I am well aware of the sacrifices my husband has made on my behalf.
I know he would love to go to more than one restaurant. He mentioned trying the new Mexican place that opened up last month, but when he saw my reaction, he quickly backed down. He didn’t push me. He was understanding.
He accepts most of my cleaning rituals—within reason. He has never asked me not to wash something I believed to be dirty. He has never ridiculed my anxiety.
He lives in this house even though I am well aware he hates it. He wants to move. I see the way he has to struggle to get into the bathroom on the first floor. Two weeks ago, the stair-lift failed on him halfway up, and he had to lower himself to the ground and pull himself up the stairs one by one. He got a muscle spasm in his leg from doing it that was so severe, it was still jumping ten minutes later, after he’d brushed his teeth and was ready to get into bed. He didn’t even get angry at me when that happened, even though I’m the only reason we’re still living here. He hates it here so much, yet he hasn’t pushed me to move. He brings it up from time to time, but always just feeling me out. He hasn’t forced me to look at other houses. He has been so patient.
And now he wants a baby.
I hoped he would back down right away when he saw how upset the idea made me, but for once, he held his ground. I could see in his eyes how much he wants this. He wants a child. It would not be an unreasonable request, but it’s not something I can give him. He must see how hard it would be for me.
How could I convince him of that though?
He does not follow me upstairs after I leave the dinner table. He stays downstairs, although I suspect he has lost his appetite, same as me. He will probably throw our food into the garbage disposal, knowing it will never be eaten. It’s a shame—I was so pleased at how the salmon came out with the addition of tarragon.
I go straight to the shower to try to calm myself down. It’s easier for me to shower than it used to be. I used to have strict rules about how long to spend in the shower and not being able to touch anything besides the soap while inside. Now if my arm brushes against the wall, I don’t mind. In fact, it seems preposterous to me that it used to bother me so much. I’ve made incredible progress.
After my shower, Matt still hasn’t come upstairs and now I’m worried. What could he be doing down there? I want to go check on him, but I have a rule that I don’t leave the bedroom after my shower. It’s a rule Matt and I made together, because I would spend hours checking to make sure I locked every lock and shut off the oven and closed the refrigerator door. When he first moved in, I’d go up first and he’d stay on the first floor with his cell phone, so I could ask him about anything I was worried I’d forgotten.
“Did I lock the back door?” I would ask him.
“You absolutely did,” he would assure me.
He did this with me every night. For months. It would go on for an hour or longer, but it worked. Now he just does a quick check of all the locks and I’m satisfied with that.
I look at my phone lying beside my bed. I’m itching to call him. I want to ask him if he’s angry at me. I want to tell him I love him, even though I don’t want a baby. Also, I’m worried I left the stove on.
I pick up my phone and select Matt’s number from my list of favorites. It rings twice before he picks up.
“Anna?” He sounds baffled.
I want to ask him if he hates me for not wanting to bear his children, but instead, I blurt out, “Did I leave the stove on?”
He sighs heavily. “Hold on.”
He can’t hold his phone and wheel his chair at the same time, so he must put down the phone to get to the kitchen. After a few seconds, he says, “It’s off.”
“Oh,” I say. “Good.”
“And the back door is locked,” he adds.
“Okay,” I mumble. I hadn’t been thinking about the back door, but it’s good to know. “Did you wash the dishes from dinner?”
“Yes, I did.”
There’s silence on the line between us. And it’s not good silence, like when we’ve just made love and we lie next to each other, just holding hands quietly as he gazes at me.
“Listen,” I say to break the silence.
“I was just thinking…” I bite my lip. “Maybe we should get a new house. To live in.” I don’t know why I added that last part. Of course we’d live in the house. What else would we do with it? “Because… well, I know how hard it is for you with the stairs. And the bathroom.”
Matt is quiet for another few moments. “That would be great.”
“Good.” My pounding heart slows a few beats. A new house. I could deal with that. It might even be nice. “I’ll call a real estate agent tomorrow and we can start looking.”
“Okay,” he agrees. “Except…”
“I still want to try for a baby, Anna.”
“But we’re getting a new house,” I whisper pathetically.
“Yeah, and I’m glad,” he says. “You know I wanted a new house. But I also don’t want to rule out the idea of us having a child together.”
