WHEN I COULD finally stand up, my husband ushered me out of that room.
I was wearing bloody pads. I was numb. Anesthetic: mind, body.
I wanted to turn around and come and get her. A mistake has been made.
“You’re just in shock,” he kept saying.
I walked like an elderly person. He grabbed my upper arm gently but firmly, walked me faster.
The hospital was no longer the good place where we used to go, waiting to see her again, growing inside me. In the blurry ultrasound pictures, she was already baby-shaped; her heartbeat was like a techno track; it seemed to go too fast but the OB-GYN assured us that this was normal.
I loved the feeling of cold gel spreading on my belly as they looked for her. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling but I loved it anyway.
Back then, when I would leave the hospital I’d look at it with affection. There were monitors and birthing beds inside and skilled doctor hands that would get her to out of me and I would get to hold her and kiss her tiny, scrunched up face.
I kissed her tiny, scrunched up face.
I did get to hold her. Then she was gone.
Afterwards, the hospital looked like prison to me, like Alcatraz.
In the six-level parking lot my husband wandered around trying to find our car. I sat on concrete steps and waited for his text letting me know he’d found the car.
I shivered but it wasn’t cold. I couldn’t stop shivering.
When he walked me to the car, I cried; it felt safe to finally cry, locked in the metal can that drove us away from Alcatraz. I saw it disappear in the rear-view mirror and I blamed it for what had happened inside.
My husband’s mouth was a tight line; he was concentrating on driving. He sped and passed cars as if we were late for an appointment.
We got home and I went to bed, covered myself in blankets and waited for nothing. Waited for sleep, which came eventually, mercifully, and I didn’t have to deal with the sudden vacancy inside my body.
My husband didn’t check on me. He woke me up in the evening. He cooked dinner—blobs of food matter in different colours. I put the food in my mouth like a machine.
He was silent the whole time.
It’s a crazy thing to despise someone for how they deal with death but there you have it.
After days, weeks or years in bed, he ordered me to get up. He said I looked like death. He was right: my cheekbones were like knives and the lines around my mouth were deep ridges.
“I don’t know how to help you,” he said.
“I don’t know how to help me.”
He said, “Let’s go shopping. It’ll distract you.”
He bought me dresses and stockings.
He bought me shoes.
He dragged me to see a movie about something; I can’t remember what and afterwards we went to eat something. I can’t remember what. We sat in the restaurant and he said I looked beautiful. Tired but beautiful. I should start wearing more make-up.
“I’m in so much pain,” I remember saying.
“Life goes on,” he said.
He held my hand and I felt nothing.
“You need to take better care of yourself. You’re too beautiful to waste away like that.”
I laughed in that restaurant and it wasn’t a nice laughter. I laughed like a hysteric. I was a thing he couldn’t fix.
On his computer he had a folder with hundreds of pictures of me in different underwear and dresses and shoes he had purchased for me. I was a thing, a doll, and I had to behave like a doll, otherwise he didn’t know what to do with me.
It wasn’t always like that.
After we got married, we flew to Europe where we rented a small Cinquecento to drive from Denmark all the way to Greece. After hours of driving, we’d stop at hotels in cities we wanted to spend some time in. Mostly small cities with small hotels with small rooms with big beds. We’d have sex and shower and change and go out to eat. There was always a pretty town square in each city, a restaurant with tiny tables and chairs spilling out onto the sidewalks, where we’d drink sparkly wine and eat a dish of the local interpretation of carbs, and the local cheese and fruit for dessert. If this was lunch, we’d stroll around the city following no specific direction, going inside buildings and churches that were open, taking an occasional photo of things that impressed us: a fading fresco, a gargoyle head, weird vegetables, scrawny kittens, dark-haired children running in the streets, backs of other tourist couples holding hands.
Back then my husband wasn’t a planner—I was never a planner—and this mutually agreed-on freedom made us feel free; made me feel free. We would walk around holding hands and not talk or we would talk but I don’t remember any of the conversations; I just remember the mood and it was light, lots of laughter.
If it was evening, and the city was bigger, we’d try to find a venue that played music. We would get drunk and dance and kiss as if we had just met. Sometimes we’d talk to locals or other tourists but sometimes we wouldn’t—we wouldn’t even talk to each other. This kind of thing is not an uncommon experience—I’d read books about lovers not having to talk to each other—that’s how deep their connection was—and it was happening to us, in real life.
We would go back to our hotel, my hair curling from the moisture that seemed to be ever present the closer we would get to the Adriatic. We smelled of sweat and smoke and alcohol and perfume and we would intertwine our legs and arms, our snaking snake bodies between sheets, which would end up on the floor after many rounds of passionate fucking.
