When I was pregnant I liked to tell people I had super powers.
I was joking, of course. But people often can’t tell when I’m joking. When you have a face like mine, perpetually placid unless something has truly upset or amused me, people can’t tell what’s going on inside your head.
As a high schooler and, admittedly, as an adult, I’ve enjoyed saying bizarre things in a neutral voice to see if people notice. I’ve said things like, “I think I’m going to burn the building down,” to uncomfortable, stunned looks of silence. I’ve also said them to noncommital nods of approval or dissent. These are the people who heard that I said something, but didn’t understand what I said.
Then there are times, not many, when my monotone delivery gets a sudden, helpless gasp of laughter.
The laughter is usually a reflex. An “oh my God, did she really say that?” look will flash across the person’s face. They may struggle for a moment to decide if they should slowly back away, or, perhaps, offer to call someone to help me. Then I must give some facial cue — I don’t know what it is, because I try damn hard to keep my face as undisturbed as a blank canvas — and the person decides I am joking, and relaxes. They laugh. Or they look at me differently. There’s always a moment when I can tell that they are looking.
To most people, I don’t look like much of a joker. At 4'11", I’m shorter than most thirteen year old boys, and my face is so blank that it makes the perfect mask. I wear glasses, big plastic tortoiseshell frames, and have been frequently been told that I resemble Velma from Scooby Doo. I don’t smile unless something makes me.
Which is how I found myself, at twenty-eight, making another stupid joke at work to amuse only myself.
“Super powers?” my co-workers would say, in amusement, or boredom, or pity.
Poor girl, I could see them thinking. She was about to go to college again before she found out she was pregnant. She’s trying to make this seem important. Like it didn’t interrupt her life.
“Yeah,” I’d say, nonchalant. “I bet I know what you had for lunch.”
“You had Chinese food,” I’d say, triumphant. “I can smell the egg rolls.”
“That’s racist!” someone would scream.
I work in a call center. Or, sort of a call center. It’s actually a heart monitoring facility with a low budget. My job is to monitor people’s hearts, and answer customer service calls from patients, in no particular order. The shifts are 10 hours long and are spent in office chairs, sitting in front of computers. As a result, the conversations aren’t very stimulating. My co-workers and I all sit in a row at tables, sweat shop style. We pass stories and jokes sideways from the corners of our mouths, doing our best not to peel our eyes from the data on our screens.
“That’s not a real super power,” someone would say, because arguing is a good way to kill a couple of hours.
“Sure it is,” I said. “I bet when the kid is born, I can tell if he’s lying by the smell of him. I’ll be able to tell the exact moment when he starts sweating.”
Not many people responded to this particular joke. Part of it was because we were at work. At work it’s hard to think very long about anything. Your brain and your eyes get tired from watching all the lines on the screen. Your hands follow the same motions, press the same keys on the keyboard. Ctrl + A + S for supraventricular rhythms. A for atrial fibrillation. X to delete data. There’s no room for creative thought. The brain has just enough capacity to talk or listen, one or the other, and if you talk too much you’re likely to have a retired Chinese cardiologist named Miss Lin bang her hand on your chair and scream, “Too much talk!” Am I being racist? No. This actually happened almost every day for the first year that I worked there. But more on that later.
Another part, a larger part, was that people were uncomfortable about my attitude toward pregnancy. I didn’t seem excited, because I wasn’t excited. I was scared. And angry. And anxious. I worried that I wouldn’t be a good mother. My greatest fear was that I would resent my baby for derailing me from a path I’d just decided to build the year before, going back to school to become a graphic designer. I’d worked hard over my schedule to make room for work and school. I would have to work full-time, so I knew my school schedule would be difficult to fit in, especially sandwiched between 10 hour work shifts, but I’d managed to make it fit.
Then I got pregnant. Then I dropped out of school.
I’d tried to handle the classes. I’d sped away from work as soon as I could at 5:30 pm, pausing just long enough before my 6:30 class to cram a fast food burrito down my throat, and tried to sit still during a lecture about 3D software that made my brain hurt. I’d looked around at all the young students around me, most of them only in their late teens or early twenties, and found myself hating them. How could they be so casual, laughing and doodling during the lecture? Didn’t they realize how privileged they were to be learning something new? When it started to sink in, when I realized that they didn’t HAVE to pay attention, because they already knew how to use the software, because this was EASY to them, I wanted to burst into tears.
Why had I waited ten years to go back to school? Why hadn’t I listened to my English teacher, the one who was always nagging me, and finished my degree when I was young and arrogant and didn’t have bills to pay or a husband to care for or a tiny, soulsucking alien dwelling inside of me?
