Reality in Beautiful Pieces

My friend is sitting at the end of the table across from the chair I am sitting in. The purplish long-sleeve cotton T-shirt she is wearing hugs her body and is radiant against her cream skin. The purple is nearing a deep blue shade, like a jewel. The new necklace hanging down her chest is also striking. I tell her that she looks beautiful. She thanks me but shrugs off the compliment with the rolling of her eyes.

We are waiting in a tight room at the doctor’s office, here for a routine check-up, listening for our doctor’s footsteps out in the hallway. On the walls around us are flyers about flu-shots and notices about insurance. Propped up on a work bench is a flip chart with a diagram of a uterus.

I am comfortable enough with my friend that I don’t consider myself to be staring at her, even when I might be, in fact, staring at her. I sense that she feels the same way about me. So, my eyes trail down to her round belly, where my husband’s and my baby is growing. I am watching for any twitches from underneath her jewel-tone shirt. My friend’s belly remains unperturbed.

About every few nights, I would text my friend and ask about our daughter. “Has she been moving?” Whenever Danith is curious and anxious himself, he tells me to ask her the same question but not to say that the question is from him. I don’t listen because I find his shyness to be funny. Whenever my friend receives such a text, she would write back, “Baby girl was moving earlier. And Danith can ask me anything! LOL!” My friend, who is carrying and caring for our baby, is beautiful in that way. When we first talked about the possibility of her becoming our gestational carrier, some of her early words were, “I want this to be your pregnancy.”

And it really has been my pregnancy — minus the nausea, the food aversion, the fatigue, and the sleep-position difficulty. I get to see our baby on the ultrasound machine and hear her heartbeat via a Doppler at the appointments. I even saw her when she was merely five days along: a wisp, a speck, actually smaller than a speck. I saw when the nubs of her arms and legs began to burgeon. My friend craves ice when pregnant; I crave ice in most of my drinks and always ask for extra. She is the only person I know who is an ice connoisseur like I am. We prefer for our ice to have texture and dimension to it — no slushy ice for us, thank you — we are fans of the cubes with the hole in the center because they allow for our teeth to crunch down on them while giving us a bit of resistance. One time my friend sent me a short video of her round belly. Our growing daughter was very active that evening and some of her movements were strong enough to be seen from the outside, so my friend recorded the short jam session and sent it to me. I had to watch the clip on my phone carefully, though, following my friend’s finger that was pointing to the bottom right corner of her roundness, but I finally saw my daughter’s jabs — I saw the quickness with which my friend’s stomach rose and dropped. Quivering, that was what it was. I saw my friend’s belly quiver because my baby within it was tumbling. That is why I am staring at my friend’s belly now, in case I might glimpse a movement of my daughter.

I tell my friend that I like the pendant she is wearing. It is a silver ball hanging from a long chain, the pendant resting at the top of her belly that protrudes beyond her breasts. Her voice lifts in volume as she looks up from the ball. “This? Did I not tell you about this?” I shake my head. And so she tells me. If she recalls correctly, the pendant is a Mayan harmony ball. A pregnant woman wears it, and as she moves, the ball rings softy like a chime, soothing and calming the baby. After the birth, a mother would continue to wear the necklace (the ball chiming away with her movements), and the belief is that the baby would recognize the comforting sound and associate it with her mother. “I am giving this to you after the delivery,” my friend says.

As a little girl who yearned for a storybook family or even as a young adult woman who was ready to start her family, I never imagined that my living baby — hopefully, my living baby — would come into this world with the help of another woman. That was never a piece of my reality. I don’t think it is any young girl’s. But with the help of my beautiful friend, it will finally be a piece of mine.

Looking Back At Old TV Shows

On the rare occasion that we rent a movie at home to watch, it must pass Danith’s litmus test. The movie can be no more than five years old. A film decorated with Oscars or was expensively budgeted or was spearheaded by a respected director does not impress or intrigue him enough even for consideration. His first question to me would be, “What year was it made in?” His sentiment for television shows is no different.

I, on the hand, have viewed most episodes of The Little House On The Prairie about five times. I am one of the few 40-year-olds who knows what show Jack, Janet, and Chrissy are characters in. I can sing the theme song for The Golden Girls. Even my favorite book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, takes place many decades ago.

