Week 30: Are You There, Heart Attack? It’s Me, Jeff

Quiet days on the pregnancy front. Not much is happening. Mostly there is just a lot of complaining about leg cramps, which Sarah says are getting worse.

When my mom, Lois, asked me to go to New York for two days, I jumped at the chance. A respected author of young adult fiction including the mega-successful novel Steal Away Home, she had been asked to chair the National Book Awards committee that picked the top young adult book of the year. The awards ceremony, a black-tie event hosted by Garrison Keillor, was in Times Square. My dad isn’t a big New York fan, so Mom asked me.

Most guys would think twice before leaving their pregnant wife to go off gallivanting with their mother in another time zone…

Quiet days on the pregnancy front. Not much is happening. Mostly there is just a lot of complaining about leg cramps, which Sarah says are getting worse.

When my mom, Lois, asked me to go to New York for two days, I jumped at the chance. A respected author of young adult fiction including the mega-successful novel Steal Away Home, she had been asked to chair the National Book Awards committee that picked the top young adult book of the year. The awards ceremony, a black-tie event hosted by Garrison Keillor, was in Times Square. My dad isn’t a big New York fan, so Mom asked me.

Most guys would think twice before leaving their pregnant wife to go off gallivanting with their mother in another time zone. After all, Sarah would be working 16-hour days and coming home to an empty house while I was off rubbing bowties with editors and publishers.

“Don’t be stupid,” Sarah said. “You should definitely go.”

Before I could even offer a weak, No, I’ll stay, I was on the next flight to JFK.

Our hotel was right next to the MTV studios on Broadway, which meant a nonstop gaggle of prepubescent girls standing on the blocked-off sidewalk, holding up signs and screaming to the window above for various celebs to show their faces.

“I saw some rap guy yesterday,” my mom said as we walked past the window. “White guy with short blond hair and baggy pants.”

“Who?”

“Milky Way or something?”

“Milky Way?”

“No, that’s not it. He was some kind of candy.”

“Candy. Eminem? You saw Eminem?”

“Yes, that was it. M&M’s.”

“I can’t believe you saw Eminem!”

“Yes,” she said. “And Good Charlotte.”

* * *

Remember DHs, a.k.a. “darling hubbies"? I’m pretty sure they don’t spend entire days walking around Manhattan looking for good pizza, then calling their wives to gloat. (“Yeah, I’m on the corner of 23rd and 5th eating a slice of pepperoni. Where are you? . . . Your desk? Man, that sucks. Well, I’m off to the MoMA. Love you.")

While my mom was meeting with her committee, I got a bouquet of flowers in Union Square and left them on her hotel bed. Later we walked into the event, arm in arm on a red carpet while photographers snapped photos, intoxicated by the glamour of it all. The disturbing fact that I was treating my mother like my wife and my wife like my mother didn’t enter my mind until later.

Just before dinner, my mom and I were standing around when a short, attractive woman who looked like Jessica Lange came up to us and stuck out her hand. “Lois Ruby?”

Mom: “Hello.”

“Hi,” the woman said, smiling. “I’m Judy Blume. I wanted to meet you.”

“That is so sweet of you.” My mother had a weird look on her face. She looked thrilled to be meeting the most legendary children’s writer of all time, and mortified that she had nothing to say to her. “Pleased to meet you.”

Judy turned to me. “And you must be Jeff.” I’m not sure how she knew who I was, nor what I said to her. Something stupid about “Blubber,” I think.

Garrison Keillor was at the next table in his red socks and tuxedo, and when my mom took her place on the stage, she was seated next to Rick Moody. There was a small post-party, a champagne reception for judges and authors and assorted VIPs, and I was as star-struck as a book geek can be. Then, midway through my third glass of bubbly, a strange sadness set in.

I missed my wife.

Eight hundred and forty miles away, lord knows what was happening in her belly, and I was missing it. I was ashamed. Until now, I’d been with her every day of this pregnancy, and I sold her out for Garrison Keillor. I don’t even like Garrison Keillor.

Two minutes later, if you happened to walk through the hallway outside the after-party, this is what you’d see: A guy in a wrinkled tux—maybe he’s had a few too many—huddled over a cell phone, begging the person on the other end for details regarding someone/thing named Babu. You would see him tell the person that the evening wasn’t the same without her. Then, if you watched long enough, you’d see the guy close his cell phone and stare off into the distance at nothing, smiling like a lovesick teenager.

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