the second tenant

Dear Baby Boy,

I know it must feel as if I've forgotten you, down there, buried within the walls of my womb. I'm sure it's quiet. I have no checklists, no crib, no set of drawers cleared and waiting for petite pants and socks and sweaters. I have a set of glossy monochromatic photos pinned to the fridge. In the middle two, you're stretching thin arms above your head and smiling.

When your sister built a home from the same warm walls that house you, I spent slow summer days with my palm pressed to my belly, feeling for her, listening to her, humming sweet songs in hopes that her tiny ears might hear them. 

Now, I spend mornings and afternoons and nights chasing her, and calling for her, and singing to her, and saying, "No my love, we mustn't," and "Yes, my love, I'm proud of you." It's loud out here. I'm moving too quickly to feel you.

I lay, for a moment or two and notice you turning. An arm, a knee, an elbow. A collection of tiny parts, not yet here, somewhere in-between. And I remember. And I smile. I cannot wait to meet you, baby boy.

I hope that soon, when you've had a bit more time to grow long and full in your skin, that you'll hear my voice quietly singing your sister to sleep. You'll kick wide and far and bump against my womb, and then my belly, and then her legs as they wrap tightly around my waist. And she'll reach down, and dribble something sticky onto the forgiving skin that surrounds you. "Tiny baby, where are you?" she'll say. And we'll wait.

the blush

There is a woman at the cafe with a new baby, one that's still purple around the ears and sleepy. He's tucked against her breast, knees folded, fingers kneading, as if he is still in the honey-sweet sea of her womb. He's half here. An in-between place.

She looks beautiful, and she feels beautiful, though she is surely still bleeding, though she is surely still sore around the hips and painted with the kind of exhaustion that only comes with the arrival of needing new life. The happy haze of motherhood is lifting her tired eyes and turning her cheeks a tender pink. She has been well cared for, this mother. Someone held the slow breathing babe this morning while she washed, and pressed her hair, and painted her eyelashes a deep black. Someone heated oats on the stove and leaned into her and said, "You're doing well, I am proud of you." Maybe a husband, or a lover, or her own mother. Someone. Someone.

Her friends have joined her, one on either side. They sing like doves and place warm hands against the sleeping babe, against the tender skin of the mother, her hair, her face. One takes the child in her arms and rests his cheek against her shoulder. She rubs his back in slow, neat circles. The other fills cups with water and ice and pulls from a paper bag summer berries, thick cream, slices of bread and cheese.

How loved this child must feel, cradled against the shoulder of his mother's keeper. How loved this mother must feel with new fingers reaching, with new heart swelling, with soft and familiar hands to touch, to heal, to warm.

There is such a beautiful color that blushes the mothers who are not alone. I felt the way it spreads, thick like butter, from time to time. During the first months with Aspen. But there could have been more. I could have asked for more. I will ask for more, this time.

I wonder how we may all be privy to such care - how we may all become blessed with a mother's keeper. The kind of whole-being nourishment that is a right to all who birth, to all who carry beneath tired hearts and in the nook of tired arms.

In the cafe, watching this new mother like an old dove on a branch overhead, I am more inspired than I've ever been. This is a right. This is necessary. And to all mothers, somehow, I will make it so. 

the noise

In my left ear, there are lyrics humming: Someday soon, you and I will both be gone. Lately I can't help but think that the love we feel will live on. And my right ear, the sound of a fan in the window, a dove softly whistling in the oak canopy, beyond that, a car moving from one street to the next, the stray cat stepping over dry leaves, a cricket, the sound of the moon. Aspen sighs. I hear that, too, somewhere greater than my ears. I can feel her sleeping, though I cannot reach her.

The world has been mighty and loud lately. There is noise all around me - within, and without. A toddler crying over which spoon she ought to use, the sound of a car starting, stopping, starting again, doors clicking shut, fingers tapping, the hammering heart of the babe beneath my breast. I feel like it's too easy to become swallowed like a pill by the sounds that surround us. All of them, all at once. Especially after the yawning start of motherhood. Especially as a business owner, as a worrier, as a day-and-night worker, as a woman, as a man, as a human being.

I have been trying to remember the moment she told me, "You need to find the silence beneath the noise. It's always there, you know. Just lift the edges, peel back the layers, dissect and flay each sound like the peel of an apple. Find the center. There. Within. At the root, the beginning. Silence."

And it's working. Sometimes we wake up, and we're awake - all of us, every inch - and we have to cling heartily to that awakeness like a barnacle on the rocks beside a great sea. Right now, I am awake. And now, I will practice. I will practice to stay this way.

We have moved. All of our boxes stacked neatly in the garage of my mother-in-law's home. We have moved, and we are floating now, waiting for the next home to rise up from the horizon. We are feeling better. I am feeling happy. 

tommy

The next time she saw him, there was hair on his chest and he called himself Thomas, rather than Tommy. 

He washed his face in the bathroom and opened the window above the bed. City sounds soaked the morning light and spilled like honey into the flat. From ten stories below, one stranger called out to another: “I love you! I’ll see you soon!”

She sat up on an elbow under the covers. “You know, I almost asked you to be my boyfriend when we were in eighth grade. I took the note out of your locker before you could find it.”

He laughed. Her name filled his mouth and he spoke it aloud carefully, quietly, as if it were something that might turn to smoke and disappear out the window. “Think what might have happened if you hadn’t taken it out,” he said. 

“Not this. Not last night.” She shook her head. “The universe doesn’t work like that. Everything happens for a reason.”

The last time she saw him, it had snowed overnight on the football field. She was on the second story of the Foreign Language building, looking down. And he, there, boots pushing through fresh powder, looking up. She waved. He smiled.

“I was going to write your name in the snow,” he said. He tucked his body back under the blanket and folded himself over her. 

She found a rough patch of skin on his elbow and kissed it gently. “I’m glad you didn’t.”

the fan in the bedroom

this morning, during a nap that fell upon her too soon, I told you that I was terrified.

"my love, I've given birth to a physical manifestation of my own anger. she's so unhappy. every morning she wakes more tired than the last, curling her fingers around my skin and asking for me, wailing my name over and over and over again."

you tucked your hand beneath my chin and said, "you're wrong."

in the bedroom, a fan turned and a salt lamp glowed like a light pink eye and there she was breathing, in and out, beneath a thin sheet of white. she sleeps.

she's been waking at six, at five, at four in the morning, not ready but not able to coax her baby limbs back into slumber. and I try to help her. I pat and I sing and I whisper, but without a mother's milk, she turns in her skin and crawls to the door and paws at the handle. morning before the sun. my eyes burn.

"you're wrong," you said. "she's just an incredible mix of us both. she's not wildly unhappy. she's all of my seriousness; she's all of your emotion. she is troubled already by the things that she doesn't understand, by the things that she remembers from lives before. she is older than you and I. and she is difficult, but she is ours."

I tucked my knees to my chest and listened for the sweeping sound of the fan in the bedroom. she sleeps. one hour, two, two and a half. the longest nap that's cradled her yet. I closed my eyes, felt your hand against my waist. and sleep came to me, too, like honey, like wine.