The reader must understand that Ashley is beautiful or the story will not translate accurately from my mind, which is in this case reality. She is beautiful in every sense of the word. Yes, beautiful as a husband sees his wife as beautiful. Full of inner beauty, yes, of course. However she is also stunningly beautiful. Auburn hair and dark eyes, a small slender stature and long graceful arms with delicate hands. Her nails even, upon eventual notice of a man, are exquisitely beautiful. If you saw the picture I once had in my wallet you would punch my shoulder. There are more in my phone. Her grandmother thinks she could be the America’s Next Top Short Model. She is a beautiful girl, and as beautiful as she is, she is also wonderful. When I speak of her, imagine the most beautiful brown skinned girl. When your wife is seven months pregnant, you find yourself saying beautiful a lot. Which she most certainly is.
I found Ashley downtown, plus a few of my broke artist friends. Her show was nice and I quickly fell into a plate of cheese cubes and strawberries. There was free wine, but I haven’t mentioned yet how I gave up alcohol. Entirely, for camaraderie during the pregnancy.
We went out with our broke artist friends for a late nightcap of soup. There is a picture in my phone of Ashley, a beach ball under her shirt, a hand rolled cigarette in her mouth and a brown paper bag with a can resting on the beach ball. I should mention the cigarette wasn’t lit, it hadn’t been a beach ball, and my Coke Zero was in the sack.
The whole night I wanted to eat and fall over asleep. Preferably with something to eat. I biked home late and Ashley got a ride, not so environmentally useful.
There were days early on when I biked her to work. She was a school crossing guard a mile or so away. On the luggage rack with our unborn son, she held on, me pedaling ferociously and holding my legs out to coast without gaining speed. A plastic stop sign was her cushion until the day it cracked. You could blame it on the beach ball. Or maybe not, it was the first trimester.
Twice a day we did this. Or at least she walked. The rest of the time she spent in agonizing exhaustion watching Glee on Netflix until she’d seen every season. Then school let out for summer. For most of that time she painted every day. Then the consistency of paint tubes made her nauseous. When she couldn’t paint she constructed nests out of fabric. They were more like beehives, and inside them she hid secrets, handwritten on paper that could be read with a peering flashlight.
One of them said, “Levon’s friend came by and I yelled at him in my panties. I thought he was Levon.”
She hates it when I interrupt her from painting. It was unfortunate that my friend came around the side entrance, yelling through the kitchen door about borrowing a reciprocating saw. She stormed around the corner, seven months pregnant and topless. She snipped. “What?!”
When I came home later, my saw had been left on the bench outside. I didn’t know why.
It was impossible for Ashley’s work not to reflect the beginnings of motherhood. Like she does everything else, she took it with grave internalization and idealism. We were having the baby at a birthing center with a midwife. We read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” and a stack of natural birth books. For me it was more like “Wear a mustache and be supportive.” That’s how you coach, and that’s what I did.
She maintained a strict diet. No caffeine, nothing herbal, no sprouts, nothing with red raspberry, and no sugar. She was most terrified of having a big baby, barely weighing a normal 100 lbs herself. There was no published advice she found too strict. If evidence was found inconclusive, she veered away from the risk. Not even our garden was organic enough. In the end, our baby was built on popcorn. Organic popcorn and olive oil.
The pregnancy hadn’t been entirely planned. We weren’t trying, yet we weren’t exactly holding hands under the couch cushions. The idea that we could actually be pregnant, after seven years of just us (nine really), was exhilarating. We’d bought a home test and failed. Then we bought a three pack, which I suppose means that you are trying. When two lines finally arrived on the strip we did something totally irrational. We sold our only car. One of those “if not now, then when” decisions.
The car sale proved to be a tiresome move, at least for me, and a discourse on social and environmental benefits can be found elsewhere. Ashley loved it, so much that she hardly left the house. I’d been writing a blog and selling downloads of my albums so we didn’t really need it. At the time we didn’t eat much, drug wood home to burn for warmth, or slept on the cool concrete slab in the summers. We caught our rainwater for the garden. It wasn’t so much that we wanted to be hippies, we just couldn’t reach the poverty line if you totaled the previous three years.
Ashley is a very talented artist. On the side of my writing hit-tastic indy shit, we decided that Ashley should hand the marketing responsibilities over to me. That way she could focus solely on her painting. One thing people don’t realize is that someone has to actually be good enough to starve as an artist. If you suck you’ll get spit out instantly and have to do something else. To starve takes more than perseverance, it takes a morsel here and there of momentary success. Like when we moved to New York City, it was an immediate fail and we didn’t have the goods to even starve there. We starved in other places for certain, which was wonderful, but we were never in the game to starve in New York. Too cold, and too little cheese.
Ashley is good enough to starve anywhere she wants. Paris even, but it matters little that she is good enough. I can stand by her work and see an expression of strength hidden within a whimsical creation of playfulness. No person could duplicate her. Anyone would see it if they took the time.
Ashley was making a baby about the way she makes anything else. With an attention to excellence and hopeful belligerence.
The next morning I woke up beside a beautiful woman, sleeping on her left side, of course. I eased onto my ladder feet and hobbled to the kitchen. It took me some time to remember why my body was so furious. It had only been soup, I thought. Oh. The roofing, yes.
I waited for the water to boil. If made correctly, instant coffee has a thin layer of froth that makes it seem fancy.
THE END (of posting memoir pieces here)