By Nicole Gulotta
Our toddler makes his request before our eyes have a chance to open: I’m hungry. Can we have breakfast now? Downstairs I set out the blender, scoop protein powder, pour almond milk, add berries. The machine buzzes at low speed. I look out the window, gray and damp. Gradually, I move the lever higher and watch the color change—a thick purple ribbon spreads near the blades. Soon the whole mass is thick and unmoving, so I thrust in the tamper and bang it against the side of the pitcher, loosening a scoop of nut butter.
I don’t know why I take the lid off with the motor still running. I don’t know why I keep using the tamper, or why everything suddenly combusts. A chunk of plastic hurls to the other side of the kitchen and misses my face, the dog sitting at my feet. By the time I fumble to turn off the Vitamix, it’s too late. Smoothie is everywhere: flung on cabinets, in the sink, on the ceiling, splattered on the floor. Smoothie in my hair. Smoothie under stove grates, clinging to my shirt sleeve, which I will now need to change.
I stand at the sink for what feels like a long time until I’m ushered away. Stationed at the island filling our son’s plate and lunchbox, I watch my husband set out the step ladder and wipe each spot clean. When I sit down in the dining room, the smear in my hair is starting to dry and crust.
We quietly eat toast and I wait patiently for everyone to leave the house. As the garage door closes I pull up the Vitamix website and search for a replacement pitcher, which I learn will cost one hundred and fifty dollars. Amazon has the same pitcher for forty dollars less, and if I order within the next two hours, same day delivery. My heart rate quickens. One button and I can pay to erase the memory of this morning, pretend like it never happened. What a thrilling and dangerous thought. I click “Buy Now.”
A memory from eight years ago: In Napa for my husband’s thirtieth birthday we tour a winery on Howell Mountain. We’re told the grapes here struggle. Weather is hard on the vines, but fruit keeps growing through dense fog, icy rain, relentless heat. Plucked and pressed, it always becomes wine in the end. Emerging from the cellar, we stand against a wooden fence, lips lightly stained from Cabernet, we agree it’s time. We’re ready to start a family.
A memory from seven years ago: “You’re young, you’re healthy, come back when you’re pregnant.” This is the advice from my new OB/GYN when I tell her I’m thinking of going off the pill and want to know what to expect. I walk back to my car through a neighborhood with blooming jacaranda trees and snap a picture, post it to Instagram. Beautiful day in LA!
A memory from six years ago: I find out I’m pregnant at four in the morning. I wake before dawn, startled, and know the answer to my question even before waiting two minutes for the pink plus sign to appear. I crawl back into bed to whisper the news to my husband and he pulls me into his chest. Are you happy? I ask. Yeah, I’m happy. We lay there, the three of us, curled in the glare of a streetlamp.
A memory from five years and eleven months ago: Cramping starts on Christmas Eve. We’re supposed to visit my in-laws but they both have the flu so we stay home at the last minute, a divine diversion. The next morning we drive to Malibu for a picnic of scavenged provisions from our near-empty refrigerator: leftover grain salad with parmesan and arugula, half a wedge of Manchego cheese, sliced apples. My husband reaches out his long arm and takes a photo of us on a blanket, smiling, my hair a bit wispy from the sea air. Merry Christmas! I write on Facebook. I share three photos from the sunlit afternoon. No one knows I’m wearing a maxi pad still filling with blood.
A memory from five years and ten months ago: In January we meet my parents at a restaurant to celebrate my mom’s birthday. With sticky fingers from bacon-wrapped dates, she waves over the server and asks him to take our picture. We all scrunch together in the banquette, lit by the glow of a nearby fireplace, then eat grilled fish and chicken with olives and wilted escarole. We talk about our jobs, trips planned for the spring—everything but the loss. They don’t even know we’ve started trying. The image appears on Facebook later that night: We had a great birthday dinner at A.O.C. in Beverly Hills. What a fabulous meal!
A memory from three years ago: My son, a few months old, dressed in a gray cable knit sweater. The image arrives in my Facebook feed like a tap on the shoulder. We care about your memories. We will not share it with anyone unless you do, the app reminds. I keep scrolling, considering what we can’t erase, and what we can.
What I didn’t know then: even when we withhold the story behind a photograph, truth lingers in our bodies, dormant and unescapable. Fetal microchimerism (FMc) is the presence of fetal cells that transfer from child to mother during pregnancy, and studies suggest they can last long-term, even in cases of miscarriage or abortion. In the face of loss, our unborn children cannot be fully released from our organs. So while we’re able to erase Instagram captions, Facebook photos, Pinterest images, and entire accounts, details remain: loss, blood test results, regrets. Bury, yes. Erase, no.
When I posted the photo of my son in his snuggly sweater and a smirk on his face that made me glimpse him as a teenager, I wasn’t forthcoming with the circumstances leading up to his birth. I mentioned nothing of the cells refusing to multiply, the nurse who said sometimes this happens but not to worry just yet. The nervous voicemail I left my gynecologist after hours, cancelling the eight week appointment I’d optimistically scheduled. Photographs share our lives, but also hide them.
The anticipated box arrives while we sit around the dining table for dinner. Soon I’m showing off a new, gleaming pitcher to place in the cabinet, the same one that was splattered only hours earlier. I had paid my way out of this memory, kept it private. There was no hasty Instagram story about the absurdity of my morning. No photo of my kind husband scrubbing the kitchen lights. No potential to be reminded of this incident in two years, when Facebook prompts me to relive the memory.
My son watches me from his booster seat, eating fried rice. He doesn’t know about how small a cell is, how microscopic, how another baby once imprinted itself somewhere in my body. When a pregnancy ends, not everything about the baby disappears, and even without a newsfeed my body still remembers what it doesn’t want forgotten. Perhaps there were other attempts to reach me, ones I dismissed. I needed something louder: a roaring blender, a kitchen coated in berry smoothie to finally understand what I couldn’t then—that the body is an archivist. This whole time my grief was lovingly held in darkness, waiting to be witnessed.
Our morning routine resumes without incident. The first time I attempt to make a smoothie again my chest tightens when I turn the dial and I take a few steps back, just in case. While doing dishes, I look up and see a red smudge on the ceiling—still there, hidden in plain sight, although no one visiting would ever notice. Traces of muscle memory, or traces of a meal, are not unlike the cells buried deep in my body, clinging to some tissue in a crevice I will never see, maybe never fully know.
Nicole Gulotta is the author of Wild Words: Rituals, Routines, and Rhythms for Braving the Writer’s Path, the literary cookbook Eat This Poem, and is at work on a memoir about her journey to motherhood. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and son. Learn more at nicolemgulotta.com.
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