On some nights in the past few months, I have donned my white terry cloth bathrobe, bundled up Daffy’s and Kiri’s blankets from the hospital, and crept down the stairs to the family room. Being winter, it has been especially quiet at 1:00 AM. Around me the still night and the quietness together would be thick like steel walls.

I make my bed on the sofa, clutch the babies’ blankets to my chest, and turn on the television, not knowing what options will be available. Maybe it was a month ago that Hart to Hart appeared. Last week Benson surfaced — I remember watching that show with my father in the evenings. Tonight, it is Welcome Back, Kotter. I don’t know this sitcom, but I have heard of it. I wasn’t aware until now that Kotter is a high school teacher. In tonight’s episode his wife is in the OR giving birth.

I am not exactly sure why I am partial to these old shows from my childhood. They conjure up memories I enjoy revisiting, but it isn’t as though I want to relive my childhood years. I think the shows, at the time, allowed me the opportunity to see what was out there, what was possible outside of my life. I have to admit that I learned some important lessons from watching TV: need for honesty, need for respect and comedy in a marital relationship, need for belief in self.

Many great thinkers encourage us to set our eyes on the future. I believe there is a phrase about not looking at the rearview window of life? Such phrases and maxims make sense, but I still find myself holding onto the past. I hold onto it like I am holding onto Daffy’s and Kiri’s blankets. The blankets are bundled in layers: two handkerchief-sized ones as the core, followed by a pastel-color crocheted one, and then a flannel one with cartoon dogs and cats as the exterior layer. I distinctly remember the night I held Daffy in her blanket, feeling the surge of a mother’s love. And I remember the Thursday afternoon I held Kiri in his, whimpering into it, and him, with sorrow and guilt, another form of a mother’s love.

I certainly look forward to bringing home our baby girl in March, and I understand the importance of focusing on our future with her. I have seen shows depicting this lesson. I have read about it. Most importantly, though, I myself instinctively know it. But I think there will always be a quiet night when I go back to revisit those moments at the hospital. I will drive into the future, but I can’t completely take my eyes off from my past.

Straddling Two Worlds

I grew up as an only child, and I was an easy child. I listened to my parents, especially following my mother’s instructions lest I wanted to suffer her wrath. I studied earnestly. From an early age, I scrubbed the floors, completed the family’s laundry, and assisted with dinner preparation. On the occasions that I forgot to turn off the television and reminded my father that he sometimes forgot, too, I was scolded at for talking back. My mother tended to yell when she was working on a project and I hadn’t run out to help her. Often, they threatened to hit me (in their defense, many Asian parents spoke those words). As much as I understood the popularity of them, I felt, among other things, embarrassed by them. “American” parents did not speak such words to their children. Sometime during my middle school years, I suggested to my father the idea of grounding as punishment, a phenomenon (to me) the kids at school were comparing and trying to one-up. It was a short question and answer session, though, when my father asked if I really preferred that method of punishment. Afraid to say otherwise, I answered that I did not.

I wanted to be treated like my Western schoolmates in other ways. Wearing braces. Receiving a heart-charm necklace from my mother on Valentine’s Day. Believing in Santa Clause. Celebrating the arrival of womanhood. But the line between the Eastern and Western cultures remained bolded, and straddling the world from which I came and the one in which I was living was inevitable.

Danith and I are expecting. We are expecting! Our baby girl, whose first pair of shoes is pink, is due to arrive at the end of March.

Last week, I painted over the one blue accent wall in the nursery a shade of white called Clear Moon. Now, I am running the brush in a circle to paint polka dots in Almond Latte, a beige that matches the other three walls. And the song continues to play.

Oh thinkin’ about all our younger years. There was only you and me. We were young and wild and free.

Baby, you’re all that I want. When you’re lying’ here in my arms. I’m findin’ it hard to believe. We’re in heaven.

I am proud of the beige polka dots that are both simple and striking. I made the right decision with the design. I think redecorating the nursery will be good for this baby who we hope to bring home and to raise and to love on. I think redecorating the nursery will be good for me, too, to remember that this baby deserves a chance to be her and only her. I know how fortunate I am to be able to stand back and admire the polka dots on the wall. I know how fortunate I am to be painting them in anticipation of our baby. For Christmas, our dear friend gifted us an antique wooden toddler chair with two teddy bears. “Something for each of them,” she said. The bears and the chair will go in the nursery. I hope our baby who will come in March knows that we love her already and will understand how much we love her, and why. I can’t let go. I don’t know how to let go or want to let go. I am straddling the world in which our expected baby girl will live and the one in which two of our children have passed. And I hope one day Baby Girl can understand why.

