Observations on a pregnancy

As my center of gravity changes and I grow closer to my due date, the pregnancy becomes less about me and more about this hypothetical child in my uterus. People ask fewer questions about how I’m doing and tend to focus instead on the promise of new life. Meanwhile the kid is still attached to my innards, thus I am slow to conceptualize her as her own entity. She’s my stomach. She’s a medley of gases. She’s responsible for weird vaginal phenomena that I won’t get into here. She’s movement and rhythm and an infusion of hormones that give me a Zen-like serenity about things that would normally cause depression and anxiety. She has a name, but only because I felt bad about calling her “the kid” all the time. Presumably she has a face, but I haven’t really seen it. She has fans. Her daddy is a big supporter. Her grandmothers both seem psyched to meet her. I encourage other people to lay hands on my belly because I need reassurance that the kid is not a figment of my imagination and that she will one day tunnel out into the real world by the grossest means necessary. But she never kicks people when she’s supposed to. Right now she is just mine.

Sometimes I think of my stomach as a Magic 8-Ball. While the kid is still in utero and living closest to the God spark, I feel that she might hold the answers to all my cosmic questions. “Can we afford to raise you in New York City?” One kick means “It is decidedly so.” Stillness means “Don’t count on it.” Treating my unborn child like an oracular toy seems to be my sole concession to acknowledging the miracle of all this pregnancy stuff. “Are you for real?” I whisper. “Are you magic?” She leans on my bladder and I dash to the bathroom. “Reply hazy try again.”

She’s given me pica. I’ve always been a nail-biter, but my habit is currently worse than it’s ever been. I have a premonition that I’ll lose the desire to bite as soon as she’s born. Right now my body craves fingernails. Perhaps I should be more careful about blaming the baby for things that are probably not her fault. M and I are both pretty self-critical, so it’s been fun for us to have a scapegoat when we fuck up. He bangs his knee on the corner of the bed frame for the third time in an hour. “Damn baby!” he says. I decide to sit in the window and eat a pint of ice cream instead of getting a job. “Thanks for nothing, kid!”

Do I “love” my unborn baby? Loving her right now is a difficult lesson in loving myself because we’re still so connected. Loving her right now is a study in risk because she’s still cooking and things could still go wrong. Loving her right now seems extremely wacky because I can’t even see her and the pregnancy websites keep describing her as various vegetable formations. And yet I do love this mysterious creation, this eggplant, this cabbage, this organic divinity sprung up from the garden of unprotected sex. Soon she’ll be a full-grown squash, and then I’ll really be head over heels.

At first we thought she was a boy. That was a relief. Boys tend to coast by on being boys and they don’t have to worry so much about their looks. I feel like an inexcusably shallow person when I find myself hoping that the kid is cute. If she’s not cute, it’s going to be a much harder road for her to travel, starting from the moment the obstetrician tosses her on the scale without so much as a “Looking good, babe!” and ending when she dies surrounded by legions of friends and family whom she’s attracted through her amazing, compensatory personality. Mostly I just want her to be cute so her daddy M, a professional photographer, will be able to exploit her as a child model and he won’t have to creep out other parents by asking them for baby loans. The other night I had a dream in which I brought the kid home from the hospital and I was the only one enamored with her. No one wanted to give her hugs and kisses. No one offered to hold her and tell her what chubby cheeks she had. They treated her with all the negative attention they would accord a troll. And yet I thought she was the most adorable human in the world. So I’m confident now that there’s no such thing as objective beauty when it comes to your own children. Everyone I know will just have to suffer alongside the abominable baby photos I will insist on Super Gluing to their refrigerators.

I’ve been trying to live the pregnancy from moment to moment and not fantasize about the future, but M routinely gets swept away by some image of himself holding his little girl for the first time or taking her to ballet lessons and then he gets so emotional that he has to go call his mom. Meanwhile I’m farting in the bed, prostrate with heartburn, wondering when it will be time to eat again. M is online shopping for ballet slippers and I am cursing the fact I have to pee for the tenth time since dinner. Out of self-preservation or hormonal overdosing or whatever, I tend to curtail my imagination and just respond to what my senses are telling me. They suggest that my body isn’t mine right now, but they also can’t yet drum up an image of who’s running the show. So I’m just waiting to see what’s in store for us on the 4th of July. “Outlook good,” says the 8-Ball.

