Strings Attached: What Happens When You Get Pregnant with Your Ex-Husband?
I sat in the stripped backyard of late winter and tried to think what our futures would look like. I didn't doubt that T would take care of the baby financially, but at this point money was the least of my worries. By nature I'm a low-energy person. When I tried to imagine even just bending to pick the baby up, I would see, as in a commercial for assisted living, a stray hand shoot to my lower back, hear a deep moan as my knees buckled. It was also becoming clear that T wouldn't say or do anything not approved by the girlfriend he was scrambling to keep. A ground rule of their probationary reunion was that T and I never be alone together. This meant T could come to the birth only if his girlfriend came, to which—during the last two hot, bloated, bitchy, scary, sleepless months—I wrote and called, and texted, "NO."
At semester's end, my students finally asked about the pregnancy. They wanted to know if I would write about it. I wasn't quite sure what to say. I was due in a few weeks, and already I felt shady in public, like everyone was looking me over, wondering who I thought I was and where exactly I'd come by this baby. I wondered these things myself. I didn't even know when I would see T again, but since my students wanted to hear about him and since it was a writing class, I found myself telling them about our first married years, when I would follow T around our apartment with awful, horrible early drafts of stories and novels and read aloud to him during Monday Night Football commercial breaks. We both had math backgrounds and knew nothing about the stuff I was trying to write. He'd hand back a few hundred pages and say, "I can't tell if that character's stuck in a bathtub or a taxicab." But he believed, or seemed to, that if I just kept going, eventually a shape would appear in the chaos.
I didn't know, as I stood trying to explain things to my class, that a week after our daughter's birth, T and his girlfriend would fly out to meet her. Or that by 6 months, they'd be seeing her regularly, with me flying her to San Diego and staying in a hotel or, for longer visits, turning right around and flying home on the same plane. I had no reason to believe, back then, that our funny little family would ever spend more than a few airport minutes together at a time, and certainly nothing to prepare me for the afternoon of my daughter's second Halloween, when her father—newly broken up with his girlfriend—would spontaneously get on an airplane to take her trick-or-treating.
When my ex-brother-in-law learned we were expecting a baby, he e-mailed me: "Why am I not surprised? You guys never did anything the normal way." This was true. Fifteen years earlier, T had asked me out over a dot-matrix printer at work; for our first date, he took me to see Blue Velvet at the Brew & View in Chicago. We sat at a wobbling cocktail table and drank Pabst Blue Ribbon and made each other laugh, and he leaned forward and smiled the way his daughter does now—the way she did that Halloween, strutting between us in a peacock costume and holding our hands, every few feet jumping into a swing, landing and looking up to confirm that we were really both there at once, together but apart, a trick and a treat.
April Wilder is the author of This Is Not an Accident: Stories (Viking).
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