Saturday, January 3, 2015

Million-Dollar Baby

My mother and I had a regularly-scheduled shopping routine, based on the days in which we knew certain stores would mark down clearance items. Target was a sure bet to mark down clearance on Wednesdays. Thursdays might indicate large mark-downs at Kohl’s. And, of course, we had our usual Saturday shopping date, to hit Target yet again, as well as peruse the mall. Our true goal was to find the best clearance items. The bigger the markdown, the more excited we got, like an addict getting a much-needed hit. Apart from groceries and basic household essentials, I came to a point where I would only purchase items on clearance, and I would make a determination on an item based on how I thought it would sell: if it was marked down to 50 percent off, did it look like a big seller at that price? Or should I hold out, hoping that the item will hit 75 percent off, and I will be lucky enough to get it for that price. My mother once asked me the question of if I thought we’d still buy only clearance items should we become millionaires. Well, of course, I told her. We would still buy our clearance items; we’d just buy more of it.
     When I married my former ex-husband, my mother began to immediately purchase clothes and supplies, for a baby that was neither conceived nor planning to be conceived any time in the near future. This did not matter to her. If she spotted a good clearance on anything from clothes to bottles to pacifiers to toys, she snatched the item up and packed it away in a Rubbermaid bin, safely tucked away for her anticipated grandchild.
     My ex-husband and I waited five years to have a child. By this time, a closet in my mother’s guest bedroom was stacked from floor to ceiling with bin after bin, all filled with clothing and what she found to be essentials. In those bins contained wardrobes for both a boy or a girl, from single to octuplets, so she was ready and prepared for either. In fact, she was so much so prepared that I did not have to purchase a single item of clothing for my child until the age of five.
     When contemplating a future plan of having children, I knew that first and foremost, I needed to have a girl. Some people want one or the other; others are simply happy to have a healthy baby. But for me, having a girl was a need, an essential, if I wanted any quality of life. In a conversation with a former coworker, I once announced that there was no possible way that I would ever give birth to a boy, because clearly that would be a sign of the universe unleashing hatred toward me, and I doubted I could love a boy, anyway. She nearly doubled over laughing at such a statement, one that was so bold and so narcicisstic, it nearly makes me skin prickle now.
     After 15 long months of attempting to conceive a baby, I finally got a positive pregnancy test. At the very first ultrasound, my child was a 7-week-old embryo, the size of a grain of rice. I demanded to know if the technician could see the gender of my child. She looked at me in bewilderment, and explained that that wasn't possible, as those organs had not yet been formed, much less anywhere near the size of being visible.
     I spent my time online reading pregnancy articles on various sites, and always advertised was the "Know Your Child's Sex as Early as 11 Weeks!" Though I knew it was likely a hoax, I coveted this product. Every time the pop-up appeared, I opened it and stared, thinking about getting my credit card out. Why did the test need to cost $250? After all, I was administering it myself--no doctor or medical professional required--and I'd learned that the pregnancy tests from Dollar Tree were more accurate than the more expensive pharmacy ones, so what could really be in this test that would require it to be so expense. I'd glare at the screen, perhaps enter my info, but then make it to the section to enter my payment method and quit. It was an epic test of my patience, waiting to find out if this now raisin-sized child I was carrying was a girl or a boy.
     When my big ultrasound finally came along after an agonizing 18-week wait, I was thrilled. I chugged a can of Sunkist orange soda, because I wanted my fetus to be riled up and moving around, allowing flashes of private parts. The wait in the reception room was agonizing, partially because it was finally the day that I could know the answer, and also because the Sunkist that I guzzled was causing my bladder to feel like a water-filled balloon ready to pop at any second. I mumbled under my breath and complained repeatedly to my ex-husband; who were these people at this clinic, making me wait like this! I analyzed the other pregnancy candidates in the waiting area, and found myself to be of much greater calabur than they were, as I often saw teenage girls who my nurse told me she needed to use child-sized blood pressure cuffs on, because they were so slight. Why should these girls get their ultrasound before me? After all, I was much older, and therefore I'd waited a much longer time than they have for this moment!
    When my name was finally called--45 minutes after my scheduled time--I nearly stormed through the waiting room and behind the double doors to get this party started. It was much to my dismay when I found my ultrasound technician to be a male. Is this an appropriate job for a male, I thought? Sure, I could see men doing ultrasounds of other areas of the body, but men don't even have the anatomical parts that they were viewing! I most certainly did not wish to discuss my reproductive health and habits with this strange man!
