I want to tell you what it was like, the days of us. The days we grew together.
After my parents heard about you, mom insisted I move back home for the duration of my pregnancy. “Home,” she said as if I had one. I wanted to resist, but I had disobeyed enough already.
Home was only an hour south of Kirkland, in Puyallup, but even still, it meant I had to post my apartment on Craigslist, quit my restaurant job and transfer to Tacoma Community College for my German class. Only a few months from graduating, I refused to drop out of school. Lenae, my professor (who treated me kindly despite the gossip at my private school) helped me rearrange my schedule. I became the TA for her creative writing class, switched my day courses to nights to avoid Seattle traffic. For my genre course, she said I could write creative non-fiction remotely.
I moved back into my childhood home where surrounded by the relics of the person I was once—my Lisa Frank notepad, my Sylvester collection, my worry dolls—I stood enormously out of place.
Without a job, I ran out of money. When one of my tires went flat, I borrowed a hundred dollars from mom. I felt so ashamed of what a loser I had become, in all these predicaments. I scraped the last of my money from my console. A Coinstar sorted it into six dollars. I put five in my gas tank and bought us a Snickers bar and my 16-year-old brother Joel a bag of Skittles. I faxed my résumé to a little café with a Help Wanted ad in the classifieds.
I wrote about you, about me, about my dreams of being anywhere but my childhood bedroom. You grew inside me steadily. And I grew, like Alice when in Wonderland she eats the 'Eat Me' cake. I had already outgrown my room, now I threatened to bust out the windows. I found solace in plotting my escape. I emailed my friends in Nebraska, where I had spent my first three semesters of college. I told them the predicament I found myself in. One friend agreed to hop on a plane after you were born, meet me at the airport and then drive with me and my belongings halfway across the country. I would move to the Midwest and become a person who called the freeway “the interstate.” I vowed I would never return to this place where I had once felt loved and cared for.
Lenae invited me for a day into her home, which was small and damp, but warm and homey. The back windows looked out over the Seahawks training facility and I watched the giant men who looked like ants running in all directions from where I stood. Lenae inscribed her chapbook “to a sister in the craft” which she gave to me along with hope that one day all of the writing I was doing would turn into something. She asked if she could feel you kick.
My parents flew to Hawaii over dad’s spring break. I took over my mom’s job as a receptionist at the law office while she was away. When she returned, they promoted me to a legal aide. Monday through Friday, eight to five. On my lunch breaks, I drove to my German class.
The owner of that café in University Place called. It was bright, the tabletops painted with flowers, the walls periwinkle. Homemade truffles and cakes showcased behind glass. I worked weekend brunches with Evelyn, the other waitress. We made mochas and served quiche to our customers. Mostly they were people visiting dying loved ones in hospice next door. They came in crying or grieving silently but obviously, their faces crossed with lines of worry and morbid anticipation. I leaned in to listen to how they remembered the dying back when they had been alive together. I anticipated grieving myself; I had called the adoption agency.
After each shift, at my once-home, Joel would guess how much I had made in tips. If he was within a dollar, I would give him one which he spent at Handy Corner on Skittles.
One night, when I went into my parents’ basement to avoid them, I found Big Brother by accident, flipping through the nine channels on the13-inch bubble TV. I was lonely, oh so lonely, and wanted to cure it with solitude. I watched as young adults competed against one another, spared the truth, schemed about who they should evict. I popped popcorn. For one hour, three nights a week, you and I were in the basement in that squeaky brown chair where you would kick me from inside and I would place my hand on the spot where you had just been and tell you about the show and how ridiculous people could be. Their reality pulled me out of mine for just enough time that I could bear it again.
At the café, my belt crept lower and lower beneath you. I expected the owner to fire me because of this but she didn’t and that little security—behind the glass, slicing cakes for grieving people—made me feel useful. The busser took stacked plates out of my hands, told me to sit down, eat something. The cook made me turkey sandwiches smeared in creamy horseradish. Those sandwiches I later identified as my “small, good thing,” after I fell in love with the Raymond Carver story of the same name.
During the week, I transcribed tapes the lawyer left me into legal documents.
I rotated through five maternity shirts and two pairs of elastic-waist pants.
At the end of the quarter, for my German final, I sat in my professor’s office for ten minutes and spoke to her auf Deutsch. I told her about you, about my plans after your birth. After Birth would mark another time in my life, the next chapter, one I was apprehensive about. I didn’t know how it would go, if I’d be able to keep my head above this loneliness that already I ached in anticipation of. Somehow, in this other language, my non-native tongue, I first articulated it.
“Ich werde wegziehen,” I said, meaning I will move away. It translates to I will pull away. I felt safe there, in that office, with my hand on my belly, you inside it, speaking to a woman I would never see again about my present and future lives in a language that wasn’t mine.
That was us, how we grew together. I went to classes and wrote and worked in an office and at a café and watched reality TV, and you were there with me. I ate sandwiches and candy and drank Pepsi and Frappuccinos and you did too. That is what I knew of us. All of those little things that seemed like nothings are what there was of us. That was our becoming, before I pulled away.
Author’s Commentary: This is one of many essays written for my daughter. It is the simple monotony of the existence we shared before our lives diverged. She now lives apart from me, adopted by more capable parents.
Holly Pelesky is a lover of spreadsheets, giant sandwiches, and handwritten letters. She holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska. She cobbles together gigs as a barista and a waitress and a slam poetry coach and a freelance editor. She lives in Nebraska with her two sons.