Chapter Nine; Part Two
“Megan! Where are you?” It’s Jasmine. I don’t say anything, naively hoping she’ll go away if I don’t answer. It’s stupid, of course, because she’s not going to leave until she searches the house, but I still don’t have the will to answer. “There you are.” Jasmine sweeps into the living room, turning on all the lights. I blink as the lights flood into the room, and the cats meow in protest. They don’t move, however, the lazy bastards. “You’re brooding. You have to stop doing that.” Jasmine moves Jet to the couch before grabbing me by the arm and hauling me up into a sitting position. “Do you think Julianna would have wanted you to react this way?”
“I don’t know because Julianna is dead,” I retort. “I’ll never know what she wants again, will I?”
“That’s childish of you, Megan,” Jasmine says crisply, fluffing the pillow behind my back. “You know Julianna would be yelling at you right now for being self-indulgent.”
“Well, fuck her. She went and left me, so who fucking cares?” I can’t stop the horrible words from leaving my mouth.
“You don’t mean that. You know you don’t.” Jasmine clucks her tongue as she fusses over my clothes. She straightens them as best she can, but there’s not much you can do with sweats. “It’s the anger talking.”
“You’re fucking right it’s the anger talking. How could she fucking do this to me?” I am screaming by the end of the second sentence. “How dare she do this to me?” I throw a remote across the room, startling the hell out of my cats. I stroke their fur to calm them down, which allows my anger to dissipate somewhat.
“Megan. Listen to me.” Jasmine turns my head so I’m forced to look at her. “I know this is hard. I know you’re hurting like hell, but you cannot give in to this, you hear?” I don’t answer, so she shakes me once. “You went off the rails when Mom died. I do not have it in me to put you back together again for the second time.”
“Jasmine, I appreciate all you’ve done for me. I really do.” I pause as my eyes fill up with tears. She was the one who bought me pads when I first got my period. She was the one I confided in when I had my first serious crush—Ricky Stanton—I was fourteen years old. She was the one who bought my prom dress for me when Billy Jones asked me to prom my junior year. And she was the one who took on a second job so she could help cover my tuition at Carleton College when I could only get a partial scholarship. And when our mother killed herself with drink, it was Jasmine who held my hair back as I puked for three days straight. It was grief combined with too much booze. I couldn’t handle it, and she made sure I didn’t kill myself as well. “I don’t know how I’m ever going to repay you.”
“You can start by fucking living.” Jasmine says. I blink because she is not prone to swearing. I have a feeling she did it just to get my attention. “I did not nurture you this long only to have you give up now.” She touches her hand to the back of my face, and I tear up once again.
“I love you, Jasmine.” I say, my voice choking up. “I just don’t know if I can do this.” I pause and add, “I don’t know if I want to.”
“I know.” Jasmine stares at me hard. “But, you don’t have a choice. You have to live for me, for your cats, for your friends, but mostly for me.” There it is. She’s calling in the chip I have owed her for so long. There is no way I can say no, and yet, I resent her for cashing it in. Then again, she’s playing for some pretty high stakes, so I can’t blame her for fighting dirty.
“OK.” I take a deep breath and wipe the tears from my face. “I will do this. For you.” I grab Jasmine’s hand and squeeze. Onyx and Jet lick my cheeks from either side, and I smooth their fur away from their faces.
“I love you, Baby Girl,” Jasmine says softly, cradling my head to her chest. “I’m going to help you through this. I will.”
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” I weep, dragging my snot all over her shirt. She doesn’t even flinch as she takes it like a champ. In a few minutes, I pull back. “Sorry about your shirt,” I mumble, grabbing a handful of tissues and blowing my nose in them.
“No problem. I’ve had kids who’ve done much worse.” Jasmine grabs some tissues herself and dabs at her shirt.
“Thanks, Jasmine. Again.” I smile at Jasmine. It’s crumbly at the edges, but it’s a genuine smile.
“No problem. You’re my baby sister. I would do anything for you.” Jasmine hugs me tightly, then disappears into the kitchen. I hear her bustling around, and soon, delicious smells fill the air. Pot stickers, beef and broccoli, wontons, and sesame noodles. Rice as well. Thirty minutes later, she calls me to the dining room, which is a room I rarely use. The table is laden with Taiwanese delicacies, and my mouth waters despite myself. There’s also a pot of tea—green by the smell of it. Jasmine hates black tea for whatever reason, so she always serves green tea. There are also two glasses of water filled with ice cubes. I sit down and grab a pair of chopsticks. I reach for a pot sticker, but then my appetite disappears. I take a bite, and it’s ashes in my mouth. I manage to choke it down, but I can’t force another one.