“I just…” I grip the phone so tightly that my fingers start to tingle. “I don’t think this is the sort of conversation we should have on the phone.”
“Anna.” I can tell from his voice that he’s starting to get angry. “I’m in the fucking kitchen, okay? You want me to come upstairs and we’ll talk about this more?”
I swallow hard. “No, I don’t.”
“Another time then.”
It isn’t a question. Another time then. For once, Matt isn’t going to let me off the hook. He wants to have a baby. Maybe I can make him see reason, but he isn’t going to just let this go. It’s clearly important to him. And we don’t have forever.
“Are you coming to bed?” I whisper.
“Not yet,” he sighs. “Maybe… I don’t know. In a while.”
I can’t sleep without you next to me.
In the last two years, Matt has been lying next to me nearly every night as I’ve gone to sleep. On the few times he’s stayed awake longer than me for whatever reason, I’ve lain awake, waiting for him to join me. I can’t find sleep until he’s beside me. His body gives me more comfort than any of my medications.
“What?” he says.
“Nothing,” I murmur.
I’ll have to try.
Calvin Fitzgerald has been my best friend for the last decade. I met him on my first day working at my company, and he suggested going out for drinks at a bar after. I was okay at getting girls pre-Calvin, but he showed me how to be a real player. We had a lot of fun together.
Once I started having trouble walking, I didn’t want to go out with Calvin to hit on girls as much. My pants hid the braces on my legs, but if we made it to the bedroom, I couldn’t hide them anymore. I hated the way women’s eyes would get wide when they saw the plastic wrapped around my calves. The first time in my life I ever got called “crippled” was when a girl I’d slept with the night before sobered up the next morning and saw me putting my braces back on. I didn’t realize you were crippled, were her exact words. I wanted to throw up. Instead, I lashed out at her, saying some very regrettable things, which made it all the more humiliating when I accepted her help five minutes later to get down the stairs to her driveway.
After I started relying on crutches to get around in addition to my braces, it became a lot harder to land a one-night stand. Impossible, actually. I didn’t try anymore. No point.
For a while, it seemed like my steady loss of mobility might be the end of my friendship with Cal, but then somehow it wasn’t. It turned out Calvin was a better friend than I gave him credit for. Or maybe he just grew up.
So now it’s ten years after that first time we hit on girls at a bar together and we’re at a bar again. Except this time we’re just having lunch together—nothing more. Both of us are married, and four months ago, Cal’s wife Ginger had a baby boy. Calvin Fitzgerald is a father. God help us all.
Cal is stuffing fries in his mouth like he hasn’t eaten in months, but it’s obvious that’s not the case. He’s stress eating, as my sister would say. When Ginger was pregnant, Cal put on almost as much weight as she did.
“Ben never sleeps,” Cal says as he pushes two fries into his mouth. “I know what you’re thinking—he must, right? Because you need sleep to live. But I’ve never seen him do it. The second I lie down in bed, he screams the whole night. The whole night, Matt.”
“Maybe he has…” I search my brain, trying to think of something I know about babies. “Colic?”
“Yeah, no shit.” This time Calvin takes a huge bite of his bacon cheeseburger. “Knowing that doesn’t help. Colic is a bullshit diagnosis—all it means is the kid cries all the time for no reason. He’s just… always pissed off.” He rubs his eyes, which have purple circles under them. “I love him to death, but the kid’s killing me. Ginger and I are sleeping in shifts.”
“Well…” I take a more moderate bite of my own burger. “I’m sure he’ll get over it.”
The waitress who had been serving us comes over to check on us. She’s in her mid-twenties with a curvy figure and blond hair in a high ponytail. She’s the sort of girl Cal and I would have been ogling years ago, when we were both single, in our twenties, Cal didn’t have a baby, and I wasn’t in a wheelchair.
A lot has changed since then.
“You boys enjoying your burgers?” the waitress asks us. Her nametag says Jenny.
Calvin shoots her his famous Calvin Fitzgerald grin, the one that used to get any girl in the bar to go home with him. He always did better than I did even though I did pretty good. “Delicious.”
Jenny turns her mascaraed eyes on me, doubling down on her smile. “And how about you, sugar?”
I nod. “Very good.”
She reaches out to touch my shoulder. “Anything else I can get you?”
