I haven’t talked to her in ages, this friend from high school. She calls and says Howthehellareya? I’ve been thinking of you, and wondering how you are. You popped into my head, so I had to call and see if you had any news!
My stomach sinks at her cheer. Does she think I’m still pregnant, wondering if the babies have come yet?
I say Uhh... that depends on what you already know.
Well, she replies, I heard you had them, and one of them’s okay and one of them’s not.
Right. Well, one of them died, I say, feeling suddenly awkward and adding unnecessarily, the sick one.
Oh! she says distantly, the perkiness of her voice unbroken. Sorry to hear that.
I’m not particularly keen on filling the silence that follows, but I’m obliged to, stumbling Yes, he was my son, and he’d had brain damage, and he died. And it’s been a horrible couple of months, and now here we are.
She says Did you have, like, a funeral or something?
And I say No, we did it. His ashes, I mean. We found a place.
And she says Oh.
The conversation stalls, suddenly unwanted by both of us. Like being at a Bill Lynch fairground and getting to the front of the Scrambler lineup just in time to see a kid puke at the height of the spin cycle. The instant deflation of Ugghhh… nevermind.
Ben stirs and so we hang up, saying okay, well, we’ll have to go out for lunch sometime, and I am struck by the vastness of the gulf between me and her.
At the risk of being tiresomely ‘us and them’-ish, she got me thinking about The Footloose, the Voluntarily Child-Free Camp. Those that go on wine-tasting tours and who don’t eat supper (a.k.a. microwaved fishsticks and frozen corn) at 4:30 and who don’t have cesarean muffintops and who must think us breeders and our snot-nosed rabble as nothing more than sweatpant-wearing, poop-obsessed frumps.
Pleased with themselves in their tidy, sexy void, in which nobody does the “WE DID IT, WE DID IT, WE DID IT, YAAAY!” song and dance number after success with a trusty backpack and companion Boots the Monkey.
F*cking pussies. You think you’re living, really living, revelling in a life that’s all about you. Sure, you’re living my momentary fantasy: perky tits and sleeping in and jogging and international travel and sharp-edged coffee tables. But you’re still a bunch of pussies.
Now Kate, squeaks my near-inaudible, microscopic-sized inner rational self. Everything is relative. Get a hold of yourself and your inferiority complex. Be cooler than this.
But no. I need you to hear how intense this life can be, how immense it is, this vertigo, how blindingly terrifying it is to love this much, to hold pure human energy in your hands. To have it evoke such frantic wanting in you, and hope, and fear, and joy.
You don’t just say Gee, ya lost one, too bad! with all the weightiness of Betty Boop.
You’ll be hit by the mack truck of mamahood, if you’re fortunate. And during some endless, nightless night your child’s eyeballs will roll back into his head in milky bliss and you might remember me, your old friend from high school whose baby died, and you might remember talking to me on the phone and feeling like, totally weirded out.
And suddenly, you’ll understand.
This is not intended to provoke heckles. She really is lovely, and lively in that infectious way. Today, it didn’t fit. But I can’t fault her for being unable to grasp the loss of something she has yet to experience. And I don’t mean to invalidate the life paths of others, chosen or not.
I hesitate with this post for the above reason, and also because some of my favourite people are in this camp, child-free by census but not lacking in empathy. It’s just strange to fail to relate this to someone, the intensity of the past two months. But I did, and it's tough to shake.