The day of the ultrasound, I arrive as instructed: with a full bladder, on time. Bare thighs pressed on the cool orange seats by the window, I wait two full hours, worried about the minutes, if I’d be home before my husband had to leave for work, sighing, readjusting, texting him: I am still waiting. I am still fucking waiting.
Why do they even make appointments? he responds. That shit gets me so mad.
At least I’m not waiting here pregnant, I write, watching another patient pace back and forth, hand on her back. She squats and sits down. Those days were behind me.
You’re next, says the curly-haired lady at the desk. She points to my chart, hanging on the wall.
White shapes with dark shadows swirl on a screen from above. Please, God, don’t give me anything to write about, I think, as a straggly-haired technician moves the wand around inside me. Lots of pressure, she says, and measures, click, click. On the screen, little yellow plus signs form lines. She types one-handed, words like: Uterus/ Posterior, Uterus/Anterior. She chases the bulges with a practiced twist of her wrist, snaps the pictures and swivels and snaps and types and snaps some more. I ask: What are those things? Those big, white things? She stares, transfixed, still twisting, snapping, silent. Then: I am trying to see that now, in a way that I can tell she practiced in ultrasound school, when I imagine they all sat around a picnic table for an outside lecture to escape the hospital lights, copying phrases to tell patients who ask too many questions. She must have made the list in bullets: The doctor will review the results and call you. Respond to facial expressions (you should smile). She retraced the first letter of each point, the teacher droned on about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Remain expressionless yet calm, while illuminating the small masses that hide inside a woman’s body, tiny bunches that will end her life.
I ask: What is that, over there?
The tech repeats: I am trying to see that now.
Please, I think, without exhaling, please God, don’t give me anything to write about.
I can see you are nervous, the tech says. Bullet point number three. Then: Try to relax. Your doctor will call you.
I’m filled with so much breath, I could float into the air, through those sterile lights and into the room of the patient upstairs who just gave birth. She is holding her new child to her sweating body.
From the ultrasound office, I walk straight to H&M. Wait in line, holding high-waisted booty shorts and tank tops and t-shirt dresses all in a tangled, hanger-hell mess. Am I too old for these? I wonder. Do I need to learn how to “dress my age?” There’s a woman behind me, she’s got a belt with a golden clasp that screams “edgy.” I consider holding up the shorts and asking her: Do you think I could pull these off? Maybe even grab her, as she browses through the sock bins by the register line, my hands on her shoulders, Do I look like I have cancer? She would stare back at me dumbfounded and I’d let the hangers fall, clank onto the ground and yell even louder: DO I? OR DONT I? Maybe bury my head into her meaty sides and clench the rolls below her bra, maybe sob, a little, into the cotton of her shirt. She’d be listening, by then, so I’d ask her: Do you pray? Can this be God’s plan? Can you help me ask Him? Please, I need to see what they become.
The next morning, after a twenty-minute wait on a green bench staring at a still scale across the room, my doctor enters, goes over the results, the possibilities, the impossibilities, the end of possibilities, and the just-a-scare possibilities.
When she’s done, I ask about her daughter, who went to Pre-K with mine. She talks about sending her to the bilingual school in Scarsdale, even though how will she get there? Who could she trust to drive her daughter to school on mornings when she has to be in the office early to tell patients like myself about the abnormal thickening of their uterine lining and the biopsies? And a car service is so expensive, it is 80 dollars PER RIDE, did you get that? PER RIDE! But she really wants her daughter to be part of a bilingual program, It is so progressive, she says, pumping the generic brand soap and re-washing her hands, So progressive. When I ask about Dos Puentes, nearby, on 181st street, Oh no, not bilingual Spanish! she tells me. Bilingual French. I apologize, and then look at her skin, its warm color like wet sand. She must think I’m pretty racist. Was that pretty racist of me? For the rest of the conversation, along with, Why is she re-washing her hands? And: Do I have cancer? Who will drive them to school, now that I know how expensive a car service is?
She is wrapped in a beach blanket after a deep-ocean, big-girl swim. The blue Tommy Bahamas chair is the only place she lets me hold her like she is a newborn. The low-angled four o’clock sun shines like we are pottery put into a kiln, hardening into love. Her edges—normally so sharp—are clinging, damp, softened.
I love you the most of everyone, she whispers, holding the spotted skin on my arms with her fingers. Even better than my daddy. Even better than my baby sister.
I accept the favoritism, embrace it with her shivering wet limbs.
And I don’t want you to ever ever die, she says, her first mention of death in this life.
I tell her: I won’t die, not for a very long time.
I want you to be with me for my whole life, she says.
A seagull pecks at leftover lunch crumbs, three boys chase each other to the water’s edge, their boogie boards bouncing and trailing behind. Her eyes squint, stare. She presses her face closer, hot scentless 4-year-old breath. Asks: When you were a baby, a little girl, and you didn’t know me yet, who did you love the most?
Probably your nana.
When she asks: Because she was your mommy? I tell her yes, that’s exactly why.
When she asks: And then when you got bigger, and before you knew me still, and you had your wedding, then you loved Daddy the most? I tell her yes, I think I did.
And then me and Allie came, and now you love me and Allie the most?
Her curls look like that woman’s at the hospital desk. You’re next, the woman told me, pointing to my chart on the wall. I was so angry, after hours on those orange benches with a full bladder-thinking, How long is next? So furious, I thought, with time, that I’d even reached out to grab it, to shake it; but when I gripped, my hands felt nothing, only the softness of empty palms. And then, minutes later, my bare back on crinkling paper. I stared squinty-eyed at that black and white screen. There was time again, a big, apathetic monster sitting on a bench of its own, its fat little fingers folded with the worst kind of surprises. The images rushed on. My daughter, older, with a diploma. Looking for the empty seat where I’d have fit, Mom would have been older now, she’d think, picturing me in my hip, hooded crop-top and short shorts, cramming the possibilities of twelve more years into an empty folding chair. A lot of pressure, the tech said again, and I didn’t think to reach, or grab, or clasp at time. I understood: it didn’t belong to me.
The lifeguards stand in their sweatshirts, packing up for the day, pulling the flags in circles from the wet sand. My daughter looks up, repeats, Now you love me and Allie the most? and I slip my hands beneath the shoulder straps of her bathing suit, pull her closer, replaying the 45-second summary she just created of my life, and tell her: Yes. Yes, yes, a thousand times.
Emily James is a writer and teacher in NYC. Her recent work can be found in The Rumpus, The NY Daily News, Mothers Always Write, and Plurality Press, among others.
This left me breathless, Emily…the suspense. I’m still in suspense. I hope you’re not, in a good way.