Alison Berkley: The Princess’ Palate
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
My friend Deeni stands at the counter in her kitchen, eating chocolate yogurt out of the container. Not frozen yogurt, but a low-sugar brand she discovered at Trader Joe’s in Needham, Mass., where she lives with her husband and three children ” her newest son, Sam, is only 3 weeks old.
She makes a face and throws her spoon in the sink and the rest of the yogurt in the garbage.
“That good, huh?” I say. She rolls her eyes.
Deeni isn’t supposed to eat sugar because she has a yeast infection in her breasts from nursing. And that’s just the tit of the iceberg, so to speak, when it comes to the extent of the new mom stuff she’s going through. There’s the also the infection in the incision site from her C-section, a procedure the doctors suggested when they discovered the baby would be more than 10 pounds. Then there’s the sleep deprivation from nursing every two hours and the energy drain from taking care of her 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, both of whom are getting their first real taste of sibling rivalry with the new baby. Of course, there’re also the stretch marks and the weight gain, but I don’t get the feeling she minds any of that. She’s been through all this before.
I was exhausted just watching her. I don’t know if it was a chemical reaction, or the barometric pressure of a humid, hot afternoon at sea level, or the boredom of being in the suburbs, but I was overcome by fatigue. It was the kind of tired I remember feeling in high school, all heavy eyelids and dizziness from not being able to focus. It was the kind of tired that hit me over the head in the middle of the afternoon, curled up on the couch in the fetal position, fading in and out of consciousness, hardly aware of the phone ringing or the baby crying or the cartoons playing on TV.
“You didn’t hear the baby?” Deeni said when I waddled down to the kitchen at 9:30 one morning.
“Nope,” I said, rubbing my eyes, which were still puffy and swollen after more than 10 hours of sleep. “Was he up a lot?”
She didn’t say anything, just shot me a look. The answer was written all over her face.
We spent the day doing family stuff, playing in the backyard and going to an antique car show and then to the grocery store and to Marshall’s to find clothes for her to wear while she was losing the baby weight. I was astonished by her ability to stay upright.
I’d left my cell phone back at the house only to return to seven missed calls from one of my best friends in Aspen.
“Call me as soon you can,” Aspen Girl said in her voicemail message, sniffling, congested with tears. “I need to talk.”
I returned AG’s call only to hear a 20-minute sob story about her various man problems, and I say various only because she’s dating a slew of men, all of whom seem to fall head over heels for her from go.
“So, what’s the problem, exactly?” I said.
Deeni sits on the big upholstered chair in the living room, fanning her exposed nipple with a pad she has to wear until the infection heals while the baby feeds from her other breast. She stares straight ahead, in a trance despite the obvious discomfort, ignoring the racket in the kitchen where son Harris and daughter Lily squabble over a toy.
I point at the phone and roll my eyes, but secretly I’m riveted. I’m happy to have a connection to my life back home, where the only breasts I ever really see are the ones being flaunted by the cocktail waitresses at the Fly Lounge. All of a sudden I miss things like hangover breakfasts at the Hickory House and crab cakes at Jimmy’s and riding the gondola in summertime after a hard hike up Ajax.
Deeni’s house is a far cry from Cape Cod, where I’d just come from after spending a week living in an artists’ colony. It was a rare opportunity for me as a writer to be part of a fine-arts community, living among poets and painters and sculptors. Every night there would be a reading from a writer, followed by a slide show from a visual artist. I was amazed by how much I could relate to these artists, to their quirkiness, to their bizarre processes in creating their work, to their unconventional lifestyles. Needless to say, it was an environment that inspired me on so many levels. Mostly, I wrote. And the funny thing about that is writing was the one thing I’d been avoiding all this time.
And it finally hit me that not doing it was worse than doing it. In fact, doing it was great. So great that I couldn’t stop, writing through the night and into the morning, scribbling on napkins and on the back of envelopes as ideas struck me throughout the day, bursting all over my mind like popcorn.
Words crackled in my mind like bacon frying in a pan and landed on the page, a splattering of my life. Words that came from experiences, from memories, from passion, from emotion and, of course, from drama. They came from all my friends, my beloved flawed people (my motley crew, as my mom calls them), my misadventures, my hard lessons and easy mistakes. Here I was thinking it was so bad when really it’s the juice, the electricity that keeps me plugged in, charged, alive.
I don’t know if life imitates art or if it’s the other way around, but it doesn’t even matter. What’s important, in the end, is knowing the life I’ve chosen is worth living.