After barely scraping together my first assignment, I left class one night knowing I wouldn’t be coming back. I sobbed all the way home. I was about 10 weeks pregnant at that point, in the throes of morning sickness (yeah right, more like all day sickness) and completely convinced that my life was over.
By my second trimester, I had my rose colored glasses on. Life didn’t seem quite so bad when I wasn’t puking every morning before breakfast. It still wasn’t good, mind you. My creative brain, normally humming with activity, seemed to have forgotten how to work properly. My body was functional. My eyes, ears, and all my limbs seemed to work the way they were supposed to. But when it came to being, well, myself, I couldn’t seem to remember how to do it. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t draw. I couldn’t even doodle.
And the worst part?
No one cared.
People asked same question, all the time. “How’s the baby?” People. I hated all of them.
On a good day, I’d give them a report of my latest OB-GYN visit. “Yeah, everything seems good. Doctor says the baby is perfectly healthy. Maybe a little small, but hey, so am I. Ha-ha.”
People seemed pleased by this, but not quite satisfied. I hadn’t quite answered their question, because I hadn’t mentioned the baby by name, or even gender (a girl, if you were wondering.) It left a little trace of doubt in their mind. Was everything really okay?
On a bad day, I’d speak my mind. “How’s the baby? I don’t know. Fine, I guess. Still in there. Still incubating. The little tenant still isn’t paying rent.” I was trying to be funny. I was trying hard. A few kind souls would laugh at my jokes, laughs that were more like dry, uncomfortable coughs, but no one felt good about it. It was wrong. We all knew it. No one knew if I was going to be okay.
Well, I say that. But some people did.
Anyone who has been in my shoes knows who those people were. My husband (my sweet, loving Johnny) managed to put on a brave face. The man’s a born chef and destined to coach those he loves through their crisises, so he had no problem putting a smile back on my face every time I came home crushed from the day’s daily beating. My in-laws handled me as carefully as a macrame egg when I came to visit, something I didn’t appreciate until I saw how cruel the rest of the world could be. They knew everything would be all right, but they also knew that I wasn’t sure, so they provided me with things I needed: boxes of hand-me-downs to pore over, a quiet room for reflection, endless naps and ponderings on the couch in their spacious living room, and always, always bent an ear my way when I wanted to talk. I wouldn’t have made it without these people. There’s no doubt in my mind that they were there to guide me to safety.
“Super powers?” they would chuckle, gently amused by the idea. “Well that’s an interesting way of looking at it.” Like balm to my ears. This was what I needed to hear.
It may come as no surprise to you that I am not well.
I started this blog as a challenge to myself, to see if I could conquer some of my artistic fears and venture out into the world of writing. I am often challenging myself. Recently, less than a week ago in fact, I challenged myself to the point of hospitalization, but more on that later. There are times in my life: wonderful, romantic times, full of possibility and good madness, when I feel on top of the world. Nothing can stop me. I have all the powers of my favorite super heroes at my fingertips. Invisibility, for when I’m too scared to show my face to the world! A keen sense of smell, for when I want to sniff out the truly good and bad things in the world! Sharp ears, for hearing the whisper of the universe and knowing when to listen. These are all powers that, deep in my heart, I know I possess. The problem is knowing when to share them.
I’ll wrap this up soon, since I hear that it’s best to leave readers hungry for more, but first I’d like to give you a glimpse at my most recent super power, one I thought would be forever out of my reach.
It’s a gift, this super power. My mother tried to give it to me, but somewhere along the way it became anxiety. My father tried to give it to me too, but it cooled and morphed into what people call depression. When my daughter was born: my beautiful, healthy, amazing Ramona, something inside of me opened up.
Like a tightly closed fist opening. Like a morning glory bursting into bloom. Maybe it was the epidural talking, but when I held my baby girl in my arms and felt my husband gazing at us with reverence and awe, I realized what a precious gift my life is. And not only that. I realized that those powers, deep inside me, long dormant, were all real.
When I want to, I can see. My eyes are weak but somewhere deep inside of me an eye has opened, and I can feel it exploring, blinking, seeking out the truths of the universe. My ears grow stronger by the day. When I hear my little girl laugh, it’s like music. On the flipside, when I hear a car backfire in the parking lot of my apartment complex, it can feel like I’ve been shot through the heart. I’m learning to use these powers responsibly day by day, and I hope to chronicle these trials and errors in an environment like this one, so that people can see who I am, and perhaps tell me if they think something might be wrong. I may not always respond kindly, or even respond at all sometimes, but I will always listen.
It’s early. Lately I’ve developed a fear of the backs of my eyelids, so it’s not always easy for me to sleep, but I think I’ll try to catch a few more winks. My body, and my husband, will thank me later. Stay tuned, dear reader. I hope I never disappoint you.