Love stories can’t always end well, but you don’t always get to see the happy beginning. Sometimes, you only get to see the bad ending, and in doing so, you have to follow the story backwards, and find your happy ending in the optimism of the beginning.

Let’s go back, long ago, not so long in years, but in miles, feelings and technology, a girl in pedal pushers  working as a curb hop,will meet a boy with slicked hair in a convertible.The town they both live in, is divided quite literally by a set of heavy train tracks. Heavy because, it separates the town in financial and class status, and both of our subjects live on the wrong side of it.The girl is painfully shy with red hair, and the boy is outspoken, and seemingly self assured.

Overloaded with orders, and obviously frazzled, the girl is working after school. A car pulls up that she has seen around, but her aunt takes the orders from the cars, and collects the money. Her aunt Betty is fat. Her chubby face, which is caked in makeup, is framed by bleached blonde hair, cut badly in the latest bob. Betty’s husband cooks in the cramped kitchen of the drive in.Being that it is already afternoon, he’s almost as drunk as he needs to be to take some money from the till, and leave with a flourish of cussing and a slamming of the drive-in’s back door.The girl tries not to think of this as she gathers the food and drinks from him onto her tray.The car full of older boys, much older than her, looms, and she is overcome with nervousness, as she usually is. The driver is handsome, and the boys with him,crowding the car are loud and laugh heartily.She walks up to them shakily, and begins handing them food with her head down. Using one hand, she holds the tray, while she tries to get a lanky boy in the back’s attention to take the next to last shake from the tray. The driver’s chocolate shake alone, totters precariously there on the yellow plastic tray.

“You’re going to drop that.” The driver of the convertible says.He has seen the girl around before, usually alone, walking to work or school. She wears a Chinese print jacket sometimes, he’s noticed,but this is his first true words to her. The girl glances up from what she is doing, still trying to get the thick headed boy in the backseat’s attention silently. She realizes he is right,and attempts to adjust the tray one-handedly. The tray tips with the action, spilling the driver’s shake directly in his lap. The girl’s face flushes with embarrassment, and she rushes into the building for napkins, not saying a word. The car is filled with laughter, as the boy opens the massive driver door and slides out, trying to slick the cold chocolate off his jeans. The girl reappears quickly, and yelling can be heard from behind her as she closes the building’s door, her shoulders slumped. She hands the boy some napkins in a wad, and he smiles at her, beginning a conversation, that slowly, she contributes to, until she feels a little less nervous. As she begins to answer his first questions,we can see they are both smiling now, and we can tell, there’s just the slightest spark between these two.Is that Perry Como on the radio of his convertible?We can’t be sure , because you and I can hear the sound of an alarm going off. Our time is up here, and we have to turn from chrome and chocolate shakes,pedal pushers and slicked hair.It’s time we returned to the present.

The Baby

The Baby

She had never been one of those women who yearned for a baby. She had never ooohed and ahhhed over her friends’ babies, and she for sure had never asked to hold any of them. The idea of a wet and dirty diaper almost made her sick, and when they cried, she wondered how their mothers could actually love the creature that was so loud, ugly, smelly, and so needy. Needy was the operative word – they always needed so much: hold me, feed me, change me, try to guess why I am crying. So she had said “no” to Jake about having a baby for the first five years of their marriage. Why couldn’t he be happy with things just the way they were with the two of them? He was enough for her. Why couldn’t she be enough for him? Finally she had relented but only after he had agreed to sign the baby contract which stated that he would be at least 75 percent responsible for the baby, and he would not expect her to give up her career as a lawyer. As a lawyer, she knew the contract was worthless, but it was symbolic and made Jake see how serious she was about giving in about the baby.  Then, she was also 33, and maybe she wouldn’t be able to get pregnant; she could always hope for that. She could say to Jake that she had tried, but it just wasn’t meant to be.

The first missed period she blamed on coming off the pill and her body adjusting. The second missed period sent her to the corner Walgreens for the home pregnancy test. She had almost dropped the little stick into the toilet her hands had been shaking so violently. She sat on the toilet seat waiting to check the sign that would change her life forever as she knew it. When the plus sign appeared, she wanted to cry but was just numb. How could she be pregnant so quickly and easily? Maybe the stick was wrong? Only three months off the pill, and she wasn’t ready for this. She knew Jake would be over the moon, but she felt like she was smothering and being crushed by a huge boulder. Could she do this? She was happy with her life just the way it was. What if she didn’t love the baby? She had never felt maternal, but she had promised Jake she would try, and she did love him. Surely, a woman who could graduate at the top of her law class and handle the corporate world, could handle a baby.

That night she suggested to Jake that they eat at their favorite Thai restaurant; she never cooked. She tucked the contract into her purse and snapped it shut. Already the baby was making demands because she knew she wasn’t supposed to drink alcohol with dinner, and she had to order water. After they had ordered and shared the events of their days, she pulled the contract from her purse, and laid it on the table. “What’s this? Jake asked with a smile. Have you added some more provisions for me to look over?” She had said “no” but she wanted to make sure he knew what he was getting into because in seven months, he was going to have to make good on his promises. Jake looked at her and broke into a smile that answered it all. He grabbed her into his arms and announced to the entire restaurant that they were going to have a baby. She had almost melted into the floor with embarrassment. She snatched the contract and put it back into her purse, and pretended to be as excited as Jake was.

