Tuesday, July 12, 2011
My son takes his first nap before we go out into the wintering street. The fridge is full of lunch options and I try to think up something that will be done before he gets up. The bright yellow leaves hanging from the wooden plant stand stops me in mid-motion before I quickly grab a container of water. I always forget to water the plant he gave me for my 29th birthday. I tried getting rid of it, but it was so full of life and beauty, and I felt the need to hold on to something that grew with time. Perhaps I’ve forgotten that the plant has a life and a history outside of our broken bond. It's clear to me that our relationship has turned into a dried up fruitless tree, but the feeling doesn't stick. With lunch simmering on the stovetop, I move onto the hallway and try to quietly pack his things into his favorite stroller. I am almost tempted to list all of the things I couldn't change about the past and post them on the fridge door, the wall behind the bed, and on the apartment exit door. I think about the many times I had to talk him into spending time with us. The former reluctant father and husband is now out there molding a new life, and I am struggling to remind myself that I too have to go back to that awful drawing board. I've decided that Saturdays will be my son's day. I start with him because I have to rethink my own gratification, and structured time with him relieves the guilt of my absence during the weekday. After an hour he is still sleeping, so I make myself a plate of quinoa and veggies, and pour myself a cold glass of apple cider. I carry the steaming plate and cold glass using one arm, and use the other to get through the safety gate and into the living room table. I sit down, give thanks, and eat. It will take some time before I forget the void. But for now, even the complex and noisy thoughts of one person seems too little to fill the still air of this apartment.
I remember when I had first put up the new dark red curtains and rolled out the matching large area rug in the living room floor. The kitchen was filled with new dinnerware, and the future spirit of a walking toddler ran inside my head. I wanted the new open space to reflect the warmth I felt inside. It was only weeks before he would fly in from California for his big move and be able to feel his unborn son kicking inside me. The living room now seems to occupy two spaces; a dimension of promise, paralleling one of despair. My son calls me from the bedroom and I walk in as he stands in his crib, smiling, with his hands reaching at me. "Tienes hambre?" I ask him. He rubs his eyes as I carry him out of the crib, and watches the hallway turn into the kitchen. "Pata!" he says, looking at the stovetop filled with cooked food. With him in my arm, I make a small serving in his bright orange plastic bowl, and mash the food with a fork. I feed us both with him on my lap, and try to keep him from tumbling empty cups and magazines from the table. Next to my own lament stands the gratuitous feeling that I won't have to raise my son in the chaos of the old household, the echo of my own childhood. I feel the sense of privilege my mother never had, to leave a failing marriage before it had failed my life, and my son's childhood. I try to go back to the drawing board, but all I can see is what's in front of me. He starts to push himself out of my lap and onto the ground towards his toys. I bring our plates into the kitchen sink and merely soak them in water.
"Nos vamos!" I blurt out at him.
"Mabo!" he shouts back.
I open the gate and he stomps giggling towards the bedroom. I dress him up, put on his coat, and strap him into his stroller. I put on my own coat and scarf, and as I open the door and push the stroller out, he shouts his more recent new phrase, "buh bye!"
I wake up at a weekday hour of 5am on a Sunday morning with the mental to-do list I had put together while I drifted off to sleep last night. The two week-old laundry, the papers needing feedback, and the cluttered apartment needing cleaning seemed too daunting of an agenda with a love-hungry toddler. I battle against the thought of calling to ask if he will come see his son today. Sunday is supposed to be his day, but I don't want to hear him say he's got too many things to do. I fight to keep myself from asking for his help. I turn to admire the gentle face and the rising and falling belly attached to the skinny light brown frame. Echoes of his high pitched babble and stomping feet across the wooden living room floor play in my mind as I place the top halves of his still feet, neatly onto the palm of my hand. I feel empty at the thought of being fractured each night I come home during the week, though the sight of his little hands lifted towards me when I walk in the door places the pieces of me back where they belong.
