Chapter Nine: Dawn
Drink up, baby, stay up all night
With the things you could do, you won't but you might
The potential you'll be that you'll never see
The promises you'll only make
Summer didn't hear the door open when she came back to the apartment. It had to have been after midnight; she'd stayed up waiting until then. She figured Taylor must have tiptoed across the room, must have been quiet as a mouse, because she had never been a heavy sleeper. Her roommate at Brown had often woken her up when returning from a long evening of sexual escapades. Seth had too, the nights he stayed late at RISD working on his drawings. Why should tonight have been any different? All she'd wanted to do was give Taylor a full-fledged apology.
Then again, maybe she was just too scared that Taylor didn't want to hear it.
Whatever the case, she woke up a little after four to the sound of muffled tears. She sat on the couch paralyzed for a few minutes. Had she been the cause? Had she made an unexpected return back to her bullying ways? The way Seth and Taylor made it sound she used to be pretty good at making people feel worse about their lives and yet they both loved her. She wasn't sure how that worked. She thanked God for small favors, but she wasn't quite sure she understood. That she'd ever understand.
The sound of Taylor's tears broke her heart. Taylor had been right; she'd never understand what she'd been going through, what Ryan was going through. Two of the people she loved most in the world experiencing greater tragedy than she could fathom. She'd known what it was like to lose a best friend. That had been hard enough, but a daughter?
When Aurelia died, it had hit her like a freight train. She couldn't bear it. She felt as hopeless as she had after Marissa's death and Aurelia had made it less than two years. She'd known Marissa her whole life.
She'd already begun to imagine Aurelia's life though. She had planned out the advice she'd give her on boys, the knowledge she'd impart about the environment. She was going to be the best aunt ever. Now she wouldn't have the chance.
Sans niece, Taylor wasn't any less family. Taylor was her sister the way Marissa had been her sister. She often wondered if that made Taylor think she was a consolation prize. She wasn't. They'd been on the path to this before Marissa had died. They surely would have still been this close if Marissa had stayed alive. In fact, sometimes Summer liked to pretend that Marissa was still alive, living it up in the Greek Isles. She couldn't do the same with Aurelia. She hadn't lived long enough for Summer to be able to place her out of Ryan's arms. The limits of her imagination made the sting that much worse.
Taylor's crying continued in the other room. She peeled the blanket off of her and quietly headed toward the bedroom. She opened the door without so much as a word. She rubbed one of Taylor's shoulders as she sat next to her on the bed.
Taylor turned toward her, wiped some tears from her eyes and whispered, "Sorry."
Summer shook her head. "No."
"I just really miss her." Tears continued to fall down her cheeks.
"Of course you do." Summer pushed a few strands of hair from her forehead. "I do too."
"She was perfect." Taylor pushed herself up so she was sitting against the headboard.
"Yeah. She was." Summer agreed, as she too began to cry.
"I miss Ryan too, you know?"
"I know and he misses you."
"I just don't know how to deal with it all."
"That's 'cause you shouldn't have to." Summer put an arm around her and felt Taylor's head fall onto her shoulder. "You don't deserve this."
"Then why'd it happen?"
"I don't know." Summer let her head fall so that it was touched Taylor's. "I am sorry I stopped calling."
"Don't. You're here now." Taylor bit her lip. "Someone to talk to. I haven't had that in a while."
"Just stop lying to me, okay?"
Taylor cried until the sun came up and for once, it wasn't just out of sadness. For once, it was cathartic.
Drink up with me now and forget all about
The pressure of days, do what I say
And I'll make you okay and drive them away
The images stuck in your head
The sound of his phone forced her out of her head.
"Hello?" She greeted, distraction apparent in her voice. She was rereading A Season for Peaches. She hadn't felt like herself lately, her body bogged down by a watermelon. She was trying to remember the person she had been the summer prior. The person she had been the night they'd gotten themselves into this situation to begin with: kinks, fetishes, flexibility and all.
"Hello." The voice on the other line sounded confused. "I was looking for Ryan."
"Right. Of course." She closed the book, put a hand on her stomach and pushed herself off the couch. She'd been compiling a list of things that weren't as easy as they used to be over the past couple of weeks. Getting out of bed and off the couch were numbers one and two, respectively.
