"I don't know how you do this?" Hannah said with a smile. "You have to plan first and plant later” Jennifer told her. Then she answered all her questions patiently and went into details about how she tended her tomato bed, how much she buried the seedlings, and how often she watered them.
She was wearing a baseball hat and jeans with a blue shirt. She held a big pair of garden scissors.
-" I am definitely going to plant next year after this whole remodeling mess is cleared up."
-"You should. It’s delicious, a lot of fun, and clears your head." Jennifer said pruning a branch.
-"I can't wait. They look so beautiful." She continued, looking at the abundant flowers of the plants proudly. The weather was getting cooler and the wind was picking up.
"It's almost dinnertime. We have to go." said Hannah. "Say bye to aunt Jen, Henry." The nine month old boy looked at her and gave a huge smile. Then he went back to sucking his thumb. The two friends chatted a little more on the lawn and eventually parted. Jennifer waved at Hannah and watched her pushing the stroller with a knot in her stomach .She took a deep breath of fresh air. "Tomorrow is the big day," she thought.
She was startled by a figure a few feet away from her. "Hi, Mrs. Field" said Daphne, her neighbor's daughter. "Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you."
-"You didn't scare me. How are you?”
-"Good. I was with Tonya working on our math test."
-"Are you ready for the test?"
"Not yet. I still have three more days."
-"You know I can always help. I like to tackle those math problems."
-"Oh! Mrs. Field I would love that. But I know you are so busy. I don't want to bother you."
"If you plan well, you can do anything and everything. Matt is working late tomorrow. We can meet at seven and continue until about 8:30."
-"Thank you Mrs. Field." the girl said with a huge smile. "You helped so much last time for the science test."
-"I'll be at your door at seven."
-"Okay Mrs. Field.”
Daphne had light brown skin and shoulder length straight black hair. She was a timid, precious child in seventh grade; the oldest of four kids in the family .Their house was not the best place to study. It was noisy all the time. But Jennifer knew her mom would not let her go out after seven. Her father worked in real estate. The mom and dad spoke with an accent which Jennifer couldn't make out. She remembered asking the dad about where they were from. It was somewhere from the Middle East but she could not remember exactly where. For her, those countries were all the same anyways. Hot, gloomy, and generally unsafe to visit. The people ignorant and the women oppressed.
The wind was getting stronger. She felt the chill in the air and went inside. Suddenly, the thought hit her : What if it didn't work? Her pulse quickened. She tried to brush the thought away. We planned everything to the last detail, she thought. Dr. Brown is one of the best doctors in this area with a great staff. I took all my injections right on time. I rested. We went over all the possible complications. I didn't miss any of my appointments. The ultrasounds and blood tests looked fine. She thought and thought. She felt a little better.
She switched the TV on and turned up the volume. Maybe the sound of that would bury the "What if?" in her head.
Then her thoughts swung the other way. That made her whole chest feel with happiness .Finally it would happen...after waking up extra early to catch her appointments, injections, side effects of the medications, all her planning would pay off. She spent three weeks just to find the best doctor in the area. All she wanted was a curly haired little girl. She would have her nose and Matt's eyes.
Jennifer was hard-working, organized, responsible, polite, educated. She deserved it. The sound of the TV could not stop her going back again to that first day with Dr Brown. He explained her different methods to do this. They chose the most expensive and invasive one, with the best probability of a positive outcome. Jennifer Field didn't like small numbers when it came to chances, an attribute of hers which made her very successful professionally.
The whole process was painful, but especially the day they harvested her eggs. She even had to take 2 days off of work after the retrieval because of the pain, discomfort, and nausea that came with anesthesia. Every minute of it was carved in her brain.
She could hear the even stronger wind now. It was unusually cold for this time of the year. She took a book, a heavy blanket, and went to bed. She assured herself that everything is going to be okay and it is going to be the happiest day of her life. They would celebrate on Friday with Matt. She already made the reservations for a nice dinner.
