Indian Summer.

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June 28, 2016

Having fun is exhausting. I am still jet lagged and woke up at 2am, unable to go back asleep. A few girls in my room checked out this morning at 5am and 6am, and tomorrow I will be alarm that wakes the room up at 5:30am. I got out of bed, made avocado toast and coffee in the hostel kitchen, and scored some green grapes from the free food pile that people who check out leave behind. I had breakfast with Lauren and a new friend Ruth from Holland. I was going to go on a walking tour, but Ruth told me how she took a bike to the beach yesterday and that sounded more fun. I rented a free bike from the hostel, listened to the directions and took off. Long story short, the five mile bike ride turned into a 20 mile bike ride. I got lost multiple times, but got to explore more of the city and the path by the river. PTL for Google Maps and Sprint roaming data. I made it to Henley Beach and it was beautiful. Serene, blue, strong and streaky clouds. I walked the beach and had lunch at Stella, a cute yellow themed restaurant. I had a delicious warm bowl of greens and used their wifi. I rode home on a more direct route, only getting lost twice. There are awesome playgrounds here, like a giant hamster wheel that kids run in. There are also many adult outdoor workout stations that use your body weight. I also enjoyed seeing the variety of birds; some of the birds are brightly colored and there are pigeons with Mohawks. I made it back to the hostel six hours after I left, and got caught in a rainstorm on the way back. I showered off, went to the grocery store, and had dinner with Ruth. 

She is a school teacher from Holland on summer break and will go back to school in the fall to get her masters. She is super nice and cool and reminds me of an old-fashioned French film star. She has travelled a ton and often hitchhikes. She approaches people at gas stations, families and solo women mostly, and asks if they are going in her direction. She said she learns wonderful stories about people. We read through the English notebook of a French guy which had phrases like “My head is worth 8,000 pennies.” We are not sure where he is learning this from. 

Tomorrow I leave for Kangaroo Island. It was a nightmare to arrange all of the travel due to no one getting back to me, my card being expired, and believing I was getting picked up at a different location but now it is set. Apparently there are two other volunteers I will be living with, and I am so excited to meet them! Hopefully my roommate curse will not cause them to meet their demise.  (My photos from today won’t load….the hostel has slow wifi…I will try to upload them later) 

June 27, 2017

I woke up bright and early at 4:30 am. Actually, it was dark and early, as the sun rises late and sets early due to the fact that it’s winter. I eventually got out of bed and had breakfast downstairs at the hostel with my friend Lauren, 24, from the U.K. She quit her job at a supermarket to travel for three months. She’s in Adelaide this week then going to the Great Barrier Reef to do her first dive ever. 

After breakfast I ventured out on my own. Yesterday, Mayke and I walked right down the street so today I turned left. I came to a beautiful pond in Raymill Park with ducks and benches, and read a few chapter of my book. Adelaide is super walking-friendly, and they have signs posted everywhere pointing to other attractions and the time it will take to walk there. I followed the directions to Victoria Park which was gorgeous, and I had a much needed yoga session under a huge tree. I tried to meditate but only lasted about five minutes. Another cool thing about Adelaide is they have an abundance of free public bathrooms. As someone who drinks a lot of water I really appreciate that. 

I kept walking and found the market, which was super cute and reminded me of the market in Sol in Madrid. There were a ton of vendors selling fruit and juice and treats, and I went to an awesome vegan place and had a great meal. I then explored Chinatown and went to the grocery store. I bought some food and water and also toothpaste, which I forgot to pack. I also went to Victoria Square and read some more of my book in front of the fountain. 

I saw the school children dressed in their uniforms, purple or maroon blazers that look just like J’ami from the comedy show. Also, you can get a huge fine for jaywalking here so most people wait to cross the street which is funny. 

Mayke and I then ate dinner at the hostel. It is much cheaper to make your own food than buy it and we are both trying to save money. She is leaving for Sydney in the morning. She told me stories of almost being eaten by a crocodile, having a travel buddy profess his love to her and thinking it was a joke, and learning to change a car tire. I’m so glad I met her right away, she makes me much more confident for my trip. I booked my bus and ferry ticket to get to KI on Thursday, I can’t wait to get there and be settled in. Living in the hostel is cool, but it’s annoying to have to always worry about locking up your stuff and living out of a backpack. Xo. 