"I am sorry, may I ask who this is?" The voice sounded genuinely curious, and simultaneously worried about prying.
"Taylor. Taylor Townsend."
"Oh!" She imagined the person on the other end of the line nodding. "You gave a speech at the graduation."
"Yeah. I did."
"I am sure it was great and I wish I'd understood it. I just don't speak Latin."
She smiled. "Well you weren't alone." Taylor slipped her shoes on and headed toward the garage. They'd recently cleaned it out and made a makeshift office. To make up for her mood swings, she'd bought him a drafting table. At first he'd gotten upset with her for spending so much money without consulting him, but it only took him a few hours to come around, by which time he was at a loss for words. Over dinner that night he'd managed to thank her and tell her it was the nicest gift anyone had ever given him. He said he was going to make it up to her; he was going to use it to design a desk for her. That way they could spend time in the garage together: him working on his drafting, her translating her poetry.
As she headed out the door, she managed to ask. "Who can I say is calling?"
"Ms. Atwood?" Her hand instinctively fell to her stomach. She wondered how long it had been since Ryan had spoken to his mother.
"Actually, it's Mrs. Coleman now, I got remarried."
"Oh. Ryan didn't tell me that."
"He doesn't know."
"Right." She opened the door to the garage and walked toward him. "One second." He turned to her and smiled.
"Hey." He greeted, resting a hand on her belly when she was within his reach. Despite all the fear he had, the anxiety he felt over their future, he couldn't deny that everything always felt like it was going to be alright when he felt the life move inside her.
She looked at him seriously, covering the mouthpiece of the phone. "It's your mother."
"Your mother." She repeated handing the phone to him.
He sighed as he grabbed it from her. Had it really been over a year since he'd spoken to his mother? He used his hand to insinuate he needed some privacy. She took the hint and headed back toward the house. "I'll be in the living room, if you need me."
He nodded and waited until she was out of sight. "Hello?" He greeted.
"Hey ma." He smiled at the sound of her voice.
"You're pretty hard to track down, did you know that?"
"I do now."
"I thought we'd turned over a new leaf after graduation, you know? I thought we were going to keep in contact, but I kept calling and you never called me back."
"Yeah. I know." He hit himself in the head. "I just went through a bad time for a while and then by the time things were back to normal, you stopped calling."
"You changed your number."
"Yeah. We moved to Berkeley."
"I know, for school. I thought most people kept the same numbers they had in their hometowns when they do that though."
"They do." He sighed. "But I never started Berkeley. We all moved here a couple months ago. The Cohens and I."
"You never started college?" He could hear the anger in her voice. She tried to control herself. "What are you talking about you never started college? I thought you had your head on straight. That's why I was okay with you not calling me back. I thought you were busy with your education. Well that and I thought I'd embarrassed you."
"You know, at the graduation."
"No. No. You didn't."
"That's a relief then, I guess. But now we've got a larger problem. Why aren't you in school?"
"I deferred is all. I am starting in the fall. That's all. Really. I am still going to Berkeley."
She sighed. "You seemed so ready though. Why'd you defer?"
"I thought you were keeping in contact with Sandy?"
"He got me out of that bind and I was really grateful, but I was always too embarrassed to call him after that."
"So you never heard about Marissa?"
"Never heard what?"
"That day you left. Remember, I was going to drive her to the airport?"
"Well, I was driving her to the airport and her ex-boyfriend followed us. He was really upset, with her, with me. I don't know. He was upset. Probably drunk too. And he wanted to get me to pull over and I wouldn't. I mean I didn't really know what was going on. We didn't know what was going on. Now I think I probably should have just done it. Anyway, he drove us off the road and Marissa… well, she died."
"What? No." She went silent for a minute, before adding quietly, " I always liked her."
Ryan smirked. "Me too. But she died and I blamed myself. I was in a really bad place for a while. A really bad place, but don't worry. I am better now. Things are better." He looked through the window that looked into the house and saw Taylor making tea in the kitchen. "A lot better. But that's why I didn't call you back. I wasn't really talking to anyone. Then when I finally got back to the land of the living, things happened so fast and I just… you just slipped my mind and I am really sorry about that. I am so sorry."
"Ryan, honey. You never have to apologize to me. I owe you more apologizes than I am every going to be able to give you."
"No." Ryan shook his head.