When she woke up with the alarm at five, Matt was sleeping next to her. Matt had a shop in the mall and usually came late and went to work a little later than she did. She checked the weather, got dressed, gave Matt a kiss and went out. It was chilly. She braced herself and held onto her scarf. The doctor’s office was a 20 minute drive. Luckily, today she would stay less than usual there, only to give blood for the pregnancy test. The nurse was polite as usual.
"Today's the big day!"
Jennifer smiled back.
"I'll call as soon as the results are out."
The rest of the day was like a dream. It was as if she was living in a movie, waiting for the happy ending. "Mrs. Field! Your test result is positive! Congratulations!"
She would dream about it over and over again. Her day at work came to an end. Still, no call...
Half an hour later she parked her car on her driveway. Suddenly, she remembered to check on her tomatoes. She was turning to the back of the house her phone rang and she jumped...
Then it all came crashing down .The pregnancy test was negative, her tomatoes which made her proud every year all frozen and dead, her perfect yard and house disorganized and dirty after all the "taking it easy" for the last month.
She felt the tightness in her throat. She ran into the house. She needed a hug. She called Matt, but it went to voicemail. Where was he? Where was he ever when she needed him? She felt so angry. She went outside and started walking hurriedly and aimlessly on the streets. She didn't know where she was going or how long she had been walking. She just kept going and going in the cold. Her white cheeks were red. She desperately wanted to cry but tears wouldn't come.
Was it because of that night she got the injection 15 minutes late? Was the nurse checking her ovaries a little too quick? Did the doctor really prescribe the best meds? Her phone rang. It was her mom.
"Honey, you're very young. You can always try again."
"Mom, I'm 32. I'm not so young anymore."
"You call that 'not so young '? Don't be silly. Besides don't worry about anything you can't change. It's going to be okay in the end. Believe me. Your baby is going to come. It is just not time yet. "
She felt so cold inside out. She wanted to go back home and curl up in her bed. There was a reminder on her phone. It said: "Study with Daphne in half an hour"
She thought about canceling but didn't want to disappoint her. For an unknown reason she just wanted to see her and talk to her. Also she didn't want to face Matt. At 7:30 she was at their door. Daphne opened the door with her big smile. The mom was obviously frustrated with the two-year-old, holding her screaming baby. She said hi to Jen and disappeared with the baby and the toddler. The dinner was not cleared up yet. There were scattered toys and clothes everywhere. The five-year-old boy was bouncing like a ball off of the walls in the living room. Walking into Daphne’s room,Jennifer felt the anger rising in her. "This woman cannot even deal with this many, and she has them all. And me..."
Then she remembered the youngest child being a special-needs baby with cerebral palsy and felt bad for him and his mom. She thought about having a baby with the same needs, and saw that it scared her too much. It did not fit in her perfect world somehow.
Jennifer felt a calm come over her and she talked, studied, and laughed with Daphne. She didn't realize two hours had passed. Daphne was yawning. Jennifer got up to leave. When they got out of the room they saw that it was very quiet. "The kids must have slept." Jen said. She was about to leave when Mina, the mom came to the door. She had changed out of her clothes. Her hair was wet.
"Thanks a lot,” she said with the same accent her husband had. "Not a problem." Jennifer said humbly.
"I was just making some tea for myself. Please join me. We haven’t really got to meet. "
The last thing Jen had in mind right now was to meet and talk with this woman who had four kids. From where she was standing she could see her driveway. Matt was home. She hesitated, weighing her options. Stay here and have tea with this woman, or face Matt to give him the bad news.
"I would love to," she said.
Daphne went to her room and the two women went into the kitchen. Jen took a chair next to the table. Mina put a pot of water on the stove, and started adding things on it. The first was something that looked like a dark piece of wood Jen couldn't recognize. If this woman was trying to poison her, she didn't care right now. She texted Matt that she was next-door and would be late.
"Your tomatoes are famous in the entire neighborhood." She said and kept adding pieces and teabags to the water.
Jennifer's face fell. Mina looked concerned and sincere. She asked “What happened?"
