I’ve always loved babies and children, from the days when I was a child myself and an older cousin to five little playmates. By the time motherhood blew older cousin status out of the water for the second time, I was regularly developing friendships with co-workers who were soon-to-be members of the club. But we all got older, as did our children, and soon there were no contemporaries with whom I could share the joy and drama of early parenting.
So when Sifu’s wife announced that a little white sash was on the way and later asked me for suggestions for fending off morning sickness, I took it as an opportunity to improve a relationship that had been rocky for years. Impending motherhood would have to soften up the bad-ass perfectionist who seemed to have problems with my personality from the minute I walked in the door – especially if I was right about our similarities being the primary source of our conflict, even if she didn’t see our common traits.
It was early summer when I asked her if she wanted to grab a bite late on a Sunday morning. By that time I’d been a fellow black sash for several months, and we were already on friendlier ground. Still, neither of us could possibly have predicted that as the brunch rush came and went, we’d share the details of the trauma and failure of our first marriages (I hadn’t even known she’d been married before), followed naturally by sharing the details of finding the right one and hanging on for dear life. Of course it was easy to discuss the mutual love of kung fu and the school, but I didn’t expect that to lead to details of its inner workings, its problems, the histories of some of the people that preceded her and even Sifu. I didn’t expect to hear her concerns about issues in some students’ lives that I hadn’t been privy to; and I also didn’t foresee sharing concerns about my own children, who she was teaching twice a week, while discussing hers and Sifu’s nerves about impending parenthood.
She was open, warm, vulnerable… lovable. I felt like we’d just been properly introduced after five years of knowing each other, and I was very happy to make her acquaintance. By the time we vacated the table, we’d talked for more than three hours straight, without either of us looking at a timepiece – without the pregnant lady even taking a bathroom break!
When my partner arrived home from work that evening, I told her about the surprising afternoon, the wonderful time I’d had with a woman that just a few months earlier I’d argued loudly with, to the point of frustration-filled tears. Mine, not hers.
“So, you two bonded.” My other half responded when I was through, emphasizing the word that exactly described how I felt about the experience. It was how I continued to feel in every conversation I had with Sijeh after that June day, both in and out of the guan, over coffee and through emails and texts. It was how I felt when helping to clean up her house at the end of a massive baby shower, when giving her the nursing advice she solicited, when changing her daughter’s diaper so she didn’t have to leave class to do it herself.
I thought we had bonded. I thought wrong.
There was no friend present defending me, mitigating her husband’s outrage when he came down on me like a ton of bricks with a punishment that did not fit the crime. And she could have run interference if she’d wanted to. She has a husband that cares very much about her opinion.
It’s taken more than two weeks for me to make eye contact with her, but I still have no desire to speak. I’m not sure if I ever will again. I know I’m deeply wounded; I must be. I haven’t even been able to bring myself to smile at their baby.