June 26, 2017

Had a lovely afternoon with my new friend Mika, from Amsterdam. I was wearing my “Amsterdam Bike Town” sweatshirt and we struck up a conversation. We walked to Victoria Square and through the park. We saw Aboriginals  who asked us for money. Mika studied social work in school and wants to work with homeless people, specifically the Aboriginals. Apparently, the government provides money and a car for the city, or a plot of land to live on, but the Aboriginals don’t know how to function in our society. For example, they don’t know that the car they are given needs to be filled with gas, so when the car stops running they will leave it in the road. 

We took the tram for free to the beach and walked down the pier. We saw kids taking surf lessons, which is something I definitely want to do while I’m here. Mika told me how she took lessons in Sydney, before she spent three months traveling West Australia, living out of a car with one other girl and moving location every single day. She said they saw amazing scenes, but both her camera and her phone broke and she lost a lot of photos. She gave me a lot of good tips about staying safe and meeting new people though. We talked about our families and what we want to do with our future, and I seriously think I learned more about her than I have from some of my good friends. It was refreshing to have a conversation where we didn’t have our phones out or another distraction, which I think often happens. 

We watched the sun set around 5:30, as it is winter here. Then went to the market and bought groceries. We made pasta and salad in the hostel kitchen and hung out with the other hostel guests, planned travel on our laptops then went to bed. 

525,600 Minutes of Travel

Six cities, five airports and four flights later I have arrived in Adelaide, Australia. I left home in Akron, Ohio at 7 a.m. with my parents. After a tearful goodbye I flew an hour to Toronto, and had a nine hour layover. I then flew four hours to Vancouver, had an hour and half layover, then flew 16 hours to Sydney. Luckily, the two seats next to me were empty. The nice elderly woman dressed in a waterproof pastel pink outfit at the other end of the aisle and I took turns laying down across the seats, and I managed to sleep about seven hours. I had a layover for two hours in Sydney, then flew two hours to Adelaide. The man next to me on the plane had just spent 7 weeks in the states, a nice complement to my impending 7 week itenerary in Australia. We struck up a conversation after I spilled hot coffee all over myself while trying to open a water bottle. He had also been to Kangaroo Island and raved about it. 

I took a bus to the city, and after walking three blocks with my 45lb pack on my back, my normal backpack on my front, and my overflowing tote, camera bag and jacket in my arms I made it to my hostel. It’s a super cool place, with long dining tables where everyone hangs out, a living room and a pool table. I’m staying in a 6-person female dorm which has pretty basic amenities. The biggest downside is the lockers aren’t large enough to lock my pack inside of, but other than that it’ll do for the next three days before I head to KI. The people here are really interesting and from all over. The women in my room are from Holland, the U.K. and Hong Kong. While making dinner I met people from France and Ireland. It’s cool how friendly and welcoming everyone is, and interesting to think that for many talking in English is their second or third language. I’m very ready to go to bed, and see what tomorrow will hold. I have literally no plans for the next few days here and will just be going with the flow. 🙂

 xo, Bella

Catch Ya Later, Alligator

There is nothing more humbling than being surrounded by people who care about you. Last night my parents hosted a fabulous graduation/going-away party for me at our house. Friends and family, some who I hadn’t seen in ages, came together to have awesome food and spend time together in the muggy Ohio air. We devoured Panang Curry, roasted potatoes, salad, Texas Sheet Cake and lemon bars. We listened to music and chatted while games of bocce ball and ping-pong were played. I was given warnings and well-wishes, and will keep the positives and negatives in mind as I venture off. I was also so surprised by how many people genuinely seemed to want to see pictures and updates of my travels, which is why I’ll be posting them here! I am excited to share the journey and update any readers as I go along, because I have just about as much of an idea of what is going to happen as you do! I am so grateful for all of the support and love I have been given to encourage me to take some time exploring off of the beaten path for the next six months. 

There Goes the Bride (Short Story Writing Sample)

there goes-1
An image from the first wedding I shot as a wedding photographer in Canton, Ohio.

The clank-clank-clanking of the back of a silver spoon on a glass champagne flute jolts me from my airy thoughts like the bubbles in the glass breaking the surface. I look around the large banquet hall, admiring the event that a quarter million can put on. $400/plate. Faces shovel the organic gourmet food down like garbage disposals. I notice Aunt Betty in the far back corner of the room, sitting at a garishly decorated circular table, the blades in her mouth whirring. She used to babysit me when I was younger and would only feed me grapes, convinced they were good for my eyesight.

I have a good vantage point. Is that why the wedding party table is always at the front of the room? So you can best see which guests to avoid?

