It had been ten years since she lost the baby. She mourned that day with ferocity.
Maybe it was the memory of the way Dan looked at her when he picked her up afterward, or the thought that once there was life inside of her and from that experience came nothing. Whatever the reason, every year on December 17th, she marked the anniversary by locking herself in her room and wondering what could have been. This year, on the tenth year since, it was no different than usual. Amanda wouldn’t even get out of bed.
I believed that the worst thing she could do was nothing; lying there, thinking about it would only make her crazier. I tried knocking and offering up bologna sandwiches, since it was all she and I could afford. We had been roommates a long time, and most months we didn’t have much more in the house than bread and mustard and cheap deli meat, but the thought of food made Amanda want to vomit.
“Come on, Amanda. You can’t do this to yourself,” I said, repeating the mantra I’d honed over our years living in the same house. “Take a shower and then we’ll go for a walk. I swear you’ll feel much better.”
This year, Amanda must have had enough sulking, because she actually listened.
“Okay. I’m coming,” she said, and I could hear her moving her body out of bed and shuffling across the floor to her bathroom.
We left the house together bundled in our matching grey peacoats that suited the cloudiness of the day and set a small goal of reaching the coffee shop four blocks away, so I could have a cup of tea. When we sat down opposite each other at a window booth, Amanda picked up the menu and I thought about how this was progress; Amanda leaving the house and contemplating eating on this day was an undeniable step forward.
We ate in relative silence. In the old days, when we were younger, our conversations made old people give us dirty looks and leave whatever restaurant we were abusing. That day, no one so much as glanced our way.
“I’m proud of you,” I told her. “You actually came out today.”
Amanda dropped her eyes to the floor, dismissing obvious improvement. I wondered if she was comfortable in her misery. Maybe she was happy in her sadness, as strange as that sounds. Otherwise, wouldn’t she try pulling herself out of this funk that by now she must know was coming every December? I decided not to push it. I didn’t want to upset her.
I looked past Amanda, over to the Christmas tree next to the cashier. Two little boys were sitting below the tree, touching the ornaments shaped like toy trains and Santa Claus. A tinny Muzak version of “Winter Wonderland” was playing over the sound system.
“Come on boys, let’s go!” their father urged. His voice was familiar and I strained my eyes to see his face, not quite placing him, until I noticed that Amanda’s eyes were searching mine. She recognized the voice too; it was Dan. Dan, who told her that she should have the abortion, because he wanted to be with her but he didn’t want kids. Dan, who picked her up afterwards to drive her home, but never came by our house again.
The trio left as quickly as I could shake my head and say “No, it’s not him.”
A white lie was better than messing with Amanda’s sanity that day.
Afterwards, we took the long way home.
Eileen Velthuis has worked as managing editor at a publishing house, copyeditor at a literary magazine, marketing specialist, copywriter and reporter. Her work has been featured in LOVE, DIVERSE and OCW among other places, and she has published two nonfiction books. You can find her on Twitter @eileenvee.