Last night I was making coffee (because coffee after seven in the evening has become a post-partum ritual of sorts) and you were watching Aspen when I heard her little head hit the carpet. She had been sitting proper between your feet, and some flailing bit of excitement had made her fall backwards. She wasn't hurt, but I was angry at you for watching your phone rather than your daughter, so I snatched her up from the floor and held her to my chest like a stolen diamond.
"You're not allowed to watch her any more," I said, and then spit a venomous "ever!" just to make sure I had been clear.
You were standing already, arms out, reaching for her, but I held her closer still. "Why not?"
"Because! You don't watch her watch her. You have to look at her and see what she's doing and make sure she's not going to fall off a fucking cliff or something."
"Look at her!" you pointed, "She's fine!"
"That's not the point!"
You sat back on the couch and froze over, like you sometimes do, your face ripe with pain and flushed with thought. After a minute, an hour, a day, I threw a pink rubber block at your chest. "Hey! Talk to me!"
"You've been so upset with me lately! I feel like an awful father. Not at all like my dad was. Like I'm not the father you wanted me to be. You wanted the baby -- "
"I wanted her? So does that mean you didn't?" I cut him short. Aspen laughed at something on the wall, and I started to cry.
"God, no!" you said, "I'm just so young. I don't even have my own shit figured out. Maybe if we'd waited -- maybe if I was older, was more mature -- I don't know. Maybe I would be better. It used to just be us, you know? And we never fought. Not until we had a baby. And I'm not blaming her. It just upsets me that you're so angry with me all the time now, and I don't know what I can do to make you happy."
I sat down on the couch with the baby in my arms and watched her swallow the living room with her eyes. She didn't need much these days, milk every so often, a rock to sleep, my arms, my breasts, and in that moment I felt that I needed everything from you -- even the things you couldn't possibly give me. "I'm sorry," I said.
"You're not though." you fumbled at the buckle on your pants.
"I am! I'm sorry. Do you think this is easy for me? That it isn't a big change for me, too?" I swallowed. I thought to tell you that you should leave, that you should go live your life, the one you were missing, the one we chose to skip by getting married at 19, by having a babe at 21, but I knew that would only cut you deeper. I swallowed again. Thought of the truth, and how bitter it was in my mouth, but I said it anyway. "You have to understand than I'm broken in so many ways. I've been on edge, and it's not your fault, and it's not her's either. I think it's because I'm being torn in so many directions now."
"It used to just be me, and I took care of myself, and then it was you and I, and I was able to give you all of me, to touch you and love you and be entirely yours, and I miss that so fucking much, because now I have to care for me, and for you, and for her, and as much as I want to touch and fuck like we used to, I can't do that anymore."
I was sobbing. Aspen watched me from my arms, smiling. I caught my breath, continued, "I'm grieving the life I used to have, even though I chose to leave it, and because of that I'm more upset than I should be over things that don't matter. I'm still the same woman I was before I became a mother. Somewhere, she's in there, but she's dying, KC. Half of me is dying."
You sat back against the sofa and your face softened, and I knew that you understood. Maybe not entirely, but enough to know that we were both hurting, that we were both trying, that we were both changed in the most profound way that a person can be changed.
Later on, after Aspen had gone to bed, we made popcorn to eat with our coffee and laughed about how wild it would be if we hadn't talked things through. If we had stayed silent and sour and wondering why the other was so bruised. "That's how people fall apart," I had nodded, and you agreed.
And with coffee and sugar and butter and salt, with love and old hands and new skin and pink rubber blocks, for now, my love, we stay together.