My visit was from (I am making a very accurate guess back on dates) March 2-10 or 11. I looked back at a calendar because there are some specifics I remember about the visit, so that must be right. But, amazingly, I remember it being a short visit... I guess it wasn’t. Anyway, her daughter was born March 29... just one day after she was due. So, Ashley was QUITE pregnant during this visit.
We arrived at Ashley’s house on a Saturday evening. So we had church in the morning. I remember very few things about the actual days, but the things I do remember are vivid. I had been to Ashley’s church enough at that point that it almost had that “going home for a visit” sort of feel. Everyone said hi and called me by name. Makes you feel like a celebrity when you totally aren’t.
| || |
We drove to town to get lunch after church. There was a restaurant she had taken me to multiple times over the years and it had become a bit of a staple during my visits. I was ready to forget everything for a while. I was going to eat and enjoy this food if it killed me.
We had the buffet... Ashley, her husband, and I. We talked, we laughed. It felt as easy at it always had. The events of the last several months lost in our sharing of old memories and good times. It would have been an all-too perfect lunch date, but the ice cream machine was down. The most logical solution was to go to the grocery store and purchase ice cream before going back to the house. We all gladly made the excuse that the baby wanted ice cream... and we all had a different idea of the flavor baby girl wanted... I can’t remember who won.
In the ice cream isle at the store, I remember feeling off... not 100%. I’m not sure if it was eating a normal-sized meal for the first time in a long time, or if it was the odd-tasting bite of broccoli salad... but something wasn’t right. I felt nauseous all at once. We paid for our things quickly and got out of there. The drive home was continuously nauseating, but after laying down for a bit at the house, I started feeling a bit back to normal. I surely wasn’t hungry, nor did I want ice cream at that point.
We went back to church for the evening service. We sat in the back. The nausea returned. I remember a little boy sitting in the pew in front of us. He was looking back at us and we made faces at each other, and quietly played. I remember seeing his dark hair and olive-complexion... wondering what my own child would look like if I were to have one.
We sat and chatted after the service. No... everyone else chatted, I sat in the pew focusing on breathing. Something was wrong. I was sick. I told Ashley I thought I needed to get outside; I was afraid I might get sick all over the sanctuary. We left and I made it home with no incident... but barely.
I sat in the bathroom all night revisiting the lunch that never made it past my stomach. Let’s just say, the aroma was overwhelming. My 8 1/2 month pregnant best friend cleaned up everything. I don’t know how she did it. Maybe it was mom-instinct kicking in. Maybe it was sheer determination. Or maybe it was just deep deep love. But she disinfected everything and disposed of my partially digested lunch while I laid on her bed and cried.
No sooner had I downed a glass of water that I begged her for, and she gave me against her better judgment, I was back in the bathroom, ejecting all the water I had consumed. I have great friends, lets just say. Ashley and her husband not only gave me their bedroom with the on suite bathroom for the night, but made a 30 min (one way) drive in the middle of the night to get me something to calm my stomach and re-hydrate my body.
After a few days I was feeling back to normal and resumed regular meals and human interaction. Maybe that is why I remember the trip being short... I was sick for the first few days.
My last night I don’t think we slept at all. Actually, I think Ashley slept one hour before church, but I did not. I remember going into the nursery to finish decorating. I had organized all the baby girl clothes, removed tags, hung them. I had finished painting the walls and hung curtains, closet shelves, and fluffy pink decor. I put together the mobile for the crib and got it all ready.
I sat in the rocking chair and imagined a little girl in my arms. My heart ached. I already loved this baby so much, but I ached for a child of my own. I had been up all night weeping, talking, and praying. I remember placing my hand on Ashley’s belly and feeling her daughter move around inside of her. I prayed for this new baby, I prayed for this new mom, and I prayed for this new change. Our friendship would survive this. No amount of pain, heartache, or change could ruin us and all we had built together. I sang all the songs to her baby that I had imagined singing to my own over the years.
I remember being asked, “So, when are you gonna have a baby?”
I ignored Ashley’s gaze, though it stabbed me like daggers. She wasn’t angry, she was heartbroken. I knew what she wanted to do. She wanted to take my heart and protect it from the thoughtless comments and scrutiny of others. She wanted to tell everyone to leave me alone. She wanted to take me by the hand and run me out of there as quickly as possible. But she knew it would leave me in a state of embarrassment. So, she did all that she could do... she gazed into my soul, knowing I could feel it. Willing me to look, just a side-glance... a flash of my eyes, a squeeze of the hand... reassurance that I was ok. Just enough acknowledgement so she could say without words, “I’m here. I see you. I’m sorry. I hate this for you.”
I knew the quick-witted reply wasn’t enough to stave the questions off for long. Though it felt like 100 years had passed, mere seconds rolled by as the next series of questions presented themselves for me to answer. I felt I was being graded on a test only I could pass, but I didn’t make the rules. One wrong move and the questions would continue, taking turns I didn’t expect. Give the right answer, and it all ends, I can go home, I can find safety again... but only for a moment, because the questions would arise once again when I took my head out from under the covers and looked into the eyes of man.
“I just thought seeing Ashley getting ready to have a baby had made you think about it. Doesn’t it make you want a baby of your own?”
I shared as briefly and as thoroughly as I could. Ashley ended the conversation and got us out of there. I walked ahead of her the whole way outside. The March air hit me outside the church building like 100 mile per hour winds. I had been trapped under water for too long, and I now stood, bent over, gasping for breath. I drew in the fresh air. The first breath I had taken in a million years... or so it felt. Ashley caught hold of my arm and pulled, I resisted.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that was said...”
“It’s not your fault...”
I could see her pain... it was my pain. The tears that welled up in her eyes... they were mine. The shiver down her spine, it was mine. The drop of her heart into her stomach... was mine. She felt responsible... she wasn’t. I felt responsible... was I?
“...Let’s go...” she said.
This time I didn’t pull away, I just followed. I was ready to get out of there. To change the scenery, the atmosphere... remove the tension from the air. I wanted to laugh... for real. I wanted to eat and enjoy it. I wanted to hide. I wanted to go home... but was I ready for home? Was I ready for our next meeting?