The wind off the river was a constant surprise, and it wound its way to my bones like a crochet hook picking up the last line of stitches, catching in my ribs and taking my breath. We have wind here in the South, tornadoes, and hurricanes, and thunderstorm gales. But not speechlessly cold, tunneling down the street, caught like an animal between rows of houses. I got pregnant on a cold windy day, at least I believe I know the day, in our tiny studio that would have fit inside our old rental in Columbia five and a half times over. Philadelphia nurtured my pregnancy with pretzels, Shake Shack burgers, doughnuts, fresh pasta from the Italian market, and the occasional excursion to southeast Philly for a sandwich from John’s Roast Pork. I had the “fit pregnancy” DVDs, but found that the constant walking kept my morphing body (think Power Rangers but with a baby inside the cockpit of the big machines) quite fit on its own, and in the early months, before I began to show, the fierce cold nurtured my desire to lie about for most of the day, warmed by radiators I’d once seen in a museum display in the South about technology from the 1920s. I read medical journals, ScaryMommy, and the old fear-mongering standby What to Expect When You’re Expecting. There were frightening moments, and sweet moments, and by the time I started to show I was somewhat adjusted to the idea that I was growing a human.
The state of Pennsylvania covers touching a pregnant woman’s belly in its harassment law—meaning that if you touch a life-carrying abdominal region, and the connected woman chooses to press charges, you’ll be arrested. This law, which I’d argue is wholly necessary in many states, as well as in the Pennsatuckey region of Pennsylvania even, is, in my experience, unnecessary in Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, unlike the South, no one really cares what you do, unless you’re outwardly rude or can’t keep to the sidewalk. If someone had tried to touch my rotund egg sac, my fertile fundus, it would’ve been someone visiting the city—perhaps a tourist from my state of origin (North Carolina)—and a kindly Phillies fan would probably deck them. In a city where a park bench has three arms (rather than there being two park benches side by side), you’re almost always sharing personal space, perhaps even with a beautiful home-challenged woman who calls you little mama when she hits you up for coffee from the local La Colombe.
There is a sacredness to boundaries. Pregnant women were everywhere in the city. So was pot. No one touched me, just like no one snatched the roach out of the Rastafarian trumpet player’s hand when he took a break from blowing to take a hit. As a native Southerner, I found this “You do you, just don’t fuck with me or anyone else” attitude enthralling. When I moved back down south halfway through month seven of my daughter’s gestation, it only took two weeks for me to be touched unwantedly. TWO WEEKS. In a new town where I knew NO ONE. I rode tightly-packed trains, walked salmon-spawning sidewalks, and attended crowded concerts with my fellow hipsters and my belly hadn’t even been touched accidentally.
In Philadelphia, I drank strong coffee, I waddled miles each day, and I myself ate sushi, and no one commented, looked sideways, or clucked. Back in the region of my birth? “Do you want this decaf?” “Cluck. Cluck.” “Sure you should be exercising?” “Cluck. Cluck.” “How far along are you?” A hand reaches out to stroke my taut belly. “My you’re big—you look like you could pop!”
Yes, pop. Because that is how the baby comes out. Like I’m an exploding king cake.
This is one of the South’s many flaws not seen on her sweet hospitable surface. We can’t help ourselves sometimes. But it’s dangerous. In that last month or so, I longed for the simplicity of “Hey little mama can you spare me a dollar?” rising out of the lovely women with the fake lashes who made the park her home. I even missed the “fucking bitch” mumbled softly but insistently as my wideness accidentally cut someone off on the sidewalk.
I will never, however, miss the cold.