I’m not even sure how much I really like him. He looks cute enough, with his Top Gun crop of hair and a matching Tom Cruise smile. All the other kids seem to defer to him. He’s their leader. I can tell. I shouldn’t have fooled around with him behind the concession. That was bad, kind of skanky, but I had too many wine coolers, and, well, I guess that’s what happens.
My decision-making ability was highly questionable long before I even drank wine coolers; having walked to Tags, the local bar down the road, with my accomplice Farah and using a fake ID to get in. It was an expired, worn temporary license from my older cousin that didn’t even have a picture, but they didn’t care. The skinny, old man with the scraggly hair and stained, crooked teeth, barely glanced at it. He did, however, take a full examination of my 16 year-old boobs. Ew.
I’m nervous, yet buzzed from the high of just being in a bar, and I haven’t even sipped my Seagram’s tropical cooler yet. Oh, it’s good. I look around the sketchy joint filled with a local crowd, that we summer kids called hicks. How did I let Farah talk me into this? She’s the brave one, leaning her sexy, slim body into some townie as she sips her gin and tonic flirtatiously. I was shocked at her drink choice. I had only sampled coolers and beer so far, but she knowingly said, “This is what my mom drinks,” and confidently sucked it down. I took a taste. It wasn’t bad, sweeter than I expected, but, man, did it smell.
I keep nudging Farah. The guy she’s toying with looks in his 20’s, not terrible looking, but intense in his tank top displaying reed thin arms and wife beater muscles littered in tattoos. His hand is rubbing the hand she has resting on the bar and when he stares at her, it’s like when my cat stalks our fish tank. I wish she’d stop talking to him. I may be 16 and in a bar, but I know the difference between bad and real bad. I’m standing next her drinking another cooler, avoiding any eye contact when Farah and the guy start making out – heavily. Farah is pushing up against me and it’s definitely time to go home. I pinch her side hard. “Hey” she cries out offended. “Why’d you do that?”
“We need to go. Now.” She assesses my seriousness in an extended drunken moment where she looks deeply into my eyes. I nod. She nods. She turns to the man, whose spit she probably still tastes, and flashes her 100-watt smile, registering in at a crooked 70% with the gin. Then quickly, she grabs my arm and we race toward the exit laughing.
It’s about 11:30pm and about a ¼ mile walk down Route 42 back to the bungalow colony where we stay. It’s dark but the cars speeding by flash lights as they go. We trip dangerously on the side of the road and laugh all the way back to safety.
We reach the gravel, dirt road that is the entrance to the colony, and see a bunch of our friends and others, milling about and hovering on the front steps of the concession like they are waiting for a bus. Everyone I see falls between the angst, high-hormone ages of 15 and 18. During the days, the concession is a luncheonette and general community area. You can play pool or video games, have a lunch special of pizza, fries and a drink for $1.25, and check the mail basket for any communication from the outside world. (All of 150 bungalows on the colony have their mail delivered to the concession.) The back side of the concession is called the casino and is used for Saturday night shows, card playing and colony meetings.
The front steps are where the kids hang – day and night. Since this is late Saturday, the concession is closed for the night, but the back side is singing with business. Most of the adults on the colony can be found inside, drinking (gin and tonics?) and watching whatever the show du-jour is for the evening – bad comedy, bad singing, a band? It doesn’t matter. Soon they will all stagger out and walk back up the little hill to their bungalows, where many will continue the party, drinking and laughing it up like the teenagers.
He is sitting on the steps of the concession when I stumble in, wearing denim shorts and a tee shirt; his hair partially covered with a red bandana called a do-rag, across his forehead. I like how he looks. I know his name, but I can’t remember it. It doesn’t bother me. I plop on his lap and giggle.
He doesn’t say much but I know he likes me. I can tell by the protective way his arm is wrapped around my waist, keeping me from getting up. I feel rooted to his leg. We stay like that for a bit, watching our friends doing stupid crap. Some are huddled at the side of the concession smoking a joint. This boy Jimmy is making up some rap about the bungalows, while one guy, I don’t really know, is chasing another, trying to put something disgusting, that I can’t make out, on his head. Everyone is stoned, drunk, laughing and pretty happy.
“What’s your name again??” I am slurring a little, I can hear it, but don’t care.
He looks at me funny. “Howard.”
I laugh. “That’s a terrible name!”
“What?” He is amused and playfully tickles my side. We go back to watching the group entertain themselves and us. He’s not from the big talkers, I can tell.
Finally he asks, “Want to go for a walk?” This is code for, “Let’s go make-out.”
I agree and we walk around for a little, hand in hand, until finally winding up on the steps behind the concession.