The Pit Bull

At first Kimmy overfed the pit bull as its sort of reward for having devoured her ex-husband, but then the pit bull got chronic diarrhea and every time she saw the dog’s steaming porridge in the grass, she thought that maybe some of Tom’s skin and bowels were mixed in there with the shit. And diarrhea was revolting enough without the suggestion of human remains. So Kimmy started serving cans of Alpo instead of the ham omelets and other rich fare she’d grown accustomed to cooking for her newly adopted dog.

She’d fought like hell to gain custody of the pit bull. The local authorities had wanted to put it down, as if her ex-husband’s body had given the dog an unquenchable bloodthirst. Kimmy pleaded sentiment. She just wanted something to remember Tom by, she said. An animal that had been by her ex’s side until the end. Whether or not Tom had actually harbored tender feelings toward the dog was TBD. Kimmy had known nothing about her ex being a pet owner until the police finally tracked her down to identify the body. Tom’s untreated diabetes was also news to her. They’d been divorced for three years. Medical problems tend to spring up out of nowhere in middle age. Karma, in some cases.

In the dimly lit morgue, the bite marks were cleaner than Kimmy had expected. The dog had obviously taken its time, reluctantly picking apart the decaying corpse just to keep from starving. With her, the act would’ve been about vengeance, but with the pit bull, it just seemed like survival pure and simple.

“Come here, you chubby thing,” she said to the dog, scooping Alpo into its bowl on the kitchen floor. She considered the glistening food and decided to remove half of it with her spoon. “No fatties,” she warned the dog. Tom had started gaining weight toward the end of their marriage. The last time they’d had sex his belly had flopped unnaturally against her pelvis despite his sucking in. But Tom had never had much in the way of abdominal muscles. He always sank into a chair like an overtoasted marshmallow onto a graham cracker. She couldn’t imagine that his insides would’ve been very satisfying. She, personally, had never liked the taste.

“That’s enough,” she said to the dog, who was nearly done eating. “Now go play.” She tugged the collar out the back door so the pit bull would take some exercise in the yard. Through the window above the sink, she watched the dog settle in some tree shade, then blink at her sullenly as Tom used to do from the couch when his feelings were hurt. She wished she had a tennis ball to throw in the pit bull’s direction.

At first the dog thought her bed was off limits. Tom must not have allowed it to sleep with him in the old house where he’d beaten her. But Kimmy wanted the pit bull up there beside her. “Yoo-hoo,” she said as it crouched in the hallway. Then she patted the flannel sheets and the dog sprang up, always keeping a respectful distance from her face as if mindful of its cannibal breath. She remembered sleeping next to Tom for all those many years, and how his sleep apnea sometimes got so bad that he’d spontaneously stop breathing and she’d have to shake him awake. It was hard to doze off again after one of those incidents. She’d stare at his chest instead. It rose, it fell, it rose again, always in a rhythm that she couldn’t parse. In those moments her love for him was almost indistinguishable from a nightmare. She woke up irritable with dark circles under her eyes, resentful of the claim put on her by a man’s erratic lungs. She would never marry again.

Someone had cleaned up the dog before Kimmy took it home. She’d been prepared for blood and gore around the muzzle and paws, but at the pound she encountered a clean, rather chirpy animal who seemed eager to ride in the backseat of her Hyundai. It wasn’t until a few weeks later when she met with the dog’s deep shame. She pulled the framed picture of Tom from the back of her underwear drawer and pressed it close to the dog’s face. “Our old master,” she said. The pit bull immediately recoiled and crouched meekly in her bedroom closet. “Don’t feel bad,” she said. “You did what you had to do.” She knelt down to rub the pit bull’s bony undercarriage. Its stomach growled into her hand as if excited by her wedding ring. “We both did,” she said.

Fashion Week gestation

He’s in Midtown photographing models for New York Fashion Week, and I am at home dog-sitting a friend’s puppy. We are still trying to come up with the perfect name for our unborn child. He texts me with ideas throughout the day. The teenage models he’s shooting are not only genetically blessed, but they also have outstanding names: Anja, Svetlana. I text him back with names of dogs I meet in the dog park: Juno, Georgia. Somewhere between the glamour and the pooper-scooper, we will find our baby.

I’ve never done well with roommates. It’s hard for me to relax when another consciousness is operating nearby. While the puppy and I are alone in the apartment during the day, I find myself obsessing about what the puppy is thinking and feeling. Is the puppy hungry? Is the puppy angry with me for letting a herpetic bulldog bleed on her at the dog park? There are two walls between me and the napping puppy, but I can still sense the longing in her soul. This will never do. I can’t focus on my work. Oh wait. I’m about to have a baby. It’s possible that babies also exert a strong presence in one’s household. Maybe I should have opted for a plant.

