“Okay, Becca. What do I do?” chirped Melissa.
“Well sweetie, why don’t you pull up a chair while I chop up some fixings for a salad?” I replied. “And then, how about some grilled-cheese sandwiches?”
“Mmmm. Sounds good. But, you know, we also have to plan for dessert.”
I chuckled. “I knew I could count on you to remember that part of a meal. How about a nice fruit salad?”
“With cherries?” she countered.
“Yes, with cherries.”
“Maybe with some ice cream too?” she asked, hopefully.
“I suppose we could manage that somehow.”
“And some whipped cream on top?”
“Now you’re really pushin’ your luck, kid.” I said in my best tough-guy voice.
We laughed together. She had been expecting my reaction.
Melissa was such a bright spot in my life, probably just as much as she was in her mother’s. I had known her since the moment of her birth when I acted as Sylvia’s birthing coach.
I remember trying to convince my friend to have the baby at the hospital, with all the drugs and technology available to us. But she insisted she would have the baby at home with the assistance of a midwife and me.
I didn’t know how much assistance I was going to be. I couldn’t stand to see someone else in pain, especially someone I love, and the sight of blood made me nauseous. I was afraid the midwife might spend more time picking me up off the floor than tending to the mother and child.
Sylvia’s solution to this problem was to put her mattress directly on the floor of her bedroom, so I could sit beside her and I would be able to just slump over unharmed instead of falling off the bed. As usual, I acquiesced, and told myself I would have to follow my best friend’s example and be tough, for her sake and the sake of my future godchild.
In the end, I may not have been much help, but at least I didn’t pass out, vomit, or otherwise embarrass myself. But I do remember rethinking the notion of ever having children. It occurred to me that God had played a terrible joke on women when He created us. How did He ever expect a child with a head that size to pass through a relatively small passageway? I also was convinced He actually was a “he”, because a woman would have planned the whole process differently.
Melissa was born red-faced, pointy-headed, and covered with an awful grey-white film. That was the part, in my ignorance, which hadn’t occurred to me. I remember automatically telling Sylvia how beautiful she was, while thinking the baby looked like something which had been “slimed” in some science-fiction movie.
It didn’t take long for me to change my opinion. Within minutes, I was overcome by the marvel of the tiny little appendages and the delicate features. She had a shock of black hair and a set of lungs which were amazingly powerful for someone so tiny. She also had a fierce look of determination on her tiny face. I decided, then and there, despite the dark hair, that she was the image of her mother.
Of course, I couldn’t compare her to her father, since I had never met him, and didn’t even know his who he was.
Several years earlier, I had left to take an interior design course at a university in a distant town. Up until that time, I had been working as a lowly assistant for a large design firm. But, I had decided it was time to upgrade my education.
Afterwards, armed with my newfound university knowledge, I had returned home, moved in temporarily with Sylvia, and started my own company. My first surprise had been that starting your own business was a hell of a lot more difficult than I thought t it would be. My second surprise had been to find my friend four months pregnant.
My third, and perhaps the most devastating surprise, had been that she had firmly decided to never reveal the name of the father, even to me. I had been aware she was seeing someone, but she had never revealed his identity and kept telling me she would fill me in on the details later.
She never did. I was hurt and, I thought, justifiably so. I tried to reason with her that I would eventually find out his identity when the baby was born and the father was told. She answered by telling me he was never to be informed. I still recall the entire conversation.
“What? But you have to. He’s the father.”
“No,” she said adamantly.
“But, he has rights.” I retorted.
“No,” she repeated.
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this. You, of all people, who would fight for the rights of fleas to inhabit animals, and you’re denying the right of a man to know that he’s a father!”
“Look Becca, believe me, he would not appreciate knowing. He doesn’t want children, at least not any of my children, and he doesn’t deserve to have anything to do with this beautiful child. She doesn’t need him. She has us and that’s all she’ll ever need.”
“You don’t think it’s important for her to have a father in her life?”
I was horrified at the thought. My own father had been an important influence for me, and I couldn’t imagine not having had him in my life. When he had died suddenly eight years before, I had been devastated.
“Becca,” Sylvia, went on, in a gentler tone. “I understand your shock, but I know him, and I know what’s best for my child, and I would really appreciate your support here.”
Eventually, I relented. The guy must have been a real loser for Sylvia to cut him so totally out of her life.
“Okay, but I’m afraid someday you’ll regret your choice.”
“Maybe, but it’ll be my choice to regret, not yours. You have nothing to feel guilty about.”
It was left at that. From then on, we didn’t discuss the mysterious father. Instead, Melissa ended up with one mother and one backup mother, and as far as we were concerned, she didn’t need anyone else. She grew up to be a happy, healthy, active, little girl. I loved her from the first moment I saw her, and I knew if I was never fortunate enough to have a child of my own, having Melissa to love would be the next best thing.