40 Weeks or the Time Spiral

timeMy ride pulls up in front of my place of work.  It’s a busy place with a constant flow of people, ideas, goods and germs in and out of the doors.  I peel myself from the cold, cement wall that is holding me upright and waddle towards the car. 

“Hey babe, and baby.”

My husband is in the driver’s seat.  He nods at me and then at my watermelon sized belly.  I have stopped driving, no longer trusting myself to navigate even the short distance between home and work in this final week of pregnancy.

“I’ve got some bad news for you,” he says with a straight face. 

I appreciate the warning, the easing into whatever he is about to share.

“Do you want to hear it now or later?”

His fingers are wrapped around the steering wheel, positioned at 10 and 2. 

“Go ahead, I can handle it.”    

I rest my hands on top of the bump that is our unborn son who squirms under the pressure.  I am only partially listening as my mental capacity has diminished, like a reservoir with all of the water drained out with just the trickle of a creek cutting across the otherwise dry bed.     

“I did some recalculations and I think we got the due date wrong.”

He now has my full attention.  I turn to him in disbelief and horror.

“What?”

This is not what a woman who has been pregnant for close to 40 weeks wants to hear.

“Yeah, I think we still have three weeks to go.”

He flicks on the turn signal and changes lanes with a quick glance over his shoulder.

“Three weeks? Three weeks?”   

The light at the end of the gestation tunnel has suddenly grown dim; I thought we just had three more days to go of constant trips to the bathroom, swollen ankles, and an award-winning waddle.  However, with three days or three weeks as a hostage to our tiny terrorist, it’s all the same when it comes to delivering the mega-baby.  

Pain, joy and a scheduled induction if this goes a day past 40 weeks (and that’s the 40 weeks by my calculations.)

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39 Weeks

spring flowerI re-checked the carelessly jotted down room number on the sticky note with no small amount of frustration.  Was that supposed to be a 5 or a 3 or maybe an 8?  Apparently, there was something to the old saying that haste makes waste and I only had myself to blame which made me doubly frustrated.  I was going to have to walk down a flight of stairs, through a long hallway and then around the corner to get back to my desk; all the while travelling on the two marshmallows previously known as my feet, in order to get the right room number, unless I could figure it out based on the information available.

Think, I encouraged myself. What would a really clever and mentally clear-headed person do right now? 

I was carrying around an extra 30 pounds (dare I admit to the full amount?) between the baby and the protective layers and fluids keeping him suspended in a utopian womb world.  Over the past few days, I had started reviewing every potential destination and the required steps as a want or a need.  Life was getting pretty challenging in terms of doing normal human things like walking, sleeping and even eating.  Unfortunately, the way things looked, a trip back to the office was going to be a necessity as I had some paperwork that needed a signature and randomly popping into rooms didn’t seem like a productive option.

I glanced around for last minute inspiration, desperate not to make a second trip, and realized what I needed was right in front of me.  The meal order slips were clipped outside of each door with room numbers and names.  A quick peek at the slip closest to me revealed that I found the right room and a trip back to the office was not needed.  Hitting the hand sanitizer, I gave a sigh of relief and rubbed my hands together, dispersing the cold foam between my fingers and palms.   

Was I perhaps on the verge of returning to the world of the clear-thinkers? A leg kicked at my ribs and an elbow stuck out just above my belly button, reminders that this dream was clearly not to be for some time.    

A large trashcan on wheels rolled past me, directed by an old, wizened Indian woman with long black hair, pulled back into a low knot.  She wore scrubs and non-slip, black leather shoes.  Yellow gold earrings hung from either side of her tiny head.  She looked into my face with deep brown and knowing eyes.

“Baby come soon.”

It wasn’t a question, but rather a statement that only unclear in the soothsayer’s definition of time.  I felt overjoyed, like seeing a delicate spring flower break through the winter snow, there was hope.  I leaned against the wall, allowing her to pass and to rest my weight on something more stable than the before mentioned marshmallows. 

“I hope you’re right…”

She rolled her trash can past me and yelled over her shoulder, “It is a blessed thing,” and disappeared around the corner.   

But when?  When will it happen? I wondered silently, already knowing the answer.

Soon.

