Rattles by Gina Covarrubias

While on a camping trip at the beach north of Santa Barbara I ditched my family and headed into nearby Solvang for the day. My children's sibling rivalry was so severe that they would whine and fight in the middle of Disneyland, and our camping trip had been somewhat hellish. They were busy making sandcastles with my husband, and I figured no one would miss me.
 
For those of you not familiar with this popular tourist destination, Solvang is a little bit of Denmark right here in good old California. It features a phony windmill, quaint little shops that sell wooden clogs, restaurants that serve greasy, flavorless Danish food, and very little else. I hadn't been to Solvang since I was a child, and I was desperate to get away from my husband and children for a few hours, so I decided to go check it out.
 
As I navigated a sea of Asian tourists, I quickly discovered that they did not make wooden clogs to fit my husband's massive feet, and the last thing on earth I wanted to eat on a one hundred degree day was schnitzel. The air-conditioned Beer Gardens was filled to capacity, and I was afraid if I imbibed on the outdoor patio I would pass out from the deadly combination of heat and alcohol. I wasn't ready to go back to the campground. I knew there had to be something else to do in that godforsaken hellhole, but what?
 
That's when I saw a sign advertising the psychic.
 
I went in and asked for a reading, but I was told I would have to wait an hour or so. Apparently I was not the only one who couldn't find anything else to do in Solvang. I killed time by pretending to be interested in their metaphysical book collection, and I bought a couple of mood rings for my kids. When it was finally my turn, they directed me to a curtained-off room in the back of the shop.
 
The psychic was a burned-out looking metal head with long, bleached out, stringy blonde hair. She reminded me of kids I used to smoke pot with in high school, only old, and I'm sure she was probably thinking the same thing about me. She had me concentrate on a question, and then she laid out some tarot cards. She told me the man I was with was my soul mate, and we had just been through a terrible time with his drug problem. She then went on to say that those problems were over. From then on all of our problems would be financial, but I would be coming into some money soon. It would be smooth sailing after that.
 
I imagine the odds of a woman who, like myself, has a lot of tattoos having a man with an addiction problem are pretty great, so it was probably an easy prediction for her to make. It's like predicting that a thirty-five-year-old woman without a wedding ring is looking for Mister Right because she feels her biological clock running out of time. The chance of being right on target is pretty damn high. Still, we were having financial problems, and I really wanted to believe the stuff about me coming into money soon. I was not a big believer in psychics, but I figured I'd give her the benefit of the doubt.
 
She asked if I had any more questions, and I said I did. "Will I have any more children?" I asked.
 
I had a tubal ligation years ago, and my husband and I were seriously talking about having it reversed and having two more children. We were still newlyweds, and despite the recent problems I had been having with him I was in the throes of the "my man is so adorable and wonderful that I must create little versions of him" phase. I adore being a mommy, and I looked forward to adding to our family. Ivan was amazing with children, but because of his occasional craziness and instability I was understandably apprehensive. I didn't tell her any of this. Not a single word. She didn't even bother with the cards anymore. You don't have to have a sixth sense to know that no one should intentionally breed with an addict.
 
She let me down gently. "You should look toward nurturing animals," she said, without ever addressing my question directly. That's what she was doing, she said. She had two little girls and a green iguana at home. I thanked her and I left.
 
When I got back to the campsite I found my husband and children still working on the giant sandcastle they had begun that morning. They were beaming from all the attention they had been receiving. Before I left I had warned him repeatedly about frequent sunscreen reapplication, but they were just so darn into what they were doing that he had forgotten. He did eventually remember, but by then the damage had already been done. I spent the next three days going from bed to bed kissing scarlet foreheads, offering kind words of sympathy, rubbing Noxzema on roasted backs, and doling out liberal doses of Tylenol while they cried. Ivan didn't cry so much as moan in agony, but you get the picture.
 
I left my family at the beach knowing my husband was basically just a big kid who got excited about digging in sand and couldn't remember non-fun details. My entire family sustained second-degree sunburns because I was selfishly shopping for clog-shaped refrigerator magnets and vying for a coveted seat in the Beer Gardens. The psychic was right; I should forget about having any more kids. I was an unfit mother, and even someone who spent the entire eighties listening to Motley fuckin' Crue in a cloud of marijuana smoke could tell.
 
Madame Mettallica may have been right about the not having any more babies stuff, but she was wrong about the animals. I have a lot of pets, and I always have, but I still wanted to have babies. Nurturing pets, though fulfilling in it's own way, is no substitute. I don't breastfeed my animals. I don't sleep with them at night. At my very worst I had eleven dogs, and I still had a bad case of baby fever.
 
Besides, I was somewhat conflicted about keeping animals. I always felt like, despite my best efforts at feeding them and making them comfortable, I was holding them against their will. If I let my dogs go they would probably come back, so maybe the dogs were okay with the whole pet thing, but the lizards, snakes, and frogs would run, slither and hop away and never look back. I was sure of it.
 
