The Big Brick Review 2015 Essay Contest:
3rd Place ($100)

Building on the narrative of our brick at a time.

Some Things I Know Today

by Sally Bittner Bonn

I KEEP PUTTING this orange sweater on. The orange sweater I bought from Target a year ago November to hide the pregnancy that didn’t work out. The sweater I thought I might never wear again. I pull it close around my body to brace against this winter’s cold.

My six-year-old son says the sweater is beautiful. That I look beautiful. “I like the way some of it has ridges and some of it is regular.”

On Wednesday my son’s oxygen dipped low. We waited on the edge of sleep listening to his fevered breathing. My chest grew heavy and rigid like a piece of slate. Any lower and we’d have been hospital bound.

I turn forty in eight months. My mother embraces each new decade as it arrives, fond of her growing waddle between chin and throat, knowing that, with it, she has also gained the wisdom of more life experience. And David, my husband of 13 years, leapt into forty when our son turned one, bouncing into the next decade with a toddler’s exuberance. I had never looked down the approaching barrel of forty with fear.

That was before tufts of snow blossomed at David’s temples and silk-fine snakes of silver sprouted from my scalp. Before reading glasses and morning back aches. But, even so, forty never scared me until I looked at age through the lens of fertility.
In the next few months I will learn whether we will remain a family of three or grow to a family of four. Either our last-ditch effort—in vitro fertilization with preimplantation genetic diagnosis—will work, or it won’t. After this,  the trying will be over. We will have crossed a bridge that crumbles behind us, the jagged pieces falling into the canyon so deep we won’t be able to hear the splash.

I chose the orange sweater because of the way its shawled collar hangs loose in layers away from my body, hiding the shape of what was beneath. Today I pull the sweater taut against me, crisscrossing the two sides in multi-layers of warmth. The sweater is a blend of wool and acrylic. Part natural, part manufactured. Just like the pregnancy I am hoping for.

Every day since last spring, I snap a leather band around my wrist, a hammered aluminum plate sewn to it that reads, “NEVER GIVE UP.” It now bumps against the cuff of my coat awkwardly, letting the cold air in. Still, I feel naked without it.
I have dragged my feet in calling the genetics lab back, in gathering my medical records. The longer it takes me to approach the bridge, the longer the two possibilities exist: family of three, family of four. Once we step onto the bridge, we will not know where we are going until we land on the other side.

Orange is the color of endurance. I looked this up three years ago so I could select the correctly colored candles for the quiet celebration David and I had planned for New Year’s Eve. But we didn’t know how much there was still to endure. The unknown was busy happening inside our son’s lungs. We watched the New Year turn over from inside the pediatric intensive care unit. The candles were quietly placed inside a dark cupboard, waiting for another year as we started to learn that the endurance run is none other than life itself.

I was scared of this sweater at the beginning of the season. Each morning as I pulled the wardrobe doors open it would peer out at me. I would glance away, selecting sweaters from the pile above it or below it, beside it. Each day it would stare me down and I would avert my eyes. But then I’d remember how comfortable the sweater was. How much I liked it as a garment—not just for its concealing properties. How much we had been through together already.

With each passing day, I would sneak longer peeks, until one day I stared it down. I really looked at its heathered fibers that had hugged my quietly growing belly a year ago. So I pulled it out, and slipped into its warmth. Now, at night, while it is still cold, I keep my orange sweater at the top of the pile.

I wore it again today, more ready to pull a new kind of uncertainty around me.

Sally Bittner Bonn has been published in Monday Coffee and Other Stories of Mothering Children with Special Needs, Don’t Blame the Ugly Mug, and Lake Affect among others. She has been teaching creative writing to children and adults for over 15 years, and she works as the Director of Youth Education at Writers & Books. She lives happily in Brighton, NY with her husband and son, though sometimes longs for the Mojave desert and rugged ocean coasts.

"The Sweater Waits" photo © 2015 Gregory Gerard


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