“I’m sorry, Jasmine.” I say as I set down my chopsticks. “I’m sure it’s really good, but I just can’t.”
“It’s fine. I’ll put it in the fridge, and you can eat it when you get stronger. Or when you really need it.” Jasmine pops up and starts taking the plates back into the kitchen. I eat one wonton, but I know that’s as much as I can manage. I sip my tea instead, and that goes down smoothly. I take another sip, and before I know it, the tea is gone.
“I wrapped them in tinfoil and put the date on them,” Jasmine says as she bursts back into the room. “That way you’ll know how old they are.” She picks up a few more plates, then adds, “I would make you come home with me, but I know you won’t.”
“No. Onyx and Jet wouldn’t like it. At all.”
“They’re not your kids, Megan.” Jasmine has never understood the deep feelings I have for my cats, but I don’t begrudge her that. She’s fond of her Smoochie, of course, but it’s not the same.
“Thank god!” I crack, smirking at her. I have never been shy about voicing my opinions on not wanting to have children. It’s one thing Jasmine and I have argued about ever since I was old enough to understand what getting pregnant meant. That triggers a memory. My mother. When I was eight or nine. Crying in the bathroom, looking at something. Then, her shut up in her bedroom for three days. She left for a week, then came back, quieter and hitting the bottle harder. I didn’t know what it meant at the time, but some years later, I figured out that she was probably pregnant, though god knows by whom, and she got rid of it because she couldn’t even take care of the kids she already had. I never confronted my mother about it because I didn’t want to shame her, but I was pretty sure that was it. I remember arguing with Jasmine about kids. This was before she had them. I was all of fourteen or fifteen and thought I knew everything. She was saying how important it was to be a mother, how it was the most important thing in a woman’s life. She kept going on and on about it until I snapped. I told her there was no way in hell I’d have kids, mostly because of our mother. It was the one and only time she lost her temper with me. She slapped me across the face so hard, I literally heard bells ringing. She was mortified at what she’d done and apologized profusely, which I begrudgingly accepted. It made me see, however, that the idea of me not wanting kids was not acceptable to so many people, including my beloved sister. Hm. This could be a good blog post.
I was ten years old when I realized that I didn’t want to be a mother. My own childhood was chaotic and traumatic, which contributed to me not wanting to having children. It wasn’t just that, though. When I was a kid, I would play with my dolls, but I would never make them marry. Instead, I had them just have sex or more boringly, go to work. Sometimes, I’d have them take a boat cruise, but that’s only because someone gave me a toy boat.
I figured out pretty soon after that that people do not like it when a girl/woman confidently states that she doesn’t want to have children. Or, if she does, she needs to be apologetic or have a really good reason, such as genetic defects or hating kids or some such. I don’t hate kids. I quite like them, and they quite like me. I treat them like full human beings instead of like mini-mes. But, I’m tired of them after an hour and am always glad to give them back.
My bloodline is good, and there are no genetic defects that I know of. Except maybe alcoholism, but that doesn’t have to be replicated. I am of hearty Taiwanese peasant stock, so that’s not a problem at all. Oh, wait. We tend to run towards fat, and we’re all stubborn and cranky. Other than that, though, we’re solid.
Being a forty-five year old woman with no kids is a good way to be cut off from normal society. I’ve been to countless parties in which I’ve had to listen to mothers talk about their children ad nauseam. I tried to be as sympathetic as I could possibly be, but if I were to be honest, I was sighing on the inside as I listened to their tales of woe. I didn’t really care about their traumas, but I didn’t know how to gracefully extricate myself. Over the years, I learned how to cut off the conversations before it reached the point of uncomfortable family revelations.
I don’t think about not having kids except when other people mention it. Then, I’m just gleefully happy that I don’t have anything to keep me tied down. I can go anywhere I want and do anything I want. Yes, I have my two cats, but they don’t need constant watching. I don’t have to worry about them except to think if they’ve had enough to eat or drink or enough pets. If I go on a trip, I can get my sister or Julianna to watch them. Well, I could. Now it’ll just have to be Jasmine.