I wanted a small wedding in a garden. I wanted to wear flowers in my hair and a dress that would flow behind me as I ran barefoot down the grassy aisle. But that wouldn’t provide the Kodak moment for my parents-in-laws company newsletter, Gorman & Gorman Inc., a family group “Family Ideals, Family Products, Fit for YOUR Family.” The Hiltons of bath products. The clanking stops. Someone’s talking. Ugh, it’s Dave’s best friend from college. He smells like old oranges.

Dave’s best friend is telling me how lucky I am to have suckered Dave into marrying me, and that it’s my job to keep him happy with “meals like your mom used to make, man that was the best fucking mac and cheese dude.” He’s as stupid as he looks, of course Grace Gorman couldn’t bother to make a homemade meal unless it was being photographed for a magazine. And wouldn’t it be rude to take work away from the housekeeper? I see Aunt Betty look up in disgust and place her hands over her son’s ears to block out the profanity. Her son shrugs her off like little boys do, protesting that he is old enough to hear big boy language. Which is understandable, considering he’s 22, three years younger than me. I dislike him on the principle that I dislike Aunt Betty, which probably isn’t very fair to him.

I turn my attention back to Dave’s friend.

“Half-time is about to be hella good! Get that grub ready in the man cave! Go Bulldogs!” He starts hollering in the asinine way that men who peak in high school do. I glance back at Aunt Betty, willing her to come behind me and plug my ears with grapes.

////

Getting ready was my favorite part. I was transformed into a person I didn’t recognize, which made it easier to survive the day. The dress, the jewelry, the hair and makeup. Dave’s mother hired a wedding planner who took care of the mundane things I didn’t care about, like centerpieces. Why do people care so much about centerpieces?

“Wow, this is stunning. Absolutely stunning. The crystal vazzz with the overhanging flowers and jewel droplets. Mahhhvelous.”

“Oh, but if the height blocks the view? Dear Abby says it’s important for guests to be able to make conversation across the table.”

Is it really? Do they really give a fuck? I guarantee they didn’t fly six hours to come chat to creepy deaf Uncle Brad over centerpiece of “appropriate height”. They came to soak themselves in free alcohol and eat cake.

I did pick out the cake. Dave and I went to a cute bakery by our house. The baker brought out the flavors: German Chocolate with Fudge Filling, White Amaretto with Raspberry Cream, Spiced Carrot with Nutmeg Buttercream, Lemon Poppy Seed with Blueberry Curd. Dave didn’t like any of them, so I chose Red Velvet with Swiss Buttercream. The cake was my favorite part of the reception. The cake was my favorite part of the day.

“Would you like us to freeze the top layer of your cake?”

“Why?”

“Many couples save it for their first wedding anniversary.”

“No, you can leave it out I’ll eat it tonight.”

////

Interjectory applause puppeteers Dave’s friend back into his chair, the string holding his hand releasing so suddenly the microphone falls to the floor. He bends to get it, and snaps upward with a grin on his face, savoring the only round of applause he’ll get in his life. I almost forget to clap, and when I remember I clap without making any noise. I smile, hoping it doesn’t look like a grimace. I glance at Dave. Sometimes he isn’t so bad, in public at least. He used to be a really great guy, the kind of guy who was instantly friends with everyone he met. I remember when we met….

My sister stands up. She is the default maid of honor, a job she relishes in. She made the final decision on the centerpieces.

“I remember when my sister told me about the day she and Dave met…”

////

It was senior year of college. I was 22. You could have called me a hippie in the way that trendy city girls self diagnose themselves as hippies, infatuated with a time where love was free. The modern day cool bohemian/weed-smoking/farmers-market-frequenting/Facebook-liking-activist hippie who buys $300 shirts from Free People that look like they cost $2 at goodwill. A trend which benefits me greatly, considering my purchased clothes smell of cat pee and old attic more often that distilled dandelion marrow and pinewood grass.

“Wow you look like such a hippie in that tie-dye dress”

“Wow that flower crown is so original, is it from Anthropologie?”

I was a “hippie.” Dave was not. He would never be caught wearing something tie- dye. The most casual I ever saw him was at his nephew’s pool party where he wore a white polo and black swim trunks that could have passed for black chinos. Dave was smiling, running around with a beer in hand, making small talk with relatives and laughing with friends. We were playing rounds of Euchre and blackjack, focusing more on having a good time than on winning, Dave’s hand resting on my knee even though that meant he had to set his cards down every time he took a drink. I remember him grabbing his nephew from behind while we sang an off-tune happy birthday and tossing him into the pool, his nephew not caring his big birthday moment had been interrupted because he got attention from Dave, which was so much better.

