Cathy Eats Her Words

November 23, 2007

Day Twelve

Filed under: NaNoWriMo,Novel — jeanne @ 7:07 pm

Day Twelve

This rehab was different. Out in the regular wings, patients were locked down on the ward, and visitors were searched. In the D wing, where patients were paying for their own treatment, the surroundings were resort-like, with private bed-and-bathroom suites and a comfortable lounge well stocked with DVDs and games. There were break rooms, a fridge full of food, private offices, nice views out the windows, and the inmates had cheery, positive expressions quite unlike the sour, morose looks on the rest of the population. The only thing the two groups shared was the cafeteria, which served nasty institutional food that looked designed for food fights – battery-acid coffee, syrupy mashed potatoes, gelatinous gravy, spongy cornbread, pale gristly slabs of meat, and flabby jello. But the self-pay patients had the option of skipping dinner in the cafeteria and calling out for food instead, so every evening was a flurry of take-out menus and deliveries. The patients also took field trips to the local Wal-Mart every week, and went out to the movies on Fridays. Treatment seemed like an afterthought.

But every time Cathy stopped by to see Star, there was a meeting going on, and she had to wait outside in a chair on the smoking patio, counting the cigarette butts in the sand containers and admiring the artistic arrangement of bubble gum on the leaves of the doomed shrubs. As the days passed, Star became a little more attentive to her mom. The other patients were adults, and they must have liked Cathy, because Star was acting like there was nothing to be ashamed of when she came to visit, and at the other hospital, in with a bunch of kids her own age, she acted more like she must be adopted.

“The counselors are all wondering why I’m here,” she said one day as she bounded out of the building and bent over to kiss the top of Cathy’s head.

Cathy looked up at her. She was radiant, her skin fresh, her hair glowing. She still didn’t look pregnant, except for the growth of her breasts, but she sure did look happy these days. “How’re you feeling?” she asked, meaning how was she feeling about her treatment.

“I’m still a little queasy in the mornings,” she said, “but I’m not actually getting sick.”

“Not everybody has morning sickness,” Cathy said. “I meant, how are you getting along in here? Are you learning anything?”

Star flipped her hair over her shoulders. “They want you to write an impact letter.”

“Okay. What’s that?”

“You need to write down what impact my drug use has had on your life.”

Cathy thought about it. The impact had been mostly in her damaged expectations, which was part of raising a kid. They never did what grownups wanted them to do. Most of Star’s drug use had been while she was with her dad. “You’d better get your dad to write one, too,” she said. “He had to deal with most of your using.”

Star laughed. “Don’t you believe it. I was high every day while I was living with you, and had to pop a couple of oxycontins before getting out of bed just to get thru the rest of the day.”

This came as a real surprise to Cathy, who’d only seen rudeness and laziness in her behavior, and hadn’t suspected it was chemically induced. “Where you depressed while you were with us?”

Star patted her head. “Mom, I’ve been depressed most of my life.”

Oh. And she seemed such a happy child.

“I mean, who wouldn’t be?” she went on. “You kept telling me how smart I am and how much I could accomplish. With that much pressure, how could I be anything but depressed?”

Cathy had spent a lot of effort supporting her daughter’s abilities. This was partially because her mother had groomed her to be nothing more than somebody’s wife, and actually held down her aspirations by making her feel stupid. So Cathy bent over the other way, but it seems it had had the same result. A daughter too fucked up to get on with the business of following her own agenda. And her own mother had been just as damaged by her mom. Where would it end? She already felt sorry for Star’s kid, whoever it turned out to be. That reminded her. “Oh. I’ve made an appointment to go tour the birth center at the hospital. Can you get them to let you out?”

“Sure. I just have to let them know where I’m going, and I can’t go during any meeting times.”

So Cathy and Star took a trip to the local hospital and a nurse took them around the place where women went to have babies these days. It was very different from Cathy’s experience. When she’d had Star, she spent hours stalking the grimy gray corridors of an old fashioned hospital wing, hoping to boost her labor and get the process over with. Nurses shaved her bald and gave her a soap enema that worked so quickly it was a race for the bathroom before everything exploded. Back then, fetal heart monitors were new; they wheeled them in on a cart, and only hooked them up if there was some problem. You were on your own and could do your labor standing or sitting or walking the halls, and they didn’t make you lie down and mess with you until the end. But then she was to have her baby lying flat on her back on a hospital bed, and they would cut her perineum whether she needed it or not. After the birth, the baby stayed in the nursery, and there was several days of peace and quiet and nasty hospital food before they put the baby into the new mom’s arms and shuffled them out the front door and went back to the pace of everyday living.

