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The drunk leopard lady 

In all her Hollywood splendor

First, Kirsty frustrated me by not wanting to know the sex of her baby until she pops him out, which is supposed to be today. Second, she's supposed to have the baby today, which I just discovered does not fit in my schedule. "I can't believe you don't check with me on this stuff," I complained. She did not even check with me about getting knocked up, but she and her wife, Jan, just went forward willy-nilly with their life as though they have one without me.

"You know you have to stop drinking, right?" I warned Kirsty back then. We are, after all, talking about the same girl who loves to pass out candy to kids every Halloween dressed as "the Drunk Leopard Lady," a character inspired by an old ex-starlet with inebriated delusions of Hollywood splendor. The nickname emerged because of the ratty leopard-print coat that is Kirsty's imprint of the costume, along with the blood-red lipstick that she smears, Nora Desmond-style, across her mouth. But the thing that made the Drunk Leopard Lady so authentic was that Kirsty was usually pretty drunk when she did it.

"Right, Kirsty's gonna stay sober for nine months," I laughed to Kate, Kirsty's sister. "Will I have to reintroduce myself to her?"

Kate is already a mom. In fact, she is the mother of my daughter's best friend and the first of my mom friends. I acquired her way back when I realized that not one in the entire caggle of crazy barnacles I called my close friends at the time had any parenting experience, with the exception of Grant, whose daughter is all grown and married and no longer embarrassed by him. Besides, Grant is a "fag dad" by his own description, which at first made me think we wouldn't have a lot in common. But as time goes by, I realize that, though he is a man and I'm not and though he is gay and I'm not, we are both parents and he gets that.

Not that there's any special talent. All you have to do is amputate your heart and hold it out there in the open -- all broken, patched and put back together -- in the attempt to intercept any possible molecule of pain your child might suffer in the general course of life. It's as impossible to succeed at this as it is impossible to keep from trying.

Like right now my daughter is enrolled in a performance program at summer camp at ART Station in Stone Mountain, which is like the Julliard of summer camps. Until now, she had been singing in shy whispers here and there, and I would try to stalk and capture those moments like the sighting of a rare bird. But like a rare bird, it would flit out of reach as soon as it became aware it was being observed.

From what I gathered, my daughter sang with all the talent a 6-year-old should possess, which is to say she sounds like a 6-year-old and not one of those polished and processed entertainment zygotes that are incubated at recording studios these days. Seriously, I'm starting to think that if you train them young enough, you can get your kid to sound like Ella Fitzgerald halfway out the birth canal if you had a hankering. But personally, I'd rather just hear my child's real voice come out of her.

And that's exactly what happened. Kirsty and Kate were in the audience with me when our two girls took the stage with the other children during the drama-camp extravaganza, and I have to say, when all those kids started singing, I could have heard my child all the way from home. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a maternal mammal and therefore bound by some sonic umbilical cord to her for eternity. I'm saying that because my girl can belt one out so loud that animals in the Serengeti are probably still stampeding because of it. "Listen to my kid!" I exclaimed loudly to no ears in particular, because no ears could have heard me over Mae. "Listen to my kid!"

I tell you, moments of pure joy are woefully rare these days, that is a simple fact, and that is why when you stumble upon one unexpectedly it is all the more dear. Because when I took my seat in the auditorium that afternoon, I had little more on my mind than the petty compendium of pointless crap that keeps each of us in chains every day, but then my kid took the stage and sang her heart out. She opened her mouth and out came her voice, her real voice, that is perfectly hers and no one else's, and I felt the power of that from 15 rows back. It almost knocked me out of my seat.

Later, Kirsty handed me a plate at the cake-and-punch post-performance party, and told me about her plans to induce labor the following week. I was still snivelly from just seeing my girl's first performance, so I channeled all that sloppy emotion right into being happy for Kirsty and Jan and how they're finally gonna get to meet their baby. We hugged each other. "It'll hurt, I know," Kirsty said.

It doesn't hurt, I lied, wiping at my eyes, my jalopy of a heart hanging off of me. It doesn't hurt at all.

Hollis Gillespie is the author of Confessions of a Recovering Slut and Other Love Stories and Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood. Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered."

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