Being strong doesn't mean holding it together, I think. Being strong means picking yourself up after letting yourself not hold it together.
After the saleswoman notices your bump is gone.
People always assume the babies must be somewhere else, but not in your case.
A bump and a baby, gone.
"We haven't seen you in a while! Boy or girl?" Her face is so friendly, so happy, and you can taste the dread in your mouth like a bitter pill. "A boy," you say, and she says congratulations, and you hope she won't ask anything else. She does.
"How is it going?"
You pause, your fingernails digging into your palms as you try to breathe slowly through your nose.
Do not cry, do not cry, do not cry. But the truth is you're already crying, because you've been holding your breath and waiting for someone to mention your obvious lack of bump. Because you HAD a boy, but you don't HAVE a boy. Because IT is not going the way you thought it would. Because you can't regale her with stories of baby smiles, diaper blow-outs or sleepless nights. You desperately want to have stories to tell. Happy stories. Not this story.
Your lips tremble as you briefly tell the truth (because you cannot NOT tell the truth). Her face falls, and you think to yourself, that look on her face—that's the way you feel inside. Then she's crying, and neither of you know how to move on from the conversation because the truth—the lack of stories, the emptiness of it all— is so sad.
But you pick yourself up. Pull yourself together. You focus on your heartbeat to combat the stillness you feel in your abdomen, and you go back to fingering price tags. "Retail therapy," you joke in a soft voice. The saleswoman sniffs back her tears and gives a polite chuckle before bee-lining for another part of the store, where she will speak in a hushed whisper to another saleswoman. You can guess what she is saying, because you're thinking it.
"Oh gosh, the most awkward thing just happened."
Your whole existence feels like a series of moving on from sad, uncomfortable situations. Picking yourself up, over and over, after allowing yourself to fall apart.