My daughter Jane is excited by the prospect that 2012 will be the end of the world, as predicted by the Mayan calendar, the I Ching and the New York Times Style section. She’s sure it will be awesome to witness this cataclysmic, hopefully pyrotechnic spectacle and its unimaginable aftermath.
Not to worry. As Jane herself has taught me, even the end of the world won’t be the end of the world.
In small ways, the world is ending all the time; every day is the proverbial first of the rest of your life. But some days feel quite a bit more like Day One than others. And sometimes these brand new realities arrive with a burst of joy and inspiration and other times they feel more like colliding with the asteroid X/Nibiru as the sun aligns with Sagittarius at the center of the universe.
For example, some time back, I was at my ob/gyn’s office getting a pap smear.
“You still have the IUD,” she remembered, her head between my legs, no doubt staring the thing in its shiny eye.
“Yep,” I replied, in the laconic way of one in stirrups.
“And you turn 40 this year, right?”
“Well, if you’re thinking of having any more kids, you’d better get a move on.”
“What?!” I squawked. “Are you crazy?” If it weren’t physically impossible at that moment, my knees would have snapped together for emphasis.
With my sons aged 10 and 8, was I going to have another baby? I don’t think so! With my single life running smoothly, would I get married again? Hell, no. Would I sell my beloved house in my home of more than 20 years, Austin, Texas, and move 1,700 miles across the country? Double-triple no freaking way. Would I perhaps choose to live in a rural area in Central Pennsylvania? Had I even heard of Central Pennsylvania? Okay, stop now, you’re killing me.
Of course, I did every one of these things.
When I first started changing my whole life — breaking the news to my sons, putting my house on the market, calling movers, saying goodbye to my friends — it was easy. I was as corny as Kansas in August and high as a flag on the Fourth of July: in love, in love, in love with a wonderful guy. Emotionally, I was already gone. Practically, I was catching up fast.
As a self-employed widow, I had no job and no ex-spouse to hold me back. I knew there were things I would miss from my life in Austin but I didn’t care. I had always looked for the wild card in the deck, and I had definitely drawn it this time. I threw a big party, shoved my cats and kids in the car, and got on the interstate.
Three days later, I arrived at my giant new house in the middle of nowhere — and burst into tears. It was very, very hot and all our stuff was in boxes and I hadn’t noticed the ugly wallpaper in the dining room. But after a brief, tasteful meltdown, I pulled myself together. I had to. Our wedding was in a couple of weeks, in the backyard, without a caterer, and I was expecting 30 out-of-town guests. Definitely no time for a nervous breakdown.
I had never quite gotten my mind around the idea of a second marriage. How do you say all that always and forever stuff twice? It seemed impossible, even tacky. When I got married the first time, it was the happiest day of my life. I still have the video of myself saying those words. Could it be the happiest day of my life again?
Surely the Mayan calendar has something to say about this.
By fall, I was pregnant and thrilled about it, though both my mother and my husband’s mother were dubious. “Shit!” said my mother-in-law, a one-time population control activist. “Jesus Christ!” commented my mother, who told people both my sister and I were “idiots” for having additional children in our forties.
No matter how I’d reacted to my ob/gyn’s question just a year earlier, now I wanted a baby: a new person from all this newness, a concrete expression of us. Nevertheless, I had a tough time during that pregnancy, which burgeoned over the course of my first winter and spring in Pennsylvania. With my sons back in school and my new husband busy at the college where he taught, it dawned on me what I had done.
I was completely alone. I had not one friend, no doctor, no dentist, no place to get my hair cut or my toenails done or buy nutritional yeast. Where was my running trail, my Mexican restaurant? As the snow fell outside my window, the pain of losing everything and everyone I had left finally hit me. Meanwhile, the house had some flaws, my husband was sometimes distant, my children and stepchildren were becoming surly pre-teenagers. Soon I was as big as a house and wearing the same gray sweatpants every day.
On the plus side, my doctor assured me you could take Zoloft while pregnant.
Perhaps you have not seen Bride of Chucky, a rather undistinguished horror film featuring a scar-faced baby doll and his glass-eyed, ratty-tressed little tramp of a wife. My favorite scene is the final one in the graveyard, wherein both Chucky and Mrs. Chucky are brought low. But as the crusty detective bends over Mrs. Chucky’s charred corpse, prodding her tiny torso with an inquisitive finger, something stirs beneath her clothes. He recoils, but not fast enough. A glob of blood and mucus shoots out from under her skirt into his face, and a few heaves later, Baby Chucky pops out behind it, and immediately sets on the detective with his pointed teeth.
You know that cannot have been her first baby. They just don’t come out like that when they have to blaze the trail. Once you’ve got a well-worn path, it’s another story. In fact the birth of my daughter Jane in June 2000, though distinct in many other details, proceeded with some of the same eclat as Mrs. Chucky’s delivery.
Alas, poor Mrs. Chucky’s eyelids fluttered shut for the last time after splattering the detective with her offspring. I, on the other hand, felt immediately reborn, as if I would float right up off the delivery table with joy. It was over: the pregnancy, the labor, the peeing every five minutes, the whole damn thing!
Then my first daughter, my second-marriage, pre-menopause bonus, was placed in my arms, and I wafted gently back to earth.
For the next year or so, I had the daily joy of watching my baby girl wake up in the morning. The dark fringe of lashes fluttered against her rosy cheek. Her blueberry eyes, dancing with light. And the first thing she saw — the ceiling fan, the kitty, or, if we were lucky, one of her family — was the recipient of a brilliant, wide, toothless, guileless smile. And then they just kept coming, those smiles, like a stream of bubbles from the mouth of a carnival fish. Sometimes I had to wonder if wasn’t all that Zoloft I took when I was pregnant.
For Jane the infant, every day was a fresh start, one she met merrily and head on, with none but the most cheerful expectations. Very similar to the way she now, at 11 and a half, living in Baltimore with her divorced mom, faces the prospect of total world destruction by every astronomical, astrological and supra-historical means.
Okay, then, X/Nibiru! We’re ready for you. Bring it on.
Marion Winik writes “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a column about life, love, and the pursuit of self-awareness. Check out her heartbreakingly honest and funny essays twice a month on Baltimore Fishbowl.