"Yes." Dawn paused. "Do you have a pen? 'Cause I want you to write down my new number."
"Yeah. I do."
"It's 208.563.5243. I moved to Boise. Well we moved, going on six months ago."
"Ron and I."
"Oh. You're still with Ron." Ryan wasn't sure how to feel about that.
"Yeah, sweetie... We got married."
"We got married."
"You and Ron?" Ryan really wasn't sure how to feel about that. He had a hard enough time even trying to get the words to come out of his mouth.
"Oh." Silence fell over them.
"I see the valedictorian answered your phone."
"Yeah. Taylor." She chuckled. "I remember her from your graduation. Seemed like such a weird girl."
"Well it's part of her charm."
"I bet it is. You two dating?"
"Yeah." In this moment he was ashamed. How had he not told her? How had he spent the year ignoring her? How had their last visit made it seem like they were on the right track to a normal relationship? "It's actually a little more serious than that."
"You didn't get married too, did ya?" She joked.
"No. No." Ryan paused. "But Taylor and I are living together."
"Oh well. That's perfectly normal, right? I mean I was living with my boyfriend when I was your age. I'd prefer it if you were staying with Kirsten and Sandy, but they're close right? And I am sure she's really smart. Not like I was."
"Yeah. She's great. But ma?" She replied with affirmation. "That's not all." He wasn't sure how to say this. It was true that he hadn't answered her calls those five months because he was in a bad place, but after February he hadn't called because he'd been too embarrassed. If she hadn't called him now he wondered when he would have told her they were having a baby. "She's pregnant." He managed so quietly that she would have had to be the bionic woman to hear him.
"I am sorry. I didn't catch that."
"Taylor and I…" He began. His voice was shaky. "We're, um, we're having a baby."
"Taylor, she's pregnant."
"I thought that's what you said." He heard his mother sigh. "How did this happen?"
"We were messing around and it'd been a while since either of us had... you know? And it's not like we had really planned to do it. So we forgot to use a condom and she hadn't been as consistent with her pill as she should have been." He shrugged. "It just happened."
"You got a girl pregnant? Christ, if I had wanted you to do that, I would have taken you back to Chino with me."
"I know, but we figured it out and I am still going to Berkeley. It's not exactly how any of us planned things, but we've got it under control."
"Sure, it seems like it and then the kid gets there and it's just easier to quit. So that's exactly what you'll do."
"Taylor won't let me do that. You don't know her. She would never let me do that. She likes plans and that's what we're going to do, we're going to stick to the plan."
"You watch. The closer you get to her due date the more that plan is going to change."
His voice fell. "She's due at the beginning of September."
"It happened during New Years. She's due at the beginning of September."
"Seven months ago. She got pregnant seven months ago and you didn't tell me?"
"I was embarrassed." He managed.
"You were embarrassed? Jesus, Ryan. I know you have a nice new family and I wasn't there when I needed to be, but I figured the least you could do was tell me when I was going to be a grandmother." He heard her start to cry. "Is this really what it's come to?"
Ryan sat quietly on the other line. He was ashamed and he didn't know what to do. He didn't know what to say. His heart broke in his chest. The tables had turned. For the first time in his life he felt like a bad son to a caring mother.
People you've been before that you
Don't want around anymore
That push and shove and won't bend to your will
I'll keep them still
Taylor awoke to the sound of pans clanking. She looked to her left. Summer was gone. When had that happened? She couldn't remember. She wasn't even sure when she'd fallen asleep. Not that that mattered, for the first time in a long time she felt refreshed. She stretched and glanced at the alarm clock. It was noon. However long had she been asleep, it must have been a new record. She couldn't remember the last time she'd managed to get in more than three hours. That is, she couldn't remember getting more than three hours when she wasn't medicated.
She rolled out of bed and walked out to the kitchen. "You didn't have much." Summer greeted looking up from the stove.
"I don't cook much." Taylor yawned.
"I found enough to make pancakes." Her smile fell to a frown. "No syrup though."
"They don't really have that here."
"Point one America." Summer muttered, handing her a cup of coffee.
She let the aroma fill her nasal cavities. "You didn't have to do this."
"You kidding?" Summer asked, "Saturday morning breakfast, its tradition. Might be a little quieter than it used to but still. Tradition."
