When you’re five-feet tall (just barely) and carrying a 9-pound baby in your belly toward the end of your pregnancy, it must be quite a sight to see. When you’re also pushing the very limits of a blue flowered maternity dress with a white peter pan collar under your big black vintage coat as you make your way from work to home, it must be almost too much to believe.
That blue flowered dress, purchased at Sears, was one of my two maternity-specific items of clothing — the other a hand-me-down black jumper with huge flowers all over it — and the only one suitable for work, so there I was walking along Market Street, after one of my part-time jobs. The dress was a marked improvement over my more usual garb. At school where I was completing a graduate degree, at the library and at home, I was more usually in a pair of stretched-out leggings, a giant men’s thermal shirt and a plaid shirt that had been my great uncle’s.
The dress was definitely an improvement. Women today have so many more options, seriously, when it comes to dressing through those long months of enormity. And most people have a little more money than I did at that time, scraping by, feeling lucky that I qualified for MediCal so I could arrange for a birth with a midwife at a location I knew, rather than winding up in some emergency room somewhere.
I was 24, but I felt older than my years, worn down by a pregnancy that I wanted keenly, worn down too by a weird abandonment by the 5-year boyfriend who didn’t have the balls to stick around or to leave but kept me in a sort of perpetual, tortuous limbo. He’d disappeared one day when I was at the dentist, four months pregnant, getting my teeth cleaned. I came home and all of his belongings were gone, no note. Over the next five months, I never really knew where he was, except that he’d turn up periodically, seem to be back, and then he’d go again. So yeah, I felt pretty old.
By the end of my pregnancy, I was living alone, in a house my parents had inherited following the death of the great uncle whose shirt I wore daily, surrounded by all the possessions of that uncle, my grandmother and my great aunt. I was re-reading Crime and Punishment on my own time, preparing for my oral and written exams for the Master’s, keeping my shit together as best I could, unable to tell anyone what was really happening with me, besides the growing belly.
That part was obvious.
My belly was so big I couldn’t even button my coat anymore.
Old ladies on streetcars would tut at me that I was too young to be having no baby. It’s true that I was young, but my face and height made me seem much younger than I was. I couldn’t blame them for thinking I was a teen mom, though I didn’t appreciate their judgment, that pecking, cawing line of crows at the front of the bus. I ignored them, and hoped someone would give me a seat on the M streetcar, mostly they didn’t, then on the 24 I transferred to to get to the birthing class where everyone was 10 years older, had a partner and also genuine bodily freak-out fear about the process of that baby making its way out.
I had no such fear, really. Sure, watching those movies of babies’ heads crowning over and over again, who doesn’t have a swift Holy Shit moment, No Way can that possibly happen and I will survive. But since I was already all about survival, all about getting from one class to the next, one meal to the next, the cataclysm of birth was something I looked forward to with relief. It was, at least, definite. It would happen, take me over completely, be unstoppable. And I would get to meet my boy.
At that age, because of what was happening to me, not so much the pregnancy or school, but the broken heart, I was so stoic. I didn’t have much choice.
So there I was, probably in early November, returning from my tutoring gig at a downtown university. I didn’t know it then but birth was about 10 days off. I was ready. I knew I was waddling, in my silly get-up.
Walking up Market Street to the BART station, I stopped by a little market and bought a KitKat which I stashed in my pocket. I have deeply, passionately loved chocolate my whole life, and buying myself some that day was definitely a way of giving myself something sweet, something to break the monotony of my own misery. At the same time, since I have always had issues about eating in public, certain that, at the supermarket, someone in line is tallying up the items in my cart and thinking, Girl, you do NOT need to be eating that, deep into my right-hand pocket went the KitKat, furtively unwrapped out-of-sight.
Over the next couple of blocks ambling to the station, I would break off a piece now and again and pop it quickly into my mouth, timing it carefully so that no one would see. The thing about being pregnant and looking like a teen mom, is that the judgey statements just don’t stop. And everyone knows you’re not supposed to eat chocolate when you’re pregnant. I was trying to stay under the radar with this infraction, hoping to escape dirty looks and more public commentary.
