My good friend, Suzette, has just fallen asleep in the bathroom stall of our favorite beer and nachos bar while I'm trying desperately to wipe the sweat from my face without completely removing the make up I painstakingly applied a few hours earlier. I hear her snoring, so loudly she's practically sucking in the walls.
"Suzette. Suzette," I say, never taking my eyes off my reflection in the mirror. "What the hell is going on in there?"
"Hello. Hello." I take a pull off my Full Sail Amber bottle and ever so slightly begin to panic. I turn, lunge toward the stall, and bang on the door. "Suzette, really, are you okay?"
She finally answers, just as I'm about to bust it down, Clint Eastwood-style, in my burly, Birkenstock clogs. "I'm fine. I'm fine," she assures me. "Sitting here was just so -- quiet. And I fell asleep. I'm just so tired. You have no idea."
She's right. I don't.
Suzette gave birth six months ago, the first of my close friends to do so. She always said she wanted kids by the time she was 30, and by God, she saw to it she was knocked up a good six months before the birthday cake was baked.
I, on the other hand, am slightly younger, single, and have taken up mountain climbing in an effort to meet fit and fun cuties who might one day, far off into my 30s, become a sperm donor. For now, I'm in search of a soul mate to sweep me off my feet and travel with me to exotic lands. And Suzette's kid is cutting into our girl talk. Yet again. I am so unsympathetic.
"Unbelievable," I say. "I can't believe you were sleeping in a f@##*& bathroom stall in a noisy bar. You've barely touched your drink. How is that possible?"
"Dakota was up five or six times last night. He's not eating. He's not sleeping. I think he's teething. Or he might have another ear infection," she says. And here we go. She descends into baby care babble, and the conversation becomes all about her and that wretched little boy who has driven a wedge the size of the Great Wall of China between us.
I take another sip of beer in disbelief and momentary reflection.
The pregnancy was easy enough. A bunch of us had gone bowling and I noticed Suzette, ever a beer lover, stayed away from the pitchers. We weren't, like, league bowlers or anything, and we never, ever bowled sober. So I knew something was up. She also mentioned that the lemon Pledge she used to dust her house made her puke earlier that week. I quickly put two and two together.
"You're pregnant, aren't you?" I asked knowingly on the car ride home. It was just her and I, and her husband, Bruce, a good guy who had won her over with his home improvement prowess.
"I am," she replied. We hugged and shouted and laughed. I was glad I was going to be an "auntie" again, although I secretly was hurt that she felt the need to keep the good news from me for a couple of months. She'd told her family. And after so many years of working at newspapers together and sharing secrets and intertwining our lives, we were like family.
Suzette wasn't much for exercise. Like many folks, her clothes hung nicely on the Nordik Track in her bedroom. She was a natural size 6 then. But I convinced her to take an aerobics class with other pregnant women because I'd heard it was good for expectant moms, and she loved it.
I took great pride in helping shepherd her through each trimester, packing and hauling boxes to the bigger house they rented, hunting for cute baby things, assuring her the names she'd chosen were perfect, telling her she wasn't fat and that she glowed. A friend and I threw her baby shower, pitching in for a baby backpack and a jogging stroller, knowing she'd probably only use both in the mall but that she would love them.
I also was in the hospital room the day her water broke. I marveled how she sat in bed and chatted as if nothing big was about to happen. Suzette was pretty private, and not much for public venting. She grabbed her stomach with each contraction but never stopped smiling. I stuck with her till the Pitocin truly kicked in, and she started to break a sweat. I wished her and Bruce luck and told her she'd be fine. Then I left and joined another one of our friends and waited for the great news of the birth.
Hours and hours later, when I arrived in the hospital room again, Suzette looked wiped. I'd almost never seen her without lipstick before, and her big hair hung limp. "It's a Dakota," she said in a hoarse whisper, letting me know the baby was a boy and all was well. I cried. I was so happy for my friend. One of her childhood dreams had just been fulfilled.
Things went downhill shortly thereafter. I held the baby in my arms for the first time wearing a mask and surgical gloves. Suzette's mom insisted, because I had just gotten over a cold. "You've got to be kidding me," I said, as I donned both as I was told. Determined not to let go of our friendship as I'd heard so often happens, I went to Suzette's house for lunch every day of her maternity leave, to help, and so we could chat. But the conversations were never the same.
"Dakota will be just fine on formula, and it'll be so much easier when I get back to work," she said. I feigned interest as she rationalized her decision to stop breast feeding after only a month. It had been so difficult, she said. "I'll babysit for you one night if you guys want to get out," I said. But she just talked about how tired she was, how worried she was Dakota wasn't eating enough, and later, how worried she was he was eating too much.
The first time she took him out of the house, a good three months after he was born, she brought him to my place and laid him on my family room floor. It was December in the temperate Northwest, and he was bundled like the kid in "A Christmas Story." She was a wreck. I thought she was being ridiculous.
"Here, have a shot of tequila. That'll calm you down," I offered. "I hear babies know when you're stressed out, and then you make them nerds." She became annoyed, and then actually said, "I'd love him even if he was a nerd." I decided I needed a shot of tequila then.
My best friend is a mommy now, but I foolishly thought that role wouldn't change our friendship too much. She tries to humor me. That's why she agreed to come out and party tonight, when I'm sure she'd much rather be curled up on the couch with Dakota on her chest.
"Come on," she says, splashing some cold water on her face. "Let's go back to the table and I'll buy you a shot of tequila. I'm awake now."
"Okay," I say. "Will you do one with me?"
"Um. Okay. Just one," she says. "My tolerance isn't what it used to be."
"Yeah, nothing's really what it used to be, is it," I counter, and I come close to shedding a sentimental, "I-miss-the-old-us" tear. "I'm trying really hard to get used to that, you know."
"I know," Suzette says as we exit the bathroom. "We'll figure it out."
Eventually, we do.
Three months after my daughter is born, I pick up the phone and call Suzette. Nearly a decade has passed, and we're now living on opposite edges of the United States.
"I'm sorry," I say, before I even say "hello." Of course, she knows it's me. "I'm sorry for being so clueless when you had Dakota. I had no idea."
"You didn't," she says, laughing. "But that's okay. You can't really know until you know."