Mary

~ Inspired by a True Story ~

“Your hips are too narrow, you’re going to have trouble giving birth.”

“Oh.”

“Back in your places everyone. Let’s take it from the top.”

After rehearsing the modern dance choreography for an hour and a half, Mary was exhausted. At the bus stop she pulled her neon orange beret down as far as it would go, it was freezing. On the ride home she worked on her homework, but found it difficult to concentrate.

I’m going to have trouble giving birth. Does that mean the baby will get stuck? Will the baby break my narrow hips trying to bust its way out of my vagina? Will the baby die inside me? Will I die? Maybe no one will want to marry me because I don’t have child-bearing hips. Oh My God I’m going to die alone.

“How was dance class honey? Your beef stroganoff is on a plate in the oven.”

“It was pretty good, but my dance teacher said something weird to me, she said I’m going to – ”

“Hold on hon, I have to go wrangle your brothers. They’re fighting like maniacs and your father is at a work event.”

“But mom – ”

Later that night Mary wrote in her journal:

February 17th, 1985

Found out my hips are too narrow to have a baby, so I’ve decided to forget about having children. Anyways, my brothers are crazy – imagine if I had a kid like them?!!!! I’m going to get 3 dogs instead. That creepy guy was watching me dance again, the one who wears burgundy tights. I HATE HIM!!!

After showering and staring at her pores for ten minutes, Mary went to bed. She put on her headphones and listened to The Cure’s “The Head on The Door” for a few minutes before turning off her light. She was exhausted, but she had to say her prayers.

Her brothers didn’t have any Catholic training, but Mary had gone to French Catholic School for three years, so she figured she had a leg up on them. Though, if she were being completely honest with herself, St. Elizabeth’s had been quite stressful. All the classes were in French except for religion class and they were very strict. In first grade Mary used to hold her pee because she didn’t know how to ask to go to the bathroom in French. And their religion teacher was terrifying. Her face dour, with slightly cruel eyes and disapproving of anything joyful. Mary had been relieved when her parents moved her to a secular French school. Still, she figured that having a relationship with God was a good idea, though she mentioned it to no one.

Lately Mary had been asking God for a lot of help and she worried he might cut her off. She didn’t know how many favors she was allowed to ask for.

Dear God,
I hope you had a good day. Please bless mom, dad, Tommy and Mike – even though Tommy and Mike are total freaks. Please keep them all safe, healthy and happy. And when I die, please don’t let it be from fire. I’m still very afraid of fire and I would prefer to die another way, drowning is fine.

I know you are very busy God, like I can’t even imagine what your schedule must be like. I hope you have an assistant, maybe an Angel, helping you keep everything organized. I don’t want to add to your stress, but I do have a couple of favors to ask you:

1. Could you please widen my hips? Apparently my hips are too narrow and it’s going to be hard for me to have a baby. Maybe just a couple of inches on both sides.
2. Also, could you please make that hideous guy in the burgundy tights stop watching me at the dance studio. He’s like 25 or something. So gross.
Thank you for loving me and for watching over us.
Good night.

“Rise and shine and greet the day!” yelled her dad at her bedroom door.

“Dad!” Mary yelled back, half laughing, half groaning, “Stop it!”

After lounging in bed a little longer, Mary hopped up and went straight to her upright mirror. She pulled up her black and white striped nightgown and stared at her hips. Did they look a little wider? No, she must be imagining it. She stared harder, running her hands slowly across her stomach as if she was measuring them. Yes. Yes, they were a bit wider, like maybe an inch on each side.

Thank you SO much God. Now I have options. Maybe I’ll have one baby and one dog. That’s perfect. That’s what I’ll do.

Photo from Periodicult. Mademoiselle Magazine, Danskin 1986.
http://periodicult.com/wp/

LAURA

“Lizzie said I’m too old to wear ‘Mom jeans.'”

Michelle burst out laughing.

“You are! We wore those back in the eighties.”

“I told her that shaming was not allowed in our home and that I could wear whatever I wanted.”

Michelle snorted.

“Do you even look good in those jeans? Because I’m guessing not.”

“I mean they are not my best look ever. I was in Urban Outfitters buying Lizzie a few things and I needed a pair of jeans; the salesperson said I looked amazing in them.”

Michelle was laughing hysterically now.

“Oh my God, stop it Michelle,” said Laura starting to laugh. “Changing the subject now. How’s Joshua?”

“Joshua is driving me nuts. He just asked me for a hundred dollars to buy some new limited edition sweatshirt. A sweatshirt. I can’t believe we have kids.”

“Me either. Remember in high school when we promised each other that we would never marry, never have kids and just travel the world together?”

