With over 1000 emails in her inbox, Jessica felt completely defeated. She began deleting, realizing – to her embarrassment – that she subscribed to some very dubious self-help newsletters. Within twenty minutes she was down to 400 emails, flagging them all with different colors just for fun.
Color-coded flagged emails. What a ridiculous world we live in.
Scrolling to the bottom, she found a bunch of old photos. Most of them were of Jessica and her now deceased three dogs.
“Three Dead Dogs, a memoir by Jessica Sholmes,” she said out loud, as if she was the book reviewer for The New York Times.
Her first dog, Lexie, had been a chunky low-rider who ate anything and everything. Once, unbeknownst to Jessica, she had scarfed the tiny end of a smoked joint from underneath a park bench. At home, she sat on the couch dazed and unresponsive.
“She’s dying! She must have eaten something poisonous!”
At the emergency vet hospital the Doctor said:
“Don’t worry. She’s just high. She’ll make a full recovery.”
For the love of god.
Their second dog Leroy, who overlapped with Lexie, had been a 100 pound Boxer mix who thought he was Jessica’s husband. He barely tolerated her actual husband, Jim, always giving him side-eye:
“I’m her real man and don’t you forget it.”
Every night Leroy tried sleeping between them; they’d eventually given up trying to get him off the bed. He slept horizontally between their two bodies, creating a “no touch” zone, forcing Jessica and Jim to wave goodnight to each other from across the king bed. Lexie insisted on sleeping with her head on Jessica’s pillow. If Jessica so much as coughed, Lexie nosed her face, staring at her as if she was watching over her puppy.
Oh my god our dogs are crazy. We are crazy.
Lexie and Leroy died a couple years apart. Her husband insisted they take a dog break so they could visit Portugal and Spain. But they never traveled. Well, unless you count that one trip to the country where they stayed at the crazy Bed & Breakfast. The owners, two pointy looking sisters who wore matching denim smocks, forced Jessica and Jim to eat their gluten free heart-shaped pancakes for breakfast. Sitting with them for the entire meal, they spoke non-stop about their beloved long-deceased parents.
“Oh My God these ladies are complete freaks. I bet we don’t make it out of here alive,” Jessica had whispered to Jim.
Eventually she convinced Jim to adopt another dog, this time an elderly American Staffordshire named Jerry. Jerry loved UPS trucks and regularly jumped in the open passenger side when they were parked on their street. One beloved driver had even taken him for a spin around the block.
When Jerry died, Jim had declared:
“No. More. Dogs.”
Jessica was crying now. Jim called out:
“You okay in there? What’s going on?”
“I’m fine. Everything is fine. I’m just going down memory lane looking at dog photos.”
“You know what we decided: no more dogs. From now on it’s just you and me babe,” he said from the living room.
“Yep, I remember. No more dogs. Just quality time together,” she answered, her voice quivering.
“Should we order pizza tonight? I have a hankering for pepperoni pizza,” he said.
“I’ve never heard you use the word hankering. But sure, why not. As long as we order a salad too so I don’t feel like a completely failure.”
Jim loved using the word perfecto and it drove Jessica fucking nuts.
Leaving her dead dog photos, Jessica went to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine. Not 5 ounces. I mean really, who the hell drinks a 5 ounce glass of wine? She poured a real person glass of wine, which was probably closer to 10 ounces. Sitting down at their kitchen table she flipped through Parenting Magazine.
“Jim? Why is Parenting Magazine on our kitchen table?”
“I have no idea. It just came with the mail. I ordered the food, it’ll be here in 30 minutes.”
Jessica looked at photographs of happy looking couples with their children.
She wondered if she had any good eggs left. She was forty-four. They were probably crappy eggs. Underdog eggs. Eggs that you didn’t really want hatched. But they could adopt. I mean they were fortunate enough to have plenty of money. They had a nice house with a backyard and there was a good elementary school within walking distance of them.
Jessica sipped her wine. If they adopted a baby she would have to become a 5 ounce glass kind of woman. Or maybe it was the opposite: maybe once the kid was asleep you drank a stiff scotch, watching Netflix with the baby monitor next to you.
Over pizza and salad they discussed which new Apple TV series to watch that evening.
“What about adopting a child? Not necessarily a baby, but a young child. Or, even an older child. I mean why should we discriminate? It’s so much harder for older children to get adopted.”
“Did I miss something? We were just deciding which show to watch tonight and now we’re talking about adopting a fucking kid? How many glasses of wine have you had?”
Jim looked angry. Like scary angry.
“Is this because you were reading that stupid Parenting Magazine? What the hell is wrong with you Jessica? Adoption is a serious issue, you just don’t bring it up casually over pizza on a Saturday night. And last I remember we decided years ago not to have children. For fuck’s sake.”