Suddenly in this warm house, with the aroma of cinnamon and cloves in the air, with this nice woman offering her tea , she wanted to pour out everything inside her. She felt her throat closing again, but she tried to hold herself tight.
"All of the flowers and most branches are frozen and dead. I planned everything. I made sure it was all done perfectly, and on time. The plants were lush, green, and healthy. I picked up a sunny spot .Then this happened. "
All the scenes about the procedures she went through for this pregnancy were playing in her mind. She couldn't hold the tears anymore and didn't want to.
Mina knew this was more than tomatoes. She sat next to her quietly and let her cry and gave her tissues. Then she said: "People plot and plan, but Allah is the real planner." This caught her off guard.
"When you say it that way I feel so powerless."
"Aren't you?” Mina said.
Jennifer remembered the time she fell ill with a viral infection and couldn't get out of bed for two weeks.
"You can have the most fertile soil and the best seeds. You can use the most expensive fertilizer and cleanest water. But you can't give life. You can't control the weather either." Mina brought her back.
"Also you can have the best doctors, the best medication, the best nurses, but you don't have the power to make it happen." Jennifer thought. Then she said:
"But shouldn't we work as hard as we could to get a good result or be successful? Should we just sit and wait, and not do anything."
"Of course not. That is the other extreme. The stuff that we do to get a good result in something like this, is like knocking on the door of a generous person. If you knock hard enough, or long enough you will probably get an answer. But God is under no restrictions."
"What do you mean?"
"Everything is in need of him every moment for everything, in every way. And he gets to choose whatever he wants.”
When she sad this, an angry thought of the negative pregnancy test came to her mind.
"What does that have to do with .... uh... my tomatoes?"
"Your tomatoes, other fruit, vegetables, rain, wind, clouds ,they all come from his treasury of mercy. Not from the soil or wood or anything else. It is as if he offers those blessings with the hands of trees, air, or soil."
Jennifer couldn't believe her ears. She was listening words of wisdom from a woman that she has looked down upon for so many years.
"A tree can bear fruit one year. The following year, with all the causes present and even better, it might not produce any."
Saying this she also poured the tea and offered her banana bread. Jennifer took a sip. It was delicious. She took a bite from the bread and loved it too.
"He put laws in nature. If you don't water your plants, they'll die. You have to work hard if you want to be successful. But there are also exceptions to the laws. They make you see beyond the causes and appeal to the real doer of things, " she continued.
"I don't remember ever praying for my tomatoes."
“Doing the right things to get the best result as you did in your case is also a type of prayer. There are different types of prayers, and there are different types of answers as well. But listen! Have you ever seen anybody praying for the sun to go up in the morning?"
Jennifer laughed."Of course not; everybody knows that it will come up and when."
"What do you think God is trying to tell me?" She asked. She wanted her to talk more. The tea in her body and her words were giving her an unexpected relief.
"I don't know. You have to figure it out."
"What you said is making me more modest."
"I feel the same way. But I also feel relief. I can only do as much as I can. I'm not responsible for every outcome of my doing, after I did all I could. That is a big load off my shoulders and feels nice. "
"It's nice unless it makes you lazy."
There was silence. After a little bit she continued:
"My pregnancies were more or less the same. I try to eat right, exercise and all but then Ali ... “she said and stopped. Her eyes were all teary. Jen put a hand on hers. They stayed quiet for a while.
Jen broke the silence.
"I took so much of your valuable quiet time." she said.
“No, it's great to have a conversation with an adult."
Then she showed Jen her stash of chocolates. The two woman women sat on the sofa together. They talked, and laughed together. Then they ate, and talked and laughed some more. Both realized how much they had in common, and also how different they were. Then they watched the end of an old movie and cried. It was 2 o'clock at night when the baby woke up and needed to be fed. Jen said bye and left. Standing outside alone, breathing the crisp air she felt peace. She thought she would have a baby growing in her. Instead she found a friendship to grow and nurture.
Life brings you so many unexpected and wonderful things. And she was somehow confident it was pregnant with more.