I worried that in my next life I was going to become an exhibit in an intergalactic zoo. I would be forced to crap where I slept and eat the same bland-yet-nutritionally-adequate space pellets every day until my alien captors forgot to change my algae-filled water or accidentally neglected to turn my heat lamp on during a frigid night and I died.
 
Considering that I had these worries, why did I have all those pets? Because I was a sucker, that's why. I was a bleeding heart who could not say no or turn anything away. Not an unloved homeless animal, and not an unloved alcoholic man. I was always there to help. If someone had a dog that needed a home "until they could find someone else to take it," I ended up feeding it for the next two years. When Animal Control raided a crazy dog lady's house and twenty-four of her twenty-five starving, diseased canine prisoners found homes, I took number twenty-five home without ever questioning why he was the only one who hadn't been adopted. When I saw a hideously ugly, three-legged Shar Pei with weird, sticky fur that I was highly allergic to with virtually no discernable personality, it was in my car within minutes and had been re-named "Courtney the Wonder Dog."
 
At the pet store they had a smelly bearded dragon that was also missing a leg. Jokingly I asked if I could have twenty-five percent off because it was not a complete lizard, and they said yes. I brought it home and loved it, despite it's uncontrollable diarrhea, until a swarm of ants attacked it and it died. After the first few amputee pets, people began accusing me of removing the limbs myself. I nearly brought home an eyeless mouse and a huge, orange puppy with many extra toes, but my husband, who did not share my vision of having our own animal freak show, prevented me from doing so.
 
And still, through all this, I wanted more babies.
 
I harbored fantasies about winning ten thousand dollars in the lottery and finally being able to pay for tubal ligation reversal surgery. (Saving the money was, of course, out of the question.) The older and less baby-like my children became, the more I missed having an infant around. I adopted a Chihuahua, put a pink and white sweater on it, and carried it around in a purse with me everywhere I went. I brought home a baby rattlesnake, named it Rattles, and put it on my piano with a sign that read "cuidado, peligro de muerte" next to its tank. Each night I had that snake, which didn't turn out to be many, I had nightmares that he was slithering down the side of the piano to kill me. From time to time I had these same kinds of nightmares about my husband.
 
Neither of my children would kiss me in public, and I had not been allowed to assist in the selection of Halloween costumes in many years. I missed being shamelessly and limitlessly adored, and I missed having full creative control.
 
Enough time had passed that I had been able to erase from my memory the nightmare of blocked milk glands, projectile diarrhea, croup, and not having a car seat handy when you need it. I was only remembering the good things, like the first time they discover their own feet and that indescribably good baby smell. When my daughter complained about her boyfriend, I yearned for the days when the only thing she whined about was a dirty diaper. I missed hearing my toddlers say things like "bitch" and "anal" and being sure it was a harmless mispronunciation. I longed for the simpler days when my curious toddlers went exploring, accidentally discovered my stash of vibrators, and did not know what they were, sparing me from the endless gagging and talk about what a disgusting pervert I am that would come in later years. It was the little things that kept my reproductive fantasies alive.
 
A year passed, and my husband and I decided to go for it. The psychic had been right. I had landed a lucrative writing job with great benefits. We had the pet situation down to one dog, one python, and one frog. We were going to take out a loan. We were going to breed. I got online and got in touch with fertility centers from Guadalajara to North Carolina and everywhere in between. My husband continued to drink too much, and I suspected he was secretly using drugs again too, but I pushed these suspicions to the recesses of my mind. I was on a baby mission, and I wasn't going to let little things like alcoholism and dishonesty in my marriage stand in my way. Besides, I figured that now that I had this great job and was single-handedly paying all the bills my husband wouldn't need to drink so much anymore. He was just stressed, that was all. But surely now he'd be okay, right?
 
Wrong. I was trying to secure a loan, and I discovered that I didn't qualify but my husband did. No big deal, after all, I was going to be the one paying for the loan and having the baby; he would be the one supplying the credit. That seemed fair, to me anyway. He did not agree. He started in with his crazy stuff, as drunks are wont to do, and for some reason that particular time, as opposed to the many other times he had done this before, it hit me like a falling safe: what in the hell was I doing with this loser, and how could I even think about bringing a baby into it?
 
I grabbed my kids, my python, and my frog, and I moved to my very own apartment by the beach, where the kids would always wear plenty of sunscreen. I stayed far away from animal shelters. No one should intentionally breed with an addict, and it's probably a good idea not to marry one either. Sometimes you just can't take care of everyone, you know? Sometimes, no matter how noble your intentions, you can't help. Sometimes you need to take care of the babies you already have and realize that you can't handle any more. Sometimes you just need to take care of yourself.