Getting up abruptly from the table, Jim took his plate to the living room where he turned the TV back on.
Jesus. That anger was intense. True, she had not properly segued to the topic, she had just sprung it on him. But still, his reaction frightened her.
After cleaning up Jessica went upstairs to her office. She googled “adopting a child in Seattle” and started pouring over websites. She discovered a highly respected Adoption Coordinator who acted as a kind of personal assistant to help navigate the complicated system. Jessica set up a meeting with her. First consultations were one hour and cost $200, non-refundable. Fine. Done and done. She would meet with the coordinator and get a feel for the whole process. Of course she wouldn’t mention that her husband had gone off the rails at the mere mention of adopting, that would tarnish their file forever.
The next morning Jessica awoke to a note on the bed that read, “Gone Fishing. Back Tonight. Jim.”
Wow. He was mad.
Of course Jim didn’t fish, so he’d probably gone off on a day trip somewhere where he could sulk and rage, maybe to a small town pub.
The Sunday farmer’s market was on and Jessica hurried to get there in time to score one of their delicious strawberry scones. Everyone else went for the fresh organic produce, but Jessica went for the baked goods. Of course she piled her basket high with leafy green things too, but tucked underneath were scones, cookies and croissants.
Back at home Jessica made herself coffee, then sat outside with her plate of carbs. As she finished the scone her memory flash-backed to ten years ago:
She and Jim had met and married in their mid-thirties, the last in their circle to wed. A blind date had led to a year of intense dating, leading to a six month engagement, culminating in a beautiful outdoor wedding.
Holding her coffee mug, Jessica froze:
She had fallen in love with Jim on their very first date. He smelled like ivory soap and made her feel like the most dazzling woman on planet earth. After sleeping together on their fourth date, while lying in a tangle of grey striped sheets, Jim had revealed that he did not want kids. In that moment all Jessica wanted was Jim, so she had answered:
“Me either. But I would love to have dogs.”
Fucking Ivory Soap Smell. Go Fuck Yourself.
She started crying.
Jessica had always wanted a child. Ever since she could remember she had wanted one child, not two, not three, but one. One had always seemed civilized, like you could still have a life and not be run completely ragged. She had never not wanted a child. She had never not wanted a child until the night she told Jim she did not want a child.
Fuckety Fuck Fuck Fuck.
Still crying, Jessica picked up her cell, calling her mom:
“Darling, are you okay?”
“Ya, I’m fine, it’s just-”
“Ok good because our mimosas have arrived, I’m out for brunch with the girls. Can I call you later?”
“Should I adopt a child?”
“Oh My God, girls – they’re adopting a child! Congratulations! Finally I’ll be a grandmother!”
Jessica could hear her mother’s friends in the background clinking glasses.
“Delilah said she wants to throw you a baby shower-”
“Mom, I just asked if you think I should adopt a child. I didn’t say we were adopting one. I’m actually having kind of a meltdown right now, I-”
“Sweetie, just do it. What are you waiting for? I’ve practically got one foot in the grave. I’ll call you later and of course you can count on your father and I to babysit once a week. Well, maybe once every two weeks. Love you. Byeeeee!”
“FUUUUUUUCK!” Jessica yelled a little too loudly.
Her neighbour, Dorothy, poked her head out her back door.
“Jessica, what’s all the ruckus about?”
“I just realized that I want a child even though ten years ago I told Jim that I didn’t. Now I don’t know what to do.”
“Can you accidentally get pregnant?” Dorothy suggested, taking a puff of her menthol.
“Not really. I use an IUD and they rarely fail. Plus, I think my eggs are past their due date.”
“Adopt then. Adoption is a wonderful thing.”
“I know right? That’s what I want to do, but Jim-”
“Oh never mind Jim, he’ll come around. Remember when he didn’t want you planting those rose bushes because he hated thorns? But he ended up loving them. It’ll be the same with having a child.”
Dorothy took another puff then waved good-bye.
Okay, but I can’t take advice from anyone who still smokes Menthols.
Jessica texted her best friend Michelle, asking her to call when she had time. She knew Michelle was currently overwhelmed with her in-laws visiting, a new puppy and two kids under eight.
“Love u. Will call asap. Freak scene here. My in-laws r insufferable. Hope u r ok. Xoxo.”
Jessica finished her coffee while further researching adoption and found several helpful blogs and websites.
Trying not to fret about Jim, she spent the day keeping busy. Catching up on some work, vacuuming, planting daisies in the front yard, dropping off some cookies to Dorothy and then later making Jim’s favorite meal: spaghetti and meat balls.
