Death of a Woman
“You’re gonna end up killing yourself.”
Those were the last words out of Thomas’s mouth before Linda watched her husband walk out the door of their tiny house six months ago. She hadn’t seen or heard from him since. Oh, she probably could have convinced him to come back with idle promises, but what would be the point. Neither one of them had the energy to keep up the pretense of their lives any more. So, Linda didn’t phone over to her mother-in-law’s house and beg Thomas to return. And he made no move to check up on her, to make sure she was eating properly, to prod her up from the living room couch and get her out of the house for fresh air.
Linda thought of Thomas as she peeked through the dirty cracked window at the delivery van out front. Fleischman’s Grocery, the side panel read in bright red lettering. A pimply young man jumped out of the driver’s seat and rounded the back to fetch his cargo from the back doors. Linda glanced nervously up and down the street to see if any nosy neighbors were out on their porches.
The couch moaned as Linda hoisted herself up from it, leaving an impression in the sagging middle. She ambled toward the door with slow determination. The television droned on in the background, but she could still hear the floorboards of the old house creak under her 550-pound weight. Once to the door, Linda tugged down on her cotton pajama gown so that the folds in the cloth didn’t stick in her rolls of flesh. Even at her size, she still concerned herself with minor details of her appearance.
The delivery boy hopped up the front steps two at a time, balancing three paper grocery sacks in his arms. Linda held the door open for him and directed him to set them on the kitchen table. She noticed his nose twitch at the sweet stale garbage smell in the house. His eyes quickly darted from the mounds of dirty dishes to the heaps of clothes and old newspapers piled everywhere.
“Got a couple more in the van yet,” he said in a tight voice, as if he feared to breathe too deeply or be contaminated with filth. He exited quickly. Linda didn’t care what he thought, or what anyone thought anymore, really. So what if she stopped walking her garbage out to the curb. That was always Thomas’s job anyway. Besides, she got a sinking feeling that every time she stepped outside, the neighborhood tongues wagged in disgust.
The young man fetched three more bags out of the van. He attempted to close the truck’s back door with his knee, but ended up loosing his grip, sending one of the sacks tumbling.
“Oh, crap…” he muttered as boxes of snack cakes and other items fell from the bag. A box of Twinkies landed in a stagnant brown puddle. He glanced up from the street, and smiled guiltily at Linda who was watching him. “Sorry, Lady.”
“I’m not paying for those,” Linda said pointedly. She stood with both hands supporting the small of her back, belly protruding in front of her in proud defiance.
The delivery boy just nodded and scooped up the contents back into the bag.
“Looks like your rice got a hole in it,” he said. White granules trailed out on to the ground on the curb. “If you want, I can run back to the store and replace the items. It’s no trouble.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Linda answered, holding the door open for him again. He set the bags on the table. She handed him a check that didn’t include a tip.
“Thanks,” he muttered. “Have a good day.”
She shut the door behind the boy, then lumbered over to the couch window to watch him leave. She stood there watching long after he had driven away, just like she had stood watching after Thomas drove off in their blue Buick. The Saturday afternoon shadows were beginning to lengthen earlier now, causing a sickening yellow glow to drop over the rows of aged houses. Linda noticed a small flock of pigeons gathered around one spot of the curb out front, pecking the ground. She remembered the spilled rice.
“Stupid things,” she whispered out loud. After Thomas left, she had begun speaking to herself more and more, but only in whispers. As if by whispering she could keep her loneliness a secret.
Linda shuffled back across the room toward the arched doorway of the kitchen. Her hand reached into the bags and extracted the food, placing it all on a cleared off spot of the counter. She had ordered all of her favorites. Dill pickles, pecans in the shell, two bags of Hershey candy bars, butterscotch pudding in cups, several cans of Pringles potato chips, peanut butter, a couple boxes of chocolate flavored sugar cereal, and much more.
“Well, what’s for supper?” she whispered. Linda picked up a large, dirty bowl next to the sink and held it upside down tapping the leftover popcorn crumbs onto the sticky linoleum floor. She ignored the buttery residue as she emptied a box of cereal into the bowl. With fingers like sausages, Linda fished a plastic spoon out from a bag on the counter. She had switched to plasticware several months ago when the mass of dirty dishes overwhelmed her ambition. The expiration date on her milk was past three days old. Linda sniffed the mouth of the jug. Seemed all right to her. She dumped whatever remained in it on her cereal. Gathering the cereal bowl in one arm and a couple cans of Pringles in the other, Linda walked the ten feet across the living room and settled back onto the creaking springs of the couch.
Four thirty on Saturday afternoon was about the worst time all week for television. Linda squeezed the buttons on the remote to flip channels. News, news, fashion show, news… then familiar theme music came blaring out from channel five as the Baywatch girls ran down a Southern California beach, implants bouncing stiffly out in front of them.
“Why do you torture yourself?” Linda muttered as she dropped the remote at her side. Her eyes stared glued to the screen while she shoved heaping spoonfuls of cereal in her mouth. By the first commercial break, she had discarded the empty bowl on the floor and began shaking potato chips out of the can into her gaping mouth, because her chubby hand could not reach in to get them.