Today was the most dressed up I had seen him. A crisp Armani tux that he bought instead of rented because it was a “good investment.” Maybe he was planning to wear it at his next marriage.

On the day I met Dave he was dressed somewhere in-between that spectrum. Khaki’s and a light blue button down that perfectly complimented his tan skin, the modern “Prince Charming Golden Boy” attire. His brown hair demanded the sun to shine off of it. I was at a farmers market in a parking lot downtown, buying kale so I could make vegan kale chips. I would later substitute my vegan meal plan with Chinese takeout and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. As I was shoving green bushels into my tote bag, he was walking along the sidewalk. His long confident stride caught my eye among the mobs on the street. He looked strong, powerful, confident, but also kind and caring. The kind of guy that would let you know if your backpack was a little unzipped so your stuff wouldn’t fall out, and then he would stop and zip it up for you while it was still on your back and it would feel so intimate and like he really cared about you and then he would pat you on the shoulder in an endearing way that wasn’t condescending and give a little smile as he walked away, already forgetting about the interaction because he did nice stuff like this all the time but you would remember because nice stuff like this didn’t happen all the time. I stared at him as he walked the whole length of the sidewalk, wishing I had the courage to talk to him, to make him my Prince Charming. I don’t think he noticed me, in my tie-dye dress.

/////

Life went on. I ate kale chips. I ate pizza. I ate ice cream. I was surviving off espresso and desire for a better future. My one true indulgence. A triple latte. Three shots of espresso in milk. Soy milk. Make it a chai latte. Venti. Iced, but light on the ice. Always ask for light on the ice if you don’t want to get ripped off. I was walking to my coffee shop, two blocks from my last class of the day.

“I’ll take a venti-iced-light-on-the-ice-triple-soy-dirty-vanilla-chai please” was already on the tip of my tongue.

The door to the coffee shop was closed. A piece of paper duck taped from the back said “On paternity leave for the next few days, baby Luna has been born!” I was peeved. What are you going to do, breastfeed the baby? I pulled out my phone.

“What can I help you with?”

“Where’s the closest coffee shop?”

“I’m really sorry about this, but I can’t take any requests right now. Please try again in a little while.”

Fuck you Siri. I turned my back on the coffee shop and kept walking down the street, hoping to run into one of the shops I’d heard my friends mention before. I found one, Java the Hut. It was open, and at this point that was my only criteria. I walked in and stood in line, not bothering to look at the menu. I always got the same thing. It was my turn.

“I’ll take a venti-iced-light-on-the-ice-triple-soy-dirty-vanilla-chai please”

“I’ll have the same.”

I started. The voice should have annoyed me, but it didn’t. It was strong and assertive, yet soothing. Soft. You know how some people say “he had a voice like velvet”? That was the first time I’d ever heard velvet vocalized. I spin around to find the face that interjected my order. It was him. My blue eyes locked on his brown eyes. If Java the Hutt had been bombed by the Death Star I wouldn’t have been able to avert my gaze.

“That’ll be $10.70.”

He looked away. His shoulder brushed mine as he handed the cashier a twenty.

“Keep the change.”

////

“….and then they walked to the park and drank their chai lattes together! And guess what? Dave doesn’t even like chai lattes!”

My sister laughed at her own words, swaying from humor and Pinot Grigio.

////

I’m spinning, spinning, spinning. Lights are dancing over my closed eyelids. Music is exploding in my ears like bursting grapes. His hands fall unnaturally on my waist, my stiff dress not the cause of the awkwardness. He doesn’t hold me tight, there’s space between us but no room to become closer. He doesn’t whisper sweet stories into my ear about our happily ever after. He stands upright, smiling at the crowd, pulling out the moves that were fabricated by a hired choreographer, who disliked my stumbling feet even more than my bruised knees.

////

“Wow, the most beautiful wedding I have ever seen!”

“Such a gorgeous couple”

“When can we expect a bundle of joy from you guys?”

“You two are so perfect you belong in a magazine.”

I’m sure we look nice, and I’m sure they mean their complements. They don’t know any better. They don’t know the show we put on, how the pink bundle in my belly hidden by a white dress makes it too late to go back. The bundle, protected by the Grace of God. It was a relief, actually, for her to make the decision for us. Dave would have wanted me to get rid of this career interruption, I would have wanted to please him. But as this bundle grew so did my hope for love, a love I had been stranded from. Gorman’s weren’t motivated by love, it was the religious faith of the large percentage of Catholic shareholders that mandated Grace Gorman’s grandchild was here to stay. Thanks be to that man in the sky.

