The first test didn’t convince me but the second one did. I wasn’t pregnant.

I received this news sitting on the toilet in a freezing gas station bathroom, the key with a big wooden handle labeled DOLLS balanced on the edge of the rusty white basin.

How could I sink this low? How could this matter so much? All night I had been thinking that in the morning, after I dropped off my husband and daughter at the ski slope, I’d drive to the nearest drugstore to buy a pregnancy test. I’d buy two, just in case, you know, the first one didn’t work. I felt tense and restless all night like I had a 9:00 a.m. meeting with my dealer.

I didn’t downhill ski but they did. They seemed happy to be left on their own, bonding on the ski slope, a 12-year old girl and her new stepfather. At home, I was always in the middle, trying to interpret one to the other. Here, deep in the Porcupine Mountains, they could get out of themselves, yell at each other going down the hills and recap their exploits on the lift going back up the mountain. All day they went up and down, laughing and falling, getting up and going again and again; and while they did, I drove around and tried to make myself be pregnant.

I’d convinced myself my period was late, counting backward on the calendar in my purse twenty times to make the numbers come out right. Yes, definitely, I was late and it was time for a pregnancy test. Plus I knew for sure that I felt pregnant, large, full, and ripe like I remembered feeling a long time ago. If I was pregnant, I had to know because if I knew, it would be a true thing and not a trick I was playing on myself hour after hour, day after day, while they skied and I drove around. We could all know then and we could celebrate, when the fact of my new pregnancy became known.

I put the two sticks, two sets of instructions, and the two boxes in the drug store bag and crammed it into the overflowing trash can where the strings of bloody tampons wrapped in toilet paper hung over the edge. It was time to leave the cold bathroom behind, all of it, the condom machine, the perfume dispenser, the grimy faucets, and the white cloth towel that drooped all the way to the slushy floor. What was I doing here in this gas station bathroom, this awful bar with bad customers, puke and cheap beer on the floor? I’m better than this, I thought. I’m somebody’s mother.

Back in the car, I felt oddly clean and relieved. It was snowing as I sat in the gas station parking lot so I kicked up the defroster and set the wipers to going while I unfolded the map. It was too soon to go back to the ski hill. I wasn’t ready to see anyone or talk to anyone. They would ask where I’d been and I wouldn’t be able to tell them. I needed to go somewhere else so, when they asked, I’d have something good to tell them, something lovely, picturesque. They needed to know I’d spent my day in search of beautiful things.

I drove a flat level road into the Porcupine Mountains State Park. The road was smooth and snow-covered with no tire tracks. When I looked in the rear view mirror, I saw only my own tracks, two straight lines in perfect snow, and I felt brave for being there on a snow-covered road in the forest and knew that soon I would have a beautiful thing to report. I had gone on this road alone and seen these remarkable things, the snow hanging in heavy, pregnant white balls from the trees’ branches, silver water rushing under the one-lane bridge, silence but for the crunch of the tires and the tiny rustling wind coming in my rolled-down window.

From the bridge, I saw the small herd of deer, maybe five or six of them, their heads raised in unison, studying me, black eyes unblinking, the snow falling on their backs, every muscle frozen while I sat still in my car, thinking about the tragedy in the gas station and how I should be happy to see the deer, to see such beautiful things. Now, at least, I would have something to report, a place where I’d been that would be good news, and I wouldn’t have to cover up what had been my true destination for the day.

We’ll figure it out, my husband had said months before when all the talk and testing had begun. Whatever happens, if we can or we can’t, we’ll deal with it, he’d said it over and over while I circled inward, clutching my old sweater of guilt and blame tight around my shoulders. If we couldn’t have children, it would be my fault. I was sure of it. Now I remembered that, how automatic it was. I would be to blame.

Why had I made this my solo journey? Why had I come here alone?

We’ll figure it out. That’s what he promised. I should trust his promise. I turned the car around, backing up and inching forward to make my way off the narrow bridge. “We’ll figure it out.” The deer were still alert and expressionless, waiting for me to leave to resume their lives. “We’ll figure it out.” Leaving, I drove faster, the deer shrinking in the rear view mirror, their heads bowing now to drink from the river. It was the beautiful thing to see.

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