It’s private, but yucky, and even as we are kissing, I’m thinking, this is skanky. His hand starts aggressively pushing up my light pink dress, the one I borrowed from my mother’s closet without her knowing. I push it away. I am now wondering how I get out of this. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wonder long. It turned out, that while Howard’s family did stay at the colony for the summer, Howard and his friend were working and staying at a sports camp down the road. Midnight was their curfew and we are interrupted by whistles and calls of his name.
We sheepishly emerge from the back of the concession. His friend is in his car already waiting. Howard leans over and kisses me lightly on the cheek. His eyes twinkle, and even at 17, they crinkle up in the corners. I give a shoulder shrugging wave, smiling smug, smiling like I am above it all, before my gaggle of girls drag me away for details. I wonder if I’ll see him again next week.
“So, when are you guys going to have a baby?!” my girlfriend Lily asked again. Next to my in-laws, she was the most interested, but unlike my in-laws who knew better, she just loved to beat the dead horse. She also liked to do it publicly like this, every so often, just for effect.
We were at dinner with Lily and her husband Joe, and Cory and Alison, another of our married couple friends. Both already had two year-olds at home. Howard and I had been married for three years now. After our adolescent beginning, we flirted on and off for years, before finally embarking on a real “relationship” when I was 19 and he was 21. Eight fabulous years later (yes eight – who are you, my mother-in-law?), on the most glorious 75 degree, no humidity day in July, we married. We danced to, ‘You’re Just Too Good To Be True,’ by Frankie Valli, ate the strawberry soup appetizer, (an idea we had stolen from Lily’s wedding) and generally gazed with sparkly-eyed amazement at each other. No day was more perfect. No couple more complete. We traveled and skied, played tennis and glammed around NYC. We had stretched the band of courtship as far as it would go without snapping back on us. The time was right, and now, three years in, it seemed it was time for a baby. Everyone thought so. We thought so. The only one who didn’t seem to think so, was the ‘Baby’ who wouldn’t come.
At the table, I laughed. “Don’t you wish! You guys are just jealous that we sleep at night and can talk about something other than poop.”
Both Lily and Alison looked down their chicken parms at me. “You don’t know what you’re missing”
Big behinds, I thought nastily. But that wasn’t fair, they had no idea of our struggles and their behinds really weren’t big. I looked at my vegetable plate.
It had been more than a year already and I felt no closer to achieving a pregnancy. Who was I kidding, I couldn’t even count on a consistent period. After putting on almost 10 pounds and dropping my exercise regime to four days a week, old Aunt Flo still proved elusive. She came back. She disappeared.
So after the usual husband/wife “let’s have a baby” stuff proved unsuccessful, I started going to a fertility doctor to be monitored. Every month now for months, I’ve been watching the sonogram machine with my new best friend, the ever-popular vaginal stick, as we chart the growth of my follicle (that’s fertility talk for potential egg). It needs to be at least 18mm to be viable for ovulation and fertilization. Some months I don’t have a follicle to watch. Last month, my follicle grew to an exciting 16mm. We thought the next day it would be at least a sustainable size, but no, the next day my follicle was down to 14mm, then 12mm, and then it disappeared, taking my hope along with it.
“You guys are worse than my parents.” Howard chimed in, sensing my vulnerability and need to be rescued.
“I’m ready to go.” I smiled, ending any further conversation.
“I’m not going home yet!” Joe exclaimed. “We have a sitter and this is our first night out in a while. Let’s have another round.”
“You guys go ahead. I’m really tired.”
Lily’s eyes perked. “Tired you say? Hmmmm. And you haven’t touched your wine either.” The wheels were turning and you could hear the train pulling into her station. “Is there something you want to share?”
I leaned in close and whispered in her ear, “I’m going to share with everyone how much you weighed when you were pregnant, if you don’t just let me just go home.”
She just looked me up and down slyly, and feigned offence. “Ouch. Okay, you win. Go home and rest.” She cocked a brow and used her nurturing voice. “It’s important to get plenty of rest. Take care of her Howard.”
“Don’t worry, I do.” He said and put his ever protective arm around my shoulder.
We said our goodbyes and headed out into the night air. It was fresh and crisp for June and we walked the 12 blocks and two avenues back to our apartment. “Lily was an ass.” Howard declared
“Ah, she was just being Lily.” I defended, although I didn’t know why.
“Yeah, an ass.” He insisted, but was smiling that crinkly smile. “Let’s just forget them.”
I returned the smile and snuggled under his embrace. He kissed my nose, then my lips. “It’s just about you and me, baby.” He said. My guy, who didn’t typically have much to say, generally seemed to say the right things when he did.
“But what if…?” I could barely say the words. “What if, you know, it never works?”
“No matter what happens, remember, It’s you and me. That’s all that matters. Besides, it’s going to happen. I know it.” I nodded, so happy I married this man I knew as a boy. He was concrete under my feet. A smile in the dark. A shoulder in a storm. He loved me beyond words and I loved him with many.