The mornings would be pleasantly hungover, two-dimensional with lazy breakfast in bed, always eggs and orange juice. The hotels catered to dumb, careful tourists; you had to go out to get the local food.
We usually didn’t stay for more than one night and we would get back into our Cinquecento and drive through smaller country roads—we avoided highways—and stop sometimes to have sex or check out a falling-apart church or eat a meal.
We agreed on the stops; there were never any arguments about not following the plan because there was no plan. There was just point A—Denmark—and B—Greece—and after that a plane back to Canada.
Maggie, Sarah, Lucy, Olive. Helen. Names I like.
(I never named her.)
Olive. I like Olive best. Olive, an actual name, a usual name for a regular girl who would’ve been alive to begin with and who would inhabit a name as live girls do, give it personality: Maggie loves horses. Lucy is really peculiar about her hair. Sarah hates apples.
Salty and bitter olives—like the ones my husband and I gorged on in Greece—for Olive.
Sometimes I see her in little girls on playgrounds and she’s mine—she has dark hair like my husband’s, my big brown eyes—until she squeaks and calls some other woman,” Mom!” and runs towards her.
I shouldn’t be bringing it up with my husband any more. If I bring it up, he’ll probably say, as he always does, that his company has good insurance. Fifteen hundred dollars in psychological services, Babe. Fifteen sessions at least maybe more if I can find someone who charges less.
“Olive,” I say and he rolls his eyes.
“I’m not crazy.”
He says, “Please. You must stop. You can’t go on like this.”
“You mean you can’t go on like this.”
“I can’t go on like this, you’re right,” he says and we don’t talk about it any more because now it’s a Sunday morning and it’s warm outside; it’s quiet and beautiful outside, and we are still together because I still remember Greece when I look at him.
After lunch, we go out to the newly opened outdoor market in our neighbourhood where you can buy everything—from weird mushrooms to old medals.
We pass stalls like we’re in a museum.
In a vegetable stand I buy beets and multicoloured carrots. The carrots and the beets inspire me; they could become a minor creative project. Not a novel but perhaps a stew.
My husband puts his arm around my shoulder, pulls me close to him. When he turns to me his eyes are half moons, happy. I love him in this moment, deeply, fiercely like I used to. It’s a flash of light, a promise of summer perhaps, maybe another Greece.
I grab and hold his hand.
His hand is polite in mine, not particularly interested.
I squeeze his hand harder.
People pass us by and look at us and see us. We must be a reassuring image, a manifestation of everything working out in the end.
We let go of each other’s hands after my husband sees a stall with hats. He stops at it and picks out an ugly hat and puts it on his head.
It looks awful on him, a disk of straw like a dinner plate someone threw at his head.
“It looks silly. What about your other hats. There are other hats in the basement.”
“They don’t fit,” he says and adjusts the dinner plate but it won’t stay adjusted; it moves and pops up as if it was planning to fly off.
I try not to comment on his clothing, his fashion choices that upset me, try not to be the bitch laughing at her husband’s fumbly attempts at dressing himself. He’s not so bad at it anyway, no polyester shirts, no Khaki pants. My mother used to do it to my father, used to berate him for his Khaki pants, his terrible Khakiness.
It was inevitable that he had rediscovered his self-esteem between the legs of a clear-eyed girl who was quiet and didn’t give two shits about Khaki pants.
My husband blinks at me, “A dinner plate. Funny.” He pulls the brim of the hat down, tries to jam it further onto his head. It makes no difference, the hat pops right up.
I say, “Let’s see if they have other hats over there—“
My husband takes out his wallet and gives the hat seller a twenty.
Is this is going to be the deciding moment that I will talk about in the future? Will it be me saying to a Sangria-drunk table of newly acquainted divorcee girlfriends: “It was when he bought this dweeby little hat.”
I’ve read of people walking out on their spouses over burnt pasta dishes, missing toothpaste caps.
It is never just that, never just an ugly hat, just a missing toothpaste cap.
“No, it looks great,” I say but he walks ahead of me and he rests one hand on the hat; holds it down.
It is never just an ugly hat.
He speeds up but I don’t catch up to him.
(Olive.) I walk behind him rolling my daughter’s beautiful bitter and salty name in my mouth.
Jowita Bydlowska is a writer and photographer living in Toronto. Her first book, Drunk Mom, was a national bestseller. Her novel, Guy, is coming out in 2016. You can view more of her photographs at Boredom Repellent.