Another sunny day in Venice, I only had enough money for an Americano and a vegan muffin- after that I would have to fast until moving in with Jeph for my residency. He already told me he stocked the fridge with vegan goodies and plotted my bus route. Bless the day I met Jeph.
I wanted another day to be lazy with Jerry by the beach. I came early to LA in order to look for places to live, but without a car and no money in sight- I resigned to being a bum. Its not hard being poor, you have lots of time on your hands but no money to do anything. So you conserve your energy, lay around, drink coffee and think.
Lana came to visit. After my one meal for the day, she waddled down Speedway, glowing from pregnancy in her chocolate freckles and reached her arms around me. I sank into her and felt the Mommy all over her.
We have been good friends for 5 years, and though I am not the type of friend who drops by for weekly coffee or drinks, or goes shopping with the girls, or shows up on her Facebook pictures, there is some kind of bond between us. She has seen the worst of the worst from me, and she was there for most of it- the venting, the crying, and the chain smoking.
She saw me through the relationship with Eric, especially the last year which was psychologically and physically brutal. She alternated between being supportive and trying to talk sense into me. Somehow she always knew which I needed when. During the lowest period, she sent me a picture of a tumor hanging off a tree trunk and said, “This is Eric.” Whenever I think of my relationship with Eric now, I always think of that huge tumor. It really gives the whole thing perspective.
When my first cat died, she drove her car out to see me first thing in the morning. Her car broke down on the way. Another friend picked her up and drove her the rest of the way so she could hold me when I cried.
She loves my animals, brings them gifts and coos over them, even though she is so allergic and has to wash her hands almost immediately after a visit. When I tell her about a new boyfriend, her eyes light up with hope. I always feel like I somehow disappoint her when it doesn’t work out, but usually she is the one who tells me when it’s time to let go.
I can only do one thing for Lana in return, make her laugh. It doesn’t seem like a fair trade, but I will take it. It’s hard to find good friends, but my little Los Angeles assortment continues to impress me. They are not a group of friends who all know each other in one united constellation, they all only really know me as one person and remain loyal. God, I miss them. Now, more than ever.
She used to say, “I wonder how your animals are always so fat and you are always so skinny. What’s happening?”
This time she said, “You look great! You have a suntan, you don’t look too skinny, I love your bangs . . . you are glowing.” I told her I got laid 50 ways til Tuesday.
We took a walk on the beach, and were chased up the sand by the afternoon tide. When the water came in, closing in on our feet, we jogged inland, clucking like chickens and flirting with the seagulls.
I told her stories until she had to massage her smile down. I love it when that happens, when I can make her smile so much, she has to rub her cheek muscles.
She said she was having weird dreams about her childhood dog during pregnancy. “They are so vivid. Its so real, it’s frightening. I can feel her. I mean, really feel her.”
I said, “That must be nice though, to feel her like she still exists. Like an affirmation that she still exists.”
Laughing, she shook her head, “Wait til it happens to you. That’s all I gotta say. Wait til you start dreaming of Frances.” That’s my dead cat.
I said, “She doesn’t have time to visit me. She is God’s cat.” She was far too bizarre and cool to be a mortal’s cat, so she went back home to hang with the big man.
We walked around the sand and down the boardwalk, passed the ruffled locals selling marijuana dispensary memberships and pizza by the slice, the burning sage, the overpriced yet mediocre paintings and she told me money was becoming a big issue. She was unemployed and her husband was working, but they were still crammed in a one bedroom waiting for the baby.
She said, “I think I am going through a midlife crisis. Like I have no money. Nothing. Thank God for that Ellen show. Did I tell you I got on the Ellen show, for that Mommy special?”
I said, “NO!”
“Not on on. I got into the audience for this special Mother’s Day episode where there were only letting expecting mothers sit in the studio audience. I got on the list months ahead of time because I hear you get all this free stuff. I don’t watch ‘Ellen’ so . . . whatever.
Pregnant women found out and started asking me to get on the show. I guess its a big deal. But, I couldn’t even bring a plus one. Women who were past 33 weeks had to have someone there, but even they all had to wait in this room together. They couldn’t sit in the audience either.
