By Raina Wallens
“You’ll be an incredible mother,” Blake promised me over a Bloody Mary on a hot Sunday afternoon in August. “I have no doubt. Our children will be a gift to this world.”
I wasn’t so sure. And I wasn’t even pregnant.
I was a 27-year-old aspiring fiction writer having a quarter-life crisis, fretting over my maybe-someday-impending baby. Blake and I had been married for a year. I was madly in love, but madly out of sorts. I felt young to be married, especially in Manhattan, where most of my friends were dating for sport. Having a baby seemed like something you did when you were much, much older, like golf, or drawing up a will.
Blake was my first love, and the bliss I felt with him had surpassed the stuff of my imagination. I was so elated, I did what any Jewish woman worth her therapist would do: I worried. Not just about babies, but about everything. I worried that this future child was bound to have hermaphroditic genitals. I worried that Blake and I would become one of those boring couples that fought over folding laundry and forgot about their marriage. I worried, quite inexplicably, that our apartment would burn down in a fire.
I worried that our life was too good to be true.
Blake, meanwhile, had grown up with real worries: a bipolar mother, his parents’ drawn-out divorce, estranged siblings and a predilection for partying that took him trolling Avenue B for cocaine — before he realized he didn’t want to be that miserable and brought himself to therapy. By the time we met, Blake had become the kind of guy who could find joy in a slice of Patsy’s pizza. He’d learned how to make himself happy. A hot bath. An early-morning swim. Kid Rock. If he tugged absent-mindedly at his right ear, he’d be asleep in minutes, not caring if it was in our bed — or with his head on a table for 12 at Carmine’s.
He also had the unique ability to calm me. That late summer day, he put a halt to my pointless anxiety. I grabbed hold of his hand, the idea that he was mine still miraculous. “What would I do without you?” I asked. A month later, I found out.
Blake died on September 11, 2001, in the World Trade Center, where he worked. A plane, crashing into his office building as part of a terrorist plot, was not something I had ever worried about.
During those long, dark, black hole days — and they were plentiful, several years’ worth — I found myself clinging to beauty to overcome the despair. The sight of a bird gliding through the sky. A deep laugh. A good meal with great friends. Blake had given me an appreciation for being in the moment. That is what helped. Dating sure didn’t.
I had little patience for anyone overwhelmed by minor problems: an inability to get over the long-ago death of their dog; the incapacity to commit to anything beyond ordering the rack of lamb; a lack of confidence so severe it seemed they had confused a date with a job interview. Then, of course, there was the obvious issue: None of these guys was Blake. I had yet to find a gray hair on my head, but I began to accept that I would become the iconic definition of a widow: an old, childless woman in her rocking chair with her cat and a mug of chamomile tea. I’d already found the great love of my life. How greedy to think I’d ever find two.
And yet, worries rolled right off of him like beads of rain off rubber boots. He was happy. I wanted his happiness. I wanted to eat it with a spoon. Stepmotherhood, suburbs and all. A year into my new marriage, I turned 38 and was confronted with the ticking-clock question of whether I wanted to have my own child with Mike. All that ambivalence I’d had at 27 came flooding back.
I started to spiral downward, until one day, I was watching a gaggle of prepubescent ADHD boys playing Pokémon and tearing through our backyard with water balloons, and I realized this — this unbridled chaos — was what I had always feared. And here I was in the middle of it, actually enjoying it.
I’d cried bathtubs full of tears, suffered sleepless nights, pulled myself out of total darkness, had become a stepmother … A baby of my own? A soft little gurgling creature, even one that projectile poops, was surely nothing to be scared of. What had I been so worried about 13 years ago? It was August 2001 and I was just sipping a Bloody Mary in the sun.
Avram Blake is now 1 year old. Like his father, he is extraordinarily happy. Turns out, I am, too. Just watching my son mow a banana gives me a profound feeling of calm. And the other day, I noticed that now, when he’s tired, he tugs at his right ear.
Raina Wallens is the author of seven young adult books, published under pseudonyms. Her writing has also appeared on The Rumpus.