Not you, Peg.

cookies

Class starts early for a Saturday, but it’s usually worth wrangling with the alarm clock.  There is a different topic and speaker each month, a sense of community, and a variety of homemade snacks.  Blueberry muffins, granola, fresh strawberries, cookies, crackers and a veggie tray are crammed together to cover the snack table on a regular morning.  I even gave up bringing my own stash of nuts and fruit because of the confidence that I felt in the generosity of the class to provide a spread of tasty treats.

We arrived late last week and shimmied behind the chairs of punctual members of class, carefully stepping over purses and bags to the last open seats on the far side of the room. The instructor finished with the announcements and upcoming volunteer opportunities as I began to strategize my trip to the back of the room to visit the snack table.  

How to do it without disrupting the rest of the people in the row again or drawing the notice of the instructor?  I was excited about what new surprising options awaited me and devised a complicated route to shimmy around a few more people at the end of the row, only to double back along the edge of the room where the treasure beckoned me.

“Excuse me, I have something to share,” a voice shouted from the front of the class.

It was Peg, short for peg-leg, but I think her real name was Brenda or Donna.  She was a below the knee amputee who always had something to say.  She pushed a pair of black framed glasses onto the top of her head and into a nest of light brown, tightly permed curls. 

“I baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies and snicker doodles.”

She took a sip from a can of Dr. Pepper that was next to the unnecessary stack of papers, notebooks and books that she brought to each class.  I felt a mild irritation that she had to stop to take a drink to deliver what was sure to be a ridiculous message, but also a softness in my heart from the mention of the snacks that she brought for the day.  She spent time and energy to gather the supplies and to mix the ingredients in the perfect ratios, to stand in front of the hot oven and pull the cookie trays out after carefully watching the dough turn brown and the chocolate chips to melt through the oven window.

“But I left them on the kitchen counter this morning, right next to the plate of Rice Krispy treats.” 

A gasp escaped from my mouth before I realized that my jaw was hanging open; it was like the mailman forgot to close the lid to the mailbox and all of the letters and advertisements ended up scattered across the yard.  

“That’s why there isn’t anything sweet over on the table.”

She shrugged, not in an apologetic type of way, but rather in a matter-of-fact-sucks-to-be-all-of-you-who-don’t-get-to-eat-the-cookies-that-were-allegedly-left-on-the-counter way and pulled her glasses back onto her pasty face.  Her announcement was over.  She was over as far as I was concerned and had no idea of the impact from her negligence on her hungry and partially-insane-from-pregnancy and hormonally-imbalanced classmates or one classmate, in particular.  I withheld the snarl that started in the back of my throat and rummaged in my bag for an old mint muttering angry words about Peg. 

After a few days of self-reflection, I came to the following conclusions about the snack situation. Perhaps this wasn’t the unforgivable trespass that I originally thought, perhaps I should have been contributing to the snack table instead of relying on the generosity of others, and just maybe I wasn’t dealing with the normal disappointments of life very well.

Sharp Edges

gummiesEveryone’s voices are too loud and the lights are too bright.  Two women laugh by the copy machine. The sound saturates the air and is broken by the code being keyed into the door. Beep, beep, beep, beep.  A third woman joins in at the copy machine, their heads lean in and their voices fall to whispers.  They share the kinds of secrets that sink ships.

Just around the corner, sits the subject of their conversation.  A powerful sitting duck.

“He needs to get up off his rusty dusty and do something about…” a voice rises from the cluster of three and falls back to an inaudible whisper.

I am unable to cope with the drama and leave the office.  While wandering the long hallways, people pass with purses and bags on their shoulders with appointments and parking validation on their minds.  Conversation is light or heavy depending on the room from which they left or to where they are heading.

Finally, I reach the safety of the coffee shop.  Dim lighting makes it a cozy nook, plus it’s harder to see stains and spills in the dark.

“A small coffee and…”

Feeling impulsive, I look around.  I need something to make me feel better about life and work and getting through the next 8 hours.  There are energy drinks in the cooler, a tray of rock-hard rice crispy treats, and barrels of healthy snacks like nuts and apples.  And then I see it, the barrel that I need.

It is filled with baggies of brightly colored, freshly packed gummy bears.

“…and this.”