So yeah, I was in the far back corner with the three other women of color. But I didn’t care. I don’t need to be on TV. I just needed the free stuff. And thank GOD, because I didn’t know how we would’ve gotten some of this stuff otherwise,” she said.
“Yeah, I mean they pack your car and the rest was given to us via voucher. But we don’t have room in our 1-bedroom so we are thinking of moving. We can’t afford a 2-bedroom anywhere good, so we are looking at places in bad areas.”
I said, “Oh no . . . like what? Inglewood? Southern LA?”
I continued, “Ugh, I can’t even think about it.”
“Yeah, it’s finally come to that,” she said.
We made our way around the outdoor pubs and hot dog stands, back to Jerry’s.
“Abe kept asking that we talk on-line or by phone, and I said we should schedule a time since my sleep schedule was off, but he never did. We never connected.” I rattled this off quickly just to get it out of the way.
She said, “I am kinda over Abe.”
Nodding, my brow crunched, I said, “Yeah . . . he is making me work. I didn’t have to work for anyone in France.”
Jerry’s door was left open for us and she walked in to lean against his sofa.
She casually continued openly talking about her pregnancy, “There are things about pregnancy they don’t tell you, like your hips are changing. I mean, my tailbone hurts. And that waddle isn’t from having a big belly, it’s from the bones in your back changing.
The other thing they don’t tell you is the baby kicks your vagina. The first time you start feeling it, its like . . . kicking your vagina. So I went on-line and found out, oh yeah, it’s normal for them to kick your vagina. One woman commented, ‘Wait til they kick you in your butt.’ And it has.
I mean, the baby moves around in my belly, and later you feel it in this section (she motioned to her belly button), but when the baby moves you feel it in your organs. Once, he was standing on my cervix, and I thought, ‘Hm, do I want to lay down or have sex? I don’t know.’
We went to the movies to see ‘Prometheus’, and that was just . . . too much pregnant.” She shuddered.
I never have her for long periods of time, just patches in an afternoon. I walked her back to her car, parked half a mile away where she wouldn’t get towed. I was too poor to go to her wedding, I was too poor to buy her a baby gift, and now I was too poor to take her to lunch. Both of us hungry, trudged along, the minutes holding no pressure or weight, just dropping out beneath us as we kept making way.
There wasn’t a lot of traffic in Venice for June. We zigzagged through the streets and I listened to what it would be like if I were another kind of woman:
“I wanted to get a midwife, and it turns out Kaiser has midwives, so we made this appointment. She made us wait for a really long time, and then when we finally saw her, she was rude. I asked, ‘So what is a midwife, exactly?’ She said, ‘Exactly what it means.’ So I thought, ‘OKKKK.’
She said that no matter what, doctors still are the only ones that deliver the babies, even if you have a midwife. And, also, all midwives are off at 11pm every night, no matter what. I mean . . . what if I go into labor after 11pm, and if the doctor is there no matter what, what’s the point? She was just really rude and only saw us for 10 minutes, and still charged us the whole office visit fee. So we asked for a refund,” she smiled, “it’s been forwarded to the complaints department. You know, it’s just for the principle,” she said.
I tapped that off with a “What a bitch.”
When I socialize with Lana, she always has this low, rich, calm voice no matter what she is saying, sometimes I wonder if its because she is a Quaker or if its in her nature, but there is fire in her eyes. We got to her car and she said, “I am finding to have a baby the way you want is really a luxury.”
I worried. Though her voice was level as she gracefully strolled down the shiny sidewalk, I worried about the stress and her baby, about their insurance, about the baby’s education and where they would end up. As I sit here now, thinking about her, the mixed race baby, the unsteady work, the rocking ship we are all holding on to, the real truth is it doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter if you have a midwife or are stuck in an elevator alone, if you live near Venice or South Central, it doesn’t matter if you are coasting along in a permanent job or drifting around thinking about waiting tables again, all that matters is you love that baby.
He will know his Mother. He will learn how to surf. He will find out what real funny is. He will learn all the words to Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. He will know what a real hug is before he can walk. He will fail and learn, not fail and fall. He will find what it is to guide someone in the right direction, without critically yanking them there. He will understand how to be a man, but be gentle. Or she will understand how to be a woman and harness strength.
He will know he is wanted.
That baby will be a king. (or a queen . . . she thinks king)