FAMILIAR STRANGERS
by Adina Sara

The phone rings, the clock blares 5:00 am, I jolt awake; this is it! My son’s frantic voice confirms what I already know. We’re on our way to the hospital…her contractions are fifteen minutes apart.

Slam goes the phone and as if on cue, the light in the room begins to change. The first tentative wisps of dawn filter through the spaces between the curtains and the floor. I can make out the chair now against the window, the candles on the dresser, objects coming into view one streak of light at a time. The big day is coming. The big day is here. The day I will become a grandmother.

Within minutes my son’s father calls. For the first time since our marriage fell to pieces decades ago, we are again in perfect harmony. Arrangements for this very moment were discussed and agreed upon some weeks ago, plane tickets purchased with open-ended dates. I’ll be over in about forty-five minutes, he confirms, as we double-check the time on our respective clocks, check, check, plane leaves Oakland at 7:45 am, should arrive in L. A. at 9:00 am, after car rental, drive to hospital, we’ll be there by 10:30. Check, check.

You’d think we’d been doing this all along, such a couple of pros we are at getting through the day-to-day particulars. There was a time we had it all. Yet now, as good as strangers for close to three decades, we can still arrange, agree, move together like one well-oiled body—half-male, half-female—in time-lapse efficiency toward a common goal.

We even look alike, or at least we did back then. We were very young when we met, that’s the line we always used to explain everything away, and its true enough. Barely out of high school, it was our summer tans that first attracted us to each other. Pretending to study Chaucer and the Protestant Reformation, right there in the undergraduate library, we lifted our T-shirts, barely exposing our beach-bronzed midriffs. His was a shade or two darker than mine, so I conceded our first contest. Frat parties followed, weekend beer fests and shy explorations of body parts. We held mirrors up to each other and liked what we saw.

And then came sex—inevitable, irreversible, unleashed and impossible to control. Who would have you now? whispered the voices of my dead grandmothers and besides, we had already adopted a stray dog who slept across our feet at night. Our fate was all but sealed.

My wedding dress was simple and knee-length (my mother said I wasn’t old enough for floor length and she was right). I looked downright silly in lace. I looked like a child trying on a big girl’s dress, it was hard to balance in two-inch heels, and the gauzy underskirt itched my thighs. The hairdresser’s attempt to make me look like a bride resulted in hundreds of straight pins twisting my thick black hair into a lavish bird’s nest of fashion that pulled at my eyebrows and stretched my neck. I felt wildly out of place in my own skin but wasn’t that how brides were supposed to feel?

I still remember his stare into the camera as the photographer snapped our wedding picture. There were thin traces of fear in his eyes. He looked too young to marry. He looked too young to shave. He was twenty-one and I was twenty and there was love, yes, a sweet, innocent, playful kind of love, and a vague kind of familiarity, as though we looked like the person we were supposed to marry.

Unlike my soon-to-be-husband, our wedding photos revealed a young woman with a glint of cockiness in her eyes. Flicking a stray piece of hair that had fallen loose from its knot, I was alive with anticipated freedom. Any change from the home of my parents was bound to be an improvement.

So young, so dumb we were, and yet those first ten years were perfect. We waltzed through them, from apartment to rented house to manageable mortgage. We skipped along, tra la la, interpreting the easy flow of years as proof that this was going to be the rest of our lives. Two perfect sons were conceived effortlessly, two perfectly planned years apart. One of the boys looked just like him and the other one looked like me. We lived in a cute little house with dark brown trim. The house was small but the view was grand whenever we bothered to notice.

So the big day has arrived: we are about to become grandparents. All the tears and venom are flushed away (and almost forgotten) as we drive together to the airport on a misty February morning. He opens the door for me, I adjust my seatbelt, we chat about becoming grandparents, about meeting the first child of our first child. We will surely hug each other and cry familiar tears, taking turns passing our new generation back and forth and back again, in ecstatic pride. When conversation ebbs we fall into a comfortable silence, all threads between us severed save this one.

The airplane ride is uneventful. Belts buckled, we sit side by side and anyone looking at us would see an old married couple taking some kind of routine trip. He orders a Pepsi and I am jolted back in time, recognizing his favorite drink. He asks me if I want spicy tomato, my standard airplane fare. Is it possible the divorce hasn’t happened? You remembered, I think, feeling that thin line of familiarity tugging at the still-tender place where he had ripped himself away from me.


We sail through the Avis line. He had made all the arrangements, and I wait on the side, keeping watch over the luggage, just like always. Feeling almost smug in our familiar ease, we arrive at the hospital just in time to hear that our daughter-in-law is at eight centimeters. Our son races out of the labor room, breathless with the news, it won’t be much longer now, Mom, Dad he cries out, falling into our arms, you’re here he cries. We’re here, we say, as though we have been there all along.

About the Author:

Adina Sara‘s previously published work includes two non-fiction essay collections, 100 Words Per Minute: Tales From Behind Law Office Doors, and The Imperfect Garden, and a novel, Blind Shady Bend. Her essays have appeared in Glassworks magazine and Birdland Journal. Learn more at www.adinasara.com.

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