The world deposits all of its sin on the backs and shoulders of its youth. When I am done keeping my own demons buried all day, to battle those both unleashed and hidden among my students, I arrive, piece by piece, at my apartment door. I listen for the little voice, wondering if he's asleep, so I know how hard or soft I should turn the key. I give him all pieces of me so that my mother can close her eyes or go downstairs to smoke her cigarette. The first thing he asks for is my milk. We play peekaboo games with his eyes behind the backs of his hands while he nurses, and he smiles with my flesh still in his mouth and milk pooling a little at the top corner of his lips. We read baby books, and identify stuffed animals with their sounds. We play a chasing game or have tickle time at the couch. When I try to plan lessons or grade papers, he demands the attention I owe him by placing a book or a toy onto my keyboard or papers. I stopped taking work home, and instead, I do it with granola yogurt and coffee before the teachers and students arrive at school. Its a small price to pay for raising my son for a few of his waking hours on most days.
He starts to wiggle, feels for the pointy flesh and aims with an open mouth. I situate our bodies at the middle and outside edge of the bed. The inside edge is still empty and cool alongside the window. The sun hasn't yet shown it's face, and I beg the sky to stall. I compromise with myself and try to pick one doable task on my list. A short selection of people I know float in my mind, and are quickly erased. I can't bare to hear the unanswered text messages and the "I've got plans" when I call for help. The papers won't get done. I turn away from my snoozing son to look over at the scatter of shoes and other things I don't strain my eyes to make out on the dimly lit hallway floor. I try to remember what the rest of the apartment looks like. Much of our two and a half years in New York City was spent trying to get out of this noisy neighborhood, or at least this noisy street. I try to carve out a few new escape routes in my mind, with just the baby and I this time, but the images are foggy. A light sweep of the house sounds doable; anything more seems meaningless, knowing the place will look and feel just as drab. The stubborn sun is finding its way up in the sky, but the sky still tries by keeping a thick blanket of grey clouds in its path. I look over at the now illuminated overflowing laundry basket in the corner of the bedroom. I think about the week ahead of recycling socks, and mix and matching the same two outfits. I force myself to accept laundry as a necessity, and close my eyes.
The sun is climbing too fast, and I don't want my son to wake up before I'm done sinking inside myself. I think of all the seemingly right choices I've made throughout the course of my life, certain that I was growing in the right direction. The person that was so grounded and confident in who she was seems so naive and abstract in the context of time. It's hard to gauge now, when, over the past fifteen years I've gotten to really know myself. If this was all it took to bring me here, to topple me over, then there must have been something I missed along the way. I suddenly start to feel that I'm up against time, and there's an urgency within me to rush, except I don't know where I'm rushing to.
My son shifts his body from side to side and flips over face-down to abruptly push himself to sit up with knees bent under him. He rubs his eyes with his fists and looks to see if he is still stuck in a dream. I feel the muted smile on my face, and peel myself out of bed to grab a fresh diaper and some wipes. He lets me place his relaxed, small body face up on the warm bed. The wet wipes are cold against his privates, but he knows it will only last a few moments. With the little guy in my arms, I toss the heavy wet diaper onto the changing table, remembering the diaper bin in the bathroom needs to be emptied. I head to the kitchen, dust off the dried food crumbs from his high chair and set him in. I hand him a cooking spoon to bang the high chair table with, and he takes it, although he keeps his eyes focused between my face and what I'm grabbing around the kitchen. I peruse the fridge for a breakfast idea, and I remember his vitamins. I find the small bottle with liquid in it. I scoot behind him towards the kitchen organizer and grab the dropper among the scattered bottle and breast pump pieces. He watches as I suck the golden juice into the dropper and we both know what's coming. I hold his face with one hand to keep him still, and as the dropper approaches, he doesn't fight. He takes in the next two, just as easy. I'm back at the fridge, looking for something to reward his compliance with. I find an apple and grab a knife from the dish rack while rinsing the apple in the sink. The white juice bleeds along the cut, and my hands are cool and wet as I skin the side of the carved out slice. "Manzana!" I tell him as I place the slice in his carefully shaped small fingers. He brings the slice to his mouth with one hand and bangs the spoon against his table with the other. The sound breaks the silent air that had been standing like a large stone in the apartment. I wonder how many more Sundays will feel like this. I try to see a new kind of festive Sunday morning, complete with apple cinnamon pancakes and the warm sounds of a reggae bass rocking from the living room. But it is hard to picture a happy boy with a man that isn't his father. I quickly put some hot water to boil for coffee, and whip out some eggs, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and spinach for some veggie scramble. I preheat the oven for some toast, and with a chewed up piece of apple on the side of his mouth my son says, "pata!" his baby word for food.
