All year I hold my phone up to the small airbus window, tilt the screen and film wings fluttering as the plane descends. All year, noise cancelling headphones filter out the rattling of a drink cart and sound of a newborn’s first flight. 

All year he texts “make it ok?” and waits for a response as I enter the focus group facility, where all year, I stand in front of a two-way mirror unveiling new products to moms and children, asking, what do you like about it? Does it seem new? Fun? Special? What do you imagine the play experience to be like? All year ‘the ones’ listening behind the glass pass me notes under the door—“Little girl in green—and I casually move behind the child with undesirable opinions, the child who says the pony doll is not cute enough, not special; standing there, all year, in order to redirect the conversation; in order to sacrifice empathy for market research. 

All year I wear a continuum of gray: slate tinted boots and an over-sized sack dress to conceal abnormal bloating, a body cocooned for safekeeping. All year he sends hydrangeas to the hotel when it’s that time of the month. 

All year I walk down the aisles of drug-store chains at night, indulging in the miracle of stuff; lifting nonessentials from the shelf, cradling the smooth plastic bottles, tracing silky labels with fingertips; tiny bottles of shampoo, face wash, night cream, hair spray, lotion. 

All year I line up miniature toiletries, shoulder to shoulder, like siblings, look how cute, oh look at them, next to the more adult prescription canisters for sleep and anxiety and the cramps. All year I think about things that are small and cute, things I carry with me from city to city. Things I carry with me all year, like secrets. Like how I brush with the brand of toothpaste he hates, eat the cheese-dusted chips outside his diet, chew the wintergreen gum he refuses. All year, I fall asleep next to empty soda cans and unread messages, “Still up? Wish you were here.”

All year I don’t want to be in a hotel. But I don’t want to be home either, ending each day at the same neighborhood bistro, enjoying two variations on chicken until one glimpse of a family leads to reexamining work schedules. All year he waits for me to say: I’m coming home. I’m ready.  

But instead, I tell him about the kids in my studies who also love anything cute. I tell him about the girl whose superpower is “camping.” My side nearly splits as I describe the room of 6-year-olds who asked I exit and return so they could “play dead.” 

I exhaust him with focus group anecdotes all year, that year before Dr. Huang removes my uterine lining, before the weekly couples’ appointments, before the ultimatums and vows undone. That year, when all I managed to text back was: wish I was there too.

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Katherine Heath is an essayist and journalist from Saint Joseph, Missouri. Her work has previously appeared in The Paragon Journal, Breadcrumbs Magazine, No. 2 Magazine, and others. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY and is an MFA candidate in the Creative Writing program at Sarah Lawrence College.