“I know, such cuties we were. Ok, gotta go. Love you girl.”

“Bye love.”

Laura put the lasagna in the oven then went into Lizzie’s room to gather the detritus of teenage life:
5 dirty glasses
3 towels stained Manic Panic Electric Pink Pussycat
4 empty chip bags
2 cereal bowls but no spoons
clothing everywhere – like an H & M store on a Saturday.
Her bedroom was a tableau of teenage life that you might stumble upon at a cool downtown gallery.

The one thing that Lizzie kept clean and organized was the makeup area in her bathroom: lipglosses, brushes and eyeliners all standing tall and proud in their clear plastic containers.

“I can’t believe my fourteen year old daughter has her own bathroom,” Laura thought to herself.

Growing up she had shared a cramped, second floor bathroom with two younger brothers. Every morning her mother would yell:

“For the Love of God Laura, let your brothers in the bathroom! You can put your makeup on downstairs.”

Laura’s mother would drive them to school wearing curlers in her hair. Though it was mortifying at the time, Laura now appreciated it as a practical mom thing to do.

After tidying up and doing laundry, Laura poured herself a glass of Cab Sauvignon which she sipped while making a salad.

Lizzie slothed into the house with a deflated look on her face. She had dyed her hair pink to impress Violet, her latest crush. Violet was a very tall, very skinny girl who had long straight aquamarine hair. She wore all-black and spoke with a British accent from her years living in London. In typical high school fashion, where getting one’s heart broken was as common as bad cafeteria food, it turned out that Violet was not interested in Lizzie. Violet only had eyes for Brian.

“How could she like Brian?! He’s like – what’s that word you love using mom?”

“Smarmy?”

“Ya! He’s smarmy! And he wears these eighties style polo shirts with the collar up – like ‘ironic-preppy.’ He’s repulsive.”

“He sounds vile. Listen, I am so, so sorry about Violet, but honey on the positive side – your hair looks amazing!” Laura said while kissing her sweet, freckled, fourteen year old forehead.

“Thanks mom.”

“Dinner is fifteen minutes out so don’t eat too much crap.”

Lizzie backward-waved at her from the hallway on her way to her bedroom.

“Smells delicious babe,” her husband kissed her neck as he passed through the kitchen.

“I just need to call Tom Finklestein, be right back,” he said tossing his blazer on the couch.

“Fifteen minutes or I’m never making dinner again.”

The lasagna was a big hit and Lizzie told her dad all about Violet and Smarmy Brian.

“Oh Lizzie, I’m sorry, what an upsetting day. But let me tell you something: anyone who chooses ironic preppy over you has a major problem. As your grandma used to say – For The Love Of God.”

They all laughed. David was very good at making Lizzie laugh when she was upset, it was one of the things Laura loved most about him.

Lizzie’s fuchsia hair had inspired Laura, so in the middle of the night she went into her studio and started working on a new canvas. It would be the final painting in her series entitled “Shirley’s Cakes,” due to showcase at The Topanga Canyon Gallery, where rich Bohemians bought Laura’s artwork.

Her mother, Shirley, had been the love of her life and though she had died over two years ago, Laura still felt raw with grief. Shirley had been an amazing baker and had been especially fond of baking – and eating – cakes. Laura started painting her mother with fuchsia hair and curlers, stirring an oversized bowl of cake batter. The bowl was cauldron-like, as if she was stirring up a magic potion.

As she worked on creating the desired shade of pink, Laura remembered a pink cake Shirley had once baked for her: when Laura first got her period, Shirley had surprised her with a two-layer red velvet cake with pink colored cream cheese icing. It read “Congratulations!” in red cursive and her brothers had been jealous:

“Why does she get a special cake? It’s not fair!’

Shirley had yelled:

“Because she’s a woman today – she got her period! Women deserve period cakes every month.”

Her dad had simply said:

“Stop being knuckleheads so we can eat the cake.”

While painting, Laura often spoke to her mother – out loud. One time David had walked in on her and asked:

“Are you on speakerphone?”

“No, I’m chatting with my mother.”

“Oh…okay…”

Laura told her mother about Violet and Smarmy Brian and about how she and Michelle were planning a girl’s trip to NYC in October.

Shirley always had opinions:

That Violet is faking her accent, she only lived in London for two years. And For The Love Of God Laura, please buy a proper fall coat. Every time you travel to the east coast you’re freezing – you’re such an LA girl! By the way, I love Lizzie’s her new hair color, what a spectacular young woman she is.”

I know. Sometimes I just look at her and I want to cry because she’s so precious to me.”

“That’s how I was with you. When you were young I would just stand at your bedroom door with tears streaming down my face; I was overwhelmed by my love for you.

