Wonder 41

4101

Saturday started normal enough. Fruitcake for breakfast. It’s a favorite.

I’d finished the novel about meus avós the night before, so I sent it off to a prospective publisher.

4102

Went for a quick dip.

4103

And then, the day got weird.

Pai called to invite me to a club outing. I’ve been an honorary member of Partihaus since I was a kid, but I’d never actually been to any of the gatherings.

“I don’t  want you going while you’re a kid,” Mãe told me, on one of the few occasions when she lay down the law. And then when I was in high school, I was so busy with Paint! and working out and composing that I never seemed to have time for extra activities.

When Pai called on Saturday morning, I really didn’t have a reason to stay home. It felt like a rite of passage to meet Pai at his club.

“It is the club of me,” Pai said. “You are the son of me. Come! I will show you how the Rocca men have the good time! I have arranged for the special DJ to attend. She is like the sparkle on the ocean sea!”

4104

I was surprised to see Mãe there when I arrived at the Narwhal Arms.

“I didn’t know you rejoined the club” I said.

“I didn’t,” she replied. “I just came here for the music. I hear this DJ is really something.”

4105

I had so much to tell Mãe. She was really interested in the discoveries about the mushroom compounds, and she seemed so pleased to hear about the award.

“Of course you deserve it,” she told me. “The thing about awards is that they recognize qualities within a person. You don’t see it, Charlie, but you’ve got some pretty remarkable gifts and talents. Plus, you’ve got a good heart.”

While Mãe was talking, things suddenly got really awkward for me. On the other side of the dance floor, Pai and Eva were flirting–it wasn’t even subtle. It was right out there in front of everybody. I felt weird on about five accounts. First, Mãe was right there. Second, what was Pai doing? Third, Eva is my boss! Fourth, Mãe was right there! Fifth, everybody could see, including me!

Mãe noticed what was going on.

“Relax, spud,” she said. “This is Partihaus. I’m not oblivious. I knew the score when I joined the club twenty-one years ago, and I never asked your dad to change or to quit. I did tell you how you were conceived, didn’t I?”

4106

It was too much. I thought about the novel I’d just sent to the publisher’s that morning, a sweet and traditional love story. Then I thought about where I came from. Which one was the lie? I was standing smack in the middle of cognitive dissonance.

I always knew that Pai‘s roommates–all three of them–were more than roommates to him. But I also knew that he and minha mãe were loving with each other, and he and I were best friends. We’d always been family, when he stopped by our house. I’d never seen this side of him before.

I didn’t even have the presence of mind to talk with the DJ when she finished her set.

4107

I felt relieved when Yuki called to give me an excuse to bail.

“Hey, Chaz!” she said. “I heard you got a promo! Let’s go have dinner! Meet me at that new Llama place!”

Her voice sounded like she was laughing, so I figured she was teasing. My promotion wasn’t much, after all. I stopped back home to change, and I decided I’d wear something that showed I didn’t take myself too seriously.

“Charlie?” Yuki said when she saw me. “What’s with the glasses?”

4108

She sounded a little sad, maybe a little disappointed–was she hurt?–when she said that.

I headed inside to get us a table.

4109

When Yuki joined me, she’d changed into a little black dress. Oh, boy. I’d blown it, hadn’t I?

4110

“You look really nice!” I told her. “I’ve never seen you dressed like a girl before.”

4111

She started feeling like my good-friend Yuki while we were eating. I told her all about the mushroom discoveries I was making.

“They seriously devour virus cells?” she asked.

“They do!”

4112

The food was interesting. Yuki didn’t eat her little chocolate tofu cubes. But she drank her wine. I ate whatever it was I ordered. It tasted unusual–not that great, actually, but I enjoyed the inventiveness of the dish.

I stopped by the kitchen on the way out to thank the chef for having prepared it.

“Interesting dish!” I said. “Thanks! I think I learned something new about food!”

“Seriously?” she replied. “No one’s ever thanked me for my creations before! And you seriously learned something? That’s exactly what we hope to achieve! Dining’s about so much more than just, you know, taste.”

4113

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Wonder 1

0101

What a day. I started by setting the kitchen on fire. I woke up starving–I guess playing the closet game so hard with Paolo can do that.

Maybe I should’ve waited for Berry to make breakfast, since I was too hungry to concentrate. But it was just scrambled eggs! Who starts a kitchen fire scrambling eggs? I guess I do.

0102

We put it out. Beryl’s awesome with a fire extinguisher.

“Man,” she said after the smoke subsided. “We girls rock.”

0104

Lucky Charms never smelled so good. Before I finished my cereal, Paolo called.

“Let me take you someplace special, my little foreign delight,” he said.

0105

I was so surprised when I showed up at the address he gave me, and it was a sexual and reproductive health clinic in a neighboring town.

“I know our adventure had you worried with fear and concern,” he said. We went inside and took the tests, both of us. I was sort of touched, and sort of freaked out. We both came out clean–nothing to worry about. Except, his other partners. I tried not to think about that.

