The Survivor Journals Omnibus [Books 1-3], page 46part #1 of The Survivor Journals Omnibus Series
The house was a goldmine of useful things. The mother was just about my size. I’m short and petite. Finding clothes my size isn’t always easy. The father was too short for me to outfit Twist in his slacks, but the shirts would work. The kitchen had a ton of nonperishable food that was miraculously free of vermin infestation. Once humanity died, the rats and mice went into overdrive. All the cardboard boxes in the world had at least teeth marks on them. If there was something remotely edible inside, you can bet your farm that a rat, raccoon, or mouse took a run at it. Once, I went to make some instant potatoes. The box looked okay. The little press-in spout on the size was punctured, but only enough to maybe pass a peanut through. I ripped the top off and dumped the flakes into a pot of water. Two mouse corpses and a whole mess of mouse crap rolled out with it. The little demons can get anywhere. That instance scarred me for a while. Took me about two months to make or eat instant potatoes again.
The family had a bunch of nice tools in the garage, most of which were either electrical or required gas. That was a shame. I did find a lot of nails and some lumber. Twist and I had plans to start dismantling houses for the lumber in them when we needed construction material or wood to burn. Anything we could find that didn’t require us ripping down drywall and knocking out two-by-fours from studding was a plus.
When I got to the bathrooms, I found a treasure trove of medications, creams, lotions, razors—you name it. Lots of sweet-smelling girly stuff, the stuff I always wanted as a little girl, but could never have because it was too expensive. It was heavenly. There were massive jars of folic acid pills and prenatal vitamins. Apparently Mr. and Mrs. Perfect were not done pumping out spawn before the Flu hit. It looked like they were devotees of bulk warehouse shopping, and they had stocked up for the long haul. The master bath had a double-sink with a long cabinet beneath. Every square inch of that cabinet was stuffed with goodies that Twist and I could use. It was like Christmas to me.
I started throwing stuff in bags to take back to my store. It did not matter what it was, I knew it would eventually be useful. I loaded up. When I got to back of one of the drawers in the cabinet, I found a quartet of square boxes. I paused. Pregnancy tests. Time stopped. I stared at them for a long time.
I know what you’re thinking: Could she be pregnant?
The answer to that is: yes, probably.
I’ve known for a while, I guess. I just did not want to believe it. When a certain monthly visitor failed to show up a short while back, that was my first clue. Some pre-breakfast nausea was my second clue. And now my jeans and bras are starting to get tighter. Clue three. I had been denying the possibility too long. I knew I was. I just needed to confirm it.
I stood in the bathtub and peed on the stick. Then, I slapped the thing on the edge of the tub. I slid down against the wall of the master bath and sat in the dark room on the cool tile floor and waited. After an eternity, I flipped on my flashlight to read the results. In the little indicator window, there was a bright pink plus sign. I knew it was going to be there.
I ripped open a second box and took another test. After two minutes, another plus sign. Damn. I stared at the two sticks, both glowing with their pink positive symbols in the light of my Maglite, and I began to cry. Hard.
I do not want to be a mother. Not like this. Not here. Not now. I guess I had always wanted to be a mother one day, but that was before everyone in the world died. Now, it was just me and Twist against a constantly encroaching wilderness. There were not enough hours in the day to do what we needed to do as it was, and now the universe was going to throw a baby at us to complicate matters.
I should feel something other than profound sadness, but I didn’t. There was no joy or excitement. There was just the soul-crushing reality of trying to have a baby in a world without hospitals, doctors, or epidurals. In a pre-modern medicine world, the infant mortality rate was somewhere between ten and twenty-five percent. One-fifth of all babies would die before they could be considered toddlers. Even as recently as 1960, the global infant mortality rate was still twenty percent. Almost forty percent of children in 1800 would die before they turned five. How in the hell did Humanity even make it as far as it did?
My first great fear was that I would go through the struggle of carrying this thing inside me to just watch it die. My second great fear was that this thing inside me would kill me. Pre-modern medicine, the rate of women dying in childbirth was as high as eight to ten percent in some studies. The rate of women dying of infections post-birth climbed as high as twenty percent, depending on where the child was born and the financial status of the woman.
When I was studying nursing, when we studied birth, we used to mock the Home Birthers. We used to make fun of them for thinking they knew better than modern medicine and their bold defiance of thinking they probably would not need a doctor, but now, as I faced a home birth of my own, I was in a panic. I did not want to do this by myself, and even more so—I didn’t want Twist to have to act as obstetrician for this.
A curious and pragmatic mind will be asking me, Hey, if you didn’t want kids, why didn’t you use protection? Surely there are still condoms and other forms of birth control available to you. And those curious minds will be correct. We were trying to be careful. We were using condoms. However, those curious minds also need to be willing to understand that we are young and stupid, and things happen. If I reconstruct the timeline in my head, I could even hazard a guess at precisely when it happened: a warm, romantic night, away from the house, atop a lovely hill, watching a sunset, a shimmering lake laid out before us, a blanket picnic, too much wine, some flirting, some kissing, and kissing turned into groping, and…yeah. Things happen.
