It began like any other birthday, with a sense of entitlement and self absorption, as if all the world, from the shopkeeper to the bank teller, should know it’s my birthday and treat me accordingly. I’m always left disappointed.
We got up and took a drive over to the home of Bruce’s uncle, who has a house just down the street from Bruce’s parents’ house. We wanted to say goodbye to Bruce’s cousins, who were leaving Nantucket that afternoon. We bid our farewells from the driveway, but I needed to go to the bathroom and so despite knowing Bruce hates when I ask people if I can use their bathroom, I said, “Can I use your bathroom?” Before long, we were sitting at his Uncle Burt and Aunt Ruth’s kitchen table, as they served us peach pancakes and micro-waved coffee. His aunt served yoghurt, which was to be poured on top of the pancakes. Having never seen this before, I tried it. It wasn’t bad –but mostly because I’d poured about half a gallon of syrup on the pancake before she gave it to me. Cedar mulch would have complimented the pancakes, with all that syrup.
I’ve always liked Uncle Burt and Aunt Ruth. His Uncle Burt tells this funny joke I’ve since stolen that goes like this:
A man walks up to the pearly gates, and St. Peter says, “Hello, there. Where are you from?”
“I’m from Jersey City,” the man says.
“Welcome to heaven,” St. Peter says proudly, and waves the man in.
Another man walks up to the pearly gates, and is greeted by St. Peter. “Why hello, there. Where are you from?”
“I’m from Detroit,” the man says.
“Well, welcome to heaven,” St. Peter says proudly, and beckons the man to come in.
A third man walks up to the pearly gates and St. Peter says, “Hey, there, fella. And where are you from?”
“Nantucket and Naples, Florida,” the man says.
St. Peter pauses, and says, “You’re not going to like it here.”
I’ve always liked Aunt Ruth because she has the stiff posture and stern jaw of some of my relatives from Eastern European. And she seems stiff when you first see her, hugging rather than kissing, and holding her chin high in the air. But after a few minutes, she seems to melt and becomes a chatty Cathy, animated, laughing, though still barely moving her neck to the right or left when she speaks. I was enjoying my conversation with her and Uncle Burt so much, I had a second cup of coffee when they offered. And a third –even though I haven’t drank much coffee since I got pregnant, not for health reasons but because the idea of it made me ill. As Aunt Ruth picked up the milk to pour some in my coffee, she sniffed the carton and made a face. She paused, sniffed again, and then closed the container and threw it in the garbage.
“No good?” I said, concerned. I’d already used it in my last two cups of coffee.
“Oh, it’s probably fine,” she said. I could feel the rotten milk curdling in my stomach as she spoke. Just then, she saw a fly by the window. She picked up a fly swatter and began swatting at it.
“Oh, it’s on the outside,” she said.
We talked about their daughter-in-law Maureen, who had been writing stories for a local Nantucket magazine, and about how Bruce’s father had gotten into a minor accident near his home in Pennsylvania. Uncle Burt, who is Bruce’s father’s younger brother, was unusually interested in the accident. Grinning and hungry for details, you could feel him filling his quill with arrows. The conversation turned to local restaurants, and Aunt Ruth and Uncle Burt told us about how the owner of DeMarco’s, one of their favorite restaurants on the island, recently adopted a child and that he was thrilled. DeMarco was 68. Aunt Ruth said she believed the child might have been conceived using DeMarco’s sperm, and that it was carried by a surrogate mother, but she couldn’t be sure. She said she once told DeMarco that his adopted child looked remarkably like him. She says he paused, started to say something,and then seemed to change his mind and left to take care of something in the kitchen.
“We’re pregnant,” I blurted out.
“What? That’s wonderful,” said Aunt Ruth.
I started to whimper a little bit. I was embarassed at my display of emotion, with people I don’t really know very well, but it soon passed.
“That’s great news,” said Uncle Burt.
“We weren’t really going to tell anyone, but the chances of miscarriage at this stage are pretty low,” Bruce said.
It seemed like “too much information,” to be throwing around the word “miscarriage,” but as someone who has a hard time holding on to the most intimate details of my life, I couldn’t possibly say anything to Bruce about excessive sharing.