In twenty years, the birth experience had changed drastically. Now there was a birthing center, where large private rooms were set up like hotel rooms, with a bed in the center of the room, a big comfy couch under the window, a large TV, internet access, a CD player for your favorite music, soft lighting, pleasant curtains and a soothing color scheme. But each piece of furniture in the room transformed into hospital equipment when the time came. The bed raised up into a dangerous looking birthing couch, stirrups came up to capture the feet, the cabinets swung open to reveal monitors, belly bands, drips, blood pressure cuffs, a sonogram machine, sterile equipment in plastic bags, and various other devices Cathy couldn’t tell anything about. The chest of drawers on the wall became a baby monitoring station, with heat lamps, scales, a rack of little scissors and suction bulbs and tiny blood pressure cuffs and little bitty ear scopes, clothing and towels, basins and bottles. The baby would be staying right there with Mom unless there was a problem.

Even the food had changed. Now patients ordered off a menu and a waitress delivered it with a big smile, and the food wasn’t half bad. And they kicked you out of the hospital the next day, unless you didn’t have the right baby carrier with you, and then you had to go out and buy one before they’d release the baby.

The big comfy couch was the most surprising change to Cathy. When she’d had Star, Richard was just barely allowed in the room, and only after putting on sterile scrubs and a hairnet. But now there could evidently be up to three guests in the room during labor and delivery, and they could sack out on the couch when things were slow, watching TV or just dozing. And there was fresh coffee in the hall kitchen, and goodies in the fridge. More a vacation spot than a hospital, like Star’s new rehab was more like a spa.

The nurse stressed how much comfort and normality there was. “Used to be hospitals treated birth like an emergency,” Cathy remembered. “It seems more like, I don’t know, home, I guess.”

The nurse nodded. “We try to make it as unobtrusive as possible. And we’ve got midwives on the staff, and they do everything but deliver your baby.”

Cathy said, “And sometimes they do that too, I’m sure.”

Star looked uncomfortable. She sat on the edge of the birthing bed and bounced on it, ignoring them while Cathy asked pointed questions about the process. Recalling her short apprenticeship as a midwife, she was intrigued that there were now midwives working in the hospital, for the doctor, as opposed to against them, the way it was in the old days. “Do the midwives mean your C-section rates are lower than average?” The last thing she wanted for Star was the long recovery time after an operation where they rip the baby out of your belly. They’d done that to her, and she’d never quite gotten over it. Or gotten the feeling back on the skin of her belly.

The nurse was proud of their rates. “Among prior sections, the rate is almost 85%, and that tends to raise the average a bit, but with first time mothers, which your daughter will be?” Cathy nodded. “The rate is only 17%.”

“The national rate is around 25%, I believe?” Cathy had a grudge. Her C-section had been avoidable, she was convinced, but for a chain of interventions that just kept getting worse and worse until the only option was the knife. As a trainee midwife, she’d learned that only about 10% of births are abnormal enough to warrant cutting the mother open. But in a hospital, your bill doubles if the doctor cuts you open, and your insurance pays for it, so the rate of C-section just keeps going up and up. If hospitals had their way, every woman would get a section. They’d already perverted modern medicine so much that once you had delivered by cesarean, you were always going to have one for all your other births, and this just pissed her off. When she was training to be a midwife, there was a trend for women with previous C-sections to have a normal vaginal birth the next time, but with all the liability issues nowadays, hospitals wouldn’t allow it, and forced women to undergo major surgery over and over again. And she was damned if she would let this happen to Star.

“I don’t want you to be in the room with me when I have the baby,” Star said as they left the hospital.

“Why not?” Cathy was taken aback. She was planning on it, already mentally packing her kit.

Star squirmed. “I just don’t feel comfortable with the thought of you being there.”

Cathy wondered if it meant she felt uncomfortable with the thought of her mom seeing her naked, or did she hate the thought that Cathy might try to second-guess the medical staff, or maybe did she feel that her mom might try to steal the spotlight. “Fine,” she said, a little huffy. “I’ll bring a book and sit in the waiting room. Or maybe I’ll just stay away and you can call me when you’ve had the baby.”

Star patted her on the back. “Oh, come on, Mom, I want you there. Just, when I need you, not all the time, staring at me and making comments and stressing me out, making me think I’m doing everything all wrong.”

