by Lisa Regen
He wanted to go to the cemetery—to the place where they’d gone on their first date. How many years ago? She can’t recall. Back then, the teenagers went to a deceased rock star’s tombstone to get stoned. This time, they drove there in silence, having some trouble finding the way since the neighborhood had changed so much. She looked out the window and then down at her belly, swelling under the seat belt in its seventh month of pregnancy.
It wasn’t to visit anyone, really, this time. They wanted baby names. He’d come up with the idea to get names from tombstones. Each tombstone would display a first name, and probably a middle name; each could be candidates. At this particular cemetery the graves were packed in tightly; they could cover a lot of ground in a short time. Would they walk over the bodies, she wondered to herself. That idea didn’t appeal to her. It sounded somehow disrespectful. The baby kicked and she felt that strange mixture of annoyance and relief. Relief that the baby was okay, and annoyance that her body had been so completely taken over. The relief was palpable; it came to the forefront, as she’d had two late-term miscarriages before this pregnancy.
They pulled in and she barely recognized the place. It had been a long time. She noticed that the trees had filled in and matured, giving the place a shady, formidable feel. They drove slowly around grids of narrow pavement, looking for the site of their first date at that famous tombstone. There were a few other cars scattered around and she felt guilty for a moment. People were carrying flowers, visiting loved ones, paying somber respects. She was here to capture something. Would the others mind if they knew? She pushed the thought down.
He couldn’t find the spot and so finally parked. He walked around to her side of the car to help her out.
“That’s not necessary,” she said, with a smile, but as she looked up, she saw the concerned look on his face. The lost pregnancies had taken their toll on him—taken their toll on both of them. And on this fetus, who might finally be born out of loss and into desperation. How she yearned to hold onto this one.
They walked slowly, hand in hand, beginning to locate the mostly flat gravestones. They read the names to each other, sheepish and giggling about this strange exercise. Some names were downright ridiculous, they agreed, putting them in combination with their own last name and other middle names they considered. Some were classic.
“I should’ve brought a notepad,” he said.
“No, when we see the right name, we’ll know it.”
Balloons caught the corner of her eye, and she turned. With a chill, she took in a grassy triangle in the center of the cemetery, where the stones were smaller and packed in more tightly. She did not remember this part. As a teenager, this would have meant nothing, but now it carried a dull weight. A statue of two angels presided over this section, and carved into the old stone were the words “Lullaby Lane.” This was the place for children.
She took a few steps closer and saw that some of the grave stones displayed hot wheels trucks, stuffed animals, dolls. She shouldn’t look at these names, she knew, but she was having trouble tearing herself away. She couldn’t stop. She thought of the baby she was soon to have and how anything could happen. There would be no control once the baby was out of her body. Even more than now, she’d be constantly worried that something would go wrong. What about SIDS, what about drowning or choking? All the possible accidents…she was breathing hard and felt her skin prickle with a cold sweat. Forcing herself to turn away, she called to her husband.
“John! John! We have to go. I don’t want to do this anymore.”
“What’s wrong? Is everything ok?” She noticed the note of panic in his voice. She tried to calm him.
“Yes, yes, I’m fine, I’m just starting to think this is freaky. I mean, they make books for baby names. What are we even doing here?” She tried to smile and tried to make light of it.
“Ah, I thought it’d be neat to visit the place where we had our first date. We haven’t even found the spot yet! Can we keep looking?”
“No. I really need to go. I’m sorry.”
He knew better than to argue. They walked back to the car in silence, not holding hands this time. She couldn’t get “Lullaby Lane” out of her head. She had seen a stone close to her as she’d stood at the apex of the grassy triangle; she could barely make out the name, but she’d read “Miles.” Miles was a boy’s name and she liked it. She was carrying a boy, they said. Her superstitious side screamed at her. You can’t name him after a dead baby. Even one you didn’t know anything about.