I casually throw a bag on the counter like it’s no big deal.  Like I am not going to open it immediately after purchase, rip it open with my teeth if necessary, and begin to annihilate the cute little red, green, yellow, blue and orange bears.  The clear ones are garbage and will be spared, while the rest are about to be put on the once endangered and now extinct species list.

Soon I will be intoxicated with a combination of gummy-bear power and caffeine, and once again ready to take on the world.

When nothing is simple.

mouse

The couple sat next to each other, inches apart, but separated by a thousand emotional miles.

“There she goes again. Won’t let me talk,” the man started cutting at his wife with a tone as sharp as razor.  He wore a baseball hat and dark glasses, sweatpants and a t-shirt that showcased a blurry tattoo on his bicep.

His wife stared down at her planner.  The cover had a pretty floral pattern of pinks and purples, outlined in gold and protected by a clear plastic coating.  She flipped it open.  The pages were mostly blank aside from an outline of the same floral pattern from the front, traced onto the background of the calendar days, in black and white.

Her hair was dyed a honey blond and carefully curled and sprayed into place. Still, dark roots showed through, a brown base from which a fountain of fake gold flowed.  The truth always makes itself known, eventually.

“Would you please listen to the woman?  She has a job to do and you are slowing her down.”

“She said she wanted to understand where we are coming from and that is just what I was trying to do when you interrupted me.”

“Sir, I asked that question so I could get you directions to the clinic where your next appointment is scheduled,” a woman on the other side of the desk explained.  She had long, black eyelashes like spider legs and equally long, red nails.

A line formed behind the couple, the woman looked out from under her lashes and sighed.  She glanced down at a tiny Mickey Mouse clock on her desk with a sigh.  The little gloved mouse hands were both straight up.

Five long hours to go, she thought.

400 Crocs in Paradise

croc

The boat pulled forward slowly cutting through the brackish water without leaving a wake, like a pregnant snake, it floated low and heavy in the water loaded with tourists from around the world.  

At the front of the boat, the tour guide stood proud and tall at 5’5.   He was excited to have another captive audience on which to try out his comedy routine.  It was still early in the day and he was just getting warmed up on his act.

However, he was also quite literally warming up with the day.  It was already 85 degrees out and the sun shined brightly down on his coastal mecca.  His black hair was slicked back and drops of perspiration formed along the sides of his face.  The moisture glistened as it slid down his neck and was reabsorbed into his shirt.  He held onto a silver railing that lined the edge of the boat, steadying himself as the boat continued along the length of the scraggy beach.

“Bienvenidos, ladies and gentlemen, I am Jose and Marco is at the back steering the boat.”

Sure enough, at the back of the boat a man lightly gripped the steering wheel and lifted a hand to wave.  He gave a reassuring, toothy smile to the tourists.  Everyone on the boat who understood English craned their necks to confirm that there was a Marco steering the boat.  They assumed the boat was driving itself until Jose mentioned his coworker and then they had to see him with their own eyes, suddenly a most urgent necessity.

“At the end of the tour, please leave a review on our website, tell your friends and feel free to be generous with your tips.”

He held up a finger to emphasize his next point, “Unless you don’t like the tour, then remember that my name was Juan and Alberto was the captain when you go to tweet or leave a review online or don’t say anything at all.  Now with that business out of the way, are you ready to see some crocodiles?”

Then he started on the same spiel in Spanish; half of the crowd listened attentively while the rest gazed expectantly into the water.

An American couple laughed and looked at each other, passing an unknown silent message back and forth.  They held hands and sat thigh to thigh with matching sunburns and passport protectors around their necks.  

Jose continued, “Unfortunately, we did not learn German at university. So here goes. Hallo, guten tag, auf weidersehn and adieu.”

He winked and waved in a Sound of Music type of way at a pair of blond men with khaki colored hats sitting towards the front of the boat. 

“Are we ready for crocodiles, now?” Jose asked again.

The crowd laughed as they refocused and then cheered at Jose’s suggestion.

“There are 400 crocodiles out there but we are only going to see a few.”

The boat glided past a tangle of tree limbs and weeds.  Muddy clumps appeared from the dark water between patches of skinny reeds and debris.  Motionlessly, a log floated on top of the still surface and started to move forward towards the mess of the tree limbs sending slow ripples out from either side of it.  The log had eyes and suddenly a tail emerged from the water.