But I would never do that, Cathy wanted to say, but she remembered how Star always thought Cathy was criticizing her, even when she was heaping praise upon her. Kids.

They got into the car and started back to rehab. But Star was free for the moment and didn’t want to go back. “Let’s go shopping for my wedding dress,” she suggested, and she looked so excited that Cathy gave in, and they went off in search of frills and satin.

The boutique was empty of customers, and several matronly ladies surrounded Star as she walked in and started turning this way and that looking at all the dresses. Cathy stood back and let them introduce her to the world of expensive things that are only used once, and tried not to look at the price tags as Star went into fits of Ahhs and Ooohs. She busied herself instead looking at the way the dresses were put together, thinking I can do this myself, while Star went from one dress to another on the rack, putting them up to her still in the bag and rushing to the mirror to see what they looked like.

Wedding dresses. White, cream, snow white, off white, ecru, satin, silk, polyester, sequined, pearled, jeweled, lacey, strapless, backless, demure, a-lined, ruffled, sacked, long-trained. There were dozens of types of dresses, and they all reminded Cathy of Barbie clothes.

Her tastes ran to simple and elegant, with a minimum of fuss and frill. Star’s tastes were strictly fairy-tale. She wanted to look like Cinderella at the ball. Cathy wanted to sit her down and talk sense into her. She was pregnant, she wouldn’t be able to wear any of these dresses without serious refitting if they took as much as another two weeks to get married. But Star was obviously living a dream at the moment, so Cathy let her play with the saleswomen, and continued to leaf thru the racks, turning her attention to the price tags. Polyester, and they still wanted almost a thousand dollars. She pulled the dresses open and looked at the construction. Nothing fancy about how they were made, except that the fitted ones used whalebones (plastic) sewn into the bodice, and the skirts had various hidden buttons and clasps so the bride could hitch the train up and avoid tripping over everything. $750 for an overdone thing with fake pearls sewn on everywhere. $995 for a ghastly Gone With the Wind dress with 4 petticoats and machined lace edging. Yuck. She saw nothing she liked in the entire store.

Except for one dress. As simple as possible, no frills, no tucks, no gathers, no excess fabric, no adornment other than a simple red ribbon around the top and bottom. “Hey, Star, look at this,” she said, pulling the bag away from the rack.

Star came over and examined it. “I like it,” she said, and walked off to the mirror with it.

Cathy looked at her cellphone to see the time. She needed to get her back to rehab. “Honey, it’s time we go. Why don’t you get them to write down the ones you like, and we’ll come back again soon.”

Star looked stricken. “Oh, Mom, can’t I try this one on? Please? We’ve got time.” Star’s saleswoman Star looked anxiously at Cathy. She gave in.

There was suddenly activity all around. The dress got bundled off to a fitting room, a pair of shoes was snatched off the wall, a strapless bra was fetched off a shelf, a slip was taken out of a closet, and Star was the center of a procession of salesladies, holding her street clothes while she stood in front of the mirror with her arms over her head, letting them slip things over her head.

Then she stood out in the middle of the store, turning this way and that in front of a mirror, and Cathy was amazed. She looked like a model. She looked like a fairy princess. Cinderella had nothing on Star. The dress fitted beautifully, and the smooth lines enhanced Star’s beauty.

Star was entranced. “Mom, it’s perfect. I want this one,” she turned to the saleslady. “What do we have to do next?”

The saleswoman launched into details of availability and wait times and deposits and fitting sessions, and Starr looked at Cathy to make sure she was taking it all in. Cathy shook her head at her daughter, who didn’t notice. Finally she had to say, “Well, please write that all down for us so we don’t forget the details, but we really must be getting to our next appointment. Flowers,” she lied, having decided that it wouldn’t do to announce that they were just in there on a lark. Star didn’t think it was a lark, and neither did the salesladies, but their attitude would change if they knew she was pregnant, and the wedding wasn’t actually real yet, even tho Star had made up a date to tell the saleslady when she asked her when the wedding was going to be.

“So, when is the wedding going to be?” Cathy asked as they got back into the car. She and Gray had discussed this by themselves. Star had pushed for a big fancy wedding, but given the circumstances, Cathy and Gray thought it’d be okay if they got married in the meeting room in rehab.

Star looked out of the window. “Oh, we’re thinking about having it after the baby is born.”