"Yes, mama's gonna make some scramble, and then we're going to your favorite place! Nos vamos!"
"Mabo!" he says, knowing now that we're going out on some adventure today, and not staying in again. The laundry can wait until after the sun goes down.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
The apartment is warm and there are shoes scattered in the hall when we walk in, making it harder to maneuver the big stroller inside. He sets his bag down, takes his boots off, and goes into the restroom. I swiftly remove my things so that our boy, now droopy again, doesn't become restless in his layers, still strapped inside the stroller. I strip him down to his diaper and onesie and let him go into the warm, dry, radiator-heated air of the living room before closing the safety gate behind him. He walks towards the scattered toys on his play mat, and picks up a small, stuffed pig attached to a cow by a ring. They both jingle against each other, but he is too tired to exert any enthusiasm. His father enters and sits on the chair squeezed between the playpen and the round wooden table. The table holds up and corners the lamp of mosaic glass dragonflies, but the broken stem still limps toward the table. His slacks are ironed and rested against the crossed legs that hang off his body, slouching off the rigid dark wooden chair. His short Afro has been growing out since he shaved off his locks. I notice how the new look brings out the slant of his quiet eyes. The framing, rough beard contrasts the dark smooth skin that blankets the face that rarely changes expression. Our tumbling boy walks towards him and raises his two hands up. I go into the kitchen to grab the wine glasses and give them some time. I find less than half of a bottle left in the fridge, and fill two glasses up. After placing the glasses and bottle on the table, I move to the bedroom to change out of my clothes. As I throw the layers of wrinkled and worn skirt, socks, and stockings onto the pile of clothes in the closet, I think about what to change into. The satin slip would be too obvious, and I might be wrong about this feeling. I throw on a white tank top and think about just doing the lace panties I have on, but I'm not that comfortable, yet. I spot the grey drawstring sweats and throw them on.
Our son's little fingers are grabbing at his father's bottom talking lip, and he tickles his hand out of his face and toward his tummy. He mentions that he copped some decent bud from someone in Brooklyn. I take a gulp of the cold wine and become more certain about this feeling. Some conversation takes place about his unstable living situation, the progress of his film, and his diet devolving. His eyes move between my eyes and his glass of wine. I try hard to keep a focused gaze, but I look away because I don't want him to tap into the deep pool of love and rage that I'm doing a good job at taming. Our little boy tries to pick up selected toys to show to his father, usually to no avail. He surrenders and throws his hands up at me instead. I pick him up and offer him my breast, and he takes it. I try to keep track of the conversation and wonder if I should bring us up. Certain that he didn't come to have that talk, I go with the flow, lacking the courage to shake the distance between us that safeguards us against each other. He asks how teaching is going, and I tell him it's been difficult. Not much about why comes out, but the weight of carrying the world's burden sneaks into the forefront of my mind. I take another gulp of wine, and slowly bring my tank top down between my breast and our son's open, breathing mouth. I walk him to his crib in the bedroom, and slowly find my way through the stroller and shoe filled hallway and into the now smoky living room. He passes me the spliff. I inhale once, twice, and pass it back. I let go, trying not to cough, but a small one lets out. I wait for something. I close my eyes and the escape only lasts a few moments. I prefer the wine, take another gulp and pour some more into both glasses. My body almost fits into the cold chair with my knees wrapped around my chest. The conversation this time becomes an obvious mask to the screaming, crying, and loving that has taken place between us over the past two and a half years in that living room. I look at the man in front of me that so nonchalantly carries his own traumatic memories, as he does his joyous ones, as if they were all the same clear jellybeans in an unopened jar. I know the habit doesn't do him any good, but I don't know how aware he is of my knowing. The conversation slows and I get up to brush my teeth and wash my face. As I walk into the dark bedroom of our sleeping son, looking for my towel, he shouts from the living room, asking me if I have some sheets for the couch. I tell him I do. I think about how this would play out, with his ego in the way. I wouldn't be embarrassed if he refuses my legs wrapped around him on that chair. In fact, I half want his rejection so that things could be clearer and I'd have less about this night to lament later on.
