I couldn’t believe I was sick again. I hated how nauseated the pills made me feel. How they disrupted taste. How they disturbed my balance.
The more I threw up, the more I wanted to quit. Maybe the cocktail of antidepressants for mood stabilization and memory drugs for cognitive problems and the ACE inhibitors for hypertension didn’t agree with me. I had a history of drug resistance. Maybe it would be more beneficial to stop everything and see what happened. I wanted to feel normal again.
Joseph assured me that normal was overrated. He accepted me and all my quirks. I sighed. He also liked happy Lizzie, and I was confused and frustrated easily. Nevertheless, my husband seemed to put up with my irritability, sleeplessness, and mood swings like a saint. I appreciated everything he did for me, and without complaining too. He even scrubbed the tub for the tenth time after I got sick in it. My delirious late night bathroom trips disrupted my sense of direction.
I tried to keep busy. I reviewed notes from my former novels, brainstorming new ideas. I watched educational television programs to boost my cognitive abilities. I read all my friend’s published books, and reviewed unpublished manuscripts for Riley. Joseph and I started running together , though I could only manage a mile before growing fatigued. Joseph still maintained five, though he kindly slowed down for my feeble pace. I taught myself more advanced recipes so I could boost my culinary skills. I even took up baking.
“I’ll have to run six tomorrow to make up for this,” Joseph teased as he grabbed a third breadstick.
“Shush,” I tapped his arm playfully. “I’m just grateful to keep food down at all.”
Joseph sobered and kissed my head. “Thanks for dinner, beautiful.”
Since Karleen discovered she was pregnant, she had received anonymous help from our group of friends. Riley and Akira brought dinners on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Annie had Fridays before karaoke, and the Carters, the nice neighbors they are, took Wednesdays. I took up Sunday and Monday nights while Ash was on vacation in the Sim Union. Most nights, I stocked the box with a hot meal and basic toiletries. Karleen had been working extra hours at the bar to pay for prenatal care and didn’t have much time to shop or eat, and God forbid cook. Sometimes I’d sneak in dessert and a chick flick.
“I’m not an invalid, you know.”
I winced as Karleen caught me in the hallway trying to sneak away.
“And I’m not broke either,” Karleen huffed.
“We’re just trying to help since you decided to go the single mom route,” I replied.
I still wasn’t convinced this was her best option. As far as I knew, she still hadn’t told Munter or John or Goober, and instead kept a low profile and worked longer hours. It was none of my business, but I wanted my friend to be happy and healthy, and she may have been the latter but not the former.
“You’re patronizing me,” Karleen sighed.
“That’s not our intention,” I protested. “Kar, we care about you… and…” I trailed off.
“You’re a terrible cook.”
Karleen narrowed her eyes. “Please…argh!” she pinched the bridge of her nose. “You’re right. I am…” she dropped her arms to her side in defeat. “Liz, I’m going to get fat. With all those goodies you’re giving me.”
“You’re going to get fat irregardless,” I shook my head, trying to hide my smirk. “You’re preggo.”
“No one will want me,” Karleen wailed.
“That’s not true,” I disagreed, and resisted the urge to lecture her on calling Munter… John… anyone…she didn’t have to do this alone, though I suppose between Riley and I, we’d make sure she was okay. “And I used low sodium broth for the soup so you’d feel less bloated.”
“Thank you,” Karleen sniffled into the back of her hand.
“I would’ve added more garlic too but lately it’s been making me nauseous,” I said, wrinkling my nose at the mere thought of the scent.
“Garlic makes you nauseous?” Karleen scoffed. “Since when?”
I shrugged my shoulders. Karleen’s eyes widened.
“No? You don’t think? You can’t be? You are!” she exclaimed and reached out her arms to hug me.
“Are what?” I blinked, stepping back. “Am what?”
“Pregnant!” Karleen said, balling her hands excitedly and leaning in as if it were a secret. “Oh Lizzie! I’m so happy for you.”
“Happy for me?” I frowned. “No I’m not!”
“Have you been active since…”
“Gawd! How is any of that your business?” I spun away, almost disgusted at the thought.
“Well, have you?” Karleen grinned. “You have.”
“I am married,” I justified. “Oh…” I laid a hand across my abdomen. “Pregnant? I can’t be. The doctor said it’s too soon to think about it.”
“But you have been?” Karleen quirked a brow knowingly. “And you were getting busy…” she nudged me and I screeched, “Ow!”
“Oh we’re going to be mamas at the same time,” Karleen said. “This makes everything better.”
I left as quickly as I could. I didn’t want to think about it. I had just lost a baby less than a month before. Joseph and I were still getting to know each other again. We were in a new honeymoon phase. It was too early.