“This is very good, everyone.  Little Girl is out today.  This is a smaller, female crocodile who was just resting until we disturbed the her.  Do you know what this means?” 

Jose continued without waiting for the audiences’ response.

“Big Papa is around and we have to be careful because he will chase the boat.  He does not like us to mess with his girlfriends.  There is one guy and many girls, he is a lucky crocodile, no?” 

“But this is what you came for, to see the croc’s.”

Atop a scrub tree on the beach, a sleek bird of prey perched watching the boat creep along.   A long-legged crane picked its way through the water, stopping occasionally to stab at the water with its beak and unconcerned with the tour boat.  

“This area is home to more than the crocodiles, look up and you will see the birds.  Look down and you will see the fish.  We have to take care of it, we have to take care of the Earth because it is changing.  If we don’t do something now, it will be too late and there will be nothing we can do about it.  What will we leave to our children? What will be left for us?”

The tourists glanced around at one another and then out at the water.  It was a sobering moment.  Jose was serious and the tour was no longer fun, they were being raised to a higher level of accountability without relation to their country of origin.  They were equally responsible for the care of the world, from the inland brackish wetlands to the oceans and everything in between.  He made them think.

“Amigos, don’t look so serious.  Ok?  Today is a good day.  Today, you are all VIP because you are on this tour.  We normally don’t let people snorkel here, but this is your lucky day.  Americans, you can go first. Germanies, you are next.  Lastly, the Mexicans will go because we are delicious.”

Half of the tourists laughed while he said the same things in Spanish.  The tension was broken but the tourists were left thinking long after the boat brought them safely back to the rickety wooden pier.

 

Disease State

phone

Michelle’s smooth white skin was interrupted by dark bruises as though a painter had dabbed her arms with a brush full of blue paint, using her thin bones as a guide.  She texted on her phone, punching in letters and emoticons with grubby fingers, ignoring the woman sitting across the kitchen table from her.  

Before everything changed, Michelle’s phone was merely a distraction, a way to avoid eye contact, and pass the time.  The woman across from her remembered how Michelle used to talk on her first cell phone, a big bulky device with actual buttons and an antenna; she snapped the phone shut at the end of a call and tucked it away for hours without once reaching for it.  It was a sweet time when they communicated with real interactions and conversations, before Michelle was sick.  

At the thought of it, the woman bitterly laughed to herself.  It seemed like a million years ago when health was wealth and they were rich.  Now, it was all symbols to represent words and emotions, entire sentences condensed into a frowny face next to a fire and a thermometer.  Sick again. 

The power of technology was a powerful addiction, one that had taken hold of her daughter along with the rest of the population, from toddlers to the elderly, it was yet to be formally declared as dangerous because the side effects were still accumulating and not entirely clear. 

However, the woman sitting across from Michelle was keenly aware of the addiction.  She shared the same wide blue eyes, pale complexion, and health insurance plan as her daughter and not much else now that the disease had taken root.  Planting her elbows on the table, she clasped her hands, interlocking long white fingers with well-shaped nails.

“Next month, we are going to lose our insurance because I can’t afford COBRA,” the woman said in a very matter-of-fact way. 

Her daughter looked up and connected with her mother’s eyes, “I know.  You have said the same thing every other day since you found out about the layoffs.”

“And you were listening?  All I ever see you do is twiddle and tweet on that stupid phone so excuse me for being surprised.”

“And I got a job, you’ll be happy to know. With insurance for both of us.  It’s online.”

Serve the People

shot glass

Ray worked every night at a grungy dive bar that clung desperately to its place at the edge of town.  The bar straddled the past and the present, unable to fully commit to one or the other.  It was a depressingly dark establishment with an ancient cigarette machine outside of the single bathroom, brown water stains on the ceiling tiles and a glowing touch screen juke box was mounted on the wall.  A flat screen tv played a college basketball game over shelves of dusty liquor bottles and entertained the few customers seated around the bar. 

Ray inspected a glass for lipstick and nicks around the edges before wiping it down and stacking it on shelf under the counter.  A man with an American flag bandana wrapped around his grey hair sat at the far end and stared into a glass that he considered very much half empty.  Next to him, a skinny man with large, dark square glasses watched the basketball game and made comments between plays and during commercial breaks.  He sucked down the rest of a bottle of Bud Light; he rattled it on the counter and cleared his throat to get Ray’s attention.