Cathy stared at her. “Wait a minute. When did this happen? You said just a couple of weeks ago that you were going to get married as soon as possible. Who changed whose mind?”

Star shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know. We’re still getting married,” she hastened to add, because Cathy was looking worried. “We just don’t know when. Lots of people I know wait until the baby is old enough to participate before getting married.”

Cathy was confused, but what did she know about how kids did things these days? “But why aren’t you going to go ahead and get married as soon as possible? Is something wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” Star said quickly. “Spike loves me. We want the baby. He was going to marry me even if I hadn’t gotten pregnant.”

“Well, I want to be sure that neither of you will be forced to testify against each other because you’re married.” Cathy was looking for reasons for getting married as soon as possible. “And if you’re still single when the baby comes you’ll have to use your own last name for his or hers.” Star didn’t argue, but stared out of the window, waiting for Cathy to stop talking.

Cathy drove back to rehab feeling upset. There was Star, pregnant, still dreaming about a fantasy wedding in the face of rehab and jail and a guy who for some unknown reason had apparently backed away from making an honest woman of her and doing his duty to raise his child. There was Spike a couple of weeks ago, making all the right noises about how it was inconceivable that he would not want to raise his own child, that he would not want to do all the right things. He’d been very positive about it; he’d impressed Cathy with his determination to get married and settle down with her daughter and their child. And now there was Star talking about how they might wait until the baby was, what? A year old, two years? Old enough to act as ring bearer? She wished, not for the first time, that she knew what the hell was going on. She thought of calling Spike’s parents and asking them, but somehow didn’t feel brave enough. What if they hadn’t been consulted about their getting married? What if they disapproved and Cathy’s questions blew some secret the kids had decided to keep?

She tried a different line of questioning as they got close to rehab and Cathy realized she was losing her opportunity. “Are you planning on moving in with Spike when you get out of rehab?”

Star fidgeted. “Oh, yes,” she said brightly. “His family are keeping him almost a prisoner. He can’t wait until I get out. He’s looking for a house to rent right now, and it’ll have a room for the baby, and I’ll get to have Stumbles with me, and Spike’ll take care of everything.”

“Why don’t you come up and live close to me in the city? You could get a job and not be so dependent on Spike for all the money.”

Star looked at Cathy as if she were crazy. “No way would either of us live in that crime-infested ghetto, Mom. It’s bad enough that you moved away from me to go live in that horrible mixed neighborhood, with destroyed roads and sirens all the time. I like where I was raised. I like suburbs, and air conditioning, and frozen meals and the crickets at night.”

Cathy rolled her eyes. As if the suburbs were golden and the city a slum. Maybe thirty years ago, but now the houses in Cathy’s neighborhood were worth twice what Star’s suburban house had cost her and Richard. “Yeah, there’re no microwaves in the city. And you can’t hear the crickets for the gunshots. You’re right.”

Then she thought how easily she’d been sidetracked. “So,” she began again, “Spike’s parents are okay with him finding another place and moving you in?”

“Sure. He’s been good the whole time he’s been with them. He’s even been working bail bonds with his grandma again. He can’t go bounty hunting, because until this stuff is cleared up he can’t carry, but they can work around that.”

“He can’t carry a gun until the trial’s over?”

“Or whatever. If he’s got a felony or is even just accused he can’t work the way he was doing. But Grandma has a permit. She’s got enough guns for the both of them.”

The thought of a gun-toting little old lady made Cathy giggle. The thought of a gun-toting grandma having more guns than Spike must have had laying about the house made her feel sick.

“So you’re not having morning sickness still?” she asked, changing the subject once more before dropping Star off and losing any chance for questions until the next time.

“I told you. But oh yeah, I’ve got a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday, and I need you to drive me there.” They were at rehab. Star jumped out of the car and stuck her head back in the window. “I need to be there at 1:30.”

Cathy thought a moment, suppressing irritation. “I guess I’ll be here at 12:30 to pick you up,” she said.

“Okay. Bye, Mom,” Star waved, and ran off toward the back entrance, the private way into the hospital for those who didn’t need guards. She was already thinking about what to order for dinner – Mexican or Chinese. It was good to be away from her mom and her worries. And her damned pointed questions. Why couldn’t she just leave her to make her own decisions and her own mistakes?