“Oh, it is nothing,” he said afterwards. “This is a regular club activity. We come here every month or sooner. Make sure everything is hunkey-dokey.”

For a split-second, I felt relieved. Then I thought about all his partners’ partners, and their partners, and their partners’ partners. I doubt that all of Windenburg gets tested every month.

0106

I decided to stuff my worries–at least for the moment. When I’d reviewed my history, I realized that last night had been my first time unprotected ever. Ever. And I liked it. It was thrilling, really. I loved closing my eyes and imagining those microscopic tadpoles racing towards the sea anemone. Here’s to the fastest and strongest! And then, when it gets there, the sea anemone wraps her tentacles around it and closes in upon it. It’s all so oceanic! And to think that that was what it all led up to–I just found it thrilling.

Before we left the clinic, I got a text message from Marcus, saying the club was meeting, so we went directly there.

I was still drawn in by the thrill.

“Remember!” said Marcus, glaring at us. “We are all about sharing.”

But Paolo and I didn’t even register what he said.

“Closet?” I whispered.

“Race you there, my little Maserati!” said Paolo.

0107

“I did not bring the protection for us,” said Paolo.

“Good,” I said. “We both got clean tests, right?” And we fell into the closet.

0108

We must have made noise. OK. I know we did. The doors were shaking–and that’s not even mentioning the half of it.

Jade and some woman I’d never met were standing there smiling when we came out. So much for not having a reputation in this new city.

0109

I didn’t care. It was just too wonderful. Paolo! Man! Paolo running free! I loved the feeling. I didn’t care who knew.

This next test I took came out positive. And this positive result thrills me. It still does.

What a surprise my feelings are! I am so happy. Is this what I wanted all along? Is this what all that riskiness was about?

0110

I went down to tell Paolo. How would he take it? It’s not like I knew him well enough to predict his response.

0111

I didn’t know what words to use, so I just blurted it out.

0112

I had no idea how he would respond.

0113

While I was waiting for a response–any response–I realized I was ready for anything. I could handle this.

I’m having this baby. I don’t care if he tries to persuade me not to. I don’t care if he freaks out and runs. I really don’t care about him all that much actually–I mean, I don’t even know him well enough to care. But I care fiercely and ferociously about this baby. This baby is coming into this world, and I’m the mother.

0114

He just looked at me. I can’t read his face yet. I don’t know him well enough. Was that disdain? Anger? Fear? Resentment? Bluffing?

0115

He burst out laughing–genuine, positive, “life is great” laughter. He clapped. He actually applauded the news.

0116

I guess he’s not upset.

0117

Then I got worried. Oh, God. What if he proposes? What if he asks me to be his girlfriend? What if he expects to move in?

I mean, he’s the father. He can definitely be part of his child’s life, of course. And maybe I’ll even want to keep playing closet games with him now and then–with protection, of course. But I’m not anybody’s girlfriend, and I’m sure as heck not anybody’s wife.

I decided to let him know right then, right there. I just didn’t want him to have any expectations or feel under any kind of obligation.

His smile got even bigger.

0118

“You see?” he said. “I knew we were the match made in the heaven! It’s the unmatch match, my little foreign darling. I want to no such conniptions as you describe. We are the two hearts of the same half.”

0119

Walking home, I felt that everyone knew I was pregnant with Paolo Rocca’s baby. And I didn’t care. I won’t be his wife. I’m sure not his girlfriend. But I am happy for the world to know that I am the mother of his baby.

0120

A baby!

I really thought before we moved here that it would never happen. How could it? I’ve always known I didn’t want to marry. Four years–that’s max for me for a relationship, and even that nearly sucked the soul out of me. I’d given up on the whole idea. But Paolo–he’s changed that. I’ve got it all! I’ve got a baby, without having to be somebody’s wife!

0121

Beryl was out for a walk when I got home. I saw her when she returned. She was standing at the edge of our yard, facing the setting sun. Oh, Berry! I could hardly wait to tell her!

0122

She didn’t say what some sisters might say. She didn’t ask who was the dad or how did it happen so soon, or how did I even have a chance to make a baby when we’d only been here two days.

She just took me in her arms and whispered, “Oh, Mae! You know I’ve always wanted to be an aunt. Thank you.”

0123

She was still saying thank you to the moon and the stars when my hormones did a flip and sent my stomach reeling.

0124

The hormones are really kind of a trip. One moment I’m cracking up at cartoons on TV.

0125

The next moment, I’m freaking out about not having health insurance. Then, I’m remembering Mom and Dad aren’t around, and the baby won’t know its grandparents. Then, I’m feeling worry and doubt.

0126

But I love it. If I just watch it, it’s like a weird internal amusement park–the merry go-round with cotton candy, the roller coaster with hot dogs and mustard, the Ferris wheel with popcorn. Ugh, crap. Why did I have to write about food?

And now, I’m starving again! It really is a trip.

0128

I told Beryl I was worried about not having health insurance.

“I’m taking this seriously, Berry,” I said. “I’m not young. I may not yet be high-risk, but I’m not low-risk, either. I need prenatal care, and we can’t afford it. I’m not even sure we can pay our bills next month.”

