I brush out my braid and rip apart the plastic packaging of a pregnancy test. Plum blossoms grow in scattered patterns of pinky purple along the dark, twisted, mottled branches of the tree outside. I sweat, in chalice-shaped patches, onto the torso and sleeves of my polyester shirt. The dye on the test runs suggestively flame-red, but the oracular square that contains my fate is empty. The relief feels like passion; it overwhelms my mind, bowls me over, saturates my mouth and chest like a fistful of sugar cubes. No part of me wants motherhood, or the maroon-tinted, lab-made prediction of motherhood, or the dreamy possibility of it — not even a little bit. Why? All the usual reasons apply here, plus a few of my own, informed by troubled relationships to family, body, and self. Do I want to be convinced otherwise? Not at this time. I don’t object to feeling differently in the future, but I will resist every attempt to reject my present views simply because they don’t align with the desires of others.
Is it wrong to say that I like life (mostly), but I wouldn’t wish it on another? Living a human life is as pleasurable as a blood draw; distressing, eye-averting, but when the results arrive I read them avidly, contemplatively. Every year, I open another red envelope and receive another revelation. Sometimes, the revelations are howlingly sad. Other times, they are like a splash of coral-pink flowers growing along the split between sidewalk and gutter. Neither type of missive is enough to cancel out the other, but they have allowed me to acquire a range of tastes: bitter disappointment, cloying joy and love, rancid terror, chalky grief. Life is something I have come to tolerate. Via exposure therapy, the tolerance might one day morph into hesitant affection.
My geneaology is freckled with cancerous seeds of indulgent, paralyzing melancholy, and I know perfectly well that I’ve grown into that worldview, the way a daughter might inherit her mother’s body, clothes, and mood. I’ve grown into a woman who is cheerfully sad. Don’t think I haven’t considered how that affects my choices. After all, the only comfort in overthinking is the chance to indulge in the power of honest self-reflection, self-flagellation.
Did I have a bad childhood? Did I read too many maudlin books at too young an age? Was I seduced by nihilism before the age of reason? No, yes, maybe. Don’t I want to feel the total, all-encompassing, love-with-abandon that a mother feels for her offspring? Not necessarily. Aren’t I afraid of being alone in my old age? Of course. Can’t I admit to that fear without fearing judgment? Don’t I want to experience all life has to offer? Definitely not. Life has a lot of evil to offer. Good fortune is rare, but pain is everywhere. There are many belief systems that twist that pain into something worth beholding, like rending an old rag into ribbons, and that idolize pain as necessary, prized, intrinsic to meaning. I understand why these beliefs exist, even if I don’t share them. All I know is that pain is everywhere. In the water, on land, and in the recesses of my body, clotted into flesh and bloody discharge. I can’t protect anyone from it.