What do you say when you’ve been married just six months and have a baby on the way? “I’m sorry”, “it’s nothing”, “fine”, “it’s not your fault”, “you make it clear you want a sister or a daughter”, “you deserve better”, “this is not your fault”?
These are the words my husband said to me when I told him I was quitting my job at the moment. He was relieved, he said. At least I wouldn’t have to do that awful job again. I disagreed. I wasn’t doing it again. But what can you do when the one you love says those unmentionable words?
I didn’t reply.
A week later I got a phone call from my mother. She was so worried about me, she said, she’d called all the doctors’ surgeries in the neighborhood to see if I needed to put me on any medication. (You must have heard of Medi-Cal, the federal health insurance program for the elderly.) She said they were all very worried. I told her nothing of the sort was needed. I was fine. I’d be fine.
Six hours later, I was driving down a winding country road when I pulled into a grocery store. I’d bought a case of pasta and lettuce for dinner, a jar of mayo, extra butter, and a carton of Coke Zero. I was starving but went into the store to buy more toilet paper anyway.
When I got out of the store, I was so hungry I couldn’t find the jar of mayo. I opened the fridge and there was no more toilet paper. I opened the freezer and there was no more butter. I opened the dishwasher and there was no more Coke Zero. I felt terrible and went to my mother’s house to eat bread she had prepared for me.
In the end, it was the absence of things that bothered me most. It was the absence of people that bothered me most. I felt like I was on the set of a bad sitcom, sitting in my bedroom, looking at a TV screen showing scenes from the next day’s newspaper. On the screen were the headlines: “L.A. Woman Arrested in Attempted Murder of Husband”, “Two Women Dead in Shooting at Motel”, and “Missing Woman, 16, Found Dead in Sheetmetal Store”. I thought about all the things I could have done, or not done, do make the headlines go away.
I wondered if my anxiety and fear were related to the recurring dreams in which an ugly man with dark hair and thick eyebrows would appear and make me do horrible things. In one dream, he was shaving my head and putting a knife to my throat in another. In another, he was sitting on a toilet and masturbating with a broomstick in front of a mirror behind me. In another, he was putting a box cut out by someone else and putting a bomb on someone’s door with a letter inside.
In all those dreams, I was made to do things that made me sick to my stomach. I dreamed that I was dead and buried and wouldn’t wake up. In all those dreams, I was stabbed, beaten, or electrocuted or both. I dreamed that someone else got electrocuted and died. In all those dreams, I was stabbed repeatedly with a knife or hatchet. I dreamed that someone electrocuted me and died. I wondered if I would see those murders play out again, again, and again. I wondered if I were the murderer, or someone who was being electrocuted with an axe.
The final report card I received from my mother arrived on the last day of my pregnancy. I opened it and read the results. I was eighty-eight pages long. I was failing my course.
My grades had been poor my whole life, but my high school and college records showed only average or slightly better than average grades. In high school and college, I had been a good student, sometimes an A student, sometimes an F, sometimes a C. In my last report card, my grade was D.
My mother told me I’d been failing all my classes my whole life. She was right. I’d been starting over again at age sixteen, after a disastrous home life in my own home, and trying to figure out if I wanted to try college while knowing nothing about it. I’d been dropping out of high school and dropping out of college and repeating the same three years over and over and over again.
I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
One thing I did know, however, was that I didn’t want to go back to being a kid again. I wanted to become an adult. I wanted to become an adult not just in my career, but in everything.