I shake my head no. Back in the day, Cal would have answered, “Your phone number.” But now he keeps his mouth shut.
Cal stares after Jenny’s ass as she walks away from us. He exhales, shaking his head. “Wow. She was hot. A solid nine.”
He grins at me. “And she likes you. She was flirting. You should try to get her number.”
I roll my eyes. Nine times out of ten when a waitress is nice to me like that, it’s because of my chair. Special treatment and all that shit. Even if I were single, I’m sure she wasn’t aiming to go home with me. Good thing I couldn’t care less. “I’m married, remember?”
“So?” I repeat. “Why don’t you get her number?”
“Well, I’m married too.”
We look at each other and laugh. Sometimes we joke around, especially Cal, but even he wouldn’t mess around on Ginger in a million years. He’s an honorable guy when it comes down to it. And he loves her as much as I love Anna.
“It’s tempting sometimes though,” Calvin says. “Especially when you’ve got a kid killing your sex life. We’re like some old married couple.”
I take a slow drink of water. I used to guzzle water all day, but now I’m careful about everything I drink because I don’t want to create an urgent bathroom situation. “You and Ginger? Never.”
“I’m telling you, Matt,” Calvin says. “Having kids just ruins your life. I can’t imagine a situation where Ginger and I will ever have sex again. Maybe we can get a babysitter and a hotel room once a year.”
“I’m sure it’s not that bad.”
“It is—trust me.” He takes a long swig of his beer. “Not that Ginger cares. She doesn’t have any interest in sex anymore. Anytime I touch her, she pushes me away. And you remember what she used to be like, right? She was like a fucking nymphomaniac.”
He’s right. When I met Ginger for the first time, all I could think was that my friend had finally met his match. She was hot as hell and had a mouth like a sailor. The two of them were always all over each other. He claimed they had sex more than any couple in history, but I bet Anna and I could have given them a run for their money.
“Well, don’t worry,” I say. “I brought up having kids to Anna, and she had a complete meltdown.”
“You’re lucky then,” Calvin says. He rubs his eyes again. “It’s not worth it. I swear to God, babies are parasites. All they do is cry and eat and supposedly sleep, but I haven’t gotten a chance to witness that last part. What’s the point?”
“I’m sure it will get better.”
“That makes one of us.”
I shake my head. I know Calvin is miserable with a baby that won’t sleep that is apparently ruining his exciting sex life, but I’m jealous. Ginger was on board with the baby thing (actually, it was her idea in the first place). I don’t know what I’m going to have to go through to convince Anna to have a kid. I don’t know if I even can. If Anna is anything, it’s stubborn.
Maybe I can replace her birth control pills with tic tacs. (I’m kidding.)
“Look,” Cal says, “all I’m saying is maybe Anna has the right idea. Having a baby makes women crazy. And Anna is already… well, you know…”
I narrow my eyes at him. The subject of Anna’s mental health is a source of tension between the two of us. Back when Cal first met Anna, he nicknamed her Crazy Anna. And got everyone else at work to call her that too. He used to devise ways to subtly torture her, to the point where Anna would be in tears and I was ready to drag his ass to HR—best friend or not. Eventually I got him to quit it, but I know she’s not his favorite person in the world. He doesn’t say it anymore, but he thinks I made a mistake marrying her. He doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get Anna the way I do.
“I think Anna would be a great mom,” I say.
“Oh yeah.” Cal grins at me. “Because every kid wants a mom who makes you wash your hands every five seconds and sprays every surface with Lysol ten times a day.”
“Come on,” I say, “she’s not that bad anymore.”
“Fine.” He shrugs. “Spread your seed if you must. I’m sure if Ginger and I can get through it, you and Anna will be okay.”
I take another bite of my burger, wondering if my friend has a point. Anna already has issues—maybe saddling her with a newborn baby isn’t the wisest thing in the world. But then again, it’s not like she’d be a single mom. She’s got me. And I’m all in. I’ll do whatever I need to. I’ll change every diaper if I have to.
Well, no. I won’t change every diaper. But I’ll change at least half of them. Maybe sixty percent. I’m just saying I won’t shirk my diaper responsibilities.
Christ, how am I going to convince her?
To be continued....
P.S. If you would like to read the scene in which Matt's hook-up realizes the morning after that he is disabled, it is included in Crazy in Love...