Without needing to mention it, we headed straight to my favorite yogurt store, where Tony, the manager, greeted us happily. “My favorite couple! How you doing? What can I get you guys?” After making our selections, we walked the last two blocks home.
Once in comfy clothes, I plopped down on the couch, and flicked on the television. While Howard got the cards, I opened up my yogurt and took a spoonful of happiness. We spent the next hour engaged in a heated game of Rummy 500 that turned into Rummy 1000. For the record, Howard beat me, but for once, I didn’t care. I had my mind on other things.
I got up to clean up our finished yogurt (and the chips Howard had eaten afterwards) and get ready for bed. Howard moved behind me and whispered suggestive husband things in my ear. My body relaxed into his, but my brain was still feeling tense. “Let me shower.” I said, needing a moment. “I’ll meet you in bed.”
Stripping off my sweats, tee shirt and underwear, I stepped into the steamy shower and breathed deeply. It had been a long night and an even longer year. Except for the fertility issues, everything was so good, but those issues weighed on me more and more. I felt so tired. I was in no mood for sex. Lately, it was almost a chore. “It’s day 16, come home.” “We have a follicle that may ovulate, hurry up.” Kind of kills the fun factor.
Like for instance, I know that on this day, day eight, there was practically zero chance that I could get pregnant. Hot water dripped down my face. I remembered back, well over a year ago, before the doctors told me I had the hormones of a woman in menopause, when had decided we would “try”. It was so exciting and wonderful, just deciding to do that made everything first-time special. Even though at that point, I hadn’t cycled for over a year, there still seemed so much possibility. We were so innocent. Two kids wanting a kid. So hopeful, so happy, until months turn into more than a year, and the promise of hope became tainted in reality. And here we were. Doctors, sonogram sticks, blood tests. I wanted a baby. Howard wanted a baby. He would be such a good father. He would love me no matter what. I want a baby. He would love me no matter what. I want a baby. Water, water everywhere. Babies, babies everywhere. I couldn’t stop the tears.
The (Never) End
“We have a baseball game tonight, so I got all Tyler’s stuff together by the steps.”
I nod, barely listening. He says this almost every day. I’ve got to get breakfast on the table, switch the laundry, pack the backpacks and get the boys down all in seven minutes.
“Are you listening?” Howard asks.
“Not if you’re telling me where Tyler’s baseball things are again.”
“Fine.” He grumbles. “Just remember to get him down to the field by 5:30pm.”
“You’re not listening.” He accuses.
That makes me smile. “I am listening, I’m just ignoring. There’s a difference.” I brush past him to the steps. “Boys!” I yell up. “Brush your teeth and come on down!”
He stands, leaning up against the kitchen counter drinking some orange juice and chewing on a piece of whole wheat bread. He’s not finished. “And don’t be late. Get there on time.”
I raise a brow and roll my eyes, if I could, I would roll my entire face. “Yes, coach.”
Baseball was always important to Howard. When we were teens, he was already a serious player and working as a coach at a sports academy. In college he was a pitcher, and Captain of his Division I baseball team. He had hopes, like so many other young, talented athletic men, but that’s all they turned out to be. Now, decades later he has a new field of dreams, and at this moment, they are stomping down my stairs.
Boy one. Boy two. Boy three. Three boys. Three beautiful boys. Tyler, Michael and Julius. My joy. My happiness. My life. They roll into the kitchen like tumbleweed, tracking bits of garbage as they go, and barreling over anything in their paths.
“Mommy I want…!” They say simultaneously, each with their own unique requirement.
7 year-old Michael – milk.
4 year-old Julius – gummy bears!
9 year-old Tyler – hug.
I go about satisfying each of their requests. Michael gets a cup of milk with his pancakes. Julius gets vitamin gummy bears with his cereal. Tyler, my sweet first baby, gets a hug.
“I want a hug!” both Michael and Julius cry, leaping from their chairs and attacking us. Tyler complains. “I was the one who wanted a hug!” They are still all piled on top of one another, no one refusing to give any edge to the other.
They’re such copycats!” Tyler whines. He wanted milk!” He points angrily at Michael.
“I want milk too” Julius squeaks. He is around my legs. I try to extract myself from everyone. “Okay guys. Let’s sit down.”
Howard is eyeing us with amusement that borders on annoyance. “Mama!” He calls out. “Stop mama-ing them!” I look at him. I am a statue and they are like ivy wrapped around me. It’s annoying and I love it. I can’t help it. I smile at him like I have the best secret. It’s Howard’s turn to roll his eyes, but still, he kisses me on the cheek, then ravages the boys, who run away screaming.
Settled in their seats, semi-eating and fully annoying each other, I quietly give Tyler an extra squeeze which I know he appreciates.
“Okay, I’m going.” Howard calls out. “I’ll meet you at the field.”