She found out at a dinner that Dave’s family was hosting in honor of the company’s 100-year anniversary. The chosen few were invited to attend the Gorman residence, and the masses would be invited to a large party the next night at the Beverly, the same place as my wedding reception.

We were seated around their large dining room table, in the guest dining room. An impractical red velvet tablecloth suspended my ivory plate. I purposefully dripped my Chestnut Pear Bisque on the tablecloth out of pure annoyance. The six-course meal was supplemented with fabulous conversation regarding stocks and market equity and the benefits of using unpaid child workers in Asia. Dave and I had a system to get through functions like this. It used to be a drinking game, but for the past month I had been surreptitiously sipping sparkling grape juice. The rules, take a drink when someone: uses the word “exquisite” to describe the food, screams, namedrops, falls asleep, pounds their fist on the table, references the war, or turns their hearing aid off. It makes the dinner bearable, between smirks and stifled laughs, and being inevitably plastered before dessert. I had been playing off not drinking as part of a “detox” which Grace seemed to approve of when she poked my stomach, laughing “Well that is a mahhhvelous notion, you’ve been looking a little plump.”

Apparently some very important people were at this party, although I was never officially introduced. By the time dessert came, everyone but myself was drunk enough to make it impressive no one had fallen out of their chair. The man seated next to me, wearing a purple silk shirt and a bolero, had the housekeeper fetch a bottle of Mexican tequila he brought that was apparently a perfect complement to our hazelnut mousse.

“I would like to make a toast, to a company as old as this tequila, that continues to get better with age. Cheers!” I picked up my shot, cheers those around me and put it back on the table, close to Dave’s plate.

“Now darlin’ I brought this all the way from Mexico, and you’re not goin’ to have a taste! You’re goin’ ta make me a sad man.” My shoulders tighten, as I look up at his large red face, as red as Grace’s eyes glaring at me in shame and embarrassment.

“I’m sorry, I’m sure it’s wonderful, but you see I’m on a cleanse….”

“Cleanse my ass! C’mon, live a little honey, this is a party for your family, celebrate!”

“Well, it’s not her family yet” Grace chimes in, a laugh tinkling from her small lips.

“Mother…”

“Don’t use that tone! I’m just saying. Now just take a drink so we can carry on with dessert.”

“I’m sorry, I really don’t…”

“For Christ’s sake you’re embarrassing us, just take the shot” Grace shouts, as she pounds her fist on the table.

“Mother, she’s on a cleanse just leave her alone you don’t need to control everything.” Dave’s voice raises, something that rarely happens when he’s around his family. Oh god this is bad. I haven’t told Dave about the pregnancy yet, I know I need to present it to him right, convince him this is the right thing for us. He’s always so busy with work there hasn’t been a good time.

“Oh, really? She obviously hasn’t been sticking to this detox she hasn’t lost a pound. She’s just doing this to upset me!”

“For Christ’s sake mother not everything is about you!” Dave pounds his fist on the table.

“Well why in God’s name are you making such a fuss of this?”

Dave leans to me and pats my hand. “C’mon babe, can’t you just make an exception. It’ll be fine, just please make my mother happy.”

“I really…I really can’t…I’m…”

“For God’s sake, what the hell is the matter?”

“I’m pregnant.” I blurt it out. I can’t help it. I’ve been keeping it inside, waiting for the right moment, and of course I pick the absolute worst moment.

Deafening silence resounds, as the table mutes and my heart skips a beat. Dave’s father has taken on a fixed and practiced unreadable blankness, while Dave’s mother looks as if she’s been kicked in the gut. Dave leans back in his chair and closes his eyes, dropping my hand. The strangers suddenly become transfixed by their water glass and fingernails. The man in the purple silk shirt sloppily fills another shot glass “Well cheers to that!” and the room, relieved, breaks into smattered applause. Grace stands up and walks to me, then reaches her long thin arms around my head, squeezing it tightly.

“This is exquisite news. A miracle. God has blessed me greatly. I am so excited.” She stares at me, her beady eyes remaining blank and red, as a smile forces itself onto her face to shine for her dinner guests. She makes them promise to keep the news to themselves for the time being, not telling them it’s so she can sell the story to the highest bidder.

////

We leave before the reception is over, thankfully. We walk past our friends and family, hold hands, smile and wave in response to well wishes. We get into our white limo; a “Just Married” sign adorns the back and tin cans trumpet off the fender. Dave lets go of my hand, the curtain has fallen.

“Well, that’s over” he says as he loosens his tie.

“Yeah, I thought it went pretty well. Almost everyone seemed to have a good time.” I respond.