Goddamn it. Now she felt angry. Goddamn her husband and his stupid ideas. And why did she always go along with him. Now she would have this stupid place in her head, and more to worry about, and she didn’t need more to worry about. She needed to relax and just trust God and whomever else, maybe her doctors, who said everything was fine this time and the last two miscarriages were flukes. But she was upset and she could feel her blood pressure going up.
“Take me home,” she said. “Take me home right now.”
Instead of taking the left turn, back toward their apartment, he took the right. “What are you doing?” she asked, incredulous.
“I have an idea,” he said, “I know just the thing that will cheer you up. I’ll take you to a place that will make you feel better… I’m sorry if that was a bad idea, hon, I thought it would be fun, honestly. I’m sorry; let me make it up to you?”
They drove out of the congested town with the stoplights and strip malls, onto country roads that wove through fancier houses with horses in fenced fields. She realized where they were going. Another place filled with nostalgia, another place from years ago. It was a hiking trail they used to visit when they were first dating. They’d meet on Sunday afternoons and go for walks through the woods, just talking, sometimes sneaking beer in and drinking it in the shade of the forest until dusk. She sighed. Those had been good times. Before the stress of doctors, and trying to get pregnant, and working so much, and being married.
They pulled into the deserted parking lot. This part of the forest held mostly cedar trees, and she took in the soft, earthy smell full of spring moisture. Even in the waning light the birds were chirping softly. She felt herself relax. They started up the trail, walking at a slower clip than they would have years ago. She put her hands under her swelled belly and thought about taking a little boy in a baby carrier on this hike. And then later, a toddler learning to walk. Those would be good times, she tried to reassure herself. She tried to hold the vision of a healthy baby. The name Miles popped into her head at that very second, and she wondered if she could overcome the memory of Lullaby Lane, and use it anyway.
Just a quarter mile up the trail, the dirt path turned left. To her shock, the forest had been thinned. Where before there had been huge cedar trees, now a swath was clear-cut through, and tangled branches and wood chips were spread around the stumps where they had taken the raw lumber. They looked at each other. Slight horror crossed his face; he was wondering what sort of effect this might have on her already fragile mood. The trees cut, their place changed, this sadness after the cemetery… this is a mistake, he realized. But it was too late. He didn’t say anything. She looked around, surveying the damage.
“Who do you think did this? Was it for the wood, for the trees?” she asked nobody in particular.
She left the groomed trail and began to walk into the wreckage. He didn’t want her to trip and so he followed closely. She wove between the torn branches on the ground, into the clearing where the air exploded with cut cedar. He breathed in deeply, and realized what she was going for.
In the clearing were saplings. Hundreds of them. Each was protected with mesh and leaning on small stakes. She examined one, and saw that they were baby cedar trees, planted to replace those just logged. Most were struggling. The ends of their green parts were going brown. How many would survive, she wondered. All she saw was suffering, and all she could think about were things dying. So easily cut down and taken away.
A weariness came over her body. This day, the way death seemed to follow them, the way the last few years had been—she felt it like a vice and she wanted to give up. He stood beside her, trying to offer comfort. But she pushed him away.
“You…” She said to him.
“Ever since I met you all we’ve had is pain. I didn’t even want a baby and now look at us. Years gone by and who knows what could happen. I could still have a miscarriage or even…” her voice trailed off. She was thinking stillborn but realized that was going too far. She was crying now.
“No,” he said. “It’s not me, it’s you. All you can see is the pain. All you do is worry. Do you think that’s good for the baby? Do you think that’s going to work? You need to change. I know it’s been hard for you. It’s been hard for me too. But I love you. We can do this together.”
She looked at him skeptically, and wondered at his ability to always turn things around onto her. She felt weak and powerless. But maybe that was the point. Who can say why a baby lives or dies. Or a sapling. She surveyed the tiny, half-dead trees surrounding her. Maybe some would make it. She looked back at him.
Just then, she felt the baby kick. She took his outstretched hand.
Lisa Regen writes fiction and creative non-fiction exploring themes of risk, loss, and contradiction. She lives in North Bend, WA with her husband and two children. She runs a graphic design business and holds a BA in English Literature from DePaul University.