Toward the end of graduate school, I thought I might end my “bad girl” days and couple up with a sweet friend who’d been pining for me. It was hopefully cozy for a while, but didn’t survive a long-distance summer separation. By late June, I’d rolled into dorm-bed with some alterna-mimbo undergrad. My sweet guy and I spent Fourth of July weekend breaking up. Sad talks on the beach, sad talks under the fireworks, sad silent drive home. Aimee Mann’s first solo album was out, and her song “Fourth of July” pretty much set the tone for that one.
And many others, it turned out. Some people have ironically melancholy Valentines Days. I have ironically melancholy Fourths of July. For whatever reason, my summer romances just couldn’t make it past Independence Day.
The following summer, I had high hopes for short-term thrills with a Borders clerk who played in a Grateful Dead cover band. I know, I know. But he had such a boundless capacity for joy, a great laugh, great make-out skills, and access to his parents’ beach house. Why the hell not? And I really liked him. But by Fourth of July weekend, this dude who’d been nothing but starry-eyed suddenly disdained me with a “get lost little sister” attitude. I spent that Independence Day watching fireworks on my roommate’s boyfriend’s roof, sadly acknowledging that Jack Straw wanted nothing to do with me anymore.
Another summer, I walked a dangerous line with a co-worker from a branch office. After years of phone flirtation and one Lost In Translationy business trip together, we were poised to have an affair. He claimed he was in an open marriage, and while I wasn’t naïve enough to believe it, I was selfish enough to pretend I did. We’d never so much as kissed, but we were ready to take the plunge. After that trip, I went home to Philadelphia and waited. Waited for a letter from him. Waited for news that he’d be in town for work. A week went by. Then two. Then almost three.
I’d just started a new job, my first corporate job. One day I happened to glance out the window in time to catch a flower delivery guy walking across our rainy parking lot with a comically huge bouquet of undelivered sunflowers in his arms. I froze. Somehow I just knew they were for me. Married Guy had once asked me what my favorite flower was, and I’d said sunflowers. I was brand new to the company and not on any distribution lists yet. The receptionist probably sent the flower delivery guy away. Thank God. I watched those giant sunflowers, their huge heads bobbing foolishly in the rain, and I knew it was never going to happen with Married Guy. The flowers were waiting for me in my apartment building when I got home. I composed my “thank you / let’s bee friends” letter and set out for a long walk to think it all through. Fireworks filled the sky as I stepped onto the sidewalk.
And then, just six months later, Mr. Black came into my life. Our Fourths were a little boring sometimes, but never heartbreaking.
Not quite one year into the marriage, and: What could this mean? My period hasn’t stopped in almost two weeks. The nurse asks if I’m using birth control, I reply no and tell her we’ve been trying to have a baby. The nurse instructs me to buy a home pregnancy test and call them if it’s positive.
Maybe I wasn’t naïve and hopeful enough to believe that Married Guy was in an open relationship. But I was over-the-moon naïve and hopeful about this. Somehow the two weeks of bleeding – not to mention an early miscarriage I’d had a few months prior – was not enough of a warning sign for me. I practically skipped with joy to the pharmacy, bought a bunch of home pregnancy tests, and thrilled as each set of double lines popped more positive than the last! Hooray! After eight months of trying and one early pregnancy loss, it was really happening! Who knew that two weeks of bleeding could be a pregnancy sign?
Well, I called the doctor’s office from work the next day to discreetly report my delightful news and await further instructions. But something wasn’t quite right in the nurse’s tone. And the questions she was asking…it didn’t seem like a conversation between a newly pregnant woman and her nurse. It seemed more serious. And I had to ask:
“So…does this mean I’m…pregnant?”
“Well…,” the nurse replied, “…it means…you were.”
Ah, crying at work. Watching those pink cubicle walls go all blurry as I fumble my way through the rest of the conversation. Who doesn’t love that? Lucky for me, my boss was on vacation and I had the key to her office. I slipped in, shut the door, and sobbed like a freshman.
Thankfully, we had Fourth of July off and I could do the rest of my crying in the comfort of our bedroom. And backyard. And couch. And bathroom floor. We tried to make the holiday fun, like it’s supposed to be. I remember hazily trying to pick out fancy deli foods at the natural foods co-op for a picnic. I remember drinking blender after blender of margaritas. I remember watching a “Daria” marathon on TV while Mr. Black went to a party. And when the fireworks started, I sat alone on our front steps listening to another drunken party down the street and watching glimpses of distant pinks and purples sparkling behind the trees.
And I thought about how far I’d come since breaking up with my sweet grad-school boyfriend under the fireworks. This would be another one of those summers. Never thought I’d be back there again. I had no idea, all these years later, that my summers of break-ups would prepare me for this. The losses were similar: loss of a relationship, loss of a pregnancy I didn’t even know I’d had. While it’s an actual, tangible loss in one sense, it’s really about the loss of hopes and dreams; the loss of an ideal.
And I wondered to myself, where will I be next year? Will I be sitting here on these steps watching the fireworks, but four months pregnant? Will we be filling out adoption paperwork? Or maybe even comforting a newborn baby who’s frightened by the noise?
I remembered my doctor’s comforting remark that I had a 90% chance of a healthy pregnancy next time. So now, the necessary months of healing were ahead of me. I had to go on and be hopeful again. I had to wake up and see the trees and the sunshine and the sweet blue eyes of my husband. Watch some movies. Drink some grapefruit juice. I had to draw on whatever wisdom I’d gained from the single days and hope for a similar happy outcome. We were on our path.
Happy Independence Day.