But what if I am? I thought, allowing myself to feel a moment of fleeting wonder. Having a baby could turn out to be therapeutic. Maybe this would strengthen the bond between Joseph and I. Perhaps things could get even better. We did want a baby before, and now? I called my doctor and scheduled an appointment.
A baby! I found myself feeling overjoyed and peaceful. Karleen was right. This might actually be a blessing. I managed to contain myself long enough to purchase a celebratory cupcake. As I thought about the blood work and the pregnancy tests, I found myself growing even more excited. I went back to the vendor.
“Actually, I’ll take two.”
Joseph was thrilled to hear I might be pregnant, but I could tell he was worried. After this last time, he didn’t want to take any chances. He carried me into the bedroom and made me promise not to get up and he would bring me everything I needed.
“Joseph…” I laughed, and grabbed his wrist gently. “I’m not an invalid. I can still walk and stuff.”
“Maybe I like carrying you,” he grimaced.
I laid my hand against his cheek. “Relax. It’s going to be fine.”
While I napped, Joseph crunched numbers on the couch.
It was nearly one in the morning.
“Joseph, are you coming to bed?” I called from the doorway, yawning and stretching.
“Go back to bed, Lizzie,” Joseph shrieked, leaping from the couch.
“I’m fine,” I shook my head, yawning. “You worry too much.”
“I don’t want anything to happen to you… to our baby…” Joseph said soberly.
“Joseph?” I walked up to him and kissed him. “…Joe…We’re going to be fine… all of us.”
At three in the morning, Joseph went over to pound on Riley’s door. Riley emerged after fifteen minutes of knocking, fully clothed and looking annoyed.
“What?” he exclaimed.
“Riley, you gotta keep it down! Lizzie and I can hear you through the walls,” Joseph said.
“We’re having fun,” Riley pouted.
“Well it sounds like elephants,” Joseph grunted.
“Are you calling me fat?” Riley snipped, waving his arms.
“No… gawd! No!” Joseph replied. “Just please… can you and Akira keep the noise level down? Lizzie needs her rest.”
“It’s not like we haven’t heard you two through the walls before,” Riley crossed his arms.
Joseph flushed and stalked off to our apartment.
Riley turned in a huff and before fully reentering his apartment, he added, “‘Sides, epic pillow fights are the best!”
Joseph narrowed his eyes as Riley giggled and slammed the door.
“Epic pillow fights, huh?” I quirked a brow as I poked my head out, clutching my own pillow. “Hmm…” I whacked Joseph lightly as he walked by and his eyes widened in surprise. “Maybe there’s something to these?”
He grinned. “You’re just asking to be thrown over my shoulder, Liz.”
“And what if I am?” I teased, coyly, tucking one foot behind the other.
Needless to say, we didn’t get much sleep. Joseph woke up early and drove me to my doctor’s appointment. Because the tests would take a few hours due to my unique condition, he headed home to shower and instead, got distracted by my computer, perusing forums to find information about pregnancy post ghosting. He didn’t find much, except for an eccentric healer in Simshua who claimed her herbs were the way to go. Joseph wasn’t so sure about that and shut down the computer, deciding to clear his head in the shower.
When my test results came back, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Shocked. And devastated. The tests showed I wasn’t pregnant. I was merely experiencing an adverse reaction to the medication. The doctor recommended taking me down a dosage. I didn’t know how I was going to tell Joseph. He had been so excited for me. For us. For this baby… but it wasn’t meant to be.
My doctor began talking to me about taking it slow, nice and easy, that I shouldn’t wear myself out, that I should continue on my low-sodium diet, that I shouldn’t view this as a setback. She recommended counseling, and said it could help with my moods and balance my life more naturally through less pharmaceuticals so that I wouldn’t have such horrid nausea. To be honest, I tuned out. I was feeling more depressed than I had in a long while.
“What are you doing here?” Karleen asked when I showed up at her door.
I sighed, slumping my shoulders and walked over and collapsed on the couch. Tears swelled in my eyes.
“Oh…” Karleen said, sinking into the chair. “I’m sorry, Lizzie.”
“Yeah,” I managed.
“Does Joseph know?”
“Not yet. I’m not ready.”
“Can I just nap here for a bit?”
“Sure, you look exhausted,” Karleen nodded. “Want a pillow?”
“No… no pillows,” I yawned and drifted off into a restless sleep. I was exhausted.
My disappointment stretched on for days. I cried often, and I struggled to let Joseph in. He panicked, worried I was shutting him out again and that we’d repeat our disaster that led me to ghosting. I promised him I was fine. I stayed in bed for most of the day and into the evening. Sleep came in bits and pieces, and the dreams were the worst. Dreams of being a horrible person. A horrible mother. I couldn’t carry a child to term. It wasn’t my fault, I knew, but somehow I still felt guilty.