The months had flown by, and the baby had made its presence known. The first four months were filled with morning sickness and fatigue that left her so weak that she sometimes nodded off at her desk. She skipped the usual lunches out with co-workers to take a nap in the employee lounge instead. Her stomach expanded to a size she never felt possible. Already she did not like the changes the baby had made to her life and body. How could she ever accept the changes that would come later? Jake had kept his word, however. He had been with her every step of the way, and she never had to remind him of the baby contract and his promises. He rubbed her feet every night and lathered her enormous belly with cream that was supposed to keep the stretch marks away. Even on her worst days, he told her she was beautiful. He did more than his share of the housework and served her breakfast in bed every Saturday and Sunday morning. His attention and care had sometimes bordered on the boundary of being irritating. She had wanted him to be attentive, but she didn’t want to be treated like an invalid. At times she was even resentful of the baby because she wondered if Jake was doing all the right things because of the contract and the baby instead of his love for her. At times she snapped at him and would tell him to back off. He would look hurt for a while, but it never lasted for long. She would curl back up next to him on the sofa, enjoy his hugs and kisses, and wonder if this would all end after the baby.

The day the baby came, she had felt great. She had skipped her nap and walked out for lunch. She had craved a big juicy hamburger and milkshake, but she was five pounds under the maximum weight she was allowed to gain and settled for a nearby salad bar instead. When she stood up to leave, there was a warm trickle flowing down her legs, and then it was followed by a gush of water that puddled at her feet. People asked if they could help, but all she wanted to do was run from them in total embarrassment. When she reached the sidewalk, she felt the first pain and decided to call Jake. He said he would be right there, and she made it the two blocks back to her office. She smiled at the receptionist as if everything was normal and rushed into the employee restroom where she removed the wet panties. She held onto the edge of a sink when another strong pain hit. When it passed, she started to the employees lounge and fell onto the couch.  She tried the breathing techniques from the prenatal class, but they weren’t helping. She had not expected the pains to come so suddenly and so hard. In what seemed like a lifetime, Jake appeared by the sofa, took her hand, helped her to her feet, and guided her to the car he had parked illegally on the sidewalk in front of her office building. As they exited, a policeman approached Jake and started to write him a ticket, but then he saw what was happening. They had ended up with a police escort with lights flashing and sirens blasting; this would be something to tell the baby. The pains were already five minutes apart and intense. During that ride she hated Jake and the baby. She had no control over her body, and there was no type of breathing that could take away the horrendous pain. Of course, she could not have the promised epidural because she was too far advanced into her labor, so the baby was born naturally. The doctor and nurses said she had done beautifully, but all she knew was she was exhausted and sore. When they laid the baby on her chest, she had taken one short glance at her newborn daughter, nodded, and fell immediately asleep.

When she woke up, the room was bathed in a dim light, and she could hear Jake’s voice and a slurping noise. As her eyes adjusted, she could see him holding the baby, feeding her, and talking to her in a voice she had never heard. It was almost a coo. He was telling the baby how beautiful she was and that she needed to drink all her milk so she could be big and strong. He sang to her, and then they both fell asleep in the hospital rocker. She had never felt so alone. She had no desire to hold the baby, and only resentment that her husband had called another woman beautiful. She fell asleep again with tears on her cheeks knowing she would never be the mother the baby would need and feeling as a total outsider.

Two days later, the three of them walked into the apartment that she and Jake had shared for six years. Jake was already talking about buying a house, but she did not want to talk about that yet; she loved their apartment. Their home office had already been converted into a nursery, and the kitchen  and bathroom were cluttered with baby things everywhere.  Jake seemed not to notice, but she hated it. She resented that her beautifully decorated apartment was so cluttered and changed. Why couldn’t things go back like they were before the baby?

Jake had two weeks vacation time, and he loved taking care of the baby. Occasionally she would feed her, but was always glad to hand her back over to Jake. Even though they had named her Amelia Irene (after Jake’s mother her grandmother), she still thought of her as “the baby”.  The first day Jake went back to work, she was terrified. Jake reassured her that he was only 30 minutes away, and the retired nurse next door would be more than glad to come if she needed her. Jake had written down the baby’s schedule and all the emergency numbers and almost cried as he kissed them good-bye at the door. She had almost cried too and screamed for him to come back, but she had shut the door behind him determined to do what she had to do.

The baby was sleeping peacefully in its crib when Jake had left, but almost sensing he was gone had started screaming fifteen minutes later. She looked at the schedule and knew it was too soon for a feeding. She gingerly picked the baby up and laid her on the changing table. She changed the diaper even though it was dry and clean, and the baby continued to scream even louder. She was on the verge of calling Jake, but instead she wrapped her in a blanket the way Jake did and sat down in the rocker and started to rock.  The baby screamed louder. Jake always sang to her, so she tried that. The baby screamed even louder. Finally, in sheer exhaustion and fright, she reached over and turned the CD player onto her favorite classic music and hummed along. The baby’s screaming turned into small hiccups, but the screaming had stopped. She looked at the baby, and the baby looked at her. Instead of being relieved and putting her back into her bed, she began to look at the baby more closely. She saw Jake’s chin and forehead. She saw the baby’s  nose and the shape of the baby’s eyes were hers. She was beautiful! She unwrapped the blanket and looked at her feet and hands; they were perfect! She was marvelous, and she had changed Claire’s life forever. What if the apartment was cluttered, and her body was in need of some serious exercise? Claire knew at this moment that she would do anything for this baby. After an hour of rocking and humming to her as she slept, Claire was at peace and laid the baby back into her crib.

She went to her purse and pulled out the baby contract. She stood by the crib and ripped it into pieces and then threw the pieces into the trash can. As she touched the baby’s forehead and lips, Claire said, “I don’t think we are going to need that contract anymore. I love you Amelia Irene.”

*This is piece is fictional but written for women who may have experienced a similar reaction to motherhood. Carol