“The little trouble in the world that is not due to love is due to friendship.” –E.W. Howe
Right between the eggs and the milk, I go into menopause. Shoving my head into the store’s cooler, I pretend to find the expiration date on the eggs as my own unfertilized eggs are expiring. I inhale the cold air and wipe my sweaty bangs off my forehead. I push the sleeves of my sweater up past my elbows. Please pass quickly. The water works are starting.
Why am I crying? There is a feeling of loss, but of what? Loss of youth. Loss of my eggs. Loss of friends. I have no idea. Pull yourself together. You could be a starving child in Africa. Great, now my sadness is guilt. I bite the dry skin off my bottom lip, making a mental note to pick up lip balm.
I pull my head out of the fridge as a busty blonde twenty years younger than me bounces up in a mini skirt, tank top, and lavender Birkenstocks. She’s dressed the way I should be right now with this sudden heat rush. Although, wearing a swimsuit sounds better. Then I remember, I’m standing in the local Piggly Wiggly and it’s only fifty degrees outside. Typical April weather in the Midwest unlike last week when it dumped two inches of snow on us and forced me to drag out my winter coat, which of course I just had dry cleaned and packed away for next year.
I eye her again. Why is she dressed for a backyard BBQ? Kids these days. Now my thoughts have transformed me into an eighty-year-old woman.
Seeing her thin frame forces me to acknowledge my flabby belly, and I wonder when that happened. Before Jessica Rabbit can ask me where the whipped cream is, I grab a carton of eggs, keep my head down, and hurry down the Mexican food aisle. That’s when I notice I’m wearing my slippers. Ugh. How could I have forgotten to change out of them? All this rushing around is making me lose my mind. I should cut myself a break. These slippers are the comfiest slipper-shoes I’ve ever worn. It’s like sinking my feet into the fur of an alpaca.
Some woman says to me with a big, toothy grin, “Tacos are a good option. Taco Tuesday! And my kids will eat it.”
“Yeah,” I mumble. I’m not in the mood to talk about meals with a random mom. Is this what my life has been reduced to? Aisle 7 and tacos. I really need something hot and spicy in my life other than salsa and hot flashes. I remind myself that this is the life I wanted. Well, not exactly. I didn’t think through all the details like the endless hours it takes to meal plan. It seemed more glamorous the way I dreamt it.
In my imagination, as a stay-at-home mom, everything magically fell into place. What was I thinking? I’ve never worked harder in my life and I worked retail once—for five long, grueling hours before quitting. Shoppers can be crazy. Like me, right now.
I’ve moved to Aisle 8–international foods. I’m back to thinking about the starving children in Africa. It’s hot in Africa. I flush again like the scorching sun bore a hole in the ceiling and found my face.
Am I really going into menopause? My mom told me she started experiencing perimenopausal symptoms early. What did that mean? How early? I’m forty. This early? I tick off the symptoms in my mind. Hot flashes—check. Weight gain—check. Missed period—um, maybe? I need to check. Extremely irritable—check.
Speaking of irritability, my mood turned sour when I scrolled through social media for the first time in four weeks to find all these photos of the women in my neighborhood, together. My so-called “friends” and fellow soccer moms, having a grand old time without me—attending a ballet, playing Bunco, and enjoying brunch. All planned by Beatrice. I have a derogatory “B” word to add to the string of “Bs” in this situation.
I hadn’t been invited to any of it. Beatrice, my “closest” friend of the bunch and leader of the pack, excluded me. I find it odd. We’ve gone months and months without a social gathering. Now they had three in the last month. I checked to make sure they weren’t reposted memories from years ago which makes little sense anyway because I would have been there. Nope. They were current and staring me square in the face. Before social media, I wouldn’t have felt excluded because I wouldn’t have seen the photos of them whooping it up without me.
“Fallon, my love, you know social media is the downfall of society.” I hear Max’s words echoing off the walls inside my head. He’s right. He doesn’t do social media because the last thing he wants is for one of his patients to find him. It’s bad enough I see the social media community posts about the “McDreamy gyno” in town. The words conjure up images of my husband’s hands between another woman’s legs. I’ve learned to replace those thoughts with cute puppies canoodling by a fireplace. What choice do I have? I knew what I had gotten myself into when I married him. I tell myself he’s not at the strip club or into porn. It’s a job. I’ve learned to roll with it.
The last thing I posted four weeks ago is a photo of me and Max at an upscale restaurant in town, celebrating our fifteenth anniversary. My new sapphire ring sparkles brilliantly against the flute brimming with effervescent bubbly. I hadn’t even staged the photo. All my so-called “friends” liked it and commented the obligatory, “Happy Anniversary, Fallon and Max!” All of them except Beatrice.
I push my cart into the checkout lane. The cashier eyes the eight different brands of chocolate in my cart. When she asks me how I am, tears spring to my eyes again. I don’t feel like explaining they’re for research. I mumble something. Who knows what? I’m not making any sense. I’m not drunk, but this whole situation would be so much more tolerable had I been. I throw on my oversized sunglasses.
I double-click the trunk button on my key fob and load my groceries into my Jeep. I keep repeating to myself, “Turn your pain into power.” I have no idea where that came from, but it makes sense. I really need to turn my shitty mood around pronto because in an hour I’ll be with my daughter, Maya, and twenty other smiling seven-year-olds making hand puppets. I shut my hatchback door on my head. “Shit!” Tiny stars flash in front of my eyes and I blink back tears. I rub my head. “Turn your pain into power…Go stuff your mantra.”
