Cycling

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Chapter Twenty-Nine

“Knock, knock. Who’s there? I am, any time you want to talk.”

I wanted to smile when I saw the text from Julianne, but instead I felt tears stinging my eyes. I’d have to call her when I felt like I could. Who knew when I would feel up to making phone calls? I wasn’t even sure what day it was.

It had to be a weekday, because Ben was at work. Tuesday, maybe? I checked the display on my phone. Thursday?! How had I lost two days?

The sight of the date triggered the reflexive, immediate response: now it’s been twenty-seven days since my daughter died.

Everyone had been right, of course. After losing Anna, I immediately regretted leaving my job. Ben got up every morning and went in to work, while I spent my days now secluded in my bedroom, the curtains drawn, lights off, TV blaring mindlessly in the background. The sheets on the bed were wrinkled and dirty. Without somewhere to be every day, I had zero motivation. I didn’t shower, I didn’t get dressed, and some days I didn’t even eat until Ben came home. I was a bit jealous that he had somewhere to be every day. He could go into work and forget for a few hours how terrible our lives had become. I wanted that. I wanted to be able to forget about that brief period of time when we finally had everything we had ever wanted. If I forgot about how happy we were then, when we had our daughter, maybe I could get on with my life.

It had been three days since we’d had that conversation. The kids conversation.

“I can’t bury another child,” Ben had said.

We were sitting on the couch in the living room, eating Chinese food straight from the containers. Plates were a luxury for those who weren’t grieving. The grief-stricken had only forks and yoga pants covered in food stains.

Of course, we hadn’t buried our daughter, she’d been cremated. Regardless, I had to agree with Ben: losing another child would be the end of me. I couldn’t ever be in that position again. No more children for us. No chance for a living child. No more fertility treatments. No more shots, or ultrasounds, or bloodwork. After nearly five years, we were finally done, our goal left unaccomplished. We were still missing our baby.

Without a reason to push me to pull myself together, I became less and less willing to try. Every night I would crawl into bed in my same dirty yoga pants, my hair unwashed and tangled. Ben looked only marginally better, because he showered every morning. But his facial hair was getting long, and he suddenly looked much older. There were streaks of gray in his hair and creases on his forehead where there hadn’t been before. It was clear that we were both suffering, even if one of us was able to pull himself out of bed every day.

I heaved myself out of the bed, and changed into cleaner yoga pants, a signal that I was starting my day. The stretchy cotton pants were too tight around my middle, and my stomach spilled over the waistband. Thanks, take out and junk food. Now not even yoga pants fit.

I went instead to my closet and pulled out a pair of maternity jeans. Much better. I don’t know why I bothered to put on regular clothes in the first place. The stretchy panel where a waistband would normally be was far more flattering on my flabby postpartum body. I had been so stringent in my care of my body since we had begun trying to conceive, cutting out caffeine and alcohol and anything that research or rumors said was keeping me from the baby I so desperately wanted. Now that my body had failed me again, I was turning on it, done trying to do right by myself.

The doorbell rang, and I took my time heading downstairs, not wanting company, but also not wanting to alienate anyone who might be coming to check on us. As with every few days since Anna’s death, there was a bag of groceries on the porch. Paige was leaving them, I knew, and I appreciated that she didn’t linger when she dropped them off. I was still excited for Paige, anxious to meet her son, hopeful that things would continue to progress normally for her. I was also jealous, and bitter that she had this time that was denied to me. I was jealous that her son would be born healthy in another three or four weeks, that she would be able to take him home. He would sleep in the carefully decorated nursery. He would play with the toys given to him by friends and family. He would wear the impossibly tiny clothes. He would grow to coo and cry, speak and walk, to do all the things that Anna would not.

Anna’s nursery would sit empty, waiting for a child that would never arrive. We had decorated in pink and white, the white furniture striking against the pale pink walls that Ben had painted with such glee. Now we would never use the room. Never sit with our baby in the glider, giving her a bottle in the middle of the night. Never hear the tinkling music from the mobile. That life was lost to us. Anna was lost to us.

So while I was happy for Paige, because she was getting something she had worked so hard for, I couldn’t see her. Not yet. Not while I was struggling through the heartbreak of what we had lost. Hopefully in time I would be able to see her son without thinking of the daughter I had been denied. Until then, I would continue to remain deep in my cave, not venturing out, because no one needed me more than I needed to get better. Maybe it didn’t seem like I was doing anything to get better yet, but hiding in my cave was what I needed at this point. I knew Paige would understand, and that she and Julianne would give me all the time I needed. They would be there to help me pick up the pieces of myself, as soon as I was ready to let them.

I took the groceries to the kitchen, putting the milk in the fridge, the bread on the counter. Fresh fruit went into the fridge as well, and the freshly baked cookies, still slightly warm from the oven, came with me back to our bedroom. They would serve as my breakfast and my lunch today.

I thought about texting the girls, letting Julianne know that I appreciated her ongoing efforts to reach out to me, letting Paige know that I appreciated the food that she brought. They both knew it already, which was how I justified not texting them. It was how I justified never thanking Paige, who was taking care of us when she needed help herself. It was how I justified ignoring Julianne, who told me every few days that she was here whenever I was ready. Whenever I scrolled through the messages that my friends had sent me over the last twenty-seven days, and I felt a surge of comfort through my body. I wasn’t ready to see them, but I knew I had their support, and that was enough to get me through today, at least.

Instead of reaching out to my friends, I turned to my only source of company: daytime talk shows, soap operas, and, blessedly, streaming services that allowed me to binge-watch as much mindless television as I could stomach. Reality TV was my new best friend. This fame-hungry family, those women behaving badly, these people searching for love in all the wrong places. Filling my mind with this drivel was a far better option than thinking of how things were supposed to be. I shouldn’t have time for TV.

I settled onto the bed, remote in one hand, the bag of cookies in the other. The sheets were prickly against my skin, and I stood up to brush the previous day’s crumbs from the bed before settling back down. Sitting in my own filth; I’d sunk to a new low.

I found a cooking competition marathon, and settled back against the pillows, ready to stuff my face while watching people do what I never learned to. The cookies were delicious, peanut butter this time, and I pictured Paige, overflowing with child, bustling around her kitchen to make me some comfort food. Meanwhile my fat ass couldn’t manage to wash the bedsheets.

I sighed and heaved myself out of the bed, determined to at least do this one thing. At the very least, Ben deserved to sleep in a crumb-free bed. And probably a couple of cookies too. I’d have to force myself to save some for him.

It was easy to forget that Ben was in the midst of this grief as well. After all, he was at work every day. He wasn’t stuck in bed, binging on cookies and TV. He was functioning in a way I couldn’t, but he was still suffering.

On the way to the laundry room with cookies and sheets in hand, I dropped the cookies in the kitchen. Ben deserved more than couple cookies. I’d leave the rest for him. Well. One more for me. And clean sheets.

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