You can’t replace blood with black-and-white milkshakes. Lois, my phlebotomist, said they’d help with the wobblies. But I had one as soon as I got home and was still the kind of dizzy that made me doubt there was a bed beneath me.
The sweaty moment before fainting felt like wanting to yield to the blackness and to fight it all at once. The moment after coming to was tingling hands and melting ice. Lois had pressed smelling salts to my nose and packed ice under my neck like I was a dead fish going to market.
She called Brandon to pick me up, but he had an appointment with Tommy, his client with cerebral palsy. Brandon built custom furniture for kids with disabilities. He said cerebral palsy took precedence over wooziness. Who could argue with that? Brandon was the one who told me about the ten-car-pile-up on the Beltway in the first place, who said at least one of us should give blood. By one of us, he meant me. I sold things like monogrammed doormats and umbrellas on Etsy; I had the flexibility. Besides, I was looking for ways to catch up to him on good deeds. Most days the best I could do was make a person’s name look extra fancy when he wiped his feet on it.
I took the Ride On bus home from the donation center. Stop and go all the way down the Rockville Pike. There was a toddler across the aisle singing “Little Liza Jane”—his voice like a butterfly’s, if a butterfly could sing. He was the spitting image of the child I imagined Brandon and I would have if Brandon ever wanted a baby, which he didn’t yet, which he might not ever. The child had delicate hands stained with green and blue paint. Grass and sky. I turned to examine that sky more closely, to check for clouds and birds, and then he was gone. Disappeared.
Resting in bed with a second milkshake and my vitamin bottles, I wondered if I’d imagined him. Maybe giving blood could make a person hallucinate lovely, singing children.
Brandon got home from work after dark because Tommy was such a special client and had a lot of action figures to show off. Brandon brought me a single daffodil. He turned the bedside lamp on to show me.
“Why do you have a birth control pill stuck to your face?” he asked, nuzzling close.
“Yes you do.” He laughed.
I sat up and patted my skin until a baby blue pill fell into the cup of the daffodil. It must have dropped from my mouth earlier and gotten milkshake-spit-glued to my cheek. I checked my chin for folic acid—in case it got stuck too. You’re supposed to take folic acid for at least a month before getting pregnant to prevent spina bifida. I’d been on it for years. Always at the ready.
“Aren’t you gonna take it?” he asked.
I lowered the half-dissolved baby-blocker under my tongue.
“How do you know what my pill looks like? I’m trying a new brand.”
“They all look the same.”
“You’ve been spying on me, haven’t you? Checking I’m taking them.”
He shook his head with furrowed concentration, like his answer was constipated. I flopped back against the pillows. I shouldn’t doubt him so much. I was lucky to be married to such a good person—the kind of good that had been winning him awards with the word “honor” in them since high school. Medal of honor, honorable citizen, honorary degree. Brandon barely charged for the hours it took to design and build his furniture, not to mention the time he spent learning the needs of each child as an individual. If the kids cried, he made balloon animals for them. Not just dogs and cats, but extraordinary animals like platypuses and armadillos. Sometimes I let myself imagine the balloons he’d make for our children. A whole zoo of primary colors.
“We’re in no rush,” he said. “We got married so young.”
High school sweethearts, the wedding right after graduation in the Gaithersburg Community Center. Daffodils in mason jars. We were going to hold off on kids long enough to prove to the world and Brandon’s Catholic grandmother that I wasn’t knocked up. That we married for love. L O V E. We’d proven this theory to Grandma ages ago, but it finally dawned on me that Brandon was still trying to prove it to himself. I held his daffodil so tight it went limp in the stem.
“My eggs are rotting.”
“I can feel them shriveling.”
“You aren’t even thirty. Let’s just keep it light, have fun a little longer, OK?”
I melted into the bed. The blood draw had unplugged every muscle in my body. Brandon placed a palm flat against my stomach. His touch was warm. I wanted him to bring me back to life. To fill me with life.
“Is this fun?”
I tried to strip the bitterness from my voice with a smile, but all that did was dredge up the tears that were always just a layer deep, like standing water you don’t see until you step in it.
Brandon took the stairs two at a time down to his drafting table. He was going to design a swing to hook to Tommy’s ceiling. He wanted it to keep the boy safe, but still allow him to fly. Tommy was adventurous; he needed a glimpse of danger. Without lifting my head from the pillow, I sucked the dregs of my milkshake through a bendy straw and fell asleep. I dreamed of rocking alone in a pod strung from the sky.
Eight weeks later, I took the Ride On to the blood bank. I took it again eight weeks after that. I went every eight weeks for two and a half years. They only let people donate every fifty-six days, otherwise I would’ve gone more.
Lois always put our favorite cooking show on the TV in the donation room. It was about a mother-daughter team who made hearty foods like leg of lamb. Now that she knew I was a fainter, Lois let me linger in the recliner until I was only tipsy-ish. I’d sit for an hour or two, talking to Lois and drinking milkshakes that I bought us at the McDonald’s next door. The recliners were upside-down rainbow-shaped to elevate both head and feet. Brandon would’ve liked the design. He would have understood the importance of supporting patients at their most vulnerable moments, of tethering them to the ground when they felt light and floaty.
I’d been trying not to think about Brandon’s opinions so much since I’d asked him to move out. When he remarried, he came back to take the couch and chairs he’d made. I was considering getting one of these recliners to fill the empty space. Brandon’s wife was having a baby already. She and Brandon loved each other that way that makes you want to fuse yourselves into a whole new person, a person you’ll be responsible for together, forever. Brandon was building the crib with reclaimed wood.
I watched the red river curl through a tube from my arm into a bag. I thought about all it contained. Water. Iron. Traces of me. You’re giving life too, the river said to me. I took extra vitamins and ate healthy, unusual foods like daikon radishes to make sure my blood was good, interesting blood. Sometimes I sang “Little Liza Jane” to my blood. I always asked Lois where my donations went. She usually insisted she didn’t know. But today she said my previous bag kept a woman with postpartum hemorrhage alive until they stemmed the flow. Lois figured my blood was in her heart when she held her baby the first time.