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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dum Dum Girl


Jason and I were relocating to Little Rock after he finished his technical training in Biloxi.  I called my mother to let her know where we'd be going next.

"It's in Arkansas," I said.

"Ahr-kan-saw?  Where in the hell is that?" she demanded, so determined to despise this bit of news.

I wasn't sure what to tell her.  I didn't really know where anything was located. Besides, Mom was suspicious of all life that existed beyond the parameters of Macy's in Parkchester, Frank and Joe's Delicatessen and St. Raymond's Church.

I looked on the map Jason kept in the car.  I pored over the big drawing of America, divided into color-coded sections.  It was like I was seeing this information for the very first time.  I examined how some states I'd never even previously considered were wedged up against each other - Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma. And how far away on the diagram they seemed from the Bronx.

"How much longer is he gonna have to do this shit?" my mother asked.

"What shit?"

"Army shit."

"He's in the Air Force, Mom."

"Whatever."

I felt equally sad and relieved that we weren't moving any closer.  That woman drove me up a wall.

We rented a tidy two-bedroom apartment near the Air Force base.  My mother sent us some money to buy a couch.  We drove to J.C. Penney, and I chose a gray one with little blue flowers on the cushions.  There I sat most afternoons, scribbling letters on looseleaf paper to Mom and a few girlfriends who I thought might write back.  I went to the toilet every ten minutes and stared at my growing belly in the bathroom mirror.  I waited impatiently for a small person to arrive and keep me company.

We signed up for Lamaze classes and watched a movie on how babies get born.  I decided right then and there that I would have to die in my sleep before my due date.  There was no way in hell I'd be able to survive childbirth.  Even with the help of that film and the certificate they gave us upon completion of the course, I was not confident in my ability to cooperate with this process.

I really couldn't tell if Jason was okay with all the stuff that was happening.  Being married and becoming a dad.  It wasn't like he said anything negative, even though I knew he was disappointed that we weren't stationed closer to New York.  He missed his old pals in Queens.  They were a close bunch.  I wanted him to be happy and excited about what we were doing together, but I felt as though I had a tough time competing with all that nostalgia.  For the most part, he seemed sullen and depressed, and I had no idea how to pull him out of it.

As time went on, it became apparent that folks back home were moving on with their lives.  For as many pages of descriptive correspondence that I penned and addressed, I got very few responses.  Jason's mother wrote faithfully, but I was convinced that she disliked me.  Nonetheless, it was always nice when her packages arrived in the mail.  Homemade pretzels and cookies, suggestions for unique baby names.  A book strongly advising against circumcision.  My mom sent coupons for diapers with holy cards paperclipped to them and one sentence scrawled across the back of each envelope.

Remember to take care of that baby, her messages warned.

Occasionally after we'd already been in bed for a few hours, the telephone would ring.  High school classmates or co-workers from my old job.  Drunk and coked up, they took turns shouting into the receiver.

"Mare!  We miss you so much," they bellowed above the noise of some raucous keg party.

"I miss you, too."

"Wow.  You're gonna have a baby!  Oh, my God!  How is everything?  Are you excited?  When are you coming back?"

I answered as best I could.  "Good.  Yes.  I don't know."

"Wow.  I can't believe you're a mom.  And you're having a baby.  Wow."

"Well, not yet," I said.  "I still have a few more weeks."

"Oh, right.  I knew that just before.  Until I forgot."

They all laughed.

I'm not sure if these girls were impressed or shocked or disappointed with my condition.  It was hard to tell.  As the months passed, our conversations became increasingly strained. We seldom spoke unless a group of them were all together and drinking.  It was kind of sweet.  It was almost as if they were taking attendance and were concerned that I was absent.

"What's new there?" I asked.

"Oh, you know.  These assholes...  What?  Okay, just a minute.  Hold on."

I waited for the next voice to say something.  Until I realized they'd resumed their incoherent discussion and had forgotten I was still on the line.  I listened as they considered getting more blow.  Eventually, I just hung up.  As big and round as I was at that point, it would take forever to get back to sleep.  I was jealous of my friends.

"Who was that?" Jason grumbled into his pillow.

I mentioned their names, but he didn't really know any of them.  He barely knew me.

"They need to stop calling here in the middle of the night.  I have to wake up in a few hours."

He was right.  But still, I began resenting his disapproving tone.  I couldn't help but think my husband's sour mood was my doing.  I'd gotten pregnant too soon.  I didn't have a job and generated no income.  We had bills and needs.  I felt anxious and increasingly compromised.

Jason worked with this nice young man named Ben.  He and his wife were from a farming community in Missouri.  Tina was a heavyset country girl  — extremely loud and bossy, almost intolerably so.  She and her tremendous baby started ringing our doorbell regularly.  I guess I hadn't much exposure to infants, and the size of this child was intimidating.

I got the impression that Tina found me very entertaining, what with me being from the big city and all.  She spoke openly about she and her husband's sex life and their plans to make additional enormous children.  I tried not to encourage these details.  She could be really gross.

I thought maybe if I found a cheaper place to live in town, Jason wouldn't be so glum.  Something with a little yard so we could barbecue and play music loud if we wanted.  A set-up that seemed more like a house than an apartment.  Tina and I cruised through neighborhoods searching for available rentals while her gigantic daughter slept in the back seat.

We found a vacant duplex that wasn't half bad, priced at forty five dollars less than what we were paying.  Both units had been inexplicably empty for quite some time. A kitchen and living area with two small bedrooms separated by a short hallway. A tree in the front and an attached shed out back for a washing machine.  I did see a few cockroaches in the bathtub, but they were all dead.  I pleaded with Jason for us to move.  He begrudgingly agreed and let me have some money for the security deposit and one and a half months' rent.  The landlord gave me the key.

The two of us drove over in the dark that evening to check the place out.  When we turned the flashlight toward the doorknob, we noticed cockroaches crawling all over the front of the house.  Along the bricks and door frame.  As we let ourselves in, water bugs fell from the ceiling.  The carpet looked as though it were moving. That's how badly overrun with bugs this shithole was.  Like a terrifying fever dream.

No one could live there until the larger nests were removed and each apartment was thoroughly fumigated.  That operation could take nearly a week. The baby was due soon, and there was still tons of stuff to do before its arrival. Jason was clearly annoyed and even though the roaches weren't my fault, I kept apologizing like they were.

We stayed with Ben and Tina for several nights, sleeping on their couch and loveseat.  Listening to the sounds of them adding to their family in the other room. Yuck.

I lay awake and tried to think about the things I wanted in my life.  I didn't even know what they were.  I thought I wanted to be married, but I hadn't really settled into being a wife.  Before I knew it, I'd be someone's mother.  I started to feel as though when Jason looked at me, I was just another pest making his life more difficult than it needed to be.

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