Filled To The Rim

My life is brilliant. My heart is pure. I saw an angel. Of that I’m sure.

I’m sitting on the floor of the nursery, with music playing from my phone.  White snow globes with children frolicking around a Christmas tree, along with other gifts of hand lotions and pajamas, and ribbons and wrapping paper and scissors and tape, lie around me.  This is my Christmas workshop.  In the past, when the nursery was the miscellaneous room, this time of the year ranked high on my list of enjoyments.  I found great pleasure from driving out to the stores, and struggling with the traffic and the parking and possibly the customer service, all so I could ruminate on and finally select the most perfect presents for the friends and family on my list.  After I completed the purchases, I deposited the bags in the workshop.  Then, later, I found equal joy from locking myself in the room to wrap the gifts and to top them with bows and then finish them off with handmade gift tags. I felt privileged to be able to sit in a warm home and to wrap in boxes presents I hoped would bring surprise and bliss to their recipients.

Tonight, as I listen to James Blunt sing about a woman who smiled at him on the subway, I feel my babies — they are not here, but they are.  It is mystifying how the soul endures beyond the physical form.  Tonight, my heart is full because of Daffy and Kiri — it is filled to the rim with memories of their first ultrasounds, of their first kicks, of Danith caressing my belly in vain in search of them, of Danith and me lying in bed and speaking love words for each other, and for them.  My heart is filled to the rim with gratitude on a night such as this, when my mind travels to how it used to be but the presence of Daffy and Kiri insists on how it could be, still.  Within the perimeter of the crib and the glider and the changing table, my babies’ brilliant light flips on, illuminating the walls of the workshop and sparking warmth in my cheeks. As I am taping the wrapping paper corners and choosing a ribbon to complement the paper, I see the many scattered unwrapped presents around me, and I also see a joy that I have missed.  My heart is filled to the rim with hope that soars with invisible wings, propelling me forward.  I am flying high.

Finding Our Way

Danith and I have known each other for over thirty years, but we are in possession of only one photograph of us together in our much younger years. In it, I am still in high school. We are fishing from a pier at night, sitting on a concrete wall, either of us grasping a rod, and we are looking directly at the camera, a smile on me and an awkward grin on him. Our eyes are wide, and we are thin overall, especially in the face. Our cheekbones and chins and collarbones are well defined, and we have no age spots. We are so young, with so much to learn and to experience together, but we are also certain of our future in terms of professional careers, marriage, and family. We know where we are going.

Dark spots and dark circles now reveal our age. Our faces are fuller. My voice does not sound as soft or as tender as it used to. Customer service calls us m’am and sir. But except for having to squint now and then at small print and experiencing the occasional high blood pressure reading, in many ways, I still feel young. I feel that Danith is young with me.

After Daffy passed away, Danith and I traveled to Japan. For the first two nights, we resided in Kyoto, a city rich with beautiful ancient temples, all of which were spared from bombing during World War II. Kyoto is not as large or as metropolitan as Tokyo or Osaka, but because, at the time of our visit, there was a holiday — Senior Citizen Day — visitors packed the city. After an afternoon of traversing the Nishiki Market for local delectables and trinkets to bring back home and visiting the Ginkaku-ji Temple, where I made a wish at a well, Danith and I decided to take a taxi into City Center for dinner.

Once the driver let us out, we stepped into the throng of people. The lights shone brightly with the night sky in the backdrop. Order was in place, but so was chaos. Everyone had a destination in mind, the endpoints varying. Everyone was in a hurry, walking with great speed and resolve. Danith confidently and gingerly took my hand. Being Asian ourselves, with all the typical Asian features, we blended in almost seamlessly.

A little while later, though, we realized that we did not know where to go. We had entered shopping malls with restaurants and pastry shops. We had passed exits for departing and arriving trains. We had ridden escalators up and escalators down. We had strolled by many eateries, some of which being steak restaurants and Chinese restaurants and a random Italian restaurant. We repeated our paths. Many times we repeated our paths, and still our final destination remained unclear.

Each time I see myself draped in the sleeveless white pheasant dress riding up and down the escalator with Danith, I feel sad and sorry for us. We were trying so hard to move forward with the rest of the world, but within, we were isolated and small. Young and inexperienced. We were without our daughter. And we did not know where to go from there.