I had dinner tonight with my best friend. Her birthday is Christmas Eve, so every year, I take her out to dinner sometime before the crazy round of holiday parties and activities so that we can have a chance to connect before the inevitable chaos of the season strikes in full force. We met the first day of our freshman year of high school, when we were fourteen, which makes this the 25th year that we have celebrated her birthday in this way. 25 years. That's a long time for any friendship, but especially for one where the two parties are as different as we are.
We were an odd couple from day one. Our high school was a magnet school, which, by definition, draws kids from all over the city. I grew up in upscale La Jolla. She grew up in Southeast San Diego, which is pretty much our version of a ghetto. My parents were wealthy. She never met her father, and her mother, who suffered from various physical and mental ailments, struggled to support my friend and her two siblings. When I missed the school bus, my dad would drop me off at school in his Porsche. If she missed the bus, she took a city bus--if she had a quarter. Her sister got pregnant in high school and never made it to college. Her brother was an addict by the time he was 13, and things went downhill from there for him.
But my friend went on to college, living in her car for a year when her grants ran out so that she could pay her tuition from her many part-time jobs and graduate with a B.A. I went to Harvard, where my parents picked up the tab and I lived in T.S. Eliot's old room. Later, I went to graduate school and then joined the Foreign Service. She went to EMT classes at the local community college and became first an EMT, then a paramedic, and eventually a firefighter and fire chief. I got married and had babies. She never wanted to marry or have kids, preferring to work and travel and live the free-spirited life that she loves.
Five years ago, she fell in love. She married two months later. Her husband is twenty years older than she is. He has grown children, but does not like kids and certainly didn't want to have any more, which suited her just fine.
Tonight at dinner, she commented that she has been so tired lately. A bit later, she mentioned that she hasn't had a period in four months and wondered if she might be starting menopause a tad early. Her breasts have been really sore, too, so it must be hormonal. A few minutes later, she added that she has gained a ton of weight, but it all seems to be right in her belly. At this point I put down my fork and asked, "Sweetheart, have you taken a pregnancy test?" "No," she answered, looking surprised. She's never been at all regular with her cycles (which I knew), and her husband is sterile. He had chemotherapy a few years ago. Well, okay. But maybe you should take a test anyway. Just to rule out a pregnancy. Stop at the drugstore on the way home, okay?
After dinner, I dropped her off at her car and drove home. I told my husband about the symptoms, and he just stared at me. "Well, of course she's pregnant!" he exclaimed. "Sterility from chemotherapy isn't permanent! She's going to be calling you tonight."
Sure enough, minutes later, the phone rang. "Are you sitting down?" she said. Oh yeah. She's pregnant. She took a test. She took two tests. She said they turned blue before she even set them down. And she is really, really freaked out. She will be 39 in a couple of weeks. Her husband is 58. Her 18-year-old niece is getting married Sunday, because she is three months pregnant, which means, if my friend has this baby, she will become a mother for the first time at the same time her 40-year-old sister becomes a grandmother for the first time. I'm not at all sure what to say to her, or how to help. I asked her what she is going to do (it just slipped out; how stupid), and she barely managed to squeak, "Have a baby, I guess." (To which her husband shouted "NO!" in the background.) I offered to go to the doctor with her, but I think my inability to stop saying, "Oh, my god!" probably didn't help. And if I can't think of anything more distressing at this point in my life than finding myself pregnant again, I can only imagine how she must feel.
How utterly ironic. All those years of high school and college, when we were so careful and so afraid of getting pregnant, and here we are, old married women, staring down the barrel of menopause, and now it happens. Oh, Holy %$#!.