In the dark of the bathroom, I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. A pregnancy should be a happy thing. My mother and my sister should be around to rejoice in this event. My dad should be there. God, he wanted to be a granddad in the worst way. He kept bugging my older sister about settling down and giving him a little someone he could take to Mets games. My dad would have been over-the-friggin’-moon. Thinking about how he would have reacted only made this worse. How would I explain my dad and how great he was to this kid? This child would never know his grandparents, aunts, or uncle. I don’t even have pictures of them. I left all the crappy Polaroids back in Brooklyn. My sadness turned to sudden, unexplainable, violent rage. I sprinted downstairs to the expensive, framed family pictures on the wall, ripped them from their hooks, and hurled them at the far wall, smashing the glass. So much fear. So much rage. So much…uncertainty. That picture-family did not deserve the way they were treated, but then again, I don’t think I deserved to have a baby in a world where that baby would never have any friends his or her own age.
Oh, Twist…what have we done?
I collapsed on the couch in a petulant huff. Dust clouds rose up around me and made my sinuses itch. I started crying again. I started trying to reassure myself that everything would be okay.
I remembered watching a documentary in one of my high school Social Studies classes. It showed a woman in rural Asia working in a rice paddy. She stopped work midmorning, went back to her family hut, pumped out a baby, fed it from her breast, wrapped it in towels, swaddled it to her body with a sling, and then made dinner for her family who were still working in the field. Life went on. There were still chores to do. If she could do it, I certainly could. I thought about Caroline Ingalls giving birth to Carrie in a remote log cabin on the vast and empty Kansas plains. If she could do it, so could I. Women have been pumping out anklebiters without so much as a doctor’s nod for millennia! I told myself, You will be fine.
I kept repeating that like a mantra. You will be fine. You will be fine. You will be fine.
You know what they say—if you lie to yourself long enough, maybe you’ll start to believe it.
I ran my hand over my stomach. I wasn’t showing yet, but I could tell my stomach was starting to get bigger. I still had some abdominal muscle definition. I still looked like I wa
I didn’t want to tell Twist, but I knew that telling him was the next logical step, the only step, really. He needed to know. He deserved to know. How would he react? Would he be happy or sad? Anticipating his reaction scared me, a little.
In my neighborhood, I saw girls lose their boyfriends because they got knocked up. It happened so often, it became a cause for celebration when their guys actually stuck around and participated in the kid’s life. It happened to a good friend of mine from high school. Isadora got knocked up, told Carlo, and at first he acted happy. Then, within a month, he was gone. He ran off to Queens, hooked up with some broad there. Isa gave birth to a happy, healthy baby boy a few months later, and spent most of her free time trying to get Carlo to pony up child support or come visit his son. Twist did not strike me as the type who would run off, and given our situation, where could he go? It’s not like there are a lot of other options out there for him. But, still. It’s not like we planned this. It’s not like we’re married. It’s not like we’d be together, save for the highly improbable chain of circumstances that somehow put us on intersecting paths. A lot of really far-out stars had to align for us to end up in Texas trying to build a farm together. I just worried about how this would change him.
I did not want us to change. I liked where we were, as people and as a couple. I liked the life we were building. A baby was going to be a whole new wrinkle in that dynamic, and I was not sure it would work.
I lazed around that house for most of the afternoon. When I got hungry (which was frequently), I demolished bag after bag of Goldfish crackers. Thanks, bulk warehouse club. I drank cans of LaCroix sparkling water because the woman had a small vault filled with it in the pantry. I stared blankly out the window. I cried a lot more. And I worried.
I knew that Twist was probably back at the farm. Maybe he’d had some luck with hunting. Maybe not. I could hope, though. Thinking about a dinner that didn’t taste like processed mac’n’cheese and saltines made my stomach growl. Thinking about some sort of fresh meat cooked over a fire made me really hungry. I put off facing the music long enough; I had to go back.
Courage, girl. Don’t worry. You and Twist will get through this together.
I repeated my mantra: You will be fine. You will be fine. You will be fine.
I gathered a bag of supplies I could carry back to my store. I grabbed the pregnancy tests. I took a deep breath, steeled myself for the walk back to the farm, and I started hiking. I stopped. Went back into the house, searched the bookshelves, and found the dog-eared copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting that I just knew would be there, and put that in the bag, too. I was going to need that book.
The entire way back to the house, I worried more with each step. My legs turned to jelly. My stomach filled with butterflies. I felt like my bladder was going to release.
When I turned the corner around the edge of the house and saw our great yard, Twist was there. He looked so tall and handsome. He was shirtless, preparing some sort of meat over the fire. An enticing scent, like roasted pork, hung over the yard. At that moment, I was almost knocked over by a sudden, passionate wave of love for him. Fester, our large black-and-white house cat was roaming around by the fire, looking for scraps. Several of our chickens were hunting insects in the grass. I could see Thing 1 and Thing 2 watching Twist over the fence of their paddock.