Taylor took a sip of the dark brown liquid. "A lot quieter." She managed.
"Quieter isn't necessarily a bad thing." Summer said, turning from Taylor's gaze and watching her pancakes harden in silence. She wasn't sure what to say. She was trying for a nice reminder of home, but Taylor's face had fallen. Maybe they'd have to have entirely new traditions. Maybe they'd have to try and be entirely new people.
"In this case it is." Taylor whispered.
Summer switched the burner off and turned back toward her friend. "Taylor, sit down."
"I want you to sit down." Summer took the coffee from her and escorted her over to the couch. "We're going to try a little exercise."
"Exercise?" Taylor scowled, plopping down on the couch per Summer's instructions.
"Um. Hmm." Summer sat down in an armchair across from her. "Now, I want you to close your eyes." Taylor obliged.
"Imagine you're in Berkeley. It's July, but it's still in the sixties. It's always in the sixties. You come in from outside. Aurelia is poised on your hip." She watched Taylor gulp when she heard her daughter's name. She opened her mouth to speak. Summer shook her head. "No. You have to commit to the exercise. Are you committed to the exercise?"
"You come in from outside." Summer repeated. "Aurelia is poised on your hip. You've been watching her waddle around outside. Her walk is new and adorable. You have a smile plastered on your face. You're just so happy. You come in from outside. The blue walls of the kitchen are inviting. They say this is not a house. This is a home. You love the color because Ryan picked it out.
"I am standing in front of the stove making chocolate chip pancakes. There is maple syrup on the counter. You look out into the living room. Seth and Ryan are playing bridge at the dining room table, because they've both finally admitted that they're old men masquerading as twenty-something's. You walk over to Ryan. Aurelia is babbling about something. No one knows what it is. No one will ever know what it is. When you're within his reach, he pulls you in close to him, hugs your hips. You bend over, let him kiss your cheek and hand him the baby. She plays with the cards he has in his hand. Seth jokes that she's helping him cheat.
"You walk over to me in the kitchen and tell me about how the food smells incredible. You squeeze my shoulders. Aurelia babbles in the background. Seth and Ryan keep yelling at each other; they're really into the game."
Summer noticed the glint of tears in Taylor's eyes. "Keep your eyes closed." Summer inhaled sharply. "Is that memory any less vivid? Now that Aurelia's dead is that memory any less vivid?"
Taylor shook her head.
"Is it any less meaningful?"
Her head slid back and forth again.
"Your head is filled with memories like that, are they going anywhere anytime soon?"
"No." Taylor managed in a whisper.
"No." Summer repeated firmly. "And if those memories aren't any less valid. If they're not going anywhere, then what makes this any less valid? Why can't we keep our Saturday morning tradition? The past is the past and its still there and if we want to, we can find it. But we're in the present and right now that means you and I. It means Paris. It means pancakes, no syrup. It means no babbling in the background. No bridge at the dining room table."
Summer grabbed Taylor's hands and looked at her hopefully. "And that's okay. Isn't it?"
Taylor let her eyes open. "Yeah." She broke free from Summer's grip and started to wipe the tears from her eyes. "It's okay."
"Yeah?" Summer asked.
"Yeah." Taylor smiled.
Summer walked back to the stove, turned on the burner, and poured the batter the second she heard the butter sizzle in the pan.
Taylor turned her head and stared out at the skyline. Summer was right. She couldn't change the past. Couldn't dwell in it either. She had to cherish her memories while simultaneously holding her head high and moving on with her life.
I'll keep them still
They took a cab to her apartment building. Taylor watched the meter as he sat paralyzed. After three dollars had been added she patted him on the knee. "Come on."
"I can't." He murmured.
"Yes, you can. If I can fit in the seat of a plane and sit, more or less, comfortably for two hours, you can get out of this cab. Come on."
"This was your idea." He reminded her.
"Yeah and you went along with it for a reason." She unbuckled her seat belt and opened the door. "Seriously, you need to come on because I am going to need your help getting out of the taxi."
He unbuckled his seat belt and hurried to help her up. "Thanks."
"Back at you." He said, as he pulled out his wallet and handed the cab driver a twenty. As he turned back around, Taylor watched the way he stared at the building.
"What?" She asked.