“Mhmm…” he mutters as he kicks off his shoes and leans back in the limo, his feet point towards me, his eyes close the second his head hits the black vinyl. It takes me five minutes to yank my white heels off of my swollen sweaty feet. I look out the window the rest of the ride home, watching the lights. The lights blend together, blurry from the condensation in the windows and my eyes.

We arrive home, a six bedroom mini mansion we will never fill, although Grace will do her best to encourage additions to the family workforce. I poke Dave in the foot, startling him awake.

Groggily” Oh, we’re back?”

“Yeah you were asleep the whole ride.”

“Sorry.”

The chauffer opens the door. I get out, “Thanks” and walk inside. I go into the kitchen, my favorite room in the house. Stainless steel, granite countertops, a reading nook, bay windows, an island, skylights. Silence. Perfect. The catering company has already dropped off my cake as I had requested thank god. I open the white slippery paper lid, and look inside. The cake topper had fallen, and the couple looks back at me, lying in the creamy white icing.  Their blank faces look more cohesive and blissful than the real Dave and I ever will be again. I grab a fork out of the nearest drawer and stab the very center, knocking the topper down the side. It drags icing off as it sludge’s to the bottom of the box. Suddenly I feel Dave’s strong arms wrap around my waist. He nestles his face in my neck.

“Come to bed, babe.” A rare word of endearment only used when he wants something from me, a tip he learned from his mother.

“You go, I’ll be there in a minute.” He drops his arms, pats me on the head, and pads away. I have no intention of going to bed with him. I prefer the taste of the cake.

///

My sisters’ most popular candle is Birthday Cake, a nauseatingly sticky sweet scent that permeates the homes of bland housewives across the South-West part of the state. She “works” at home making candles, that she sells at local boutiques. I was over at her house to help, it was kind of fun even though I would never admit that to her.

My sister was more concerned about my relationship than her negative profit margin. She used to always tell me I should do online dating. I thought it was bullshit. I didn’t want to use a platform that allowed people to project a misleading fake image of themself. I was skeptical that online someone would provide their autobiography with factual and relevant things: “arrested for public urination, often picks nose, chews with mouth open.” I can only imagine what Dave’s online dating profile would look like. I knew his photo would be a professional headshot, showcasing his coiffed hair and fine suit.

Name: David (Dave) Gorman. Height: 6’2. Age: 26. Occupation: Partner at Gorman & Gorman and Head of Productions

He would of course hide what he truly meant when he was supposed to tell his suitors what they needed to know.

Describe your ideal date: My ideal date would provide us a chance to get to know each other. I would want to do something simple, let our conversation shine. I would take you out to a nice dinner, and then make ice cream sundaes at my apartment and watch a movie. What he means: I want to go to my favorite restaurant and order my favorite food and talk about myself. I’ll pretend to be really nice and interesting. Then bring you back to my apartment so you’ll hopefully sleep with me on our first date.

Describe your ideal woman: My ideal woman would be a loving, beautiful, caring person who would support me and my career, but also be independent and intelligent. I want someone who loves life, travel, and art. What he means: I want a robot wife, who will play the part of a wife when I need it to appease my mother and leave me alone when I don’t.

Do you want kids? I haven’t given much thought to whether I want kids yet, I think those things come naturally or they don’t. What he means: I want kids as badly as I want to prematurely bald.

Describe your relationship with your parents: I work with my parents and we spend a lot of time together, so I’m fortunate that they care about me and we have a great relationship. What he means: I would still be breastfeeding if it was socially acceptable.

////

I tiptoe into the bedroom an hour later. As I hope and expect, Dave has fallen asleep, his socks and dress shirt still on, lying on top of the comforter on our California King bed, a thick snore escaping from his nose. I like him most when he’s sleeping. I can picture him how I want, how he used to be. Our first date could technically be the day we sat in the park and drank latte’s, as Dave did buy my coffee. But three days later we met again, at a small Italian restaurant on the West side. We met at eight, late enough that I was hungry and ate the microwave pizza in my freezer at six. I got to the restaurant first, so I left and went into the thrift shop next door to wait it out so as not to look too eager. Through the window of the shop, I saw Dave arrive. He handed the keys to his overtly flashy car to the valet, smoothed his jacket and walked inside. I counted to thirty and followed suit.

I walked in, and the hostess led me to the patio, illuminated only by bistro lights and candles. The patio was sandwiched between two brick buildings, with a view of the street to one side and the restaurants’ garden to the other. Dave stood up and smiled when I get there. He was dressed in an olive green button-up and navy pants. I was wearing a long grey maxi skirt and a bright cotton top. He pulled out my wrought iron chair for me, the legs scraping against the cobblestone, getting caught in a mossy groove as I wrestled it back to the table.

