To My Ex-Best Friend:
Thank you for the invitation to your Baby Barbecue. The invite (not to mention the title) surprised me. Never would I have expected to be included. But there, tacked on to the lengthy recipient list’s tail end, was my old email address, one I stopped using three years ago, one you in fact suggested that I retire because suzyQT, a remnant of my college days, screamed immature. How fortunate that I met you so soon after I moved to New York. You hoovered out of me almost all my sloppy traits, leaving an empty shell to fill with trimly tailored attitude. But I reserved one part, high up and out of reach, and kept it alive without knowing what it was. That bit would come in handy years later when I finally recognized it: my own damn self.
I am surprised that you’re planning a co-ed shower. Most of your girlfriends are also pregnant, so perhaps you don’t want to be upstaged and are padding the party with husbands and the one woman who is pregnant only with free time and frisk. You know how long my boyfriend and I have been in therapy, working toward marriage, and how much longer still it will take for us to have children. How convenient to leave him off the list, so that I will have to come alone, a pig on a spit for your roasting pleasure.
Given how much time you spent handcrafting the digital invitation, I know you will expect compliments. Well, here you are. Things that didn’t go unnoticed: the floral design elegantly captures the mood of so precious a time as a spring Saturday; the photograph’s antique finish suggests its subjects are observing an ancient human sacrament; in the picture your husband stands off to the side, barely in focus, one eye cut out completely, and you stand central, hands clasped firmly across your belly, your chest a conspicuous allusion to future meals; and the tree behind you looks like it is straining to get up and out of the photograph, as if its leaves are shriveling even as new life grows inside of you. I too cannot help but crisp like dead leaves at the belly that greets me, that fills my screen with its promise of weight updates and coo/poo emails, the belly that could be squished against my own, nudging me out of the picture once again. It’s like the time a few months ago when I gave my first-ever public reading and you didn’t respond to my invitation but showed up just to announce to our mutual friends that you were pregnant. “I’m oh-so-very-tired,” you breathed, and left before the reading even began. Yes, it’s like that time.
I suppose I’ll come, if for no other reason than to find out what gets skewered at a Baby Barbecue. This could have been a joke between us, once upon a time. We laughed loud into each other’s shoulders, our names so alike, Suzanne and Leanne, though even then I knew that our laughter would not last. I was in love with our laughter and our names, not with you. When you whispered in my ear at parties I was in love with the whispering, too, but I somehow understood that it would sputter and fade. Without the laughing and the whispering my empty insides throbbed like a burn does when you remove the butter.
What should one wear to a Baby Barbecue? I guess denim, though I imagine you’ll be popping out of that fire-engine-red number pulled tight over seven months of gestation, demurely sipping champagne and occasionally snickering at a joke about the beautiful simplicity of men when oops! you’ll take a gulp to the delight of your chorus line of ladies all dressed in vibrant colors, the editor who’s finally pregnant after so many acupuncture sessions and the pilates instructor who waited for you to go first and “blaze the trail” and the vintage handbag collector who sniffs at the buffet claiming non-vegan prenatal diets are responsible for ADHD, all in various stages of pregnancy and in stages of storytelling about pregnancy—this much cervical mucus, this amount of tenderness in suddenly glorious pussies, my baby’s a sweet potato, mine’s a bell pepper, such good barbecue foods—all the ladies who will gulp with you, you’re all in this together, a circle of Eves in a mystical garden, ripe with boobs, huge boobs, bouncing, hanging, swinging boobs, so many boobs I’ll fear my A-is-for-apple breasts will be lost in the garden, will be bobbed for and chomped up by boobs with areola the size of wall clocks by now, counting the weeks for everyone who wants to keep track.
No, I’ve nothing to wear. If I still zigzagged behind you through Soho as you stuffed yourself into high boots and low-cut tops, I would find something perfect. I was so young when we met, and never needed to discover New York, for your skinny hand guided me into this lounge wearing this dress for this Wednesday cocktail. Even when I tottered, sore and unbending, on crutches after ankle surgery, you selected that basement bar two subway transfers away—what a lark!—teaching me that no cost is too high for a lychee martini served tall by the cute bartender you fucked last week.
Our final phone call, you asked me for relationship advice, since this was your first one of any endurance and you’d angrily (it’s the preggie hormones!) ripped off your wedding ring and chucked it at your husband’s nose. When I spoke from my experience, from the hard-fought nights and gentle mornings of my decade-long relationship, you paused, then said, “It’s different when you’re married. I shouldn’t have asked you.” Then you said, “I’ll talk to you soon,” and I knew that you wouldn’t, or if you tried I wouldn’t respond because I finally saw what I couldn’t see on your wedding day when I woke up and vomited, that Suzanne and Leanne were cooked.
The morning after I left you, I felt free, as if time were my own, and knee-jerked my way through the kitchen making pasta sauce from scratch—a sugary, storm-stocking kind of sauce. I woke up that morning thinking I might read a magazine but not all the way through, only the parts I wanted to read. I unregistered from hot yoga class and didn’t leave my apartment—didn’t leave my apartment!—but stayed in my pajamas all afternoon, even after they absorbed splatters of tomato and oil. I thought about you a little bit, but honestly, not that much.
So why would I attend the Baby Barbecue? I think I want to observe the fathers, hunched behind the buffet table, trying to release shrimp from bamboo sticks with greasy fingers, laughing nervously and stealing glances at the Mets game, struggling to hold on to their own eggs, the deviled ones, one eye shut each, wondering why they are there, wondering how many versions of thumps and kicks there can be in one woman’s belly. You will tell them, don’t, with those fingers, touch the gifts! They will file to the backyard to smoke, not hickory or maple, but Marlboros and Camels, except the husband of the vintage handbag collector who’ll pull out his Capris. I will laugh to myself and wipe my oily fingers across my pockets.
You’ll greet me coolly but with measured grace as you steal a glance at my bare left hand, my fruitless waistline. You will smile, cheeky cheek kiss (no contact), check the design of my jeans, note that I have worn jeans and not a Nanette Lepore dress, and ask, “How’s your life?”
Oh, how I anticipate the Baby Barbecue. Count me in, my single head, plus one possibility that I won’t show.
Suzanne Farrell Smith is a writer, editor, and teacher. Her work has appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Writer’s Chronicle, Connotation Press, Anderbo, Hippocampus Magazine, and elsewhere. Her short story “Shower Talk” appeared in Frontier Psychiatrist in 2010. She also writes about education, and recently contributed to the anthology Environmental Health Narratives: A Reader for Youth.