these human sized panels were. How one wrong move could send you careening into the city.
“How high is it?” I asked.
She answered proudly, “Nearly 500 feet.”
Instant death, I thought. Certainly, no place for a child. I imagined myself, hanging over the balcony, with my hair whipping around me, just moments from peace…
It was Bryce’s voice that broke my fantasy, coming from the room in the corner. I turned to look at him and his cheeks flushed. “What do you think darling?” He treaded softer.
Colleen fixated on me too, her face lit like holidays lights and her hands clamped together.
I took another glance at the window. Cars zoomed past each other on the road. I could hear faint horns blaring, as one passenger gave another the finger. I could see it even from here- even from 500 feet up.
I thought of our current home. A cozy neighborhood in the woods. 3 bedrooms. One of them now empty, the skeleton of a nursery. A park in the center, where I could hear children chasing each other. I could hear tiny voices begging mommy for one more go on the slide. I could hear our neighbor, sliding the screen door open and handing her daughter a popsicle.
“Are you okay?” She had asked when she noticed me on our porch alone.
Of course, I wasn’t. I was entertaining a bottle of red by myself, straight from the bottle. I’d already had several glasses worth, and my eyes were red, not from the drunkenness but from crying. Of course, I wasn’t. But people only ask that when they know you’re not.
“I’m great.” I told her. She huddled her protesting little girl back inside, away from the scary lady. Away from the monster. The monster with the body that killed a baby. The monster that could never fathom being a mother. I clutched my lower abdomen that still ached. I wasn’t sure if it was a normal part of the process or my imagination.
I’d become immune to those looks. In the supermarket, an infant waved at me from her mother’s arm. I waved back and she giggled. A little girl, just like I should have been holding. She would have been around that age too.
Perhaps the mother sensed the way I ached staring at her baby. Perhaps the hunger was evident in my eyes. Maybe she just sensed the jealousy and wanted to inflict more of it on me. But she clutched her baby’s head, and spun to face the opposite direction so I couldn’t look at her: You monster, you don’t even deserve to look at one.
That was when I had one of my episodes.
Episodes, that’s what Bryce called them. My life was a series of acts meant for entertainment, all leading up to one great finale.
I told Bryce about the woman at the supermarket in tears. I expected him to hold me and tell me that we both were in pain. We would get through this together. Instead, his brows raised, and he said very softly, “You need help. You’re not well.” He suggested I go talk to someone, or go to one of those groups where people sit in a circle and talk about their problems.
I didn’t want to talk to strangers. A stranger wouldn’t understand why I was torn apart by the loss of someone I’d never met. How was my pain valid if the father of the child I was grieving wasn’t even grieving with me?
“We’ll try again.” He suggested. He only said it because he thought it would help. He didn’t want it. He never had. I couldn’t help but think he was grateful we lost her. She was going to be an inconvenience to him and his career. He wanted to be the next Stephen King. His vision board looked very different than mine. He had goals to reach before bringing a child into the picture: success, fame, money, then a baby.
The truth was, I didn’t want to try either. It was too risky, and I couldn’t face it again.
He was there when the doctor broke the news. He dropped my hand and it hung limply at my side as her words funneled through my ear like I was underwater. Dr. Barman was a dark-skinned woman with pretty features, and hair that reached her back pulled into a neat ponytail. She had a ring on her finger. I wondered if she and her husband had children.
She went into detail about my malfunctioning body parts using charts while Bryce nodded. I just stared at her fingers, wondering what it must be like to be perfect- to have had the success, the money, then the baby. When she finished, her lip curled on one side like she wanted to smile at me but figured she’d better not. “It can still happen. I’ve seen it happen. I’m very sorry,” she told us.
I didn’t smile back. I didn’t say thank you. I emerged from the office on autopilot, squinting in the sun, clutching my stomach. Nauseous, but not from morning sickness. No, not anymore, because there was no baby. There never would be.
Her words rang in my ears for weeks, like a song that I couldn’t get out of my head. I tried to continue carrying on knowing this secret about myself, I really did. I helped little girls and boys pack up their things at the end of the school day and handed them off to their mothers, knowing I would never be on the other end of the spectrum. Each day of this routine ate a piece of me, until I couldn’t take it any longer.
One of my students had come to class in stained jeans, without his homework, and slept throughout class. When his mother came to fetch him, I pulled her aside to express my concerns. After a very lackluster defense compiled of excuses, I released the storm with months' worth of power upon her.
“You don’t deserve to be a mother. You take it for granted.” I spat the words at her. Until that day, I’d never spat at a person. Especially not a parent of one of my students. Sure, what I said was true, but I know that didn’t give me the right to say it. I was asked to take some time away.
That was the biggest episode yet, the one people were talking about the next day after it aired.
“We can still try,” Bryce said again when I returned home.
That was the next episode, the one where I went into the nursery and ripped the pictures off the walls and snapped them in half. I stuffed the clothes and toys we’d picked out into trash bags. I lugged them to the dumpster. I left the room bare and sat in the center of it and heaved until I had no breath left. Then I got up, shut the door, and never went back in that room again.
But the nursery wasn’t the only thing haunting me. It was the children outside. The ones running down the hallway. The ones in the supermarket. Our home- the life we’d created, was built for a family. I felt like an imposter, trying to go unnoticed in a crowd I didn’t belong to.
But this condominium sprouting 500 feet out of the ground, with its towering windows and noise pollution was the medicine I needed. It was no place for children, so it was the perfect place for me.
I turned to Colleen, who gleamed a bright white smile in my direction.
“We’ll take it,” I finally said.
“Well then, welcome to your new home!” Colleen spread her arms wide for a hug.
I could only hope 500 feet was high enough to let go.