We decided on an appetizer together, which I still juvenilely viewed as a lavish treat, never being allowed to order one as a child and too cheap to do it now. We ordered pasta’s, Spaghetti Carbonara and Lemon Chicken Alfredo. We talked about our families- he had no siblings and controlling parents, I had a sister and divorced parents. We talked about college, our jobs, movies we liked, funny stories. I spent more time laughing than eating, feeding off of Dave’s guffaws more than the gnocchi appetizer. I didn’t even pretend I had to go to the bathroom just so I could have a break from talking like I usually did. We just clicked. It was easy. It was great. We talked until the tea light candle melted, the flame fiercely flickering in a pool of clear wax. We went back to his apartment to have ice cream and watch a movie. I couldn’t ask for anything better.

////

Beep. Beep. Beep. 7:00 a.m. My alarm is labeled with the airplane and skull emoji’s. We have to go. Dave’s parents bought us the trip, we pretended to be excited, even though they knew full well we weren’t. They wrote about it for the company’s monthly newsletter. A one year get away to Paris, just enough time for us to have the baby and hope the general public forgets how to subtract nine.

We arrive to the airport at 8:15. The sky is as bleak as my current outlook. We go through security and stop at Starbucks.

“What can I get for you?”

“We’ll have two nonfat cappuccino’s”

“But Dave, I…”

He turns quickly, his jaw tightening.

“You don’t need a latte. You know my mother said you really need to be watching what you’re eating.”

I pull my head back in disgust, the double chin that’s appearing not helping my case. You have got to be fucking kidding me. What I would give to be able to put him in his place, I can’t believe I got myself into this mess.

“Is everything okay?”

“Yes, how much?”

“6.50” He throws her a ten.

“Keep the change.”

///

Our first date was a quick stumble, and over the course of a year I continued to fall, my arms so wrapped up in Dave I knew I wouldn’t be able to catch myself if I ever neared the ground. I learned I was pregnant 11 months into our relationship, that dinner party would have conflicted with our celebration of our anniversary if we were in high school and still celebrated an 11 month anniversary. Following the dinner party Dave slowly began to pry his arms away from mine, despite how hard I clung on. He would come home from work upset, screaming with his mother on the phone. I would reach out to him with warm words and a cup of herbal tea, he allowed both to cool without any acknowledgement. I would plan relaxing spa weekend retreats that he would cancel last minute because his mother needed him at work. I didn’t know what to do, except wait it out. It never occurred to me to just get out.

On our one-year anniversary I was worried Dave wouldn’t remember to care. I made reservations at a small Italian place downtown, with cute bistro lighting, just in case. But on that Thursday night he surprised me. I was lounging on the couch, reading a gardening magazine, when Dave texted me to come outside. I had already slipped into a vintage cream beaded flapper dress I got from a thrift store, figuring I could still look fabulous lounging around the house, it was loose enough to hide my growing belly. I went outside, to see a red vintage sports car, complementing the red roses he was holding in his hands, and the red delivery tag that read “Grace Gorman”.

The drive was twenty minutes long, we listened to the radio the whole time without talking— not because there was nothing to say, because there was too much. Ever since he learned of the pregnancy he had resigned himself to a solitary world of work, booze and anger that was never spoken of. On our drive to wherever Dave was taking me, I realized it was the closest and longest I had been with him in weeks.

We went down a bumpy rode, rocks popping from under the tires like popcorn. An old wooden sign under an arching gate let me know we were at the Vineyard, owned by the man in the purple shirt. It was empty, save for a small white picnic table adorned with candles, wine I couldn’t drink, bread, cheese and grapes. We echoed the simpleness of the meal with simple conversation, followed by a simple “Will you marry me?” echoed with a simple “yes” and a not so simple diamond ring. I didn’t really think about this contract, but I should have. I said yes to love. I said yes to the old Dave, a yes I hoped would bring the old Dave back, if I just waited long enough. I didn’t know how long this love would take to age. Once news of our engagement spread, there was no going back, Grace would see that nothing damaged the company’s reputation, especially a child born out of wedlock or a broken engagement. She was a ruthless women, even knowing her for less than a year I had seen careers ended, company’s bankrupted, people imprisoned. I wasn’t the only one trapped. Dave didn’t want this marriage and baby, as much as I desired for him to want it.