“I miss you mom. I’m going to make coffee now because I need to be awake when I drive Lizzie to school.”

“Before you go: make sure the gallery prices these painting high. Soon half of Hollywood is going to have Laura Keating paintings in their fancy homes. I’m so proud of you.”

“Thanks Mom.”

Laura made a pot of coffee, then had one of her madcap ideas: she would bake Lizzie a Betty Crocker cake for breakfast. Lizzie loved their yellow cake with the canned chocolate frosting. Laura checked the pantry to make sure she had everything and then, since David was still asleep, she took an army shower and threw on her school drop-off uniform:
skinny jeans, tank top and long, kimono-style robe.

She grabbed some healthy snacks for Lizzie and threw them on top of her black Converse so she wouldn’t forget to take them to school.

At 7:00 am Laura woke her up by standing at her door and blasting The Go-Go’s “Our Lips are Sealed” on her iphone.

“OMG mom seriously?! Stop it with the 80’s music wake-ups!”

“But they’re so fun! Get ready, I have a special breakfast for you.”

“I’m not going to school. I don’t want to see Violet and Smarmy Brian googly-eyeing each other.”

“Wear something fabulous – maybe that new asymmetrical top thing-y, and do one of your dramatic cat eyes. Then just walk down those hallways letting your light shine bright.”

“Mom, you sound kind of lit, have you been up all night painting?”

“Yes I have darlin! Breakfast in 20 minutes.”

Laura gulped down coffee and finished frosting the cake. She poured Lizzie a glass of orange juice and set a place for her at the kitchen table with the cake placed in front of her.

David zoomed through and said:

“I’m late, I’ll grab a Starbucks on the road. Cake for breakfast? You’re nuts. Have a good day babe!” He kissed her on the cheek as he flew out.

“You baked me Betty Crocker for breakfast?!”

Lizzie sat down and Laura cut them both big pieces.

“Lizzie, this cake is to celebrate how fucking spectacular you are. Please don’t ever forget it. Got it?

“Got it,” said Lizzie taking a massive bite. “This is sooo yummy!”

“And another thing: between the cake and the orange juice your blood sugar level is going to crash in an hour or less, so make sure to have one of those protein bars on you, otherwise you’re likely to go off.”

“Will do. Becks just texted me. She wants me to come over for dinner tonight, her mom will pick us up. Can I go?”

“Her mom is that super conservative woman right?”

“Ya.”

“Okay, but just promise me you won’t listen to a word she says.”

“I’m going to tell her you made me cake for breakfast.”

“Oh I love that, please do – she will be horrified.”

They finished eating in happy silence.

Photo:
https://manicpanic.com/collections/hair-color/products/electric-pink-pussycat-classic-high-voltage

Chasing Cars

When Jen needed a good cry she listened to the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack, particularly the first few seasons. There were so many songs that helped Jen excavate her tears, which were always buried deep underneath layers of smiles and loveliness. Of course she didn’t admit this to anyone because what kind of a freak needs to listen to Grey’s Anatomy songs in order to cry?

Recently Jen had been going to a nearby park where she would sit on a bench, preferably one under a tree and listen to one of three Cry Playlists on her phone. She would sob for a few minutes or longer depending on how she felt. One day a pimply-faced teenage boy asked her if she was okay and she answered:

“Ya, I’m good, just letting out some toxic shit you know? Thx for asking.” Though Jen didn’t normally swear, saying “toxic shit” was her way of showing respect to the young man who cared enough to check on her.

Jen wondered why she had such a difficult time crying. She asked her therapist about it and Dr. Kesselman told her maybe it had something to do with Jen feeling like she always had to keep it all together. Or, that Jen was sub-consciously worried that if she started crying she might never stop. But Dr. Kesselman approved of Jen’s Grey’s Anatomy technique, telling her it was a creative solution.

This morning, under a pink tree – crab apple? cherry? – Jen listened to the most recognizable Grey’s Anatomy song, “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol. It had played during the scene when Denny Duquette died and Izzie Stevens, who was dressed in a prom dress, wouldn’t let him be taken to the morgue. She was lying with him on the hospital bed until Alex lifted her up and took her away.

Oh God what a scene.

Izzie loved Denny so much, they were soulmates. Jen wanted that kind of love. And she didn’t care if most people with Bachelor Degrees thought the idea of soulmates was like believing in crystal healing. Jen had a Bachelor’s Degree in Education and she knew soulmates existed.

