On the way to Vegas, things start to go wrong, as they so often do, at the Mad Greek.
Within a couple of hours, I will be trying to locate the nearest hospital, but now I’m just waiting for the beefy, sunburned guy in front of me to stop yelling at the clerk about his $3, and how it was her mistake, and how he’s going to file a claim with the state. Behind me, a man eats sullenly at a booth with his well-behaved toddler, who silently chews one fry after another.
The place smells of coconut sunscreen, with base notes of diesel and feta.
Soon, I will make my husband promise I won’t end up at Summerlin Hospital, 20 minutes or so from the Strip. My mom – whom I haven’t talked to in a year – lives in Vegas, so I know it’s nearby. I have no idea if what is happening to me is serious, all I know is that I don’t want to end up at Summerlin, because you go there to die, or at least my stepfather did. When he passed (as Hemingway would say “gradually and then suddenly”), his death certificate described him as “white” and his cause of death as leukemia.
Only he was black. And died of congenital heart failure.
Probably an honest mistake, but doesn’t point to great attention to detail. That place reminds me of sloppiness and slipping away, and while I have a long history of being lukewarm on my own existence, the pull to keep this baby safe is tethering me to this world like nothing else has.
Baker, CA is right off the I-15. I’ve broken down here many times. In the past, it was just my car overheating, or my psyche decompressing from a weekend with my mom, and her wall of bird-themed paintings, and her obsessive studying of restaurant menus, and her autistic tuning out. This time, however, it’s my body. I’m 29 weeks pregnant, it’s 110 degrees, I have no business being at the Mad Greek no matter how much I love their greasy pita bread and fresh strawberry shakes, no matter how much I think the me that will show up in Vegas for a last hoorah won’t look like she’s in her sixth trimester, or have trouble breathing, or be sure she’s washed up in show business or be concerned her baby won’t be healthy or his life won’t be perfect.
The third trimester is no time to head into a desert, no less toward Vegas, a city filled with smoke-choked casinos, frat guys who shove you insouciantly on elevators, free booze you can’t drink, mile-long walks to everything, crypto-hookers whose frosted hair and legginess is an attack on your swollen feet and Target maternity maxi dress.
I begged my husband to take me to Vegas, because I was doing what they call in recovery programs “pulling a geographic.” As in, If I just leave Colorado, I won’t wake up in my own vomit anymore because I’m not an alcoholic, I just need to move to Boston. Instead of just going on a normal “babymoon” to say, temperate San Diego, I decide that in Vegas, I’ll be the old me. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you, which is one of the annoyingly true bumper stickers they tell addicts. The same is true of pregnancy, and the crappy mood that has come with it for the last couple of weeks, and the not working and the visions of myself rocking a baby with spit-up on my shoulder staring blankly at a freshly painted yellow wall and asking myself, “Is this how I’m supposed to feel?”
In Vegas, or even en route, I am still big and uncomfortable and scared with a tinge of pre postpartum. Only on I-15, I don’t drink any water because I’m nervous about having to pee.
At the Mad Greek, I order an omelet. When the cashier asks me what kind of toast I want, I hesitate, ask what they have. I mumble “French,” and look backward at my husband as if to ask, “Do I really want French bread toast? Will that taste good to me? Would I prefer wheat? Who am I?”
He snaps. “Yes. French. Good.” Only I would know he’s snapping, because he’s a subtle snapper. My husband has a very long fuse and almost never loses his temper, but when you’re seven months pregnant, you can’t sustain even a small snap.
I slide into a booth as he orders, sip on my fountain drink, eye the kid eating his fries. Feel a kinship with the little dude in his denim overalls, because we both seem lost and like we need our mommies.
My husband returns with our food which we both just stare at until I tell him I didn’t like him snapping at me, and he apologizes, and admits he has spent the last two hours regarding the temperature gauge, worried he was going to break down on the side of the road with his pregnant wife. He’s been worried about lots of things, he admits, being a good enough provider for us, having enough room, having to move back to Koreatown so we can have a nursery, making sure the air conditioning is working and the windows are sealed. I tell him I don’t need much, and that he’s going to be a great dad. I start crying, wiping my eyes with scratchy Mad Greek napkins. He doesn’t touch his food, and his hands are shaking a little bit, which only happens when he’s really upset.
My nose starts to bleed, just a trickle. My stomach starts to cramp, and I figure this must be one of those Braxton-Hicks contractions I’ve heard about. I wipe my bloody nose, wipe my eyes, don’t mention the cramps because I’ve just finished assuring my husband there is nothing to worry about, that we won’t break down in the desert, that we’ll get the windows fixed, that I know he’ll provide us with all we need, that he married a girl who cries and bends but doesn’t really break.
The French bread is toasted on the outside and soft inside, so I eat the entire giant roll. We hit the road.
“This trip is going to be great from now on. I was just worried about getting you there. Now, I’m psyched,” he says chirpily, but most of his food is crusting over on the plate he tosses into the Mad Greek trash.
The cramps abate until we exit the 15 in Vegas. Only now, they are about ten times worse than extreme menstrual cramps. I have to take off my seatbelt. I check the clock, and it’s been 20 minutes or more. I quietly Google “Braxton Hicks” on my iPhone so as not to panic my husband, and from what I can tell, those last a short time, and this isn’t letting up. About a half an hour goes by, which is when I decide to tell my husband just in case I’m having preterm labor.
I’m doubling over now. I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to walk through the lobby of the hotel without some help, but I can’t panic the Mr. because this whole stupid Vegas thing was all my idea and it was obviously completely idiotic.
Somehow, we make it to our room at the Palms, call our doctor, who says I’m dehydrated. Drink water, he says, rest, and if things don’t improve in two hours, call.
My husband pours me a bath and I drink four bottles of Smart Water. In two hours, I’m fine. I glance out the window at the Palms pool, where it’s “Ditch Friday,” a packed party the locals call “sweaty ball soup.” Part of me feels like I’m watching children trick or treat from behind a curtain, nursing a case of mono, but most of me feels I’m exactly where I should be, cool and safe, away from the blaring Kanye and the pool-friendly canisters of Miller.
Sometimes I make bad decisions, I drive right into oppressive heat and smoke.
Often, I wonder what’s on the other side of this pregnancy, whether being a parent will be a blissful shuffling of priorities or just something else that’s supposed to come naturally to me, but doesn’t. I’m tired of grubbing for gold stars to justify being alive, and I wonder if caring for another human being and loving him as well as I can will be gold star enough.
Sitting naked at the desk in the room, cramp free, my husband rubbing my shoulders, I think I’m almost ready to qualify as a mom, because I’ve never felt so protective and so relieved. As long as Buster is okay, I don’t care about being a has-been (that barely was), or having kind of a double chin now, or wearing outfits Kate Gosselin would suggest are too “middle America” or gaining 45 pounds. I don’t care that I’m not at the party pool; I don’t dance, I’ve always hated crowds and I burn. I don’t want to be down there, or back home, or in my old body, or anywhere else. My husband demands I drink another bottle of water, and I imagine him with Buster in a Baby Bjorn, holding my hand, and I don’t know how I ever got out of the desert intact.
I only know as sure as I can take a wrong turn, I can right myself, usually by just sitting still.