Everything was so perfect…and yet, it wasn’t. I could not shake the feeling that we had done something very wrong. How stupid is that? The most natural thing in the world, to me, was somehow wrong? I could not shake the feeling that my being pregnant was a mistake. I kept feeling like Twist was going to run or hate me or…or, I don’t know what. I was sick to my core and miserable anticipating his reaction. And I have no idea what it says about me that I was certain he was going to have a negative reaction. Clearly, I have some serious emotional baggage rattling around in my brain that I have yet to unpack.
I dropped the bag of stuff I was carrying. My fingers squeezed hard on the pregnancy tests I carried. Twist heard the sound of the bag hitting the ground, but he didn’t turn around. He had a big knife in his hand and was concentrating on cutting meat. “Hey, babe. Your man has brought back meat! I have successfully hunted! Have you ever had javelina?”
I didn’t answer. I had no idea what a javelina was. It smelled incredible, though. That was more than enough to set my mouth to watering. If javelina tasted as good as it smelled, I was willing to eat every javelina that dared cross my path.
You will be fine. You will be fine. You will be fine.
“Hey, Twist…” The words caught in my throat. I felt like I was choking. I coughed.
Twist stopped cutting and turned to glance at me over his shoulder. “You okay, babe?” He immediately looked worried. “Ren? What’s wrong?”
I guess my face betrayed me. I could only imagine how blotchy I looked, and I knew my eyes were red from crying most of the afternoon. All it took was the genuinely sincere look of concern on his face to set off my waterworks again. I started crying hard. Sobs wracked through my chest and felt like they were going to break my ribs. My legs gave out, and I fell to my knees, then fell over on my side in the grass. I did not want to tell him. I did not want to do this. I wished I wasn’t pregnant. I wished for that harder than I ever wished for anything in my life, but like all my other wishes, it would go unanswered.
Twist’s eyes went wide. “Are you hurt? What happened?” He dropped his knife and started looking for a towel to wipe off the blood on his hands.
I tried to tell him I wasn’t hurt, but I couldn’t form words. Instead, I just sat up and lifted my hand to show him the two pregnancy tests.
Twist was frozen in place. It took a moment, but he slowly recognized what I was holding. He looked from the tests, to me, and back to the tests. Then, he threw his head back and began to laugh.
I can’t say I had always imagined this moment in my life, but I had done it a couple of times. When I was younger and the Internet still existed, I used to indulge in the secret guilty pleasure of watching YouTube videos of women revealing pregnancies to their partners or parents. Those videos always seemed like the cure for the negativity and pessimism of the world. The unfettered joy of those people was a sweet, brief elixir to everything that was wrong in society. When I wasn’t tired at night, I would watch them for a while, get a little teary-eyed, and then go to sleep. It was comforting. I liked to imagine that one day I would have a wife who would do some sort of elaborate pregnancy reveal to me, and I wondered how I would react. Would I be happy? Would I cry? Would I be stunned by disbelief?
Nope. I laughed.
I laughed hard, too.
I can’t explain it. It just seemed to be so surreal. It seemed impossible. As far as my brain was concerned, what Ren had just done was so amazing and unlikely that it was on the same level as farce. Monty Python themselves could have just jumped out from the corner of the house and screamed, Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! It would have been no less strange and hilarious to me.
Ren looked a miserable sight at that moment, and the juxtaposition of her tiny frame holding out those tests, fat tears streaming down her face, and knowing what those tests meant just broke my brain. At that moment, I had never laughed harder. My laughter stunned Ren. She stopped crying and her fac
I dropped to my knees in front of her. My stomach hurt from laughing. My cheeks hurt. Ren’s face slowly lost the look of confusion and she smiled. I knew she didn’t want to smile, so the fact that she had to only made it funnier. I threw my arms around her, still laughing, and in seconds, we were both howling with laughter. Maybe it wasn’t a YouTube-worthy pregnancy reveal, but I would not have traded it for anything.
I fell backward, dragging Ren on top of me. I held her there while I let the final peals of laughter make their way out of my body.
Ren punched my shoulder playfully. “Jerk. And here I thought you’d be mad.”
“Mad? How could I be mad?”
Ren shrugged. “I just…I don’t know. I’m stupid. Shut up.”
Something in the tone of her voice chased the final laughs out of my chest. We lay in the grass for a long moment. Her face pressed into my chest. I stroked her hair. I felt her breathing. “Are you okay?”
She shrugged again. “Yeah. No. I don’t know.” She pushed herself up and straddled me, sitting on my stomach. “Twist, I’m pregnant.”
“Who’s the father?”
“Really, smartass? That’s the card you want to play right now?” She smiled and thumped my sternum with her fist. The smile was quickly chased from her face, though. She swallowed hard. “I’m scared.”
The smile ran from my face, too. “Me, too. It’s not like this isn’t perfectly natural, though. Animals get pregnant. They give birth. It’s the way of the world.”