31: A Charm
The first time we were going to Maine — May 2020 — it was three nights in a “stunning 1 bdrm apt” in Portland, two nights in a “custom designed tree dwelling” in Georgetown, and three nights in a cottage in Bar Harbor with “a sunny (usually) porch.” Why Maine? I don’t even remember. The goal was to avoid Mother’s Day, the anniversary of two-thirds of my miscarriages up to that point, although it would be Mother’s Day in Maine, too, I realized eventually, so I guess the true goal was just to be sad somewhere I’d never been sad before. Despite the volume and frequency of my sadness, many fine locations qualified! But Maine had seafood and beer and crags and trees, and legal weed, and this bagel place our friends really liked, and the LL Bean store with the really big boot? And Joe liked the sound of it too. So I booked the rooms, the flights, the rental car. We would obliterate the cursed day with air travel, then spend the week nestling deep into one limbo inside another inside another.
We would, and then we would not. Until then, I’d never canceled a trip before. I was surprised to learn that it’s easy, actually—way easier to cancel travel plans than to make them. Get some refunds, eat some fees. On Mother’s Day we were nowhere new, but then again neither was hardly anyone else; we FaceTimed our moms then resumed the ninth week of lockdown, a limbo all its own. "Next year," we said, "next year" — and I didn’t know what we meant, and I didn’t know if I believed it either way.
The second time we were going to Maine — August 2021 — it was three nights in a Portland apartment “in a vibrant, transitional neighborhood,” three in a tiny house in Stonington “with a faint view of the harbor,” and a final night back in Portland in something called the “Green Eyes” room at a “one-of-a-kind guest house and social gathering space.” We were freshly double-vaxxed and eyeing the summer like famished hounds. The first attempt at Maine had been all about avoidance; the second would be vengeance. Everything that hadn’t happened for so long was going to happen again and/or at last. I booked the rooms, the flights, the rental car. We would land the week of our tenth wedding anniversary, peak blueberry season. We don’t have any particular passion for blueberries but even that felt like a triumph. And I was pregnant again, just barely. Everything was just barely.
It was, and then it was not. The Delta wave rolled in and I had an iffy ultrasound and I felt like shit. I’d canceled the trip before and I knew I could cancel it again and then I did. Refunds, fees. The day before we would’ve been flying to Portland, another ultrasound, this one definitive. The day we would’ve been driving to Stonington, a dose of misoprostol. On our anniversary, brain-pulping pain and blood blood blood. "Next year," we said again, "next year" — long past questioning how many limbos a person can safely exist within at the same time.
The third time we were going to Maine — June 2022 — it was six nights in Portland only at a bed and breakfast that “recently dropped the breakfast.” Less schlepping if we made it, less canceling if we didn’t, both options appealing because now I was pregnant for the fifth time. Our attempts to visit Maine and our attempts to have a baby had come to seem so cosmically thwarted that I wondered why I wondered if this time would be any different. Of course it would. But of course it wouldn’t. What do you call this—equanimity? Ambivalence? Bone-headedness in the face of reproductive trauma and a never-ending global pandemic?
Both outcomes of both scenarios seemed equally possible and equally impossible, and I expected the scales would remain balanced just so, right up until the moment they threw themselves horribly askew once again. This is where I landed, after all these years of trying to make rough peace with the fundamental uncertainty of human existence. If I was ever inclined to believe in a sure thing, I’m not anymore, and I’m mostly grateful for that. But along the way — in an ironic effort to make the uncertain more certain — I forgot that there can be gradients to the unknown, gray zones within gray zones. Maybe it’s not wise to feel too sure about too many things in this world, but there’s much to be said for letting yourself feel sure enough.
All this to say, the moment I realized we were probably actually going to Maine was perhaps the same moment I realized I was probably actually going to have this baby. We were on the plane, on the tarmac at Hartsfield-Jackson, excavating our seatbelts and fussing with our headphones, and I kept thinking, What’s the catch? We were on the trip and still I was waiting for something to happen and cancel the trip. What’s the catch? I was asking the same question about my pregnancy, too. I was twenty-one weeks in and everything was going fine. Absolutely unremarkable, absolutely boring, everything I’d ever wanted, more than I ever thought I could hope for. What’s the catch? For a while it had seemed like a reasonable question. I had every reason to keep my guard up. But there on the plane, flight attendants shutting overhead bins up and down the aisle, I was all of a sudden just so tired. Tired of bracing, tired of tempering, tired of inching along. Something truly wild could still intervene — fuel leak, flock of geese; abruption, malformation — but what were the chances? Not zero. But also not enough to keep holding it all at such a distance.
So I turned to Joe and said, “Oh my god, we’re going to Maine!” And he said, “Yeah, we are!” And so we did. We went to fucking MAINE fucking FINALLY and we had a GREAT TIME. I spent so long worrying about whether it would or wouldn’t happen, so long dealing with the fallout of the not-happening, that I kind of forgot there was something I wanted on the other side and what might it be like, to be there? Turns out, being there is WONDERFUL. There was indeed seafood and crags and trees. I ate one lobster roll every day, and duck confit poutine, and fried oysters with nuoc cham, and one very large pancake riddled with blueberries and bacon. We scrambled around on rocks that looked like petrified wood, and rocks that looked like ancient whale-backs, and all along the roadsides the wild lupine was blooming and in tidy little yards the dahlias were blooming, and the high was 76 and the mosquitos were asleep or unborn. One morning we got breakfast from the bagel place our friends really liked and drove it up to Boothbay Harbor, where we took a boat ride out to an island to see the hundreds of pairs of puffin and their pufflings salvaged from a population near zero in the 1980s; and guillemot too, and many terns and one seal, and a pod of black dolphins that cut right along our wake. After that the big Bean Boot seemed too obvious, too easy to find, but I made Joe take my picture with it anyway, just like I made him take my picture with the Bigfoot at the International Cryptozoology Museum, its narrow galleries crammed with evidence of things seen and unseen. And there was indeed beer, and there was indeed legal weed, and though I did not partake in either, in deference to the fetus, I was happy as a saint for Joe, who did. "Next time," I said, "next time" — and I don’t know if that was a promise or a threat, but for once I like my chances.