“You have nothing to feel guilty about,” Joseph said, climbing into the bed next to me.
“How…how…how… do you know?” I hiccupped.
“Lizzie, I know you. You’re feeling like this is all your fault, but it’s not. If anything, it’s mine,” Joseph said softly, reaching for my shoulder.
“No… don’t start that again,” I waved my hand and tugged at the covers. “I’ve forgiven you.”
“But you haven’t forgiven yourself, have you?” he said, staring my straight in the eye. “Elizabeth?”
“No?” I whimpered.
It was more of a question than a statement.
“It’s harder to let go than I thought,” I cried.
“I’m here,” he reassured me.
I reached for his arms. “Joseph… Joe… you’re fully clothed,” I grimaced.
“Yep… shoes and all…” he grinned, as if proud of the fact, and then sighed. “You needed me.”
More than I could admit. It hurt so much how much I needed him, and I didn’t want to burden him needlessly with my silly tears. I told him I’d go bathe while he made dinner. I’m pretty sure he stayed outside the locked door and waited until I turned the shower on. I let the water pour and pour while I sat on the edge of the toilet and cried silent, disappointed, bitter tears. It wasn’t over. I was still young. I could still get pregnant. It wasn’t like I was trying. But I felt the full weight of loss. The first baby weighed heavily on my heart and I grieved like I hadn’t been able to when I was a ghost.
I thought about happy memories with Joseph. We’d make many more, I was certain, but I was beginning to wonder if a kid was one of them. Stop being so defeatist, Liz, I thought, disgusted with myself as I reached over and snagged a square or two of toilet paper to wipe my eyes and nose. I figured I probably should shut off the shower if I wasn’t actually going to use it. I needed to go talk to Joseph. To let him in. Maybe I’d feel better. Maybe he’d feel better. Oh! I stopped, staring at myself in the mirror, startled. I hadn’t been thinking about him or his needs. He had to be grieving too and I kept pushing him away. Stupid, stupid, Lizzie, I gritted my teeth and balled my fists, stepping out of the bathroom.
Fire shot at his chest. He winced, feeling the singe of heat against his arms and legs. Joseph jumped back from the flames licking at the stem of the grill and ran inside to grab the fire extinguisher. So much for burgers for dinner, he grumbled beneath his breath. He felt much like a failure lately, and this was an aggravating last straw. He had to stay strong for Lizzie. This was a fact, a promise, a pledge. He reminded himself as he sprayed foam on the flames.
When I left the bathroom, Joseph wasn’t in the kitchen or living room. He wasn’t in the office either. I patted a meowing and frightened Dulcie on the head as I walked past the kitchen table.
“Did I startle you, girl?” I said in a higher pitched tone.
Smoke drifted into the office and tickled my nose as I went looking for Joseph.
“What’s going on?” I called, worriedly.
I stepped outside to see my husband surrounded by a smoky haze, covered in ash. The grill was burnt to charcoal and our hamburger meat was the only thing red and uncooked. I couldn’t say the same for Joseph.
“Oh my llamas!” I shrieked. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he grunted.
“Oh… Joseph. You have to be more careful,” I gasped.
“I’m fine,” he repeated.
“No, no you’re not… I’m sorry…” I dropped my head. “I’ve been so wrapped up in me lately, I haven’t thought much about you. You’re trying to be so strong for me…”
Joseph blinked rapidly.
“Joseph, you’re my rock,” I continued.
“How can you say that?” he averted his eyes. “I’ve been messing up in so many…”
Before he could say anything else, I kissed him passionately, wrapping my arms around his head and shoulders.
“I think it’s time you forgive yourself too,” I replied, pulling back without releasing him.
“I’m getting you dirty,” he sniffed, wiping his nose on his sleeve.
“I don’t care,” I shook my head. “I didn’t shower anyway.”
“You didn’t?” he raised an eyebrow.
“No…” I grinned. “Care to join me?”
I hopped in the shower, even though the water wasn’t quite as warm. It didn’t really matter. It was soothing to the skin. Joseph followed me in, dripping little patches of ash everywhere. That didn’t matter either. He was safe and didn’t burn up and our apartment was still okay, even if our grill was toast.
“Gah!” Joseph yelled.
“What?” I peeked my head out from behind the shower door.
“That…” he glared in the direction of the sink. “…is busted.” He kicked the drawer. “Plum! This apartment is plum!”
“Oh, but we can live on love, darling,” I teased, stepping back into the water to soap my hair.
“Sure…” he grunted. “I have to go get a wrench.”
“Stop, you can fix it later,” I said, poking my head out again. “Now get in here before I bring the party to you.”
Joseph hesitated momentarily and began pulling his smoke-and-soot soaked sweater over his head and shoulders.
“That’s my man.”