The customer was foiled in his attempt when another man with a wrinkled t-shirt, messy hair and bleary eyes walked in a side door and swaggered towards the bar.  

“Hey pal, you need another fire ball?” Ray chose his words carefully and reached for another glass to wipe down.  There was a definite difference between want and need in his business. 

The man gave Ray a sloppy smile, “You are good, man.  How do you remember every time what I want?” He swayed to the left and then slowly to the right like a tree in the wind, somehow, his trunk stayed planted.  

There was no rush to take the man’s money or to refill his glass with the liquid that would continue to destabilize him.  Ray could take his time with this man, he had him right where he wanted him without concern that he would quickly leave or cause trouble with the other patrons.  He had a sense about his customers, like who would leave a tip and who would tip over.  He prided himself on his professionalism, his ability to be present without prying, to engage without judgement. 

He was there to serve the people and he had no qualms about over-serving those who asked for it.  

Balloons at a Shower

balloons

The room dripped in signs of love or affluence, both of which were certain to register with the expected guests.  Pink and blue balloons hung in the corners of the room, gathered together with curls of long silver ribbons.  Vases of fresh flowers were spaced every three seats, tastefully arranged by the best florist in town.

Two tables covered in light pink and baby blue cloths formed an L shape against adjoining walls with a massive bouquet of flowers adorning each table center.  One table held a sheet cake outlined in delicate pink sugar flowers and candy gem centers with a scrolling “congratulations” across the middle; bowls of nuts and mints were nearby a plate of fresh-out-of-the-oven croissants, a dish of neatly cubed fruit and a white, fluffy dip.  A crystal bowl of pink punch with a matching ladle and punch glasses completed the spread. 

The remaining table was only clear of its contents temporarily as with each guest a new package or container would be placed until it was full, like the collection plate by the end of a church service.  Offerings for the future bought peace of mind for the present by the givers.  Beautiful wrapping paper and ribbons would soon be torn open and tossed aside to reveal yet another onesie or pack of diapers and wipes.  

Yet, the chairs with their white linen covers were still empty, the punch melted, the croissants deflated and the flowers wilted.  

When the warning sirens sounded and there was suddenly no time to celebrate or to refrigerate the perishables.  There was no chance to return the gifts or recycle the cards, already marked with personalized messages of luck and advice for the future.  The same future that once seemed so unlimited was now on a drastically shortened timeline with the news of a missile, expected to strike within the city limits.   

Still the pink and blue balloons floated in the corners, bravely announcing the joy of new life during a time of utter confusion and darkness.

Poor birdie

Forlorn

bird

What do shivering birds in winter, a wet, bedraggled cat after a bath and my new coworker huddled over his desk all have in common?  The apparent desire to be far, far away from their current situation. 

Joe has successfully stayed off of the radar since he started and with 87 days left to go, he still has a very long orientation period.  Our supervisor suggested bringing him into our office with a tiny, temporary desk to hang out, hear our discussions and naturally integrate into the flow of things.  A good idea that was quickly shot down with any hope that Joe would learn to love the work or the team.

We were a schizophrenic group.  We wanted a man on our team, but we didn’t want a man in our office. We wanted an experienced co-worker, but didn’t want to train him, but wanted him around to give him exposure and opportunities to learn.  It was a unanimous decision that our boss struggled to understand. 

I tried to explain it in the lamest way possible, “He’ll be bored in here.” 

Then, driven by guilt, I went off to be more inclusive.

I peeked into Joe’s office and startled him, he was busy texting and avoiding conversation.  There was a blank screen of blue on his computer monitor and a mostly blank pad of paper on his desk with a few scribbles and a doodle along the edge of the paper.  He pushed his heavy, black rimmed glasses up on his nose and discreetly slid his phone under his leg without saying anything.

“Hey there, how are things going?” I asked.

He blinked at me with the eyes of a sensitive little bat, just brought out into the light.  He did not appreciate this intrusion into whatever it was that he was working on, likely an epic game of Tetris.  It was a strange situation, like a cat after a bath, this was an uncomfortable and disagreeable interaction for him, and like a bird in winter, his feathers still weren’t thick enough to protect him from the cold of group dynamics. 

 

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