"It's just, it sounded like things had changed, but we lived in places like this, you know? We lived in places like this and it's just really hard to imagine her being sober here."
"Well, Ron had been sober for what? Eight years? If they're together, it's safe to say she's not drinking."
"Yeah. You're probably right. I just don't…" He sighed. "I don't think I can do this. I love her. I just don't trust her; besides, I can't deal with her judging you. Judging us."
"Well, that's why were here, right?" She smirked, "To put her mind at ease."
"You guess?" She laughed. "What's the apartment number?"
"'Cause I'll go and you can come up when you think you're ready."
"I couldn't ask you to do that."
"You're not asking. I am offering."
He grabbed her hands tenderly, closed his eyes and pulled her in for a kiss. "You're really terrific, you know that?"
"I try." She joked.
"No. Really. You're unbelievable and I love you. I can't even imagine going through this with anyone else. With you everything feels like it's going to be all right."
He paused. "You just need to know how special you are to me. How great these past few months have been for me, especially if you're going to meet my mother." Her face went beet red and tears started to roll down her cheeks. "Are you crying?" He asked.
"I can't help it." She sighed, wiping her eyes. "It's the hormones."
"I love you too." She added, biting her lip.
Drink up, baby, look at the stars
I'll kiss you again, between the bars
Where I'm seeing you there, with your hands in the air
Waiting to finally be caught
May 12, 2009
When my mom had her first drink in three years, she called me.
This was a few months ago; she called me and left a drunken message. She said she felt that she was a bad omen. She'd ruined everything. Both her boys had spent time in jail. Trey was a blackjack dealer in Vegas with a record, capable of returning to his old ways at any moment. And me, I was her golden boy, but for a while she'd given up on me. And more than that she'd always have to deal with the fact that everything I'd accomplished, that I'd ever accomplish was because the Cohens adopted me. She was the great obstacle I had to overcome.
She kept asking why I went to visit her. Why'd we ever go meet her in Reno? She reminded me that I hadn't been very forthcoming with the fact that Taylor was pregnant to begin with. What difference did it make to me if she'd ever meet Aurelia? Aurelia had the Cohens after all. Better role models than she could ever be.
You can hear her swigging Jameson in background. At least, I imagine it's Jameson. That was always her drink of choice.
She said it was her fault and I agreed. In the back of my mind, I agreed. Why the hell had we gone to see her anyway? She could have come to us. If she had come to us, this would have never happened. You and I wouldn't be talking right now. Things would be how they were supposed to be.
In that moment, I decided I hated my mother. The only good thing she'd ever done was sign away her rights to me. This is a lie of course, I don't really hate her and she did have her moments. I do have good memories of her, but the thing is what she said is kind of true.
I would not have been the person I am today if I had stayed in Chino. I probably would have gotten Theresa pregnant for real. Worse, I'd probably be locked in a jail cell right about now.
I do this thing sometimes where I pretend my life started when I was fifteen. Everything that happened before Trey and I stole that car, that's just white noise. It doesn't matter. The Cohens matter. Newport matters. Berkeley matters. Chino? That's just a bad dream.
After Taylor and I went to see my mom in Boise, we'd made it a point to talk at least twice a month. Sometimes we'd even Skype. It was all becoming normalized. I had the Cohens, but for the first time I had her too. Really had her. This woman I never got to know, because for the majority of my life she was drunk. For the majority of my life she wasn't really herself.
I remember the day I told her what happened. She answered the phone so happily, so proud that I was her son, so proud she'd finally gotten to meet her granddaughter. And it killed me. My heart sunk in my chest and somehow the words just fell out of mouth. You know? There was an accident. You're not a grandmother anymore. Aurelia died.
She tried to be there for me after that. Tried to call. Tried all these different tactics, but I pretended that she didn't exist. I didn't want her to exist. I resented her. She'd screwed up my childhood. She made me want to forget the majority of my life. I'd finally extended an olive branch, finally pretended that everything was normal and my daughter died. I took that as proof that nothing good would ever come out of our relationship.
And like I said, I don't blame Taylor over what happened. That is, I don't blame her any more than I blame myself and I blame myself more than anyone, with one exception. Sometimes, I blame my mother. And I shouldn't but I do.
She knows it too. She knows it.