///

We process through airport security. I bypass the X-ray machine, because it can harm the baby. Grace had called ahead to make sure they were aware. I have no clue how they knew who I was, Grace probably described me as “the girl with a fat ass and thin hair”. I get patted down by a TSA agent, who takes special care going over my belly. We take our seats at the gate, all with the same amount of discussion and affection that would be shared between business partners. Which is really what we are. A mutually beneficial agreement. A binding contract. Not to be confused with our pre-nup and marriage contract, which really only benefits Dave and offers me the lesser of two evils—get married and have a baby in that order, or suffer the wrath of Grace. No, I signed this contract in blood the moment I became pregnant. I thought I was getting love, a husband, a family. It’s a hope I still cling to that resonates with the pitter-patter of the two heartbeats inside of me. I assume Dave, well I hope, that Dave was in it for the same reasons, at least at first. I know at the end he went through with it to please his parents, his real business partners, to keep their empire alive. His parents business can’t stand a scandal, not with their billion dollar emphasis on “family ideals.”

“Now boarding flight E-327 to Paris. First class passengers please report to the loading dock. First class passengers, please begin to make your way to the loading dock.” We stand up. My flowing white pants swing gently around my ankles but the waistband digs into my flesh. Dave’s khaki’s don’t move from their pressed position, they simply bend at the knee like a robot.  He takes my bag for me, whether he actually wants to help or because he wants the people around us to think he’s helpful I’m unsure. The flight attendant scans our tickets and we make our way onto the plane, Dave smiles at her. I sit in the front row. First in first class. The cool soft seats should be comfortable but I can’t relax. Dave sits beside me.

“I’m going to sleep. Wake me up when we land.” Dave says as he pops a sleeping pill, puts his ear-buds in and turns his body away from me. I would respond but I know he can’t hear me, and if he did he wouldn’t care.

I watch the rest of the passengers board the plane, like pigs on a conveyer belt waiting to be slaughtered on this flying metal tube. The air is musty and sweaty, the protective oxygen mask calls my name to filter the germs. People shove their way through the small aisle way, diaper bags and carry-on bags smack against my side. Children scream at barred out parents who pacify them with candy bars. Once everyone has filed into their designated seat, the flight attendant begins to push the beverage cart down the cramped aisle way, less than an inch of space separating the wheels from my feet. I order one glass of wine, my doctor said it’s fine to have a drink on occasion, a reward for making it into the third trimester. I sip, tasting the Riesling, as dry as my sense of humor. The baby kicks against my abdomen, voicing its approval, I assume. The kick also made me have to pee, as I have to every hour on the hour.

I stand up to make my way to the bathroom but I’m blocked in by the beverage cart, whose brainless operator has managed to serve four people in the past ten minutes. There is no hope for me to get to the only bathroom, in the back of the plane. The baby pushes, harder, on my bladder. Oh my god I cannot wet myself on this plane. I manically look around the cabin. Dave is fast asleep, his face pressed against the plastic window, drool dripping from his chin. I grab my tote bag off of the floor and hurriedly push my way past the flight attendants and their protests and out the gate into the airport. I run as quickly as my swollen feet can carry me, wincing in pain from blisters and the worst pee cramps of my life. I find the bathroom, and squeeze myself through the queue of middle aged women with tacky velour sweat-suits, tourists with bulging fanny packs, and an obese woman who I know won’t even be able to fit in the stall.

I push past them all, emphasizing and protecting my belly with my wedding manicured hands. I snipe the next open stall, sit on the cool plastic seat, and release. I sit there a few moments longer, pressing my warm headached head against the cool metal on the side of the stall that I’m aware is disgusting but I’m too passive to care. An anxious tap at the door forces me upright to my swollen feet, and I leave.

My phone is telling me the plane is leaving in two minutes. I can hear Grace’s voice in my head telling me to run to the plane, to get back on, to take more smiling pictures for another fucking newsletter and hide away in Paris for a year. The old me would have told her to fuck off. I look at myself in the mirror in the bathroom as I wash my hands with sticky soap. Full belly, full face, neutral clothes, diamond ring. I don’t know the exact moment I lost myself. I just know it happened. The only part of me that’s the same is this desire to have love, to create my own fairy tale world my divorced parents never showed me. Maybe it is impossible to have.

I feel another kick. I place my damp hands over my silk cream shirt to soothe the baby. Maybe this soon to be smelly, stinky, crying, smiling baby will be my fairytale ending, what my love will fill. I feel a warmth spread through my body, smushing out like grapes turning into wine, warm liquid pouring from between my uncorked legs, a toast to a new beginning.