Anja the fashion model takes direction well. When told to pout her lips, she pouts her lips. When told to flip her hair, she flips her hair. Betty the puppy takes direction less well. When told to heel, she sniffs a slice of pizza that someone has dropped cheese-down on the sidewalk. When told to urinate, she chases after a pigeon. I want to blame the breed for the discrepancy, but what if I lack the natural authority of a father figure?

I stuff the puppy’s frail little legs into the sleeves of her doggy jacket, and worry about an international influx of models freezing to death in New York this week. These women boast very little meat on their bones and unless they’re on a tropical beach somewhere, they don’t know how to dress appropriately for the weather. I think about sending some scarves and mittens to work with my baby daddy so he can distribute them to the models. But my outerwear is not designer, and it all smells like the dog park, so never mind. The important thing is that I have maternal instincts.

On having no hustle

Several major players in my life have recently pointed out that I lack hustle. They say that I don’t apply to enough things. I don’t ingratiate myself with powerful people. I don’t ask my former writing professors to recommend me for fellowships and residencies. I don’t dress like a ham sandwich and hang out on the street corner, proselytizing about ham sandwiches. I just don’t have the temperament for it. Which is not to say that I haven’t defied my own nature at times and attempted to hustle. I’ve sent some embarrassing emails over the years. These bids for love and attention trill with false modesty and labored charm. I always feel far more sympathetic to the poor souls on the receiving end of these needy emails than I do to myself, the sender.

We’re told that everyone hates the hustle, but you just have to suck up your pride and crippling social anxiety and do it or you’ll never get anywhere. You have to play the game, fake it til you make it, network, ask for help, never give up, never surrender. But I’m not sure hustle is a quality I want to have. Other people impress me when they aggressively go after what they want. I don’t devalue their hustle (unless they’re Republicans). And I’m not naïve enough to believe that successful careers just happen organically, without cocktail parties and emails. But why do I need to be successful in the first place? I think my real life’s ambition is something more in line with being an anonymous contemplative than sharing a billboard with Jeffrey Eugenides.

Which brings me back to my perennial dream of working as a long-distance truck driver. A person has to make money somehow, and I love to drive. I love to think about things through a wide window. And you can only go so fast behind the wheel. There’s always a speed limit. I find that fact really comforting, especially coming from the literary field where there’s no cap on how smart or talented or prolific you’re supposed to be. Even if you’re happily driving your beat-up Subaru 35 miles an hour through a school zone, you imagine that someone else is driving 95 miles an hour, with the cops chasing him, jumping drawbridges and shit, and your experience is ruined. As a professional truck driver I can drive 65 miles an hour all day long, receive a consistent paycheck, eat snacks from my lap, and have total freedom to meditate quietly on life while an unobtrusive radio bolsters my thoughts with an 80s soundtrack.

I can still write short stories at truck stops. I can still read books if they’re on tape. But no one will be able to accuse me of not having hustle. “In this business,” I’ll say, “hustle kills.”

And just like that I’m a mommy blogger

At the age of 35, a woman has to answer some tough questions. Is boxed mac & cheese an essential food group? Yes. Does infinite time remain to incubate a human being in one’s uterus? No.

Temporal Anxiety was supposed to drive me to publish several brilliant and precocious novels by the time I turned 30, but instead it just hovered around my desk year after year, reminding me that I was a failure. Writing books takes serious time, and conceiving a baby takes an instant. It’s no wonder that Temporal Anxiety is so much more effective in getting women pregnant than in getting them published.

Last fall I became furious with the male psychiatrist I was seeing when I came to him with morning sickness, mood disorder flaring, looking for medication advice so I wouldn’t give birth to an artichoke. “Are you happy to be pregnant?” he said. “Because you don’t sound happy to be pregnant.” Just because he couldn’t hear “the angel of the house,” he wanted to reduce my first-trimester mental state to some binary notion of happy mom/sad mom, and this made me an angry mom indeed. I soon found another doctor, a woman who recognized my neurochemical needs, who didn’t prescribe feelings, and who didn’t try to see my inner world in terms of black and white.

Most women I know are ambivalent about having kids. I was ambivalent about having kids. I might spawn a dozen babies who grow up to be magnanimous world leaders and still be ambivalent about having kids. It mystifies me how anyone can plunge headfirst into parenthood without having a full-blown psychological crisis. Birthing centers should have mental wards attached. Because this transformation from person to mother-person is hard and often paradoxical. You’re happy, and also sad. You feel gain, and also loss. You’re elated, and also emetic (I spent New Year’s Eve toasting the toilet water with my stomach bile). You want to have a child, but you also resent that you weren’t allowed to wait until age 80 to do it. Thanks a lot, bod.

