When I was seven months pregnant with L (who was not L, then, just a nameless, genderless source of excitement, anxiety, heartburn, and nausea), my mother called me one day, wanting to know if my copy of The New Yorker had arrived yet. It had, I told her, but I hadn’t had a chance to look through it (busy as I was drinking milk to cool the heartburn—why didn’t the otherwise thorough midwife tell me about ranitidine?—and eating only other foods that were white). Why did she ask?
“There’s a piece in there that I think you should skip.”
“What? Why?” I asked, as I went to the table where we kept the mail so that I could find this week’s New Yorker, figure out which piece she meant, and begin most emphatically NOT to skip it. I’m difficult like that. Everyone likes to torture themselves with painful thoughts now and then, right? What? Oh. Maybe not everyone. Well. Moving right along.
“Sweetie, I really think you should skip it, “ said my mother, who knows me alarmingly well. “It’s about a late-term miscarriage.”
I had the magazine in hand by now—it had a picture of a house on the cover. (Was it the White House? With maybe a dog in front? Bo?) I put it back down on the table. I may dabble in emotional masochism, but this seemed like the kind of subject matter that would drive me to camp out in the hallway of the Newport Hospital labor and delivery unit, demanding 24/7 fetal monitoring for the rest of my pregnancy. Also, as insistent as I am at picking at mental scabs, I also adore when someone kisses my boo-boo and applies a bandage. If my mom wanted to protect me, I would let her. I needed to skip that article. I needed to skip it so badly, and could trust myself to resist the impulse to read it so little, that after I got off the phone, I found the page number in the table of contents, and, squinting so I couldn’t make out the lede and be drawn in, ripped the whole thing out, tore it into shreds, and tossed it into the trash. Though I wondered (oh, boy, how I wondered), what I didn’t know didn’t hurt me. After what felt like another seven months but yes, I know, was actually closer to two, L was born. Six pounds and thirteen ounces of dark-eyed life-changing intensity.
W tried to protect me last week. Again, the threat to my well-being lay in the hard copy of a weekly publication. I came home from work with a copy of the Isthmus, and spotted the copy he’d brought home, sitting on the kitchen table.
“Hey, you got an Isthmus? Ha, I got an Isthmus,” I said, for maybe the thirty-second time this year. (You’d think I’d learn that he always gets an Isthmus, except when I don’t, which is when he doesn’t either, and now I find myself in a bit of a muddle.)
He asked if I’d read it yet, which isn’t an uncommon question. The Isthmus is a local newspaper with a tendency to run stories about local law enforcement that are unapologetically critical and lack certain elements of, oh, let’s say thorough and unbiased reporting. W frequently has some very angry, very articulate, and very blue (yup—went there) commentary on what he reads therein.
“Nope, not yet,” I said. “What’d they say this time?”
“There’s some stuff you might not like in there.”
“That I might not like? Seriously? What?”
“Some stuff in the middle, by the events section. You might just want to skip it.”
“What is in the Isthmus that I might want to skip? You’re killing me. Tell me. Wait, do I want to know? Maybe I don’t. I do. Tell me.”
He did. I’m glad he did. I’m a (non-pregnant!) adult, and the content of part of the events section, in the middle of last week’s Isthmus, was indeed something I did not like, something that made me feel sad and a little jealous and generally kind of mildly bleh, but it didn’t break me. It was good to be warned by W—rather than stumbling on the photo and blurb in the Isthmus on my own—that someone who used to be a very close friend of mine but a few years ago broke off contact (for reasons not shared with me) would be in town for an arts event. It was good to have a heads-up from my husband that this person, whose success in a world I was once part of, but have (not entirely of my own volition) moved away from, would be in my city, in part because of that success. It was good to have him offer to keep me ignorant, then to blunt the surprise, and then indulge me with a bit of conversation about this person that was not at all appropriate for the day before the day before the Day of Atonement. I am still turning this information and the past it brings up around and around in my head, and taking some enjoyment out of feeling wronged and sad, but I’m also turning around and around the knowledge that someone is looking out for me, coddling me. I love to be coddled.
Eight years after my second (and most likely—though I wish it were not so—final, but this is a topic far too fraught to bring up in a closing paragraph in such a syntactically reprehensible manner, shame on me) pregnancy ended successfully, I decided I could handle the New Yorker article. I was wrong about the dog in front of the White House—wrong administration. Actually, I was wrong about the White House, too, and even about there being a house on the cover at all. But my mother was right about the article. It would have hit close to home, and it was wrenching. It’s beyond me how anyone could survive that. I know reading it back then would have wrecked me. I’m not melodramatic or hypochondriac enough to suggest that reading an article about someone else’s pain would have done me or L actual harm, but I would have been terrified and miserable. I’m glad my mother spared me from being terrified and miserable. I’m so grateful to her for knowing that what I didn’t read wouldn’t hurt me, just as I’m grateful to W for knowing that even if it does, I’ll pull through. I’ll be whiny and self-pitying, but I’ll pull through.