I always felt growing up that we were at the root of her drinking; Trey and I. We'd driven her to drink. But when she left that message, for the first time it was true. She'd been doing so well and in my inability to call her back, to acknowledge her, to accept her love and support I'd driven her back to the bottle.
She went back to A.A. the next day. Ron called me and told me that. Told me she wasn't going back to her old ways that he wouldn't let her. She'd been clean too long to go back, he'd said, but I didn't care. I didn't care anymore, because I'd made a plan in my head to cut her out of my life. 'Cause nothing good ever happened when Dawn Atwood was in the picture.
My dad brought pictures over last week. Frank, that is, my biological father, he brought pictures of my childhood. Told me that I should really call my mom. That's all he said. He could tell I didn't want to see him either. I don't know how he knew I hadn't called her; I mean she wouldn't have called him, would she have? I don't know anymore.
I just know that looking through it all I was reminded of everything she'd ever done for me. Everything I'd forgotten, everything I'd come to deny. And I felt that much worse about everything. You know? I couldn't even tell Taylor about my childhood. Not anything of substance. Just told her that I did musicals. Superficial stuff like that.
I realize now how wrong that was. How wrong I've been these last six years. The past is real. You can't forget it. It'll always be there. It'll always be important. Pretending that who you are now is independent of that is just a massive lie; which makes me a liar.
Sunday was Mother's Day and I called my mom and for the first ten minutes, I just cried. I told her how important to me she actually is and how wrong I've been. We spent the next few hours just reminiscing on those first fifteen years of my life and for the first time I saw things in a new light. For the first time, I was homesick.
When Taylor comes back, the first thing I am going to do is tell her about Chino. I am going to tell her about my childhood. The good, the bad, the ugly. She's going to hear it.
For once, I am going to be as honest with her as she's always been with me.
Drink up one more time and I'll make you mine
Keep you apart, deep in my heart
Separate from the rest, where I like you the best
And keep the things you forgot
She knocked on the door and tried to wait patiently for an answer. She could hear movement. Someone was definitely inside. A few moments passed, she rested a hand on her belly. She and Ryan really were the same. She couldn't help but be amused by that. Both of them too scared to tell their parents they were expecting. It was easier this way she supposed; this way neither of them took it personally that they hadn't shared the news. They both understood. Despite their different class backgrounds, their childhoods had been relatively similar. Every day had been a fight to be seen, to be loved, to be wanted.
She felt a kick and tried really hard not to cry. She prayed they'd do better, prayed that their child would never have to feel that way.
She knocked on the door again. As she waited for an answer, she started pacing. Why was she so nervous? This wasn't her mother. It must have been her perpetual need to be liked, to one day be a good daughter-in-law. It was moments like this that she hated that about herself.
"Look, if you're selling something. I am not buying." She heard through the door. "Read the sign, no soliciting."
"Hmm?" Taylor murmured confused. "No. Ms. At… Ms. Coleman, it's Taylor Townsend. Your son and I are, uh, we're dating."
The door opened slowly. She wanted to sink into the railing behind her. "Taylor Townsend?" His mother said tentatively as she stood in the doorway.
Taylor struggled to look her in the eye. "Yes'um."
"What are you doing here?"
"Ryan told me he'd told you about," she used her hands to emphasize her abdomen. "And that you seemed really upset and I get it you know, I mean Ryan's really smart and when he moved in with the Cohens, I am sure you imagined his life going a different way entirely. I mean we certainly didn't plan this. This is the epitome of an accident, but we're rolling with it. You know? And I thought if you could see that you'd feel more comfortable about it. But if you're upset or angry that I am here, I can go. Come back some other time, or never, if you prefer."
Taylor looked on nervously as Dawn managed a smile. "Goodness, look at you."
Taylor stepped in closer to her so she could take a better look. "Yeah." She said softly.
"Can I?" She asked holding out her hand. Taylor nodded. "Oh. Woah. Wow." The smile on Dawn's face expanded. "I haven't felt anything like that in a while. Quite the little soccer player you have there must take after Ryan. He used to play, you know?"
"Yeah. I know." She bit her lip. "And she really does. She really likes to kick. So much so that it gets old, but after a while it's endearing again. Plus Ryan, he can get her to stop. It's amazing, you know? If he talks to her, he can get her to stop."
"Yeah." Taylor smiled. "We're having a girl."