Jessica’s eyes were puffy from crying on and off throughout the afternoon. At seven o’clock, when Jim still wasn’t home, she lay down with a warm flaxseed eye pillow.
Michelle called back:
“I think I want a child.”
“Well of course you want a child. You’ve always wanted a child – one child – since we were like twelve years old. But in your haze of mad love you told Jim you didn’t want kids and you’ve kept up the lie for ten years.”
“When you put it like that it sounds awful, I sound awful.”
“You’re not awful, you were just wildly in love and scared of losing him. And over the years you buried your desire for a child so deeply that you kinda convinced yourself you never wanted one in the first place. But it sounds like you’ve just had some sort of amazing emotional breakthrough – what happened?”
“Well, I know this sounds insane, but I think the breakthrough was triggered by reading Parenting Magazine-“
“You bought Parenting Magazine?”
“No no, it randomly appeared in our mailbox. So I started flipping through it and it just brought it all up for me.”
“Like a sign from the universe. Not that I believe in that crap, but-”
“I know, it does kind of feel like a sign from the universe, even though I don’t really believe in that stuff either. And so I started thinking about my eggs which are, you know kinda old-timers and then it just came to me: we should adopt – maybe even a child because they get overlooked. So I brought it up over dinner.”
“Nice timing, out of nowhere.”
“I know, I know. Jim is furious. He left early this morning and hasn’t returned yet.”
“Well, that is Jim’s MO – he just disappears – he’s passive aggressive. He’ll come back tonight, don’t worry.”
“Hopefully. But the thing is I’m really serious. I’ve already booked a consultation with an Adoption Coordinator.”
“That sounds like a made up job title.”
“No, it’s a real thing. She comes highly recommended. The adoption paperwork is insane, she helps facilitate things.”
“Can she convince your husband to adopt? Cause that would be a real thing.”
“Sorry. Listen, you’ve been watching Sandra and I raise our kids so you’ve seen the challenges up close. You know that raising a child is fucking hard. But it’s also the best thing ever and you would be an incredible mother. Not gonna lie though, I’m a lil’ worried that your emotional breakthrough might blow up your marriage. I don’t think Jim will change his mind.”
“Let’s see. I’m so drained. Thanks for talking love. Good luck with the in-laws.”
“Good luck with Jim. Keep me posted. Love you.”
Watching a few episodes of the old Charlie’s Angels, her go-to comfort show, Jessica kept her ear tuned to the door. Surely Jim would come home, if not for Jessica then for his Monday morning zoom meeting.
Later, showered and in bed wearing Jim’s vintage New Order tee-shirt, Jessica prayed to God:
I know it’s been awhile and I apologize for my delinquency. But I’m in a bit of a situation here and I’m wondering if you can help me out. Can you please bring Jim home safely? I’m starting to worry that something happened to him. Like maybe he went to the country and did that thing he likes to do where he pretends he’s an outdoorsy Patagonia guy even though he’s totally not. And maybe he walked in a dangerous part of the forest and was attacked by a bear or a pack of wild dogs. I just need him to come home.
Oh and also – sorry to ask for help with two things – I need him to have had a complete change of heart and be 100% into adopting a child with me. That’s all, just those two things. Thank you so much. I hope you are well and that all your angel friends are well too.
I love you. Good night.
Jessica turned off her bedside table lamp and closed her eyes. She didn’t think she would be able to sleep, but the moment her head hit her Blissy satin pillowcase she was out cold.
At 2:00 AM, after eating left over spaghetti and meat balls and taking a shower in the basement bathroom so as not to wake Jessica, Jim slid into bed.
“You’re home, thank God. I was so worried.”
“I know, I’m sorry babe. I should have texted you back. I just needed some space to – as you always say – process my feelings. I love you, you’re everything to me. I know that sounds corny as fuck, but it’s true. And I just want us to enjoy this beautiful life together. So I booked us a trip to San Francisco at the end of the month, 4 days at a super swank hotel. Just us being happy, silly tourists together. We’ll ride the cable cars, check out the Victorian architecture that you love – it’s gonna be perfect.”
“Wow, I can’t believe you did that, thank you. I can hardly wait.”
After the kiss the silence was not soft and lovely, it was heavy and sad, at least it felt that way to Jessica. All the words left un-said and the emotions that went with the words, were swept under their Crate and Barrel shag rug.
Jessica was now wide awake. The elephant in the room had jammed its long trunk into her heart and as she lay on the satin pillow case, the one that was supposed to prevent wrinkles, she thought:
I asked for a child and he gave me a trip to California.
Where the hell do we go from here?
Photo Credit: “sophsoph” on Pinterest