Trivial Pursuits {?} - Chapter 7, Part 1

Not from our flesh or from our bone, but still, miraculously, our own. It would turn out to be true, of course. The truth of it would far exceed the chirpy ostentation with which they’d proclaimed it, pep-rally style, on a disposable tablecloth at Amy’s baby shower. Most of all, its truth would be evident after its loss, spreading out like a shadow over a stretch of unremarkable days.

That day, though, it was simply a cheap decoration. The mawkish sentiment had been emblazoned in a whimsical, gender-neutral font on the stork-patterned paper tablecloth, purchased online. Its evocation of human flesh and bone was perhaps questionable for a buffet table, Amy thought, but otherwise, it had captured the spirit of the occasion perfectly. It insisted, with Hallmark bravado, that this celebration was legitimate. Yet hadn’t it also cloaked a subtle whine of defensiveness, of insecurity, just as surely as it cloaked their shabby, water-ringed dining room table? But still, it argued, as if to an invisible challenger. This was forgivable; they couldn’t be expected yet to know anything about this love.

Yet the message on the tablecloth did have its practical uses. It set a philosophical tone, provided a social cue of sorts, to the baffled guests. Because the truth is, a baby shower for a soon-to-be adopted child can be surprisingly problematic.

A large part of the problem involves the lack of available small talk, which is a precious commodity at baby showers. In the absence of a physical pregnancy, it is quickly discovered by the bewildered women that most of the usual conversational standbys don’t apply. There can be no questions about how often or how vigorously the baby is kicking; the infinite silences can’t be filled with itemized lists of bizarre food cravings. The tired matriarchs, who have screamed and white-knuckled it through three, four, sometimes even five childbirths, can’t offer their hard-won advice on the rites of labor. The younger mothers, made bold by Mimosa cocktails too early in the day, can’t smirk and say things like, “one word for you: epidural.” Questionable wisecracks about hoping the baby gets his sense of humor and your face most definitely can’t be made, assuming they should ever have been made at all. Herculean efforts must be taken not to offend, to avoid the unspoken heartbreak at the core of the celebration. If this event is a surprise, it places a double strain on its guests, who are called upon to surprise while simultaneously concealing their own shock at finding themselves in this social minefield.

This particular shower had been made even more unusual, and certainly more surprising, by the fact that it had been largely planned by Greg himself, a man. He’d overruled the caution of her friends, who feared she might be made uncomfortable by the situation, and insisted that she be able to celebrate her impending motherhood like anyone else. It could scarcely have been weirder, she thought, if he’d hired a traveling freak show to make an appearance. To this day, Amy remembered it with a smile of pure delight.

She understood, on that day, just how much he loved her. He loved her enough to take on a task usually reserved for women. And he’d done it not in order to perpetuate some shopworn tradition, or for the joy of decorating their dining room with crepe paper storks, or in order to secure Amy’s standing in the ongoing suburban one-upsmanship of her circle of friends. This was strictly between the two of them. He wanted her to know that this was a joyous event, this was their child, and that the three of them would always be bound together by love, if not by blood.

And it had been exactly the reassurance Amy needed, because in truth, she’d suffered. She’d endured two and a half years of thermometers and scheduled sex and peeing fatefully onto oracular plastic sticks, which shifted around mysteriously for a few seconds before proclaiming “no” like a Magic 8-Ball. Later, she had suffered with the fertility drugs, the nausea, and the hot flashes that made her feel not only infertile but menopausal. Finally, there had been that one substantial, luminous glimmer of hope that got everyone buzzing with natal excitement, only to be flushed down the toilet some three months later. This, finally, broke the fever of her need to conceive. She could have kept trying, she knew, but she found that had reached the limits of her ability to endure loss. So she had given up gracefully.

The surprise shower had taken place on a Saturday in April, in late afternoon. She’d been out shopping and was running late, having gotten stuck in Tourette’s-inducing traffic on the freeway. He’d asked her to be home by five, because he wanted to take her out for a romantic dinner. She had found that strange, since Greg generally wasn’t prone to such gestures. In fact, he’d been acting so oddly that she’d even wondered briefly whether he was having an affair. How else to explain the strange hushed phone calls he’d been making, the receipt she’d found for a florist? It could have been anything; in those days, Greg hadn’t yet calcified into the cautious, self-protective shadow that he was now. He’d still been capable of the unexpected.

She’d walked through the front door to see almost every face she knew, eerily focused on her.

“Surprise,” they all shouted.

And as Amy spun around toward Greg, she felt a cool rush of air on her face, an elemental clash with the warmth of her tears.

Now, another surprise waited on the other side of the stained-glass portal of their front door. This surprise, which Amy had summoned to the house and which Greg was soon to greet, was rooted neither in love for him nor concern for his happiness, but in a frantic need for escape from their shared pain.

The need to stop it from happening sped through her veins in a warm, uncomfortable rush, pooling in her extremities and making them feel unnaturally heavy. Even as the inevitability of it gathered like blackened storm clouds, she found herself grasping at panicked, futile attempts to forestall it.

“Hey, Greg?” she called, as the rhythmic thud of his footfalls progressed toward the door like the first slow beats of an ominous drum roll, “Could you come here for a second? I think something’s wrong with the bathroom sink. No hot water.”

She heard him pause, and she swore she almost heard him judiciously consider her request, as he would consider a challenge from a football coach to one of his calls. It was then that she realized, with incontrovertible certainty, that she would not be able to stop him. He was used to fielding the urgent requests of impassioned people in emotional moments. These requests, which often took the form of strident commands, each were asserted as of the utmost priority, of the greatest validity. It was Greg’s job to address these concerns within the context of protocol, and to calmly handle them in the appropriate order. He would not and could not be rattled by someone else’s sense of immediacy.

“Yes, sure; I’ll take a look at it, honey,” he said, “But just let me get the door first.”

Of course; this was reasonable. The doorbell would be answered first, the sink fixed second. There was no arguing with this; her weak strategy collapsed like a zany sitcom plan in the face of logic.

She sighed and, seeing her options narrowing finally into one tiny pinpoint of ineluctable consequence, she followed him to the door. Now, her fate was almost entirely up to Lynette.

Check out previous chapters of Trivial Pursuits {?} right here.

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