The thin, short haired lactation consultant asks the three of us, sitting with our hands resting on our bumps at this white, round table in a shabby chic corner tea house in the old city of Bucharest, the only customers this sunny summer morning.
And I’m suddenly back twelve years ago.
“I want us to split”, my boyfriend tells me bluntly, sitting legs apart in the small, torn armchair by the balcony door in our rented studio five bus stops away from the University square in Bucharest. “I don’t love you anymore,” he adds, stretching his long legs across the Turkish carpet in dusty shades of blue on top of the worn out linoleum covering the floor.
I’m mute for a few seconds and I feel my throat exploding and wonder if I’m ever gonna be able to utter a sound again. At the same time, I remember our love making the night before and the goodbye kisses that very morning and the “I love you” before he closed the door behind him and went to work. They all seem like faint memories from another lifetime. What’s happened in the meantime? When did I die? I have no job ’cause “you’ve just finished university, don’t get hired just yet, let’s travel this summer” and nowhere to go. I can’t breathe.
Five months later, having spent about a month apart, we are married. Too afraid of loneliness, both of us, to pass the opportunity. Nine years later we are divorced. On our ten year wedding anniversary we sign the bank papers so I’ll no longer be part of the mortgage contract on our commonly held apartment – a home so hard to leave behind. That same day also happens to be the first day of my last menstruation before I get pregnant.
The two lines on the pregnancy test, on March 8, at around 3 am leave no ground beneath my feet, nothing to hold on to, and force big tears out of my eyes like in a manga comic. Happiness and panic, two long and slippery snakes mating in my solar plexus. Another burial awaits – the girl I used to be is struck dead by two pink lines on a white background she’s just peed on, alone in her boyfriend’s bathroom, the whole universe spinning around her. Yet never again alone, to be accurate.
Then the phone call I get when I am 15 from my first lover, announcing me he’s cheated on me and “I need to meet that girl and discuss our feelings for each other… I’m sorry. Please don’t cry.” I can’t talk. The dirty receiver is heavy in my right hand and my thighs are getting wet as I’m kneeling by the bedside cabinet of my ground floor neighbors, who keep poking their heads around the door to check up on me from time to time. We don’t have our own phone, you see. I have to go down two floors to take the call, leave my corpse on my neighbors’ bedroom floor and then carry my ghost back upstairs again.
Then it’s early morning again, last year in spring, and I’m standing in front of the bed in that scruffy hotel room in Sultanahmet in Istanbul, dimly lit through the thick and brown heavy curtains. Ten years younger than me, short and handsome, amber skin, light brown hair, thick eyebrows and long lashes, full lips covering his tobacco stained teeth, my Syrian lover seems perfect. I’ve taken a shower, put my makeup on, got dressed, packed my suitcase and I’m ready to leave. And I can’t. I can’t wake him up. I can’t open and close that bloody door behind me.
I can’t stop looking at him sleeping there, so vulnerable, his bare chest moving up and down with his soft breath, a bent knee resting over the white sheet, his toes almost reaching the wooden side of the bed. I feel my chest exploding in a thousand pieces at the sight; silently and deadly. I’m perfectly aware I’ll probably never see him again. “Don’t make it difficult”, he says, seeing my face as I pull myself together and wake him up, whispering his name while running my hand over his face. “Take care of yourself, Dhana”, he advises, knowing I’ll never listen. “Just go…”, he adds when I go back the second time for one last kiss. Minutes later, in the car seat taking me to the airport, I say goodbye to the sea.
“How do you know?”, the Cancer boy I’ve met using a dating app asks me, his big, beautiful eyes resting on my lips, unable to look higher. Lying flat on my belly in his bed, I tell him exactly what he did on a specific day in December last year, precisely one week after our first date. “I hate lies”, I warn him. “Please forgive me, I promise I’ll never lie to you again. Can we just leave this behind us? We have so much to do together…” I know I can’t trust him about the first part, but I am perfectly aware he’s absolutely right about the last part. Still, a leftover from the innocent me dies in this scene, too. About a month and a half later, in the same bed, a strong light warms up my womb as if a comet hit the earth and I describe the whole experience in my diary the next morning, so that five weeks later, holding the two lined test in my hand, I find the exact conception date: Valentine’s day/ night. Three weeks after that, manga tears again as I’m listening to my baby’s heart during the first ultrasound in the doctor’s office.
“Yes, I have…” I answer when the lactation consultant says it’s my turn. The other two expecting mothers have already spoken while my memories were flooding my brain like a swollen river on a sunny day in mid spring, when the snow melts all at once.
“And? What can you share with us?”
“You know, my life has changed so much and so many times… And there have been moments when I felt I couldn’t breathe, when there was absolutely nothing familiar to hold on to anymore, nothing to cling to, seemingly no one and nothing to rely on… I’ve felt driven out of my own life. I’ve died. And I’ve survived every time. The hardest thing, feeling suddenly suspended in mid air, was having enough patience to get to the bottom of the pit, having enough patience to fall all the way, to hit the ground. Then crawl and cry down there for as long as necessary and climb back up again. To a new life. I’ve survived all my deaths… Every time… All of us do.” I answer, giggling at the revelation, an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and confidence filling me up as my left elbow reaches behind over the bentwood chair back, to make room for my growing heart.
There’s a short silence as the three smiling women are all looking at me as if I’ve just said something important.
PS Attachment is the name of the monster I’m learning to tame.
PPS Took this photo in Văcărești natural park earlier this week – felt like early fall is creeping in…