It turned out Aunt Ruth had actually known about the pregnancy. Bruce’s mother had told her two weeks earlier. But she put on a good show of enthusiasm.
We left their house for a day at the beach. The nice thing about Nantucket is that despite the small size of the island, there’s plenty of beach for everyone. It never feels crowded. We settled at a beach on the south side of the island, set up our chairs and cooler and began to read.
Before long, I had to go to the bathroom. I’m not sure what goes on internally during pregnancy, but my bladder is now like a needy child. It pulls on my arm every hour, demanding to be tended to –even in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, what Nantucket’s beaches have in beauty and abundance, they lack in bathroom facilities. The ocean was our bathroom. But with a hurricane coming up the coast, the seas were pretty rough. Bruce went in first, with the boogy board, to test the waters, as they say, and he was tossed around like a piece of pasta in boiling water. After being carried about four feet in the air by a wave and then dropped onto the dry sand, he said he didn’t want me going in. The ocean was behaving badly. He suggested I simply squat near the water’s edge and go. We walked a little farther down to the most unpopulated stretch of beach. I looked around and saw a house up on the bluff, and perched at the edge of the cliff was a camera, though it looked a bit rusty. Bruce suggested I squat there, that no one would know the difference. The problem was, I would. I didn’t want to be sitting there with a load of urine in my bathing suit, like a dirty diaper. I tried to squat close enough to the waves so that they would lap at the bottom of my suit, but the water wasn’t coming up far enough. So squatting, I waddled deeper into the surf, like a crab, until I could feel the water lapping at my bottom. I then began to pee and could feel my suit filling up. Disgusted, I waddled farther into the surf and shook my bottom around in the water like a duck trying to wash off its tail. All of a sudden, I felt a sharp pain in my lower abdomen, and I sprang to my feet.
“What’s going on?” Bruce said.
“Something really hurts,” I said. All I could think of was when I was spotting early in the pregnancy, and I asked the nurse if she thought I could be miscarrying. She asked if I felt any pain. I said I didn’t. She said if I was miscarrying, I’d feel pain. Now, I was feeling pain, and I couldn’t help but think it had to do with the squatting. Maybe the baby slid down to far.
“I just want to walk,” I said to Bruce, and I took off down the beach. I kept hearing Bruce tell his Aunt Ruth and Uncle Burt, “The chances of miscarriage at this stage are pretty low.” You shouldn’t flaunt that sort of thing, I thought. It’s like daring the gods.
The walking made me feel better. We made our way back to our seats and after a couple of minutes, I was starting to get hungry. I opened the cooler, and we split a sandwich. About halfway through it, I felt another jolt in my lower abdomen. I once again sprang to my feet and began to waddle down the beach like an old woman, moving swiftly but with small steps, like I didn’t want anything to fall out of me. I walked for a little while, and when we made our way back to the blanket, I suggested we leave.
By the time we got home, I could tell I was going to need the bathroom. I barely made it in the door. I don’t know what I ate, but there was a lot of commotion going on in my bowels, and there was a lot of shouting and kicking as everyone was exiting my body. I thought of Aunt Ruth’s face as she sniffed the milk I’d just used in my coffee. No way. It would have to have curdled in my cup to have wrought the havoc this beast was doing on my intestines. Perhaps it was simply having three cups of coffee,when I hadn’t really had any in the last two months. I had also eaten a bunch of grapes, perhaps too many. It could have been any number of things. The thing it wasn’t, much to my relief, was a miscarriage — at least not yet.
I had to make three more trips to the bathroom before we left for dinner that night. Bruce was taking me to a fancy French restaurant for my birthday. I’m sure there have been times throughout history when an inebriated movie star has been in an expensive restaurant and thrown up all over the white linen table cloth. Perhaps a gray-haired dignatory has eaten food that was too rich for his system and shat himself at a dinner party. I can’t have been the first person to go to one of the nicest restaurants on Nantucket and moments after we got there, I was in the bathroom unleashing the sour stench that had inhabited my intestines. It seemed criminal to do such a thing in a room with blue toile wallpaper and little lavendar soaps, but I wasn’t going to stay home on account of sickness. It was, after all, my birthday.