I'm late. This can happen, but saying so doesn't help. Don't panic doesn't calm me down, either. We are careful only reminds me of what careful can mean. Careful for me has meant the pill, it's not 100 percent, "You're pregnant," due in August, "Congratulations," pink rattle balloon, "It's a girl." I'm worrying about something or nothing. Yes or No. Plus or Minus. I need to know which one it is. Now.
As we drive to the drug store for an EPT, I look in the rearview mirror at their reflections: my beginning and end. My oldest and youngest. My A and Z. My bookends.
One for each hand. That was the answer from a bridesmaid sitting next to me at a wedding reception six years ago. Part of the same bridal sea in dark, silky blue dresses, we were navy waves rolling towards the beautiful white foam that was our girlfriend. Over champagne and cake we talked love, marriage, and kids. The other bridesmaid asked, "How many do you have?"
Bite of cake in my mouth, I held up one finger. "And you?"
A sip of bubbly. "Two. One for each hand."
I was on a seesaw back then. I felt up for two, then down with one. But those words, one for each hand, slammed me to the ground, convinced me in their simple poetry, their biological symmetry, to have one more child. With that decision, I willingly did not pass Go; I sent myself back to the first square in the parenting game. I reset the clock and pushed Snooze on my self.
My daughters -- my Careful and Planned -- walk into Walgreen's with me and head to the toy aisle first. I let them pick whatever plastic shiny pieces of junk they want so that I can then slip into the female need aisle without them wondering why. I find what I've come for, but I can't get to it. My answer, my test I need to solve this problem, is locked in a glass case. I know why without being told. I can imagine a scared teenage girl with no money of her own, needing to resolve the same problem and fearing the answer, like I am. I was that girl. Once upon a time.
Uncertainty can make a girl desperate; make her beg, pray, and steal. I understand her: the teenager, the woman, the mother. We are everywhere, hiding our secrets in bedrooms painted off-white. None of us wants to have to ask for the item we need, to be forced to make uncomfortable chitchat with a stranger while he or she fumbles for keys, fiddles with the case to unlock it, touches and then hands over the keys to our fate. I buy the bribes for my kids and leave without the one thing I came for.
My gaze returns to my daughters' reflections as we head to the grocery store. One for each hand. We are even, not odd. No one is solo on any rollercoaster. We are four chairs to a square dining room table. No one sits alone on the plane. We always have partners to Tango.
On Aisle 10, I grab a test, drop it in the plastic basket, and let the girls pick out sugary, neon-coated, turn-your-tongue-blue-green-or-purple-red candy concoctions at the checkout line. I put the test and the treats on the conveyor belt and hope the cashier doesn't comment on my very personal item, mixed in with the sweets. Weeks earlier a cashier stopped scanning my groceries to deeply inhale from a cinnamon apple candle I was buying. I felt inappropriately invaded; she became a dog sniffing things she shouldn't. This Safeway clerk only eyes my one product, then looks at the two blonde, tangle-haired girls trailing me: one small, one tall; both skinny; one tan and freckled, one daisy petal white; both blue-eyed, knobby kneed, thin-wristed. I see her contemplating a third for me. I'm doing math in my head, too.
While the clerk is adding, I am desperately subtracting. Two is the perfect number for me. Two is enough. Three would be too much. Three would be More. More sleepless nights, more sore nipples, more sit-ups to do, more books I want to read stacked into a corner that I'll get to when . . . . More claustrophobic feelings, more crustless sandwiches to make, more homework to figure out, more cupcakes to bake. More memory loss, more two-minute showers, more dinners eaten cold or not at all. More sheets to wash, more tantrums to shush, more questions to answer, more patience to find. More red Popsicle stains to scrub out, more vomit to clean up, more afternoons at the playground, more Thin Mints to sell, more space between me and my husband, more clothes to fold, more lost socks to find, more anger to contain, more toys to trip over. More time spent standing in front of a kitchen sink, more time sitting on a fold up chair in an elementary school cafeteria, more time with my head in an oven. More wondering, When is it going to be my time again?
There is already too little left -- of time, of me. Two plus One. One more would take away. Definitely. Mentally. Physically. Emotionally. Three would make Less of me.
When we get home I use my third diversion, the Cartoon Network. With my girls coming down from their sugar highs and succumbing to the sedation of animation, I disappear into the bathroom to find my answer. I pee, hold my breath, cross my fingers, watch the clock, say a prayer, then take a look at the stick.
I get what I want: hours to think, uninterrupted sleep, the crack of freedom opening up, the space to reconfigure myself, to fill up again on literature and, possibility, the opportunity to ask myself, What do you want to do today? And then to answer. In that lovely blue minus line that halves the pregnancy test window, I see wholeness. Just like in a high school Algebra equation, a negative can produce a positive result. This time I pass. By failing.