But also, non-sarcastically, thanks a lot, bod.

Now that the ultimate biological decision has been made, I can resume racing against the clock with my creative projects. In six months I’ll probably have to put my pen down for a little while (is a couple days realistic?) in order to cater to a helpless baby, so I’d better knock out some grownup fiction in the meantime. I wonder if the prevalence of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll peak in the work of female writers just before they give birth. I actually suspect this happens postpartum. If there’s one thing I don’t anticipate motherhood making me, it’s soft. I’ll probably come home from the hospital and immediately start writing gritty crime fiction about homicidal babies.

I’m also comforted by the fact that I’m entering motherhood with my innate selfishness still entirely intact. I’m already hatching ways I can use this child to advance my business ventures. Thanks to having a photographer father, the kid will be the most photographed kid in America. And thanks to having a writer mom, the kid will be the most photographed barn in America. And Dad will stage-dad the hell out of the kid while Mom will Anne-Lamott the shit out of the kid and the kid will just have to put up with it until he’s old enough to move in with Grandma, and everyone will be…yes, I think, happy.

Art on the installment plan

She can’t open the window more than a few centimeters, for if she does, the squirrel that prowls the fire escape will collapse its skull, creep into her kitchen, and steal one of her bananas. She doesn’t know for a fact that the felonious squirrel likes bananas, but she never would have guessed that it liked tomatoes either, and over the summer it stole several of them right out of the fruit bowl.

Why can’t she give this squirrel a banana? She has a whole bunch of them. Who is she, Donald Trump? Would she also withhold milk from a crying baby?

 The Japanese shoguns had the unusual distinction of being perhaps the only major rulers ever to eradicate firearms. In 1587, the shogun declared that all non-samurai were required to hand over weapons—both guns and swords—to the government, which had announced it was going to use the metal in the construction of an enormous statue of Buddha. (Facts & Details)

She wonders if disarmament would work in the United States if artists promised a statue of Jesus to the owners of assault rifles.

Facebook: where people go to announce the death of their cats.

It’s been weeks since she effectively made her way out of bed. Yesterday he bellyflopped onto the mattress beside her and then diverted her with his repertoire of comical swimming strokes, as if the bed were a pool or an ocean and not a queen-sized black hole of ruminating despair. “I’m sorry,” he said, getting to his feet after he’d shown her his butterfly. “I’m being codependent.”

They bought a print from an artist down the street. The artist told them that a middle-school janitor had bought the original painting. The man had poked his head into the artist’s studio one day to inquire about the price of the oil portrait in the window. “Three thousand dollars,” the artist told him. “Damn,” said the janitor, and departed. Thirty minutes later he was back. “I’ll give you two hundred dollars for it every month for the next fifteen months,” he said. The artist agreed. Fifteen months later, the janitor took the portrait home. He occasionally texts the artist a photograph of himself hanging out at home with his arm around the painting.

The Rat Queen of Park Slope

For three days last week M and I were responsible for a small, helpless animal named Betty. Even if Betty had been the most self-sufficient of puppies, able to feed and water herself in the wild, she still would not have survived long under our care because we didn’t trust her with keys to our Brooklyn apartment. Thus a few times a day we had to escort her down two flights of stairs and up the street to the local dog park.

Our local dog park resembles nothing if not a prison yard. It’s surrounded by chain-linked fencing and filled with gravel three inches deep. You have to breach two security gates to enter and exit. But the dogs go bonkers for their gravel oasis. In this park they call their own, they can race back and forth with frenetic impunity. They can indulge in impotent orgies while their owners play on smartphones and pretend their pets aren’t indiscriminately humping one another. To a farm dog, the dog park would seem restrictive and dusty and depressing. To a city dog, the dog park is a blissful reservoir of freedom from the 400-square-foot apartment where he spends 99% of his time.

I get the sense that dog people typically bond by talking to each other about their dogs. How much they weigh. How much they like to eat socks. How they’re getting a bath later yes you are aren’t you cutie yes you are. But at our local dog park, nobody was interested in discussing the coddled, yapping creatures lunging at our ankles. Our neighbors wanted to talk about the rats.