I write another two thousand words about how much I did not want to have children, and it’s one of the easiest posts I’ve ever written. It’s something I’ve thought about for many years. I’ve had to defend myself so many times from people who couldn’t believe a woman wouldn’t want children. I had thought it would get better as I got older, but even now, I hear younger women lament that they’re being pressured by their family and friends to have children. Sometimes, I wonder if we’re ever going to get past the Cro Magnon mentality. I know there are some biological reasons that people get the urge to procreate—indeed, our species would die out if it were otherwise—and yet, it seems as if we should be able to grasp that some women simply don’t want children. I can’t tell you how many people refused to believe that I didn’t want kids. When I was in my twenties, I got told condescendingly that I would change my mind one day. When I was in my thirties, it was, “Don’t you want someone to take care of you when you’re older?” Now that I’m in my forties, I get, “Aren’t you sorry you didn’t have kids?” It’s funny, though. Most people with kids look frazzled, unhappy, and older than they really are. They have money problems; they haven’t slept in weeks; they hate their jobs. Yes, I’m projecting, but from talking to people with kids, I know it’s true.
I’m tired. After I publish my post, I close my eyes. I drift off to sleep, and it’s not pleasant. There are ominous shadows, scary shapes, and all sorts of ugliness. Nothing concrete, but that makes it scarier somehow. I feel a pressure on my chest, and I can’t breathe. I push at the pressure, but it doesn’t move. I struggle to free myself from the shackles of sleep, but I can’t. The foggy wisps are holding me tightly, and it takes me several minutes to break free. When I do, I try to sit up. I can’t. It’s that damn blockage on my chest. I open one eye. It’s Jet, looking pleased as punch to be sitting on my chest. Onyx is not in sight, so I can only assume she’s up to no good. I try to pick up Jet, but I have no leverage, and he’s being particularly obstinate. I panic slightly because I’m having a hard time breathing.
“You won’t get any food if you kill me!” I gasp, more out of desperation than anything else.
“Mrruff.” Jet huffs and stiff-legs off of me. He settles down on the couch, and suddenly, Onyx’s head pops up over the cushions. She looks supremely smug, and I’m sure I’ll find something destroyed when I finally get up. I muster all my energy and pull myself off the couch. Jet grumps at me, but he hops off the couch and follows me as I check out the living room. There’s nothing out of place, so I go to the kitchen. There’s nothing there, either. What next? Bedroom? Yup. There’s are half a dozen books on the ground, and each one has a bite mark in the middle pages.
“Goddamn it, Onyx!” I whirl around to glare at Onyx, who is wisely several feet away from me. She stares at me, her eyes wide. I swallow my anger because she’s just a cat being a cat. Who knows why she did this, but I know it’s some kind of revenge. I probably slighted her in some way, but I don’t know how. Not for the first time did I wish that my cats spoke English, but that’s pure folly. The best I can do is make an educated guess, oh, lordy. Now I am sounding like a crazy old cat lady, and that’s the last thing I want. Well, I am a crazy old cat lady, but I try to keep it to a minimum as best I can. Yes, I do have shirts that proclaim my love for cats, and yes, I do care more about my cats than I do for most people, but still. I should have some limits. Trying to make my cats speak English is past that limit. I pick up the books and put them back on the shelf. I pet Onyx and Jet to show them I’m not mad at them. Then I check my website. My last post really hit a nerve. Over fifty comments and counting. Half of them are from people, mostly men, outraged that I would dare write such a thing. “Shameless slut” is one of the tamer things I was called. I didn’t publish most of the comments because I’m not allowing that shit in my house. I make that very clear in my ‘About Me’. I am the sole arbiter of who gets published and who doesn’t. A quarter of the rest of the responses are people asking questions, such as how did I know I didn’t want children. Those, I publish and answer. The remaining comments, asking not to be published, are from women who have felt the same way. They don’t want to admit it in public, understandably, but they are relieved that someone has written how they feel.
“Tired. So tired.” I close my eyes. I have taiji tomorrow afternoon, and then I agreed to dinner with Rembrandt. And dessert. I don’t want to do either of these things, but I know I will probably enjoy it while I do them. If I can only get out of the house. This has always been my problem. I hate leaving my house, even for something I want to do. I used to get in trouble with friends for flaking out ten minutes before we were supposed to meet. I’ve gotten better over the years, but I’m still not ever happy to have to leave the house. It’s bad enough that I have to go to work every day, but to leave again? No thank you. I’d rather just stay at home with my cats, but that’s not always a possibility. I have enjoyed myself while out, of course, but not as much as I do while I’m home. I usually can’t wait to get home, which is one reason I’m a bad date. As much as I enjoy myself while there, I’m secretly counting the minutes until I can go home again.