stick pink

I would have sold my soul for a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

It was the first warm day of a spring that had finally replaced a long, unusually harsh winter. In the streets, you could catch not-infrequent glimpses of bare arms and legs. Restaurants and bars had set up their outdoor seating areas, and all I wanted was to take a seat at one of those comically wobbly little tables and tell the server exactly what I wanted.

Not a shot of whiskey, which would have been as evocative of its own repetition as the chorus of a drinking song. Not beer in a pony neck bottle to twirl between my fingers, working off the damp wrapper while grinning at the Irish bartender. I wasn’t out looking for a party, and I wasn’t trying to get hammered. I just wanted a nice glass of wine.

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I wanted a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, perfectly chilled and sweating delicately. I wanted that first sip, bright and clear as an honest laugh, familiar yet delightfully surprising as a midday quickie in a long marriage. I knew exactly how it would taste, how the tartness would pass my lips and blossom into sweetness on my tongue. I knew how the first sip would make me smile, and how the second one would make me sigh, and how the rest of that glass, consumed slowly, would make me relax in my chair, and contemplate the world in front of me through a lens that somehow blurred away the hour I’d just spent commuting on the subway, the dark mysteries of office politics, and the gum currently adhered to the suede of my boot.

So I gave up resisting, and squeezed into one of those wobbly little tables. But when the smiling waitress came by, I asked for a grapefruit juice. I couldn’t, after all, just keep sitting there without ordering something, and I could not simply get up and walk away, because my feet were seriously killing me, because I was seven goddamn months pregnant.

When I saw that stick turn pink, I had many reasons for immediately bursting into terrified tears. I had just begun a new career, and taking maternity leave would likely have put my professional progress in jeopardy. An impending expansion of our family would force us to rethink the wisdom of continuing to live in our beloved but pocket-sized walk-up apartment. And of course, the usual – I would get fat! I couldn’t smoke! I couldn’t drink!

Well, I got fat, but, for the first time ever, I had a really good reason not to mind. I surprised myself by suddenly finding the smell of tobacco repellent. I was way too fatigued to even think about getting tipsy, and way too prone to nausea to ever brave a crowded bar. I found that what I missed the most was having a glass of wine at the end of a long day (in fairness, all my days felt quite long), or while sharing a good conversation with a friend. Somehow, deep personal insights feel less meaningful over a tumbler of cranberry juice.

I did my research, which pointed out that small amounts of wine have actually been found to be beneficial to pregnant women – but my OB was old-school conservative, and my husband, of course, agreed with him. I argued at first, and threatened to get my wine on the sly, but the righteously concerned author of my misfortune came out with this: “If he doesn’t get into a good college, do you want to always wonder if it was your glass of wine that was the cause?” Ahhh, the twin prongs of elitism and guilt. Check and mate.

So I sucked it up, and gave up alcohol of all kinds. I’m sure it didn’t make me any easier to live with, given that pregnancy, especially first pregnancy, is rife with such stress and aggravation, that if one were ever to take up drinking and smoking, this would be the time. Nonetheless, I blundered into total abstinence as carefully as I did into reproduction – in other words, with all the deliberateness and forethought of a herded goat.

I didn’t force my husband to give up his own drinking, figuring it would behoove me to exact my revenge in more useful ways. Actually, it never bothered me to see him enjoying his nightly Stella or Blue Moon. But I had to avert my eyes when I walked home from the train station, past the liquor store displays of Cupcake and Smoking Loon. And I was only able to tolerate one juice-guzzling visit to a wine bar with a friend before deciding that I wasn’t made for this kind of torment. Even sex criminals get chemical castration, whereas all I had was my own flimsy resolve to be good.

I would like to say that, on that warm spring day, after sitting down mainly because my feet were hurting, I finally gave in to the moment and ordered that glass of wine. It would have caused no harm, and would almost certainly have improved my mood, even taking into account the self-recrimination that would have flavored every mouthful. But I didn’t. I drank my inadequate grapefruit juice, sullenly staring at all the blithely unpregnant people walking past, bitterly envying them their swinging limbs and easy laughter, and then I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich. I grimly devoured it and immediately felt guilty. Then, I went home and yelled at my husband because he had failed to intuit that I wanted him to unload the dishwasher. Good times.

My son was born three months ago. He is a delight. He is a joy. He is absolutely wonderful. At this juncture, it would be fitting to say how “it was all worth it.” All the discomfort, the inconveniences, the privations. All worth it in the end. And, it wasn’t exactly not worth it. We got through it, after all, no worse for the wear. I love my son. I love my husband. I really love that I am no longer pregnant.

But, someday, about 21 years in the future, I will sit that boy down, and I will tell him about that warm spring day. I will guilt-trip him shamelessly. And, fancy college graduate or not, I am gonna make that kid buy me a big old glass of perfectly chilled Sauvignon Blanc.

Renata Sokol once threw up in the Coney Island of the mind. She lives in Brooklyn, grudgingly.

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