Here is the nightmarish gossip that initiated me into dog park society: A few weeks ago the dog park’s rat situation was so bad that a rat emerged in broad daylight to bite a dog on the leg, prompting public health officials to shut down the park temporarily. A subsequent inspection of the park and the neighboring children’s playground yielded the discovery of 125 bordering rat burrows. Sensibly, the rats had dug their vast empire along the perimeter of a promised land brimming with their favorite foods: dog shit, garbage, and the Cheddar Bunny crumbs that frequently get stuck to toddlers’ faces.

One acerbic older woman whom the other dog park regulars barely seemed to tolerate blamed yuppies for the rat infestation. “Park Slope didn’t have a problem with rats until the yuppies arrived and started eating brunch all over the place.” She said she’d gotten in trouble at the playground recently for shrieking about rats and scaring the children. She also said that the authorities had managed to eradicate 100 of the 125 local rat burrows by setting traps and clearing the brush that served as the rats’ cover, but then the city had gone ahead and planted some new shrubs immediately outside the dog park gates, which was just stupid.

While the woman shared these facts, Betty was happily plunging her adorable puppy face into a mound of rat feces. We shooed her away in a panic, but minutes later, while being chased by a horny pug, Betty dove headfirst into the same pile, effectively atomizing the feces so we humans felt an urgent need to step away, shielding our mouths and noses from the hantaviral shitstorm.

On later visits to the dog park, we found that everyone there had something negative to say about the rats. We were encouraged to gaze over the fenceline so we could see into the dark apertures of the remaining burrows. We were encouraged to become students of the city’s anti-rat poster campaign warning against not cleaning up after your dog. We were told that the bubonic plague is alive and well.

Naturally, I was horrified by what I was learning about my idyllic neighborhood. It was like finding out that your long-term boyfriend has an STD that will eventually chew off your privates while you’re unconscious. Rats are gross. Rats are pests. Rats have collapsible rib cages and unplated skulls that allow them to squeeze between the bars of birdcages and devour pet canaries. But something about the unquestioned flood of rat criticism made me want to step in and defend the little monsters. Many of the harsh things that the dog park people were saying about rats could just as easily be applied to humans, or to dogs for that matter. Looking around the park, I saw a whole bunch of stocky, inbred, social, ravenous animals that mindlessly shat and pissed and served as vectors for disease. One could argue that the main difference was that they wore collars. (And used smartphones, haha.)

I decided to do some research. I was prepared to dazzle the dog park people with a recitation of rat facts that were both positive and fun. I was going to change hearts and minds, and make a real difference in interspecies relations in my neighborhood. But Betty peed on our rug one too many times and our dog-sitting adventure came to an end. And I think loitering in a dog park without a dog is probably the same level of creepy as loitering in a playground without a child. Fortunately I still have you people. Here is what I learned about our rat friends, primarily from Jerry Langton’s Rat: How the World’s Most Notorious Rodent Clawed Its Way to the Top:

  1. Rats have friendships with each other and if a member of their clan is disabled, they are just as likely to feed him as eat him.
  2. Rats are neophobics, meaning they’re scared of new things, the exception being new environments. If you give a rat an island to take over, as humans have been doing for many centuries, the rat will explore every inch of that island, and then it will swim for three days so it can reach the next island, and explore that one too.
  3. Rats love scrambled eggs!
  4. Rats can’t belch or vomit. They can actually die from drinking carbonated beverages. Exterminators have attempted to use Pepsi as rat poison but the soda usually goes flat by the time the rats are brave enough to enjoy it.
  5. Rats are omnivores just like us! (With the exception of Pepsi products.)
  6. Rats are shy and they struggle with obesity.
  7. These things exist, and I’d like to be a part of them somehow: American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association, Rodent Control Academy, New York City Rodent Complaint Form.
  8. Rats only bite babies when they’re sleeping because the babies smell like food, which sounds like Mommy’s fault to me.
  9. I once knew a drug dealer who kept two rats as pets and those rats were a lot cleaner than he was.
  10. Rats have superior digestive systems. They can poop up to 200 times a day. Amazing!
  11. In the Middle Ages, rats were cheap and efficient torture devices. A rat would be secured to someone’s abdomen, then a hot object would be brandished over the rodent until it got so frightened that it began to burrow into flesh.
  12. Rats used to provide humans with hours of entertainment by getting violently slaughtered by bloodthirsty dogs in basement arenas.
  13. Rats have figured out an ingenious way to heat their burrows in winter by using their own fermented urine!
  14. The world’s most popular lab rat was named after one of my ancestors.
  15. Rats love to reside in thatched roofs, which is part of the reason that medieval people had such a plague problem, and also why 10% of people in Mozambique can expect to be nibbled by a rat while they’re sleeping.
  16. In 1664 the Lord Mayor of London decided that cats and dogs were causing the plague, so he had them all killed, removing the rat’s only nemeses. The rat population boomed. Dopey mayor!
  17. Rats always build an emergency rear exit into their burrows. If there’s an earthquake, they wisely flee en masse through these “bolt holes” because they fear the roof caving in. But sometimes what they think is an earthquake is actually a jackhammer at a construction site and there are the rats anyway, swarming up from the earth and comically surrounding people in hard hats.
  18. Rats can develop an immunity to rat poison.
  19. Rats can sometimes be so playful with each other that their tails become tangled together. Then they can continue playing as a team without interruption until they all die of starvation. Silly!