Beryl told me about this program. It’s for heterosexual couples, really–in fact, creepily enough, most of them are matched by the government. (Forgive me while I gross out for a minute.) But they take care of everything. You’ve just got to make sure your kid’s given every chance to excel. Which, of course, Beryl and I would do. It goes without saying.

0129

“Look,” she said, “You’ve got a perfect trump card. It’s called equity. It’s just not equitable for only couples to qualify, right? An aunt and a mom should be just as viable as a dad and a mom, right?”

0130

She had a really good point.

“If anybody can persuade them,” she said, “you can. I know your legal mind. You can persuade anybody of anything–especially when you’ve got fairness on your side.”

0131

I applied that night. I wrote a logical, well-supported letter, citing precedence, policy, and law. We haven’t heard back yet, but I’m hopeful. If we get accepted, I can rest easy. We’ll have the best prenatal care available, free of charge.

0127

I also sent an email message to Marcus, Eva, Jade, and Paolo.

I quit the club.

I’m going to be a mom. I’m not some young kid who can run around doing foolish unprotected things with any old unprotected fool. I’ve responsibilities now for all of us living under our sweet little roof. I am going to be a mom.

0132

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Wonder: Prelude

00a101

Thank heavens. The test came out negative. I am not ready to become a mom. At least not yet. At least, not entirely. I still remember that feeling of bliss that raced through me when I thought I might be pregnant. But maybe that was the afterglow. Paolo is pretty incredible.

What an eventful day! Our first day in Windenburg. It didn’t take long for me and my sister Beryl to decide what we wanted to do with our inheritance. It wasn’t much, but if we pooled together what we got, we’d have just enough to buy this little cottage we found in downtown Windenburg.

Beryl had been wanting to move there forever, for her art. And me, I just wanted to start something new. It had taken forever for our parents’ estate to be settled. All those long battles. All that paperwork, which was even worse! And all those meetings with attorneys. I’d had it.

Since I was in between relationships–and in between jobs–it was the perfect time for me to start fresh, too.

Beryl was outside painting that first morning, when I returned from my first walk in the neighborhood. She’d dragged up an old easel that she found in the basement and had already started on a fresh canvas.

00a114

I feel really happy that we chose to live downtown. It’s where all the hip people live. They’re younger than us, but our lifestyles fit right in. Beryl and I, we sort of made a pact when we were kids that we’d never officially grow up. It works for us.

00a113

Eva, one of our neighbors, was telling us about her club.

“We dance! We sing. We share everything,” she said. “It’s for free spirits! Like you sisters! You should join, we would love to have you!”

“I am not so much a joiner,” said Berry. “I just can’t really find time to get together, know what I mean? Besides, I’d probably bore you talking about indigo and vermilion pigments.”

00a112

But I was eager to join. I like Eva, Jade, and Marcus. And from what they said, Paolo sounded cool, too.

He is. Very. I found out that night when the club met up at a dance hall a few blocks away.

00a111

Paolo came on strong from the start. There’s just something about him that gets to me.

00a110

00a109

I have never, not even in college, moved so fast with anybody. But this is Windenburg, and I’m in the spot after my old life has ended and before my new one has begun, and I really only wanted to have fun.

00a108

“Look and see if anybody’s out there,” I said to Paolo before we headed out of the closet. I didn’t want to start here with a reputation.

“It’s clear,” he said. “There is no one to witness our naughty escapades, my little foreign conquest.”

00a107

I could barely stand. Seriously. Paolo. Granted, I’ve never done it in a closet before, but still. Never have I experienced anything even close. Paolo.

00a106

Then I remembered: dang. I’d forgotten all about using protection. How could I be so stupid? STDs? Pregnancy? What was I thinking? I wasn’t thinking. I am way too old to be so stupid. My only excuse was that it had been a while since I hadn’t been in a regular relationship. But that’s a lame excuse. I have no excuse. At my age–what was I thinking?

00a105

As I ran home, though, I kept wondering: what if I had gotten pregnant? Would that be so terrible? I’ve always liked kids. It’s getting to the point in my life where I need to do this soon, if I’m going to do it all. What else am I doing with my life? Why not raise a little kid? And it’s not like I’d have to get together with Paolo. I’ve got Berry. My sister and I could do an awesome job raising a child. And that’s when the feeling of bliss rose up.

Now that I think about it, it was afterglow. That’s all. I should’ve recognized it. It’s just that it’s been a while.

00a104

Beryl was washing dishes when I got home. She didn’t even pause to say hi or ask about the evening. She’s got this thing she does where everything is “mindfulness practice.” I’ve grown used to it. That’s my sister.

00a103

I had my own mindfulness practice as I walked into the bathroom to use the pregnancy test. Each step, I felt the weight of consequences descend. Would I be allowed to get by with this? Or, what if I were pregnant, after all? Would it really bring this secret happiness that I feel pulling at me?

00a102

The test was negative. I was relived. Overjoyed! And yet, there in the shadow of my heart, I felt the smallest hint of disappointment. Beryl really would make an incredible aunt.

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