The show was a re-run Linda had seen a couple of weeks back, but her mind was not on the television anyway. In all the hours every day she spent on the couch in front of the TV, most of what Linda saw went over her head. Since Thomas left, she had gotten in a habit of zoning out everything and forcing her mind to go blank. Not thinking, not feeling, not listening… just blank. Today, however, she couldn’t seem to reach that blissful point of mind emptiness. Another trip to the kitchen had yielded the plastic carton of pecans, two boxes of Little Debbie snack cakes, and a two liter bottle of Pepsi. Again, she tried to empty her mind and failed. She should have never looked at the calendar this morning. Then, she would’ve never known this to be September 22, 2001… the fifth anniversary of her death as a woman.
* * * * *
“I can’t believe it’s gonna be a September baby,” Thomas said excitedly while driving in a rushed frenzy to the hospital. Linda gripped the door handle tightly, wincing when Thomas sped through stale yellow lights. She was surprised at how awake he was for three in the morning. When she had nudged him out of sleep fifteen minutes earlier to say she needed to go to the hospital, he began to laugh hysterically. He whistled as he tugged on his jeans and searched for his keys. In his enthusiasm, Thomas couldn’t stop himself from rambling all the way to the emergency room. Linda was too aware of bizarre happenings in her body to listen to him. “All of the kids in my family were born in September. I shoulda known with a due date of October 5th he’d be here early.”
Linda breathed quick short breaths in the passenger seat just as they had learned in Lamaze class. Thomas might have been excited for the early arrival, but Linda worried. The shooting pains in her lower abdomen and the drops of blood dripping onto a pad hastily stuck in her underwear told her to worry.
Thomas whipped the car into the emergency only parking stall and ran in to get a wheel chair. Linda struggled to work her way out of the passenger seat. She felt so gigantic. She had always been a little on the heavy side, but nothing like this. Thomas joked when they married five years earlier that she was his “Size Eighteen Queen”. Linda had worried about weight gain in her pregnancy, but it seemed worth it in order to give Thomas what he wanted most… a baby. However, for the past two months, Linda had been nothing but uncomfortable in her bloated body. Nothing fit; not even the car seat belt would buckle around her massive stomach anymore. Sleeping became impossible without her being propped up with five pillows or she would wake gasping for air. Thomas and a male nurse ran out of the ER doors to help Linda into a wheelchair. Searing waves of pain rolled through her body, causing her to double up and scream in agony. As she rolled along, she watched crimson droplets trail from under her skirt onto the ground.
“Hon,” Thomas said, “I need to sign the papers to admit you. I’ll be in a few minutes.” He placed a kiss on her sweaty forehead and jogged off down the hallway.
Voices surrounded her spilling out medical jargon that her wounded state of mind couldn’t decipher. The orderlies whisked her off to a sparsely furnished exam room. The bright florescent lights illuminated from above, causing the white walls, floor, and bed sheets to sting her eyes. Dizziness swept in and out of her mind. The next thing Linda knew, she was in the bed with her feet supported in the air in metal stirrups. An East Indian-looking doctor entered the room. In his hands, he held onto her medical chart. His forehead wrinkled and his mouth frowned down.
“Hello, Mrs. Levy,” the doctor said shaking her hand. “I am Dr. Saeed. Your regular physician, Dr. Montroy, is out of town.”
A tremor rumbled in Linda’s abdomen and she screamed out again.
“Doctor,” a nurse said, peering out from between Linda’s legs, “she’s hemorrhaging!”
Linda felt herself detaching from her body. The doctor disappeared behind the tent around her legs. She could feel him poking and prodding. She could hear him speaking to his nurses in sharp worried voices.
“Call O.R.” Dr. Saeed ordered a nurse. “She’s already dilated to four. We need facilities for a C-section S.T.A.T.”
The room started fading in and out. Linda barely noticed the nurses jabbing her with IV needles. She saw Thomas burst into the room just as she slipped from consciousness.
“Ma, go get the doctor!” Thomas said. “I think she’s waking up.”
Linda opened her eyes and saw the back end of her mother-in-law dash out of the room. She knew right away that she wasn’t in the same room as before. She was still in the hospital, but this new room had a TV up in the corner and a peeling, mauve border lining the top of the wall. Thomas sat in a stiff chair next to her, stroking her left hand anxiously. He seemed older to her now, tired. Purple circles lined his eyes and wrinkles appeared where there previously were none. Thomas looked older than his 40 years of age.
“Linda,” he spoke gently, running his fingers through his thinning hair, “Honey, do you feel okay?”
Her lips parted to answer, but she didn’t know what to say. The pain in her midsection was gone, but a strange emptiness replaced it. She felt hollow.
“Baby…” Linda whispered.
Thomas’s eyes told her before he ever had to speak. “It was a boy, but he was stillborn.”
“No…” was all Linda could utter before a flood of emotion silenced her again.
“Somehow, the umbilical cord got wrapped around him and cut off his air. It wasn’t anything we did wrong. These things just happen sometimes.”