If these fun facts don’t win over even the most passionate of rat haters, I don’t know what will.

The alternative to learning to love the rats is continuing to despise and destroy the rats. I also understand that impulse. Personally I would like to see a sky full of hawks. They would dive through the air right and left, taking out the bad rats but leaving the friendly ones. Unfortunately many of the smaller dog species in the dog park could get mixed up in the carnage. But they would be martyrs and we would honor them accordingly.

I could also volunteer to lead the rats away, maybe into New Jersey, using my iPhone playlist. This is the least I can do for my beloved neighborhood. I wouldn’t even ask to be paid! Though I might attempt to lure the cutest children on the playground into our photo studio later. So I can make money they can be safe from the rats.

In defense of (crazy) love

When love chooses you, you’re limp in its arms. Let’s say that he was your classmate. You had every class together. He sat beside you. Sometimes the right side, sometimes the left. You exchanged pens, thoughts, numbers. You sipped each other’s coffees. His was milky, yours was sweet. Class became an exercise in grappling with his energy. It’s not that you intentionally tuned out the teacher; it’s that her vocal frequencies couldn’t contend with the static between you and your classmate. You found ways to write about him in your homework assignments. Your homework suffered as a result. Everything suffered as a result. Everything but him, and he was everything.

You fell in love the way Russians do. You surrendered to a Regime of Fate. You tried to unearth a rational, self-advancing agency in the matter, but this love was a train of the sort you see in great fiction, or in the final Back to the Future movie. Your first fight introduced you to internal mechanisms that had never previously been broken, and to bits and pieces that had never previously been torn apart. But who are your friends to say that love shouldn’t run you over or send you soaring off a cliff? This isn’t some romantic ideal you decided to realize as a girl because you read one too many novels. This isn’t the kind of love you’d request if a spectrum of options from Ned & Maude to Sid & Nancy was laid out before you. But this is what’s happening. You really are tied to the tracks. Life takes you places.

The drama tends to tip the scales. You’ve been happier than you ever thought possible. But you’ve also been debased. You’ve been undone. You’ve been fucking miserable. At those times the answers should be clear, but they’re not. You’ve questioned yourself into the occasional nervous breakdown. You emerge bigger, better, your heart more open with grace and forgiveness. You do it all over again. Or rather, you do it to him, he does it to you. You inflict pain and joy on each other. Which doesn’t seem to be allowed in this day and age. You wonder why you can’t be a feminist and completely batshit boy crazy at the same time.

What feels bad: trying to make sense of it. Trying to define it once and for all. Trying to match your childhood to his as if the wounds would disappear if you could only reconcile on the playground. Something rubs you the wrong way about the standards to which modern American relationships are held. You read up on this stuff trying to rationalize what isn’t rational and perfect what isn’t perfectible. You consume literature devoted to categorizing partners and partnerships. You try to reduce the deeply personal to affairs of black and white. You subscribe to healthy/unhealthy dichotomies that make you feel ashamed and sick and stupid. You read too many self-improvement articles that treat your partner more as a gadget for your own growth than as a complex individual. Vast portions of the population are dismissed as toxic. You wonder what happens to all those people who the gurus say don’t deserve to be loved.

The dominant storylines aren’t true for you anymore. You’re no one’s languishing victim. You aren’t weak for occasionally trusting in forces that exist beyond your human frailty. You aren’t weak for being kind. You aren’t weak for conceding to metaphysics. You aren’t diminished by your vulnerability. Honoring difference does not equate to self-sacrifice. Love is not “womanly” or submissive or something to be ashamed of. Love is a beast. Love makes you a fighter.

What feels good: loving, having faith, working through it, staying loyal, staying strong, asking for help when you need it. You stick to that.

