We were babies together, working at a theater company. You were the wild-child with the beautiful singing voice. You played the ingénue, the sweetheart, the betrayed but strong. I was the trustworthy one, the stalwart friend with the alto belt. I played the slut, the nut, and the maid. I stole your boyfriend. You hated me, you hated him. Then I hated him. Then we found solidarity in our mutual hatred for him.
We shared a tiny apartment in Chelsea and a big, odd-shaped apartment on the Upper West Side. We shared scrounged meals of tuna-pasta, all our stories, bad TV shows, and endless late night histrionics. We ignored the strange men in our bathroom and giggled the next day over cheap scotch, cold wine, and some amazing port that someone gave you in a silver flask.
We had jokes that were just ours, clothes that fit both of us, books we loved together, a giant answering machine that played underwater messages we pretended we weren’t aching to hear. It was as near to a marriage as I’d ever had. Then we met our men and went our separate ways. (Well, after a few starts and stops.)
And last week I sat with you over asparagus soup, a stolen moment when both of our girls were being cared for by others but we weren’t working. You are so pregnant that when we walk down the street, men cross themselves and whisper, “God bless you.” We talked about your plans for a VBAC, your wonderful midwives and how baby number two will complicate your life. I found myself savoring the asparagus soup, prolonging its creamy comfort instead of dwelling on the painful realization that this this stolen lunch would have to feed me for the next few years.
It’s not that we don’t keep in touch — we do. We live within walking distance. And we like each other’s husbands and adore each other’s daughters — it’s a wonderful thing. It’s just that there won’t ever be another time in our lives like the one we had when we were young. And somehow, with the impending birth of your second child, I realize that I will now truly never be able to steal you back to our youth.
Last year on Mother’s Day, we went out and got drunk. You had just stopped breastfeeding and we had giant gin martinis with lots of juicy olives. We broke our unspoken rule and had two martinis straight up (the second is always supposed to be on the rocks) and got a little teary about our lives, our men, our girls. We flirted a little with the 20-something bartender, and we both felt a little worse when we awakened the next day. But we were right back to our lives. Back to being moms, working moms, wives, lovers, no longer babies together.
I just can’t get used to the fact that I always feel this vague sense of dissatisfaction whenever we’re together. I should be filled with gladness for you that you married such a fantastic, compassionate, and simpatico man. I should be filled with joy as I watch our daughters play together — they genuinely like each other and are alike in many ways. I should be filled with excitement about welcoming your new boy into our lives — I can’t wait to meet him, hold him, and help you. But sometimes all I feel is sadness that I can’t belt out the low notes in some horrible leopard print as you sing those effortless high Cs in your pink culottes. That I can’t just throw myself on that horrible maroon velour couch and scream with outrage at the petty humiliations of my life. That I can’t share a secret wink with you in the hallway before we sneak back into our bedrooms to confront the thrills of yet another crazy, misguided romance.
We were babies together and now we have babies together. These breathless days with my fuzzy-haired two-year-old don’t give me much time for introspection. So it was with a heavy but glad heart that I looked at you over asparagus soup and forced myself to preserve the memory. You look beautiful in my mind’s eye, forever the ingénue — just a really pregnant ingénue with a little soup on your shirt where you can’t see over your gigantic belly.