You had an emergency. First you called, four minutes before the start of my last class, without leaving a message. I didn’t intend to call back. I’d made progress this week; I could feel it. I was laying the groundwork for indifference.
It started Monday, when I talked while you regurgitated rationales, things I’m certain it’s become necessary for you to repeat to yourself, a battery of reasons why you’re perfectly within your rights, withholding your interest, your assistance, your presence. I listened to you, for about twenty minutes, reminding me that this—this menagerie of isolation and worry and loneliness I’d written to you about, the day before—was exactly why you suggested that I terminate the pregnancy in the first place: I told you I wouldn’t be there. I knew you’d want a partner in this. Wasn’t I upfront with you? Didn’t I tell you it would be this way? You didn’t listen.
I was listening, then—struck dumb, as is becoming typical now. My mental synapses aren’t as quick to fire; a cognitive sluggishness seems to have settled somewhere in my cerebrum. Maybe our daughter isn’t just siphoning nutrients; maybe she’s sloughing off parts of my intellect, too. It’s a thought I would’ve liked to run by you, one of many I’d only raise just to hear you refute.
Before I knew it, I was crying. I hate how often you make me cry. Just last Tuesday, it happened in a hospital, where I was waiting for an uncle to recover from surgery. I was on a grief-bender, having just attended a great-aunt’s funeral, not 72 hours before, where I cried for the better part of a day, over all the things I should’ve done for her and didn’t. I called you about it, foolishly, stubbornly, clinging to the memories that tethered you to other family funerals, ones that awkwardly arose during your infrequent visits, ones for extended family you’d not only met, but spent time with, ones you’d driven me to, with patience, in silence.
I wanted your ear, then. I wanted your ear, at the hospital, too, even though I already knew, by the time you bothered to call back, that my uncle would be fine. I wanted your voice—the one you use when I’m wrung dry, the one that falls left of condescension and melts the tension in my shoulders till I’m calm.
But you withheld it. Even when you called back, too late, you just held the phone and let the reception crackle between us. You’d offer a question in an affect so flat it was impossible for me to pretend that you cared. And I’d answer it, like an idiot, waiting, even as I began to know that nothing I’d say would close the space you’d opened between us.
I hung up, after two minutes that day, rushed away from the waiting room full of my family, and locked myself into a single-stall bathroom nearby. I sobbed, until I had to stuff the wrists of my sweatshirt into my mouth, to muffle myself.
By the end of our call this Monday, where you pressed and pressed for my agreement that yes, you’d told me if I kept the child, I’d bear her alone… and maybe you’d come around later, I’d grown weary of the cow-like tears, sliding from some unbidden space, for the third time in under two weeks.
The next morning, I wrote you again (it takes this long, these days, for me to defend myself). I explained that, in April, I didn’t need to be reminded of anything you’d said to me in November. It’s irrelevant now; my daughter is 24 weeks grown. She fidgets at 4 am. She likes ice cream and hearing me talk loudly into phones. She has tastebuds. We’ve moved on. I told you that these things you say aren’t helpful. (If I were sharper, I would’ve used the word “counterproductive,” but I worked with what I had.) “Every time we talk,” I typed, “I feel like you’re blaming me.”At the end of this message, I asked you: “Can’t you try a different approach?”
You wrote back. It was quick, something you dashed off on your Blackberry. “I am not blaming you,” you said, “and I will try.”
That was the day the indifference began. I’d been here before, with you, at some cliff’s edge about to shrug and take a dive. I didn’t want you anymore. We’d make do, I was telling myself. Maybe I’ll even love someone else, and my daughter won’t have to watch me beg her father for an inkling of his attention. A distant ache drained out of me and, left cold, I knew I’d no longer rush to take your calls. I wouldn’t ask you again to involve yourself. I wouldn’t expect you here for her birth or her birthdays. I wouldn’t want you here, the way you’ve been, these last months.
I was ready, yesterday, to ignore the call you’d left me before my class. Ready to wait days or weeks on end, like you do, to see what you wanted, if I decided to look into your needs at all.
But then there was a text two hours later. You had an emergency. It had to do with your mother, who’d called me twice this week and left ebullient messages, asking after “me and the baby,” calls I hadn’t yet returned, in part because of this burgeoning resolve I’d begun to build against you. I needed a day or two, to be sure it would stick. I needed to compartmentalize what I was feeling for you. She needn’t know, when we talked, that I was slowly hatching a plan to cut you out of my expectations, like an unwanted guest in a photograph. I needed to be sure my voice wouldn’t reveal this.
I needed a day not to think about you at all.
And now you were telling me, via text, that she’d taken ill. I wrote back immediately, said I was sorry to hear it, asked if you were okay, and when we talked soon after, I fell into my old habit of looking up flights home for you. Like a travel agent.
You thanked me for looking into it, but ultimately decided to hold off on purchasing the flight. When we hung up, I talked to my mother, who admonished me not to get too involved: “This is a family situation. And you are not a part of their family.”
She was right; of course, she was right. Hadn’t you spent the last five months reinforcing that for me?
But we talked again last night, and I asked you if you were worried. I was thinking about my own hospital trip and the funeral that had preceded it and how amplified my anxieties would’ve been if either instance had involved my own mother. You should’ve be home, seeing after her health, yourself; it was the only way to alleviate the panic you must’ve been feeling.
We talked about other things: television and work and the content of the voicemail your mother left me. Distractions. You asked if I’d gained a lot of weight. I asked if you wake up angry at me every day. You asked if I think of you. I told you how big the girl has gotten: “Right now, she’s a foot long and weighs about a pound.” “How do you know that?” “I have books and three websites.”
We spoke of other things, too, things about myself, things I knew were falling on closed ears, but I didn’t care. I needed to say them aloud, and I was too used to saying them to you.
This morning, you texted to say that you’d found your own flight. You’d gone to LAX and purchased it there. I still marvel at the profound difference in our approaches to problems. I never would’ve gone directly to an airport and asked for flight rates for the same day I expected to depart. I would’ve been too afraid they’d quote me some exorbitant fee and I’d have no back-up or bargaining chip. But you managed to find a flight you could afford, departing one half-hour after your inquiry.
It occurred to me, then, how accustomed I’ve been to making myself seem indispensable. Over time, leaping to your aid has been less about being a good partner and more about being a necessary one. Even now, I’m willing to wager that a part of me with which I’m not ready to contend just yet, sprang to action for you last night, because it misses the old reflex of need, the muscle memory of our relationship at full function.
There is part of me that wants you to need me, simply because there is part of me—especially now—that needs you.
But as I type, you’re flying toward the coast that raised you, probably remembering a time far before us, when it was you and your mother, a duo with an unspoken understanding about what would necessary to give and to withhold. Maybe you’re thinking of her sacrifices for you; maybe you’re thinking of yours for her. Maybe you’re thinking of how much you value you her, and how it’s unlikely she knows it.
And on this plane of thought, I’m neither needed nor wished for nor known.
I’m beginning to be okay with that.