Linda closed her eyes and wished for it all to be a dream. When she married Thomas, they had decided that having a baby was their first priority. She had looked foreword to the day when she could finally present his child to him, her ultimate gift of love. She thought today was going to be that day she waited for. She was already 35 years old. How many more chances would they have to conceive? Linda closed her eyes and prayed that maybe she could wake up in her cozy bed next to Thomas, propped up with pillows, pregnant belly jutting out in front of her again.
Dr. Saeed and a nurse entered the hospital room together. The nurse started to check Linda’s vitals and the doctor made notations in the chart.
“How are you feeling, Mrs. Levy?”
“I don’t know… ” Linda answered.
“Are you experiencing any pain?”
“No… not really. Kinda numb, I guess.” Linda held her breath to stifle an oncoming rush of tears.
“Sometimes in situations like this, postpartum emotions can get a little out of control. So, I’ve arranged for a psychologist to come talk to you and your husband latter today.”
“Doctor,” Linda asked, “when can we try for another baby?”
Dr. Saeed looked over at Thomas, “How much have you told her about what happened?”
“I just told her the baby passed away.” Thomas poked a finger up under his glasses to swipe away an emerging tear.
A troubled expression spread over the doctor’s face. “Linda, I am very sorry. But, there were some complications during the labor. When you arrived, you were hemorrhaging badly. The force to your contractions put strain on the uterus itself, causing it to rupture. I’m really sorry, but the uterus was not repairable. We had to remove it.”
“No!” Linda exclaimed, her hands running along the cushy flesh of her stretched misshapen abdomen. “Couldn’t you just sew the hole up? Thomas, how could you let them do this to me?”
“Linda, the good doctors tried everything, but the thing just ripped right in half.”
A hot rush flushed Linda’s cheeks. It couldn’t be true. She glanced to Thomas, hoping he could do something to make this situation right again. Thomas just squeezed her hand and blinked tears from his eyes.
A wave of nausea swept through Linda’s stomach. She was hot and cold all at once. Five years. For five years, she had tried to give Thomas a baby. Now, their little miracle was dead, along with any hope for another one.
* * * * *
The sudden start of The Simpson’s theme music erupting from the TV set caused Linda’s thoughts to clear. At her feet lay a littered mess of food wrappers and nutshells. Her stomach grumbled and twisted in pain. She knew she had eaten too much. She always ate too much. But, she preferred the discomfort of being overstuffed to hollowness. What would happen, she thought, if I just never stopped eating? Would I ever feel completely full?
Gazing out into the kitchen at the grocery bags on the counter, Linda remembered that she had forgotten to put away the refrigerated items. She strained to lift herself once again from the couch. A flutter of queasiness ran through her belly and she let out a loud belch. Sudden burning rose up her esophagus and stung in her chest.
Wobbling into the kitchen, Linda rooted through the bags searching for whatever needed to be kept cool. Reaching in, she pulled out the jar of dill pickles. Her mouth watered at the sight of them. She couldn’t resist. The jar came open unusually easy, and before she knew it, most of its contents were gone.
“Oh, God…” Linda whispered, wrapping her arms around her middle. Her hands massaged the folds of flesh. She stood that way with her eyes closed for a moment, swallowing down the rising bile in her throat. Another two-liter bottle of Pepsi sat on the table next to her. Thinking that maybe a drink of soda would settle her indigestion, Linda opened it and took a big swig. Then another. Then another, and soon the whole bottle was drained. A rush of heat flooded over Linda’s skin. Rumbling sounds coming from within began to scare her. Knowing she wouldn’t get to the bathroom in time, Linda leaned into the sink and vomited on a stack of dirty dishes.
After several minutes, Linda wiped her lips on her sleeve. The sticky mess in the sink was incredible. Too much to deal with tonight. The clock on the greasy microwave read 7:30. Time sure seemed to be going quick. Her inner organs felt like they had been turned inside out. Cold sweat coated her skin and she shivered uncontrollably. Normally, she would feel better after throwing up, but something still seemed wrong. She thought that maybe she should go sit down.
When Thomas was around, he used to help her to the couch, cloak her is a soft quilt, and run his fingers through her hair until she would drift off to sleep. In the morning Linda would vow never to binge again. Thomas tried to believe her, but that had steadily gotten harder to do, and finally he did what he had to do and left. At times like this, when Linda struggled to make her way back to the living room couch, clutching anything she could for support, she missed Thomas most. Snatching her cordless phone off its receiver on the wall, Linda decided, tonight she would call Thomas and plead for him to return.
Linda took a few steps back into the front room toward the couch, but a sharp pain in her chest stopped her dead in her tracks. Her left arm went numb and she couldn’t make a fist. The phone slipped from her fingers onto the rug, causing the battery to fly out of the back compartment and land under the couch. She couldn’t even call for help. Linda realized she was panting. Her lungs couldn’t draw in enough breath. The room started to spin and go black. The last thing Linda felt was a floating feeling of free-fall before she crashed to the hard floor.