As usual, I’d just missed a train, so I took a seat to wait on the platform, hand hovering over my right pocket. That chocolate was some small solace, even though it’s unthinkable to me that I chose a KitKat, something I don’t even really like. I can only imagine the choices were slim. Or that I chose it because it seemed chocolatey, but less so than other options, like a Hershey bar for example, one with almonds.
I sat there in the station and waited, glad to be off my feet.
And suddenly surprised that all that was left in my pocket appeared to be the wrappers. Rooting around carefully, my hand methodically moving from one end of the capacious pocket to the other, checking for chocolate. Nope, nothing, just the papers left. Damn, I really wolfed that thing.
After about another ten minutes, no train, I got up to stretch my legs and check if a train was coming. I approached the edge of the platform and looked down the tunnel toward Embarcadero. Were there lights? Would there be that woosh of pre-train wind blowing in my face, that good sign that the wait was almost over? Nothing.
As I turned my head back, I did notice something out of the corner of my left eye. I looked down, still standing at the edge of the platform, and saw that there, lying comfortably on the enormous blue flowered shelf of my big belly, was a good one-quarter of that KitKat bar. I had been walking around, sitting, waiting, all the while presenting this 2-inch long stick of chocolate to everyone I’d passed on Market Street, everyone in the BART station, everyone on the platform, presenting that recognizable quarter KitKat on the great blue jutting stage of my dress, my open black coat, curtains, neatly framing the scene.
And without a second thought, with the back of my right hand I swept that piece of candy as far away from me as quickly as I could, out onto the third rail, eager to be rid of it before it left a mark. I resumed my seat, a little red-faced. The train arrived a minute later. I got on and went home.
I had expected that KitKat to bring me some kind of consolation as I furtively ate it. It wasn’t the chocolate of my dreams, but it was close enough. It was only an echo of the taste I really wanted, but at the same time it was something. And I did need that. Even then I knew that sometimes a little sweetness in your mouth can really mitigate sorrows elsewhere, can serve as such a powerful reminder that the bitter also passes, doesn’t last forever. And shit, I really needed that then.
But losing one-quarter of that candy bar in the way that I did, being undone in my efforts to sneak food, that was a whole other order of business delivered by that KitKat.
That KitKat was a bigger lesson for me, once I realized what it had done, laid itself out for all to see, laid me out for myself to see, worrying about what other people thought when I had bigger problems of my own to focus on.
I can’t say that experience changed my mind about KitKats as a rule. They’re still not my favorite. As a rule, given the choice, I will choose not-chocolate instead of a KitKat. I’ve without regret passed them up for years since.
And still KitKat and I have this story together. From the lowly not-chocolate of that bar, I learned a lesson I needed to learn. I was so humiliated in those days, all the more so because of the get-up I was forced into. I was so judged by strangers who didn’t know a thing about me. I was alone and keeping a stiff upper lip, not letting on to anyone how much agony I was in mentally, how much I was suffering. I couldn’t tell anyone that. That was an even greater humiliation that I couldn’t take on: a degree of pathetic I couldn’t deal with.
The KitKat experience made me laugh at myself. Sure, I was embarrassed that I’d been walking around with candy on my great big stomach, making myself even clownier because of my sneak-eating, but what a relief it was to laugh. Even at myself. Especially at myself.
I think, though it might sound silly, that from that moment forward I got stronger. Sure, I was still broken-hearted and lonely and tired, but I got the message: do what you want, they’ll say what they want, but you got this. This having a baby, becoming a mother by yourself, you got this. You will not have to wear clown clothes forever.
And when you want sweet, have it. Eat it. Show it.
As you may or may not know, I'm participating in National Novel Writing Month and National Blog Posting Month every day in November, what I'm calling #NaNoWriBloPoMo. These were today's 1,783 words. Loving this experience so much!
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