Right now I am sitting in a comfy green chair in a large bookstore located in the corner of a very large shopping plaza. Next to the bookstore is a Starbucks, since apparently it’s impossible to have a bookstore without a coffeeshop anymore. There’s also a pet store, an office supply store, an electronics store, a furniture store, a sporting goods store, a shoe warehouse, as well as several others. All of these stores are arrayed in a very large rectangle with the stores around the perimeter and a vast ocean of parking spaces in the middle. The sidewalk that runs past all of the stores on the inside of the rectangle takes half an hour to walk.
I know this because one year ago this month, last August, I walked it nearly every night, sometimes as late as 11 pm. It is strange to come to a shopping plaza to work out, but I needed a safe, flat, well-lit place to walk after the mall closed at 9 and there really wasn’t anywhere else to go. And so I came here and walked laps around the perimeter, peering into the darkened windows of the closed stores as I went. The only place open was the Starbucks, and sometimes even it was closed.
My late night shopping plaza laps were an attempt to get my blood sugar down, since I noticed that my blood sugar numbers were often better after a brisk walk. It was at the height of my GD-GD (“god-damned gestational diabetes”), and I was willing to do anything I could to sneak in some extra carbs — even if that meant working out afterward to pay for my sins. Even when I followed the prescribed diet as best I could, by the end of the day my nonexistent willpower was pretty much, well, nonexistent. And so walked laps, as vigorously as I could manage, before ducking into the Starbucks restroom to test my blood sugar. If it was good, meaning the number was low, I would reward myself with an unsweetened passion iced tea. If it was too high, I felt awful and went home.
No matter what time I found myself doing laps around the perimeter of my makeshift racetrack, there was usually a trio of musicians sitting on a bench outside of the bookstore, regaling anyone who passed by with their renditions of classic rock tunes. There was always a gray-haired guy, usually wearing a Hawaiian print shirt and playing a guitar, who also seemed to be the main vocalist. He was usually accompanied by someone drumming on the side of a wooden box, and sometimes a third person on congas or some other percussion instrument. They began to recognize me and smile as I walked by them, lap after lap, night after night. Sometimes I would wave to them, but as last August wore on and I got bigger and bigger, my hands swung less by my side and more often were enlisted to hold up my belly, or to adjust the black velcro strap that provided some much needed support.
And so, one year later, I’m back here again at the same shopping plaza. But this time I’m sitting inside the crisply air-conditioned bookstore rather than sweating my way through laps on the sidewalk outside of it. There are new faces and new baristas at the Starbucks, ones who don’t remember the very pregnant Asian woman who came in each night to use the bathroom but sometimes emerged in tears — tears of failure at the inability to control what I ate; of fear of the future and of the unknown path that I had apparently embarked upon; tears of exhaustion and just wanting to be done with it already; tears created by the hormones that swirled and coursed within me, hormones that controlled not just me but the life within me.
Tonight, the same trio of musicians are out there, sitting outside on the bench behind me on the other side of the bookstore wall. I walked by them on my way in here, where I can sit in the comfy chairs and eat and drink whatever I want, and don’t have to offer a blood sacrifice via a diabetes test strip. I wonder if any of the musicians recognized me as I passed them, especially the guitarist in what very well might be the same Hawaiian shirt I remember from last year.
On the other hand, maybe they wouldn’t, since I no longer sport the most recognizable feature that I had at the time. Last August I was all belly and baby, waddling more than walking.
Tonight I am thinner and I am alone, or at least as alone as any mother can ever be.