You’re aware of how naïve you sound when someone says “leave” and you counter with “love.” But you have studied every inch of both alternatives. The love is not what you would choose, but you respect the forces, and you remain.

You shouldn’t have blown off your homework assignments. You know better now. You shouldn’t have failed to thrive just because you became two instead of one. You know better now. You regret your self-neglect. You regret feeling compassion for him and not for yourself. You know better now. You apologize to your teachers for a year of not listening. And you forgive yourself for past mistakes. Because love does not crush you in this narrative. Love calibrates you to be a person who connects, and to whom one can be connected. And that, dear boys and girls, is everything.

Going to see the moon

She’d been alive for over three decades, but had never witnessed a lunar eclipse. She wasn’t sure why not. Maybe because they always happened at night, when she was more likely to feel shattered, celestially undeserving, or too strange to go outside, where she might meet a strangeness more sublime than her own. So she’d just look at the moon’s picture in the paper the next day and tell herself that life wasn’t passing her by. But on the night in question, the Sunday night of the blood moon, she had this person with her, and except for his dubious beliefs about UFOs and the U.S. government, he seemed to feel pretty much the same way that she did about the sky.

They decided to watch the moon from the park. To get to the park, they had to walk half a mile uphill. The incline made the sidewalk resemble a ramp to the moon, or maybe her legs were just tired and any route, including the one from her bedroom to her bathroom, would resemble a ramp to the moon. Already the eclipse was happening. Only 221,752 miles until they reached their destination. They hurried along as much as they could while shuttling three flavors of ice cream between them on little plastic spoons. They kept losing the moon behind buildings, light-polluted clouds, and nebulous treetops, but then they’d reach an intersection and there it would be, shining.

A festive atmosphere encircled the park. Someone played guitar on a front stoop across the street from a playground. An adolescent boy had set up a flimsy telescope on the sidewalk and was busy making adjustments to his lens. A steady stream of couples entered the park gates holding hands. They followed suit behind. It made them both happy to see other people out late at night for reasons unrelated to the consumption of alcohol. They were part of a community event. They hoped the community event was not the end of the world.

They settled on a grassy bank and waited for the clouds to clear. At first she was reluctant to lie down. They hadn’t brought a blanket with them and most people had a bad habit of not cleaning up after their dogs when they urinated in public. But then she remembered that she was in nature and nature does not make you dirty. And the sky was not a television set, even though the number of people currently watching it was comparable to the viewership of the final episode of Lost.

They lay down and waited for the moon’s face to blush. They had hoped for contemplative silence, but a nearby woman was reading aloud from her cell phone about the prospect of life on other planets. She was not just reciting a paragraph here and there to titillate her male companion; she was regurgitating the entire Internet. So they moved further down the bank, where they were annoyed to discover that they could still hear the woman’s impromptu audiobook. In some ways the annoyance was comforting. She frequently experienced annoyance, thus the feeling was familiar, unlike the stellar bodies overhead. Her gripe with the sky had always been that it never seemed very interested in her. There was probably a good reason for this.

“You know what we forgot to do before we left for the park?” she said, squirming to alight on her reverential mode. “Drop acid.”

The moon was slowly being consumed by an anti-moon. For the astronomically ignorant, an eclipse could only be interpreted as a harbinger of end-times. And yet there she was reaping all the palliative benefits of modern science, cognizant that the blood moon did not pose an actual threat to life and limb, and she was still feeling anxious about the darkening mass over Brooklyn. Not because she expected the Seven Horsemen of the Apocalypse to trot across the baseball field, but because life on Earth had felt so ominous lately, and here was one more glaring symbol of their impending doom.

But for her, even the doom was impersonal. In a way, she longed for the doom. In a way, her separation from the doom was what made her so anxious. When had she disassociated from the future, and her respective role in it? When had she become subhuman? Was it at the same time she’d become sublunar? She felt foreign to this universe blooming all around her. If aliens descended, she would have nothing to say to them, and vice versa. Her orifices weren’t worthy of their implants.

It would be difficult to eclipse the self-pity of that statement.

They lay under a popular flight path. Every so often a plane would pass over, wingtips flashing red, and she’d trace its dark underbelly across the sky and think, “What is that flying object? I can’t seem to identify it.” He joked about bringing a laser pen to the park and scrawling it across the moon, just to be obnoxious. When the moon was finally overtaken by its evil, ginger twin, spectators clapped halfheartedly and all the dogs in Brooklyn began to bark. Why did staring up at the night sky make her miss her father? No wonder she avoided stargazing. He belonged to that particular universe, and she did not.