Though Jen did not currently have a soulmate, she did have a mate. Jen likened the difference between soulmates and regular mates to the difference between a good lasagna and a poorly made one. A well-made lasagna was hearty, sometimes even a little bit heavy. But, if the lasagna was too light and the tomato sauce seeped out in huge puddles on your plate, well, that was a regular mate.

Jen’s regular mate was Jim. He taught political theory at a local college and he was an avid long-distance bike rider. Every Wednesday night Jim made dinner, each time focusing on a different cuisine and always writing the dish on the kitchen chalkboard. Last week’s dinner had been Authentic New Orleans Creole Gumbo. Jim was a decent enough cook, but no matter how tasty the dishes were the dinners were inevitably ruined by Jim pontificating about the history of the dish he’d prepared, the city or country it originated from and their people.

Last month, when Jim cooked a lamb dish from Western Africa and started talking about the incredible beauty of its local markets, Jen had seriously thought about leaving him on the spot. Like just getting up from the table, taking her phone, laptop and charger and leaving the house forever. What the hell did Jim know about beautiful markets in Western Africa? Pontification should be added to the List of Seven Deadly Sins, Jen would need to write the Pope.

Today’s crying session lasted 7.5 minutes. When Jen arrived home she applied a warm washcloth to her eyes to help them de-puff, then ate cinnamon raisin toast for breakfast. She always took out the raisins first, tossing them in the backyard for the squirrels and birds to eat.

A brief stint of makeup applying and Jen was off to the children’s non-profit where she worked. It was only a ten minute bus ride and she usually spent it reading while secretly checking out the men who boarded. Maybe her soulmate rode the same bus as her and they just hadn’t met yet.

But instead of her soulmate she got Gina Trochanter, one of her work mates, who out of nowhere was suddenly standing next to her. Wearing a lavender raincoat and matching rain boots, Gina was inexplicably dressed for a storm, though there was not a cloud in the sky. Gina spoke in a loud, bold voice except when she was gossiping. When gossiping she whispered sideways into your ear, so that half the words just swooshed by.

Gina had a long list of bad, ineffective ideas which she planned on bringing up at their Back To School project meeting. Today they were brainstorming strategies to get school supplies and clothing donated. The families in the community they served could barely pay their bills, let alone buy new backpacks and sneakers for their children.

When the meetings were particularly suffocating, with everyone jockeying for their boss’s attention, Jen’s work friend Beatrice would pour a little Bailey’s in Jen’s coffee to take the edge off. Beatrice was one of those super cool girls who could pull off paper-bag waist pants, cowboy mules and a mullet and look like she just walked off a Paris runway. Jen was nowhere near as cool, but over the years she had developed a style that suited her: one part something floral and one part something plain black – so as not to look like a walking garden. Today she wore a black pencil skirt with a floral blouse she had found in a thrift store for $5. Jim was vehemently against Jen buying anything secondhand, he worried she would bring bugs into the house. Jen thought he was insane, so she lied whenever she bought something used.

After work Jen usually went straight home so she could have a little time to herself before Jim arrived. Tonight they were having pizza. Every Tuesday night they ordered pizza and every Tuesday morning Jim wrote it on the kitchen chalkboard: “take-out Pizza night.” But tonight Jen wanted something different, she just didn’t know what. She felt this weird tingling, almost tickling sensation all around the edges of her body. As if someone had traced the outline of her with one of those feather cat toys. Though she liked the feeling, she also wondered if it was perhaps some weird form of neuropathy.

Jen decided to try a local bar that she had walked by a million times. It looked straight out of the 1940’s and appropriately enough was called Bogart’s. Usually she would feel self-conscious going to a bar alone, but today she didn’t. She sat at the bar instead of a table and when the 60-something year old bartender asked her what she wanted she found herself saying:

“A Whisky Sour please.” Jen had never had a Whiskey Sour before and had no idea what the sour part was. Lemon? Lime? But it sounded like the right kind of drink to order in a bar like this, on a night like this, when her body was electrified.

“Thank you,” said Jen to the bartender. “It’s my first time here, I wanted to try something different.”

“Here’s looking at you kid,” he said as he clinked his glass with hers. Jen smiled at the Bogart reference.

The drink was delicious and for an instant she felt cool, like Beatrice. Beatrice would order a Whiskey Sour. Beatrice would never order a Pinot Grigio which is what Jen usually drank when she was out. Jen swore to never ever order another Pinot Grigio. There was no way she would find her soulmate and the life she craved if she was drinking Pinot Grigio.

Finding a soulmate would involve taking chances and living boldly, or at least boldly-ish and tonight was Jen’s first step: instead of being home reading the new Sue Grafton novel and eating goldfish, she was at a bar by herself, with her electrified, possibly neuropathy-laden body. Ready. Ready for it all.