“The absence of an eternal perspective makes you vulnerable to losing heart.” – C. J. Mahaney
I do a double take when I look down at the phone and see Tanya’s text. It’s weird timing because not long ago I dreamed about her.
Her mom must still be refusing to buy her a smart phone because she’s still texting in that abbreviated, punctuation-less prose I used to jokingly call “Tanya-ese.” I recall with no small degree of satisfaction how ticked off it used to make her when I would talk text a perfect message while she painstakingly typed a choppy one on her prehistoric slide phone.
Her message says, Can u call asap its impt
Hearing from her after all these months makes me angry. Foggy fragments of my dream find their way into my head. I shudder.
I keep her waiting.
After an hour, she texts me again: I really need to talk to you
Forty-five minutes later, I reply, What’s up?
I imagine the sound of her phone’s spoon-on-crystal chime that signals she has a text. Almost instantly, my phone issues three staccato taps, announcing her response on my screen.
Can u meet me somewhere we hv to talk
I let 10 minutes go by, then answer, What’s this about?
I gotta talk to u in person cn u call or meet me
Five minutes later I type, Fine. I can be at Starbucks in half an hour.
I envision her fingers zigzagging furiously over the keypad.
The one near you she questions.
No, the one on the pike I respond.
Ok ill b there she types, then adds thx
Traffic is light, and I get there first. I’m sitting here, twiddling my thumbs, and my mind is going in freaky directions. It’s the first time I’ve ever wished for a beer at Starbucks.
Remnants of my dream resurface, in which a frightened Tanya is pleading with me to help her haul something away. The item is in a big, red trash bag like the kind they put hazardous waste in. Tanya has mascara running down her face, which is odd because she rarely wears makeup.
Whatever’s in the bag must be heavy because it’s too much for her to handle alone. She needs my help and is begging me to drag it away.
Now there’s a change of pace, I ruminate. I never begged her for anything, but in a way, I was always begging her. She never had to beg me to do anything. I was always ready to drop everything to give her a driving lesson or take her to the mall or even take her annoying sister to the park.
In my fading dream, the girl I used to love is making promises we both know she won’t keep. If only I’ll help her, things will be good, and we can live happily ever after.
Yeah, right. But like a fool, I believe her and help her.
Believing promises, I’m starting to realize, is like accepting a check drawn on an empty bank account. Fat lot of good it did my mom to believe Dad’s promises all those years.
“You grew a goatee!” I exclaim when I catch sight of Chuck. Well, a partial goatee, at least. He bypassed the mustache but has a beard of sorts sprouting under his mouth. Chuck trying to look more mature isn’t working for him; his whiskers have shaped themselves into a pitchfork arrangement, and they’re reddish, contrasting sharply with his yellow hair.
“So what’s so important?” he begins, ignoring my outburst.
“I’m fine, thanks, how’re you?” comes out of my mouth before I can stop it. I counseled myself beforehand to be calm and controlled. His reluctance to answer my texts made his position clear. Still, I need his help.
“Look, you text me after all these months and expect me to come running. I don’t know what you want from me.”
He’s guarding himself, I realize. Or maybe he’s moved on, even seeing someone else. It doesn’t matter. This conversation has to happen.
Suddenly, though, I feel awkward, not knowing how to introduce what has to be discussed.
“Do you want some coffee or something? On me.”
“No, Tanya, I wanna know what you need from me. I really don’t feel like sitting here drinking coffee with you after two months. I’ve got work to do.”
Breathe, Tanya, I coach myself. He’s obviously not over this. Just get it over with.
“I may be pregnant,” I blurt out.
He stares at me, the tight expression he’s been wearing replaced with shock and disbelief. Then his eyes shoot down to my gut. I don’t look pregnant, just fatter than usual. He won’t get any confirmation there.
“No way,” he says finally. “How can that be? It was only the one time.”
“I’m not a hundred per cent sure,” I back pedal, trying to ease the tension my statement and this whole meeting have created.
“Whaddaya mean you’re not sure!” Chuck barks. His voice is a biting whisper.
Now I’m getting flustered. He’s right. I should’ve gotten the blood work before dragging him into this. But I need someone to help me think through what to do, and Chuck’s good at that. He’s always been level headed, even when he was helping me learn to drive stick shift in his beloved Monte Carlo. When I made beginners’ mistakes, stalling out the manual transmission, he kept his cool. Boy, the tables sure have turned. I used to be the controlling force in the relationship, but he’s showing a lot of backbone now.
“Look, I’m sorry,” I whisper back. “I’m not sure what to do. That’s why I called. Whaddaya think we should do?”
He puts a hand to his brow, covering his nondescript brown eyes.
“Chuck?” I venture.
“I’m thinking. No, I’m praying, if you wanna know the truth. What are we gonna do?”
Something in me rallies. Bringing him into the secret is somehow making me feel less terrified. For the first time since my visit with Dr. Edelstein, I feel like I can breathe.
“The doctor wants me to get a blood test.”
He explodes in another acid-filled whisper.
“You mean you could’ve had blood work and didn’t even bother?! Why are you texting me, scaring the crap out of me, if you haven’t even bothered to find out for sure?! What are you, just tryin’ to play games with me?!”
That’s when I understand why he’s being so nasty. Just when the wound was starting to heal, here I am opening it back up again, a hundred times bigger and with a brand new twist. I feel like Jack the Ripper.
“No, I was too scared. Or in denial. Something.”
He pulls out his phone and his fingers start zigzagging over the screen. I’m about to ask him what he’s doing when he starts firing questions at me.
“OK, are you tired all the time?”
“Yeah, I guess so. I mean, it’s been a horrible winter. I thought I was just beat from all the shoveling.”
“How ’bout irritable?”
“I dunno. No more than usual, I guess. You know how it is living with Jess.”
For the first time, he smiles and half laughs.
“Yeah, I guess that’s a no brainer,” he quips.
I relax a little.
“I dunno. No, I guess.”
“No, unless I eat Italian or spicy. But that’s the same as always.”
“It says ‘frequent heartburn.’ Should I put no?”
“Then yeah. I mean, put no.”
“Stomach big after eating?”
“What? That’s a weird question. I mean, I feel full, yeah, but I don’t know if my stomach’s any bigger.”
Chuck snaps at me.
“Look, I didn’t write this stupid test, and I’m not the one who thinks they’re pregnant! Just answer the questions!”
The calmness I’ve been allowing myself to feel for the last couple minutes evaporates. He isn’t happy about this, I realize, and doesn’t want to be part of it. He’s just trying to man up.
“Darking of the upper lip?”
Now that’s a strange one.
“What? Lemme see that!”
“That’s exactly what it says!” he retorts, and begins quoting. “‘Do you have darking of the upper lip or anywhere in your face?’”
“I guess they mean darkening. I dunno. I don’t think so. Do you see any?”
Chuck looks up briefly.
“No, you look the same as always.”
He seems embarrassed to ask the next question, as if he already knows the answer.
“Have you lost weight?”
I fold my arms across my bulging belly, and shoot him a disgusted look.
“What do you think?”
He clicks a response, then looks stricken.
“It says you’re pregnant,” he says slowly.
***Author's note: the questions Chuck asks Tanya were taken from the following website: