I’m doing the dishes, passively gazing out the window at the dusty driveway and the heavy clouds ready to rupture with the April rain, and quietly singing a song I don’t quite know, “Paddy’s Lamentation”. But this story doesn’t start here. It starts a few weeks ago, when I reached my 24th birthday. While I was musing over martinis with the couple of friends I cornered at my birthday party as I entered the stage of inebriation that my husband comically refers to as ‘Professor Hanna’, I discovered that I had reached a milestone. As I elucidated at the party – less eloquently then, than I am remembering now, I’m sure – “now that I am 24, if I get pregnant, everyone will assume it was intentional.” The combination of this revelation, this comic and Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women got me thinking about the perceptions of life, love and pregnancy in my own small hometown.
When I was 18 I finished high school and moved 200km away, all by myself, to go to college in a city nearly twice the size of my hometown. After two years, I returned home expecting to find a job and settle permanently, but instead, I learned that everything had changed while I was away. The golden age had ended and the city had fallen. My mother’s house, once warm, bright and comfortable, was now cold, dingy and unfamiliar. The main street downtown, renowned for its antiquated charm was now a gray, vulgar, vainglorious imposter. As I walked these streets I wondered, were the addicts, the teenage mothers and other cracks in the façade new, or was I only now able to see them; had the city changed or had I. I could not stay. After one year of living in the ashes of my childhood, I left again. I moved to the fifth largest city in Ontario to live with my future husband while he attended school. After three years, moving to a smaller, neighbouring city (still the second largest I’ve ever lived in), getting married and attending university for a second degree, I know that I can never return. So why do I want to so dearly?
The secret is that my biological clock has been steadily ticking louder and louder. I always knew that I would have children some day, but that day was always far off in an incomprehensible future where I had money, a DSLR, several photo albums full of spectacular vacation photos and a place to put the child – a modest cottage with a garden would do, until recently that is. I feel that I am ready but, alas, I don’t have any of those things yet. Several of my friends, my cousins and, most upsettingly, my peers have “decided” to have children despite also leaving those boxes unchecked on their applications to reproduce, and I’m irreparably envious. If I have a tragic flaw, it’s that I’m too damn responsible. It is feelings like these that leave me looking out the window and longing for my hometown.
Growing up in a rural community with poor access to post secondary education, I always knew that only the luckiest few could escape. It is far more common for girls to get pregnant, get stuck and become my mother than it is for them to move away and continue their education after high school. I was one of the lucky ones, I got out, but why does that leave me wishing I was one of the girls that got stuck? In my hometown there is a strange relationship between staying behind and getting pregnant. Obviously, getting pregnant means that a girl will have to stay behind, but the relationship gets a little paradoxical when you notice that the girl who chooses to stay behind also tends to get pregnant much earlier than her peers who move away. Determining which event is the cause and which is the effect is not so easy. I often wonder what my life would be like if I had fallen into this trap. I image myself sitting in a wild spring garden, the laundry on the line, matching the ebb and flow of the gentle morning breeze, my husband fed and off to work hours ago and his baby gurgling sweetly in my arms, but the problem is, I don’t know how I feel in this moment. It is the tragedy of the human condition that we cannot accurately predict how we will feel about an event that has not occurred. Am I happy, having never left and discovered who I really am, or just blissfully ignorant? Am I projecting myself to this alternate reality with all the experiences and knowledge of this one or does this selfsame shade posses the innocence of a mind that never learned that the events and individuals of a small town are not known as well outside as they are within – a common fallacy of the rural disposition?
I slowly return to my place before the sink, the dishes are nearly done, the rain has begun to fall and I wonder if I will ever have these things that I long for. Is it better to go, leave home, get an education, explore the world and find a larger life, or is it better not to know?