Something hard crashes into my leg, and I wince in pain. Can this day get any worse?
“Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry.” A woman pulls back her shopping cart and a box of diapers rolls off the bottom. A little boy next to her bounces a toy airplane off of her hip. As she steps around the cart, her protruding belly, barely covered by a t-shirt, knocks into the cart and it hits me again.
“Here, let me get those for you,” I say, bending down to pick up the box of diapers. “It looks like you have your hands full.”
“Thank you. I’m so sorry. I hope your leg is okay.” She smooths down her hair which is standing up in all different directions. Her boy suddenly runs off and she’s screaming, “Benny, come back here right now!” She waddles after him.
A minute later she returns with Benny. Tears stain her cheeks.
“Where is your car?” I ask her.
She points to a white van.
“I’ll get this for you,” I say and take the cart. I remember days like this when Maya was a toddler.
“Really? It’s been kind of challenging with my three-year-old and you know.” She glances down at her stomach.
“You must be exhausted. When are you due?”
“You’re in the home stretch,” I say and smile, following her to her van.
Maya was late and that extra week had me going crazy. I ate all the spicy food I could find. I even drove over railroad tracks to induce labor. Nothing worked. She arrived when she wanted.
While I load her groceries, she straps Benny into his car seat.
She throws her arms around me. “I can’t thank you enough. You’ve really helped so much.”
I hug her back, trying not to squish the unborn baby between us, and then just like that she’s on her way. Maybe we both needed that hug.
After volunteering at school where I become the target of projectile vomit, I return home and clean myself up. As I ice the bump on my head from slamming it in the hatchback, I mindlessly scan social media. A sponsored ad pops up for a new local pub that serves truffle fries and loaded nachos—two of my absolute favorite comfort foods. Those will put me in a better mood. I know just the friends who will check it out with me. Then I think back through all the events they’ve left me out of. The realization hits me hard. I slam my computer shut and open a box of assorted chocolates instead. With every bite, I try to detect the ingredient in each piece. This research isn’t good for my waistline, but I lick my fingers of the last bit of chocolate, anyway. I’m ready to perfect a new recipe.
I whisk the cream and chocolate together, add the vanilla extract and blend. I inhale the sweet scent. Intoxicated by the smell, I think about why it has taken me so long to make my own chocolate. Maya had been in school full-time for two-and-a-half years. It took that much time to organize my closets, sell my maternity clothes and shoes I had tired of, decorate my home, and get a routine down for the million other things mothers do. Of course, I had to account for emergencies like running to school to drop off stuff Maya had forgotten, like snack, lunch, and gym shoes, which happens at least twice a week. I finally had gotten to a place where I could do something I enjoyed.
Scientific studies say chocolate releases endorphins like sex. For me, making it is cathartic. Though, why I do it is more than that. If I’m being honest with myself, it’s because I turned forty and feel as if half my life is over and I have nothing to show for it.
Chocolate invigorates me. It reminds me of my childhood and Grandma Rose. Grandma stock piled her pantry full of Fannie May, so she would always have something sweet to offer for a last-minute gift or to an impromptu guest, or in my case a sad child who scraped a knee or bumped her head.
I spent a lot of time with Grandma Rose because both my parents worked full-time and long hours. Besides, Grandpa passed away before I was born, and I think Grandma Rose enjoyed my company.
On any given day, women filled her home—playing cards or crocheting together. I’d sit at my grandma’s feet with my own box of chocolates while the women drank tea and talked about the latest buzz in town—the new car the Smiths bought, or the renovations on the library, or the neighbor’s cat who got stuck in the gutter during a rainstorm.
Their stories always started with, “Did you hear…?” I love those memories. Now that I’m an adult, those are the friendships I crave, too. When Grandma Rose got sick, those women were by her side reading to her, recounting memories, and filling her room with love and laughter right until the day she crossed over. God rest her soul.
I fight back tears and lick the spoon. I shudder to think no woman would be so kind to me. I spoon the chocolate into the heart molds. I glance past the kitchen table at the framed photographs on the living room wall. My eyes stop on the picture of me, Elenore, Sandra, Beatrice, and Lyla standing on the rocks lining a lake at a nearby park. I remember that day well. Beatrice planned a Sunday family outing for all of us. She reserved a small pavilion with picnic tables she covered with white and red checkered tablecloths. I made puppy chow mix and brought sliced watermelon. We grazed on finger sandwiches, potato chips, and various side salads. Lyla snuck in flasks of rum and we spiked our sodas. We reeked of alcohol. When the forest ranger strolled by, we offered him cake and he turned a blind eye to our shenanigans. Cake always works.
In the warm sun, we played bocce ball, cornhole, and croquet until the kids crashed. I enlarged the photo of the women and framed it. Never mind that Lyla fell into the lake right after, and Sandra jumped in to save her. We fished them both out with a broken tree branch. Other than that, it turned out to be a picture-perfect day—a happy day with our perfect friends. We even started most of our stories with, “Did you hear…?”
I think about the recent social media posts and what they have excluded me from. Hadn’t they remembered all our fun days together? Wasn’t I an important part of this group? If they lost me, wouldn’t it be like losing a leg? There must be an explanation.
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