     Perhaps worst of all, my male technician was the silent type. My big belly was fully exposed, covered in the clear, sticky ultrasound gel. He slowly ran the wand across my stomach, saying nothing. He did not point out a single feature of my now pear-sized child: no head, no hands, no feet, no butt and certainly no reproductive organs. Finally, the silence in the room was too much, and I blurted out, "So, can you tell what it is? Is it a girl or a boy? Do the parts look like a hamburger or a hotdog?"
    He glanced at me with no more enthusiasm or excitement than he'd already expressed throughout the entire experience. He glumly answered, "It looks like a girl to you happen to be seeing your doctor after this appointment?"
     Most pregnant women would freeze at the words "do you happen to be seeing your doctor" while undergoing an ultrasound. Not I. I had already moved on to crying tears of joy that I was indeed having the little girl I insisted that I would have.
     The technician mumbled something about needing to leave the room for a moment, and when he did, I looked over at my husband with sheer excitement, overjoyed that we were having a girl. It was a time when no words would've been needed, but he looked at me and dully said, "Well, I guess it's for the best for everyone: for the baby, for you, for me. I don't know what you would've done if they'd told you it was a boy".
     When the technician returned, he brought with him the high-risk pregnancy specialist, who had to run a separate screen to analyze. My still-baking-in-the-oven girl was not cooperative at showing certain parts of her body--genitals excluded--and needed additional shots of her heart, to ensure four chambers, and of her limbs, to certify all four existed. Having an expert present was excellent by my standards. This meant I could get a second opinion on the sex of my child, just to be sure. When asked, she replied with, "I'm 99 percent sure that you've got a girl there. If I'm wrong, I'll come over to your house and repaint the nursery for you".
     When sent back to the waiting room to wait for my doctor, I gushed to my husband and quickly scanned the Internet for bedding. Before my name was even called, I had already selected her nursery theme; black and white gingham, enhanced by pink French poodles. How perfect...and the pinker, the better.
     When my doctor did call me back for my appointment, he asked how I was, and instead of describing how I was feeling, I answered simply with, "I'm having a girl". He replied with the same enthusiasm as my husband, likely grateful that I was having a girl, and likely even more grateful that the ultrasound footage taken by the specialist did not reveal any defects I had to be aware of.
     As a parent of a girl, one thing you most look forward to your daughter's first dance recital. You imagine your tiny little girl, hair in ringlets and bows, wearing a costume with much sparkle, gliding across the stage with poise and ease. I can still imagine the feel of my daughter's very first dance recital dress; it had a white satin top with poofy sleeves, and a navy blue velvet flared skirt that twirled along with her so beautifully. In her ringlets we placed a big pink satin bow, finishing off the look I had dreamed of for so long.
     When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, her one hope was to live long enough to see her granddaughter's recital. She was determined to go, even if she was wheeled in in a hospital gown with an oxygen mask. Sadly, she did not make this goal, and died one month before the dance recital.
     The evening of the dance recital was bittersweet; I was so happy to see my beautiful Shirley Temple-esque daughter perform, but I was devastated to not have my mom next to me. Actually, I was to have no one next to me. I had vowed not to date for 1,000 days, and the day my mom was admitted to hospice, an enormous fight broke out amongst my social clique, and I was the weak link who got tossed out of the 30-something Mean Girls clique.
     In an unusually generous move, my ex-husband offered to allow me to sit with him, his girlfriend and her children, which, quite frankly is the ideal situation for normal co-parents, which we were not, as he stated so clearly to the judge upon our divorce. I certainly did not wish to be sitting with the man I could not escape from for 13 years thanks to the fact that we shared a child, but it was still better than sitting alone.
     In my small town, the fresh flower supply had been exhausted by the dance recital. There was not even a bouquet of filler stems, much less an actual floral bouquet, to be found anywhere. I resigned myself to buying fake, oddly-colored silk flowers at Walmart. I discovered them in the Memorial Day section, so they were meant to be placed on the graves of loved ones, not given to a 5-year-old child after her first dance recital.
     I met my ex-husband and his girlfriend at the school where the recital was to be held, and while walking down the stairs, I refrained from kicking his girlfriend in the back of the knee, a move that would've most certainly taken her down, as penance for the fact that she was the other woman my ex cheated on me with during our entire seven-year marriage. I spared her, not out of kindness but rather out of the fact that I am a Jackie and not a Marilyn, and such behavior would be completely uncouth.
    When we reached the entrance to the auditorium, I found a local floral vendor selling live roses, and I had to stop to buy a half-dozen, to make up for the pile of burnt orange silk and plastic roses I'd purchased earlier. I was disappointed that the only color left was red, because red was just so...traditional. I'd once had a fiance who sent flowers at least once per month, and it was almost always red roses. I recall that Jackie Kennedy was given red roses upon landing at Love Field in Dallas on the day of her husband's assassination, and her bewildered comment that she repeated over and over while grieving: she was confused to be handed red roses, when the state flower of Texas was a yellow rose. Nevertheless, with red as my only choice, I quickly grabbed my flowers, some still thorny and dripping cold water.
