It was at a free clinic similar to Planned Parenthood. They had brochures on adoption and abortion. They also had a token system where you could attend birthing and parenting classes and in turn get tokens for free baby clothes.
I arrived knowing from two tests I’d bought at Smith’s through the self-checkout that I was definitely pregnant, but that it was time to make sure I had a healthy baby growing inside me and not a garbanzo bean. The nurse slathered my stomach with blue goo and frowned at the ultrasound: nothing. A big black hole. That was it. She told me to wait while she called some OBs.
Finally I was ushered over to an OBGYN clinic two blocks away at St. John’s Hospital. A doctor stuck something long and covered in more blue goo up my vagina. Take a breath, my dear, you have a baby in there.
“You have an ovarian cyst so it’s hard to see. … But it’s alive and looks good. … We’ll keep an eye on you and don’t exercise or doing anything too strenuous. It should go away on its own during your second trimester.”
Relief mixed with anxiety mixed with excitement- a black hole.
Supermassive black holes are thought to exist in the center of every galaxy in the Universe. These whirlpools of nothingness are star eaters and blank spots and darkest chasms of space. They were predicted in 1916 by Albert Einstein, made up of hundreds of millions of times the mass of our Sun, and sometimes as heavy as 10 billion Suns. They’re invisible due to the strong gravity pulling all light into their centers.
There are over 100 billion galaxies in the Universe, and at the center of every one is a bulge of stars, gas and dust. Sagittarius A is the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. It’s 4:3 million times as heavy as the Sun. Andromeda’s black hole has a mass of 100 million suns. Some galaxies have 10-billion sun monsters.
Black holes start small, and over time grow larger as they eat. Sagittarius A, for instance, is preparing to dine on a gas cloud named G2 heading toward Sgr A at roughly 1,800 miles per second.
If my body is a Universe, I have a black hole. I mask it, but it sits at the center of my body. I question it. Am I living up to my potential? Would I lose my creativity if I got help? Isn’t life a black hole?
“Do you realize that if you fall into a black hole, you will see the entire future of the Universe unfold in front of you in a matter of moments,” says Neil deGrasse Tyson, “and you will emerge into another space-time created by the singularity of the black hole you just fell into?”
The delivery day is getting closer. Everyone’s talking about Trump’s tape, and Robert De Niro wants to punch him in the face. I’m thinking, “shit, I’m about to have a baby”.
Dr. Luikenaar tells me about working in the Bahamas. The local women very vocal and usually went without epidurals, so they would regularly just walk around the halls screaming for their mothers and cursing.
She assures me that I’ll get an epidural- which I knew I wanted the second my test stick showed two pink lines- and that I’ll probably be totally fine. I should avoid googling horror stories or watching medical dramas.
George smoke and ran long distance. He looked- and still looks- slightly unhinged but also wonderfully intelligent. He looks like Gene Wilder and says bewildering things like, “Misunderstanding mortality is often the ‘secret’ to ignorance,” and “From childhood to old age — consciousness as change [dilated]: innocent, ardent, ethical, then wise.”
He was also my professor at the University of Oregon, a good talker and a good listener, and a philosopher in the French and Comparative Lit. Departments: Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus. My first class with him, and my favorite as an undergrad, was a comparative lit. class called “Madness and Creativity”. I wore long grey coats, studied Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and disappeared into cluttered bookstores. I felt like a survivor of the Lost Generation.
George (or Dr. Moore as he preferred), believed I was a great writer and would, one day, make it as a writer. I was Brautigan. I was Didion. I was Woolf. I was Flaubert. People would ask what I was going to do wit an English Lit. degree. “Go back to school?” “Teach?” “Why don’t you write a children’s book.”
“Did you hear about-” My mom would remind me who from high school had graduated from Stanford, or started a job as a lawyer or a doctor or a biology teacher. My old prom date became an astrophysicist in Sweden or Sitzerland or some place with a highly important hadron collider nuclear research center. My own cousin was getting his PhD in Astrophysics from Penn. State. I could always photograph newborns.
I don’t know how creative people survive. My art was a black hole. I had student loans and an inside-out wallet. When I signed up for Medicaid the social worker asked: “What’s your highest level of education? High school?”
“We don’t have that listed. How about an AA?”
What would George tell me to do. “Aspire to perceive, with absolute modesty, the Universe.”
In this period of stasis is my consciousness building walls from reality or is it expanding to the Universe? If I am still evolving, even from a hospital bed, am I not preparing for a new reality? This is a necessary detour to relocate my path. Soon it will be a dream.
Before a shower, as the water heats, I look at my stretch marks. They’re on my belly, over my bellybutton, behind my armpits, down my thighs, hips, boobs. My body will never be the same. My mind will never be the same. I’m not the undergraduate hiding in the back of a bookstore. I’m not Brautigan or Flaubert.
It’s so nice to have someone to care for me. My ten months with Charley I was caring for him and now I’d had two months to be waited on hand and foot. Nurses brought me pens, Sprite, towels, soap, ice water, candy, warm blankets.
Charley says he hasn’t had a drink in nine days. I hope more than anything he sticks with it. It makes him want to drink when I ask.
How do you live with an alcoholic husband? You no longer have recreational beer and wine in the house. The cute, Mad Man-inspired mini-bar has to go. You make Ten Commandments:
- Thou shalt not have alcohol in the house or drink it around my husband
- Thou shalt not make excuses for him, even for bosses
- Thou shalt not just fix his disasters
- Thou shalt not enable him
- Thou shalt not nag him
- Thou shalt not create or prevent a crisis
- Thou shalt not lose patience and love when faced with his addiction
- Thou shalt not pick up all the slack where his responsibility falls short
- Thou shalt not feel shame for his addiction
- Thou shalt not let his alcoholism dominate or damage my relationship with the baby
This is a short list but it’s a lot of work. Soon I will wonder what it felt like to be single, doubtful but hopeful that there would be someone for me. Very soon I will wonder what it had felt like to be alone.
“Stephen, what would happen to me if I fell into a black hole? What would it feel like?”
Stephen Hawking’s daughter, Lucy, described her depression and addiction to alcoholism, her father’s divorce and her family’s struggles as “falling into a black hole” moment.
“Dad has this thing he talks about in one of his lectures, that black holes aren’t as black as they’ve been painted,” she says. “His discovery was that you can get out of a black hole. … what it all adds up to is, if you find yourself in a dark place, don’t despair, because there is a way out.”