Cathy returned home slightly bothered by Star’s inconstancy. One minute she was starting to act like an adult, the next minute she was parading around in a wedding dress, the next minute acting like she didn’t care about getting married and making Spike be responsible. She didn’t care about being responsible herself. Cathy could see why Richard got so upset about it. Two kids pretending to be adults, but making silly decisions that would leave them all, him and her and the baby, poor and hopeless down the road. Star, as her dad predicted, functionally illiterate, working at a convenience store, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer and watching TV all day and doing absolutely nothing with her life but passing on her unfortunate decisions to another generation of losers.

Except that maybe they’d be okay. Maybe he’d continue making a mint hauling escaped criminals back to jail, maybe she’d be okay staying home watching the baby all day and getting him to pay for everything. Maybe they wouldn’t go to jail. Maybe they’d grow up. Maybe Spike would be a great dad. Maybe Star would go to college and become something. An architect. A doctor. President.

Cathy developed a headache. By the time she got home she had weighed so many options and fantasized so many alternative lives and pictured so many different outcomes that her head ached.

So of courses her mom called just as she got in the door. No. She signaled frantically to Gray, who’d answered the phone, the moment she realized that it must be her mom. But he didn’t notice, and announced that she’d just come in, and handed the phone to Cathy with a grin.

“Hi, Mom.”

“You sound winded. Where’ve you been?”

Oh, I’ve been to rehab and a bridal shop and the birthing center at the hospital. But she couldn’t say that. She couldn’t say any of that. None of these things was not a big secret that she’d been keeping from her mom. So Cathy thought for a minute. “I’ve just gotten in, with a headache,” she announced, and went to get a glass of water and fumble for an aspirin. “How’s your health?”

This gave her a few minutes, as her mom detailed the latest disease she thought she must be suffering from. “It’s my pancreas. I know I’m diabetic. I saw a show on it just last night, and I match all the symptoms. Getting up at night to go to the bathroom, feeling tired all the time, and my eyesight’s failing and I know that’s why, and…”

Cathy wasn’t listening. She’d decided. “Well, Mom, I’ve got some news for you.”

“You’re pregnant.”

“Mom! I’m 51 years old. What are you thinking of?”

“It’s just the way you said you had news. Well, what is it?”

That intro made it easier. “I’m not pregnant. Star’s pregnant.”

Mom was silent.

“She’s just told me,” she lied, “and I’m happy for her. I know she’s young, but they’re getting married, and I have a good feeling about it.”

“They’re getting married?” Mom sounded dubious. Cathy thought she was going to ask her what kind of father Spike would make. She thought Mom was going to talk about just how young she was, and just what kind of lifelong choice she was making, and about college. Cathy thought Mom would repeat all the objections she’d had when Cathy had told her she was pregnant, all those years ago. She still stung from some of the things her mom had objected to – chiefly Richard – but also the fact that they lived like students, and with a baby she would probably never finish college and go on to be the doctor or lawyer – or doctor or lawyer’s wife – that she could have been if she hadn’t taken up with that idiot Richard.

“Yes, they’re getting married.” Cathy heard her mother heave a sigh of relief. The sound made her angry.

“Thank God,” she breathed. “She’s not going to have an abortion.” Then she started to mutter in tongues, praying. She must be really happy.

Cathy’s headache suddenly pounded. “Okay, Mom, glad you’re happy. But I’ve got to go now. Gray left something on the stove and it’s burning.”

“Okay, sweetie,” Mom said, and continued to offer thanks that her grandbaby wasn’t going to be a child killer.

All these different reactions. Richard had only wanted her to have an abortion, as quickly as possible, and then get rid of Spike and get back on track and get herself a normal college degree and a normal career and only then think about having a baby and getting married. Her mom was only concerned that Star not have an abortion, and didn’t care whether Spike was going to be a good dad, or whether they’d be happy, or if it was the right thing to do at her age and with her prospects. Star seemed to be blissfully happy and totally trusting that everything would work out for the bests, and Cathy was trying to weigh all the dangers and advantages and possible outcomes, and worry about everything in a rational manner. She felt that only she was aware of all the options and possibilities, and was the only one who wasn’t running off into the deep end.

But she was wrong. Only Gray was being rational about it all. Girls have babies. Babies grow up. Shit happens. And he had better things to do about it than sit and worry and fantasize. He had projects that needed tending to in the basement.

go to tomorrow’s writing


1 Comment »

  1. […] go to tomorrow’s writing Leave a Comment […]

    Pingback by Day Eleven « Cathy Eats Her Words — October 12, 2009 @ 3:02 pm | Reply

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