On the walk home they encountered two men standing on a street corner, trying to locate the blood moon behind cloud cover and a church steeple. One of the men quickly lost patience with this activity. “Whatever,” he said petulantly, then they both turned their backs on the park and descended the hill. She was appalled. “That man just whatever’ed the moon,” she said. “Who does he think he is?”

They took their time getting home. He said he wanted to absorb as much of the moon’s female energy as possible in hopes of reading her mind. They stalked a caravan of wailing fire engines to an apartment complex that was not on fire, only bathed in red emergency lights. She tried not to be disappointed. A fire was the blood that would bring her back to earth. That night she got her period several days before it was expected. Maybe the sky had a tracking device on her after all.

She knew exactly which people were going to post blurry iPhone shots of the expanding universe on their Instagram accounts. They wanted other folks to know that they’d seen the moon. It was important to broadcast their primitive lunar connection. She was also pleased that she’d finally taken the moon’s picture. Only later did she feel the need to publish it.

On building street cred in Brooklyn

At the Brooklyn street fair they buy a pina colada in a magenta cup shaped like a naked lady. For three more dollars the booth attendant will serve their rum in a coconut, but they decide to stick with what they know. The attendant generously ladles clear alcohol from a dirty white bucket at his feet, and they wonder if the pina colada is safe to drink. Will they go blind? “My vision is already starting to blur,” he says, looking up at a cluster of Mylar balloons shaped like animals. “More for me,” she says.

A man lures them down a side street by promising them free bicycle helmets. Their lack of bicycle helmets has been a source of domestic contention for weeks. She doesn’t object to wearing a helmet, but she doesn’t want to have to shop for one. He likes to spend money on things, and also not get head injuries. Free helmets would end their stalemate once and for all. They join a line that goes halfway around the block. The Department of Transportation staff administering the line contains some of the most amiable people she’s ever met in her life. When it’s finally her turn to be fitted for a helmet, a man in a NYDOT t-shirt rubs sanitizer into his hands, then unspools his measuring tape around her cranium. His touch conveys the same gentle authority as a skilled physician’s. Her head is sized medium.

They return to the main thoroughfare of the festival wearing their helmets, then they put them in the backpack. She also puts the empty naked lady cup in the backpack, so she can wash it out for later use. They pass vast kingdoms of bouncy castles, beer vendors and impromptu beer gardens, arepa stands. They pass a booth that promotes its Biggie Smalls merchandise with a cardboard cutout of a little blond girl. They eat warm slices of pizza. They eat cronuts. They eat turkey drumsticks. They find a fleet of vintage buses that the Transit Museum has wheeled out for the kids. They board a city bus from 1982. So far her favorite part of the street festival is being on the parked bus, just sitting, resting.

Their friends arrive with a small white dog. Suddenly she sees small white dogs everywhere. Half of the Mylar balloons are small white dogs. Every other woman’s purse contains a small white dog. She wonders if the pina colada’s hooch is affecting her too. They pass a band playing classic rock. He’s a little tipsy. “Please don’t yell ‘Free Bird,'” she thinks. “Free Bird!” he yells. She considers getting a small white dog just so she can name it Free Bird and constantly call for it in crowded public spaces.

M and K drop by the festival. K brings her own Tupperware of homemade food, and everyone else feels bad for spending $20+ on street meat when K is so resourceful. They pass a lady with an albino python wrapped around her neck. M gives them a wide berth. “Wouldn’t it be weird,” she says, “if women acted around snakes the way they act around puppies and babies, and sort of threw themselves at them, reflexively cooing and trying to hold their slithery bodies?” “Yes,” they all respond.

Every once in a while a mysterious hole will open up in the street’s teeming river of people. She will suddenly realize that she is no longer being jostled from all directions, and she’ll look around for an explanation. But none of the holes make sense, except for the one around the python.

She arrives at her street fair emotional threshold about forty-five minutes before they’re able to wade through enough humanity to reach their locked bicycles. She puts on her new helmet just as the good DOT doctor instructed. “No part of the helmet should touch your ears,” he said as he fitted her. “This isn’t Virginia.” She was taken aback by his comment because she’d never told him that she was from Virginia. Perhaps he was a phrenologist and had used her scalp to glean geographical data. “If I were from Virginia,” he told her, “I would never leave.” Yes, cities can be overwhelming, and no, one can’t always trust the turkey legs being grilled on the curb, but a person can make an eddy for herself in any urban river, just as long as she keeps her head protected, and her Virginia street smarts (aka Biggie t-shirt) about her.