"I'd always hoped I'd have a girl, but it wasn't meant to be. Got two boys instead."
"Well now you'll have a granddaughter."
"Yeah. Wow. I can't. I don't even know what to say. This is just such a surprise, you know?"
Taylor chuckled. "Believe me, I know."
"How much longer?"
"I've got two months."
"Two months?" Dawn shook her head. "Two months and I am making you stand in the hallway? Where are my manners? Come in, sit down." Taylor obliged.
"Nice place." She offered.
"We manage." Dawn shrugged. "Can I get you something to drink? Some water?"
"Water would be great."
"How are your parents dealing with this?" She asked, filling a glass from the tap.
"My mom is dealing with it better than I expected her to, but we're really not that close. And my dad, well, he lives in San Diego with his new family and I never see him. If he knew he'd probably be too ashamed to acknowledge it. It's really fine though. He's been ignoring me my whole life. C'est la vie."
"You did really well in school, didn't you?"
"Yeah. I mean I was valedictorian." Taylor nodded, taking the glass of water from Dawn's hands. She took a sip. "I got a 2400 on my SATs. I went to the Sorbonne for a while."
"The Sorbonne?" Dawn struggled to mimic Taylor's pronunciation.
"It's like the Oxford of France." She smiled. "But I wasn't happy there and this might not be the way we expected things to go, but I can say I am about a thousand times happier. We know this is crazy. We know it's going to be overwhelming and that we're going to be tired and at times we're going to break. But I am very driven and so is your son. That's not going to change because we have a baby. It's not. We both want nothing more than to provide for this child and we'll do just that. Even if it's ridiculously hard, it's what we're going to do. So, you can and should rest easy. Ryan is still going to Berkeley. He starts in September. I'll start in January. We'll both get part-time jobs and if that takes a while it's fine because I have access to the beginnings of a trust fund and my tuition to Berkeley is covered by scholarships. Plus, we have a really strong support system. Kirsten and Sandy are three miles away. It's going to be okay."
A hand fell to her abdomen. "This isn't the end of our lives, for some people our age it might be. But for us? It's not the end. It's the beginning."
Dawn nodded as she took it all in. "He was right, you're really put together."
"About this I am."
"Where is he?"
"He was nervous, so I offered to come up first. I mean he was really great when I went through what I went through with my mom, so I figured it was the least I could do. He's out front. Probably pacing around the parking lot."
Dawn smirked. "You two thought up any names yet?"
"We tried once, a while ago, but then we started to fight. So we just stopped."
"What do you call her?"
"You know, she, her, it, baby." Taylor's head fell. "The classics." She muttered.
"Ryan and Trey. That's just what Frank started calling them when I was pregnant. They stuck, obviously. It's a really good idea to pick the name together though. 'Cause when Frank and I started going through everything that we went though, let's just say I almost changed their names like a thousand times." Dawn shook her head. "I mean, you don't have to worry about that, but it is nice to be personally invested."
"I just wish I could be closer is all. Wish I had the money to visit on weekends."
Before Taylor could respond there was a knock at the door. "That'll be Ryan."
The second she pulled the door open, Dawn enveloped Ryan in a hug. "I am really glad you came. I missed you."
"I missed you too ma." Ryan replied, managing a smile. Had he been nervous for nothing? He noticed as his mother started to cry. He wasn't sure if it was out of sadness or joy, but as she ushered him into the apartment, she whispered. "Hold on to this one. She's great. I love her."
He let his smile grow. Yeah. He loved her too.
People you've been before that you
Don't want around anymore
That push and shove and won't bend to your will
I'll keep them still
May 13, 2009
I opened my mailbox today to find mail from Ryan. It was a Mother's Day card, a few days late, but that's the international postal system for you. I brought it with me. I've read it like a hundred times in the past few hours. Can I read it to you?
Dearest Taylor…. We never had any pet names for each other. If we had, he probably would have used one, but we didn't. But you know, after Henri, I didn't really want one. I mean, they're kind of dehumanizing, aren't they? With Henri, I was never Taylor. I was his "pêche" whoever that was.
You should look at the way he writes the word dearest. It's so delicate, almost unlike him. Dearest Taylor. Like he spent extra time perfectly crafting every letter.