“Have a good day.” I call back. I feel very 50’s housewife every time I say it.
“I’m going!” He yells once more.
“Have a good day!” I yell back and glare at the children.
“Have a good day daddy,” They immediately sing song, and like a puppy waiting for a whistle, he comes back to the kitchen to ruffle their heads and give me a kiss, before disappearing.
Once he’s out, I get the kids together much easier. We are fed, packed, sun-blocked and outside waiting for the parade of big and little yellow buses which run up and down the street collecting all the kids who go to different summer camps. Fifteen minutes, and a lot of hugs and arm waving, later, I am alone. It’s the first time in almost ten years that I have over five hours to myself. It is strange, exciting and sad, and I slowly make my way back into the quiet of my ransacked house.
I gym, run an errand or two, then come home, shower and write. 2pm comes pretty fast, and before i know it, I am carrying a sleepy Julius off the bus. At 4:30pm, in comes Michael and at 4:45pm, Tyler arrives. We talk about camp a bit, but it’s rush time again. Tyler must change, eat and be at the field by 5:30pm or I’m going to be in trouble.
At 5:20pm, we’re in the car. “We’re going to be late, Mom.” Tyler concludes.
“The field is five minutes away. We’ll be fine.” I assure him, but I’m a little nervous. It’s more like eight minutes, and Howard will be on the early train. He could beat me there. It’s not my fault Julius had to make a last minute poop, but I probably shouldn’t have taken the phone call from my mother. We are all buckled in and I turn the key. The car makes a sputter sound and the engine does not catch. Uh oh.
Michael says it, “Oh no. That’s not good.”
I turn the key again, give it a little gas and pray. The engine turns. “See, we’re fine.”
“Nine minutes.” Tyler reports.
We don’t get two blocks before a car pulls in front of me – a police car. I automatically slow down below the speed limit, stopping an extra full second at each stop sign until finally, he turns and goes down a different block. I do a little speeding (just a little) to make up a minute or so.
“Stop it Tyler.”
We are on a roll until – and you’re not going to believe this, but it is true – we turn and a student driver is right in front of us. He doesn’t stop three seconds at stop signs, he stops thirty. And he doesn’t drive 20mph, he drives 2mph. I mutter some frustrated words that probably weren’t child friendly, causing my children to giggle. It was all I could do to keep from slamming down on the horn.
“We’re going to be late.” Michael teased. He was right. It was 5:27pm.
I control myself, which isn’t easy, and don’t race around the impressionable, young driver. I don’t want to freak him out and besides that cop could be nearby. We arrive at the field just as the clock turns and I hear Tyler announce, “5:31pm. We’re late.”
I see Howard. He has beaten me there. I’m in trouble.
The game won’t start until 6pm, but Howard likes them there early to warm up. Michael, Julius and I get out and go over to the bleachers to watch for an hour or so, until I have to get Michael to his TKD class. Besides the gnats, it’s a gorgeous night and Tyler is pitching, a chip off his daddy’s block. He looks beautiful out there and for three innings, he strikes out each player as they come up or they pop up into an easy fly. When he comes off the mound for the final time, Howard catches my eye and nods. He’s saying, did you see our boy?! He’s so good. I nod back. I know. I know. From across the field, we are connected in parental pride.
Julius and I leave to take Michael to his TKD class. Howard and Tyler finish the game. We both get home around the same time and it’s an explosion of voices and activity and excitement. Tyler goes over, in great detail, his pitching stats and then his hitting – an impressive base hit, double and a triple. Michael is equally proud. Tonight he has received another stripe on his TKD belt. He’s only seven and a brown belt. If a strong wind doesn’t blow him over, he will kick your ass. Julius bounces back and forth between his older brothers, just excited to be there and be awake.
After some kitchen action and then some shower action, we finally get the boys to bed. It’s almost 10pm and we are ready to crash on the couch. I run into the kitchen for a cup of frozen yogurt for myself and a bag of pretzels and hummus for Howard, who is mindlessly flicking through the channels on the television. We eat our snacks for a bit and stare at the 10 o’clock news in silence. Finally, Howard says, “You were late.”
“One minute.” I protest.
I can’t argue that, so I argue something else. “Are you going to eat the whole bag of pretzels?”
Thankfully, he sort of laughs. “Someone cranky?”
“Maybe.” I concede and he snuggles me under his arm
“Well, don’t be cranky tomorrow.”
I smile, what I hope is a shy, cute smile, but I’m not 16 anymore. I’m 42. And I’ve spent my whole life with this person beside me. He’s knows my good. He knows my ugly. He is still my rock when I’m in a hard place. The arm around my shoulder. The man I love deeply and sincerely, without reservation, even when he is so unbelievably annoying. We’ve made a life together, and it is good.
Happy almost anniversary.” He says and kisses my lips.