     My ex-husband assured me that it was fine for me to stop to buy the flowers, and that he would be sure to save me a seat. Alas, with fresh roses placed in my arms, I entered the darkened auditorium, and I wasn't able to spot my ex anywhere. His hair is black, so it was fully understandable that I could not see him, but his girlfriend has wildly bleached-out hair that I had previously assumed glowed in the dark simply from the amount of peroxide it held. I was wrong. Not able to find them, I slinked over to a seat in the far corner of the auditorium, and tucked myself in an empty row, just me there, wearing my favorite vintage dress, teal with black embroidery, that reminded me so much of Jackie Kennedy, with its sleek A-line skirt, sash and silky finish.
     Tucked away in the darkened auditorium, slinking down like a hermit with an extreme social disorder, my thoughts ran wild. Those jerks, I thought to myself. They obviously did this on purpose, and what kind of people do that, anyway? Who leaves the mother of his child alone and shivering in the corner merely one month after her mother's death? I took solace only in the fact that I was wearing my beautiful Jackie Kennedy dress, a look that the girl with the glow in the dark hair could never pull off, though my beloved dress was quickly becoming soaked with tears.
     After my daughter performed--lovely amongst a group of other girls in which one fell, one went screaming off the stage and the rest stood and looked around--the spotlight suddenly illuminated my ex. I could see his black hair glistening from the half-bottle of hair gel he applied every morning in the glare of the spotlight. I had found them, and there was most certainly not a seat saved for me. I spent the remaining time glaring in his direction, silently thinking of a menagerie of insults and willing them to teleport across the auditorium and into his psyche.
     At intermission, the lights came on, and I could see them in full, glaring color. My anger was building and building as I rose from my seat, calmly grabbed my handbag and my bouquet of roses and began to make my way over to them.
     He never saw me coming, never noticed me creeping up from behind, likely because he was too busy stroking that glow in the dark hair of his girlfriend, who was not even been born by the time my ex-husband graduated from middle school. The closer I got, the angrier I got, and in a totally uncharacteristic move for me, I snuck up behind him and proceeded to beat him across the head with the bouquet of roses. Petals of the red dewy roses flew through the air, and I was silently praying the thorns would break through the protective plastic on the flowers, inflicting even more damage. I secretly imagined that the scene looked like the backseat of JFK's limo after he was assassinated, with Jackie's red roses laying everywhere, petals and stems scattered in the blood of the deadly shot.
     After I had hit him in the head several times, he and his girlfriend stared at me with a look equivalent to one that you would use when seeing a serial killer, not quite believing your eyes. I blurted out my hatred toward them--for leaving me all alone at my daughter's dance recital, suffering quietly in the corner--and I quickly turned and walked away.
     I very calmly walked back to my seat in the back corner, feeling nothing. As time went by, I considered this situation and realized this is probably how people inadvertantly become murderers: they set out with no intention of murdering, but someone does something that angers them to a point where there is no more rationality and they act with no forethought whatsoever.
 When I arrived back at my seat, I carefully placed my rose bouquets on the empty seat beside me, smoothed my A-line skirt and calmly sat down. I was acutely aware of the fact that approximately one-half of a city of 6,000 people had just witnessed me physically assaulting my ex-husband with flowers meant for our daughter, and I wished that I could tell them my side of the story, because if they knew, they would most certainly side with me and agree that the flower-beating was well deserved. I had to instead take comfort in the fact that I looked lovely in my dress and designer handbag, and they looked like country hicks, held hostage by a town and a culture that discouraged any independence or thinking.
     After the recital, my ex-husband and I avoided any eye contact, despite the fact that we had to both congratulate our daughter in the same room. I noticed a scratch on his cheek, and smiled smugly. Sure, he could've gotten that scratch while shaving, but I liked the idea of me causing it with my sneak attack.
     As the recital was held on a Friday evening, I had plenty of time over the weekend to think about my poor behavior. Sure, I felt some guilt, but not enough to make me want to apologize. Instead I felt more embarrassment, knowing that a great number of people had watched and now likely considered me mentally insane, which at that time, it was quite possible that I was.
    When I went to work on Monday, I guiltly admitted the story to my co-workers, even though it was starting to become an amusing memory. Craig, one of our season cleaning helpers, was at the same receital to see his granddaughter. Mercifully, he had not witnessed the floral attack, but said to me, "Eh, a man's not really a man until a woman has smacked him in the head with some flowers".


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