I've been hiding from all these holidays. Valentine's Day, Saint Patrick's Day, birthdays, I've been hiding. No more though. No more.
I was walking around the pharmacy and they had a wall of Mother's Day cards. I'd almost forgotten about Mother's Day, so I looked through the rack until finally, I saw this card and was reminded of you.
I hope that this doesn't upset you. I hope you understand the intent.
Because the thing is, you don't deserve one Mother's Day card on your mantle. Aurelia may be gone, but you were amazing. You are amazing. The way you are as a mother deserves to be celebrated. Period. End of sentence.
I realize now that you don't stop being a mother when your child is gone. It doesn't happen that way. In my heart, I am always going to be a father and you; you're always going to be a mother. If we'd stopped being parents when she died, we wouldn't hurt the way we do. We'd have moved on. But here we are. That is, here I am and there you are.
This card is for you. It's for all the ways we played out those eighteen years in our heads. It's for how perfect our daughter was. It's for how amazing you continue to be. It's for this shouldn't have happened. It's for we may be cursed, but I am not content with just rolling over and accepting that.
May 10, 2009 is for you. No matter how sad you are, no matter how sad we are, this day is for you. No one can take that away from you, because once a mother, always a mother and you were the best.
I promise this Sunday to celebrate your honor.
Happy Mother's Day.
Yours Always. Love Always.
Last year, we went out to brunch. All of us: Kirsten, Sandy, Seth, Summer, Julie, Frank, Kaitlin, Ryan and I. They snuck me a mimosa. They all got me gifts. The toast was in my honor. They said the first year was always the hardest and that we'd gotten through it like it was nothing. They were envious.
I felt accomplished, like I'd done the impossible. Gotten pregnant at eighteen, but still held on to all my dreams. No self-pity. No resentment. I was happier than I'd ever been.
This year, I would have dissolved into self-pity if Summer hadn't been there. She didn't give me a second's rest. No. Sunday she woke me up at the crack of dawn. We took the train to Brussels. She said she couldn't be this close to Belgium and not eat a real waffle. It'd be a travesty, she said. An inexcusable travesty.
I pretended I didn't realize the significance of the date, but I knew she was trying to keep me busy so that I didn't have time to think about any of it. And I was grateful and it honestly was a good day. Not a phenomenal day like May 11, 2008 had been, but it was solid.
No one called though. Ryan didn't. Seth, Sandy, Frank, Kirsten, Kailtin, no one. That is until right after midnight when Julie Cooper rang. The one person I actively avoided in Berkeley.
Frank, Kaitlin, and her moved down right after Aurelia was born. They said they were just trying to start their lives together somewhere new, but I knew better. Babies bring people together and ours was no exception. They wanted to get to watch her grow up. Frank had missed out on so much of Ryan's life and what he had been around for, well, let's just say he wasn't of sound mind. This was their shot.
After Aurelia died, people acted like Julie was the one person I should talk to. She knew what it was like to lose a daughter. They didn't understand though. I hated Julie. Hated her.
She may have lost her daughter, but she'd gotten to watch her grow up. Marissa was eighteen when she died. She had eighteen years of memories. She knew when Marissa looked like as an adult. She knew when Marissa had read for the first time, had taken her to her first day of school. She'd been there for her first heartbreak. She'd gotten to teach her about the ways of the world. What her life might have been like after eighteen was a mystery, sure. But everything wasn't a mystery.
I am left with gaps. Nothing but gaps. Gaps that I have to use my imagination to fill in. I used to think that your imagination could set you free, but really, it just traps you. Smothers you. So no. Her loss and my loss weren't the same. They couldn't be the same.
Plus she had Kaitlin. All I had was Ryan and I was invisible to him.
Sunday though, it's like everything clicked. Sunday, I didn't need Ryan, Seth, Summer, Frank, Kirsten, or Kaitlin. I really didn't even need Summer. I needed Julie. And she knew that and so she called. We talked for three hours. And all that resentment I'd had for her in Berkeley floated away. For the first time, we were on an equal playing field. I couldn't be jealous for all the things she had that I didn't because that had happened after Marissa died.
Her life hadn't ended with Marissa and for the first time I really realized that neither had mine.
For the first time I realized that the future isn't ominous after all.
The future is possibility.
Song: Between the Bars by Elliott Smith
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