I'm not thinking about later on when he responds instead with his face buried between my shoulders saying, "I miss you too." His kisses are soft and tainted with his sadness, or mine. I can't tell the difference. We move onto the couch in the darkness, trying not to step on the noise making toys. We call each other's names, and each time I hear mine, my open wounds bleed into my heart. The tears stream onto the outsides of my eyes and into my hair, my ears, and I whisper to him, "you have no idea." He answers back, "I do." We make love to the past, as if offering a last toast to our three years, from the flowering honeymoon phase that was full of hope to the bitter end of our persistence. The pain mixes with pleasure and the wine is in me to ease the guilt and shame. Our wet bodies cling onto each other, and I remember the few times he had held me this way after making love. Usually we would lay face up on our bed, looking at our thoughts as if they hung from the ceiling. We fall asleep in the musky air of sweet smoke and funk.
The sound of a crying baby jerks me awake and I rush into the bedroom. I pick him up and he throws himself sideways against the length of my arms and I offer him a breast. He walks into the bedroom, completing the family. He spreads himself onto our old bed of red sateen sheets, and looks out the window that stands by his old side of the bed. I wonder if he is always honest when I ask him what he is thinking. I wonder why he never asks me what I'm thinking when that same shadow comes upon my face. I dig into some of my pain and decide to tell a half-truth, and ask a question about how he faced his mother's death in his early twenties. My mother's undiagnosed leg and back pain had been stirring fear with the endless loss that continues to empty out the corners of my mind. I miss knowing I could share the terror of losing my own mother, with him. A different, softer silence came onto his face as he talked about his anger at the doctors, his mother being unconscious, the feeling of hopelessness, and the nights he spent in the hospital by her bedside. His eyes were locked into an empty space in the dark air that carried that part of his memory. His ego was down. This space is his empty canvas, the backdrop of his everyday thoughts and interaction with others, his point of reference. When he would visit my mother's house, he would spend the majority of the time in his sketchbook, playing a game on his phone, or perusing the books at the independent bookstore down the street. My mother would read this as impoliteness. I tell him that I never judged his silence. He looks out of his memory and into my face. His eyes seem to have brought with him the sorrow from that past, and his lips are molded into a slight frown at the corners as they give a solemn and sad man's "thank you."
I'm curious of the space I had just walked into. I try tucking in pieces of me, but more comes spilling out than I intended. Our separation had wrecked me. The ceaseless grading, the constant fighting, the intoxicated students, struggling with death, pain, and grief of their own, had steeped me further beneath my own anguish. I stop myself from mentally reliving a work day and think about overcoming this. I mention it'd be nice to do yoga again on a regular basis. With concern in his voice, he mentions the importance of exercise for health and stress relief. I ask what days he has off from school, what hours his classes end. With his eyes tracking the pieces of furniture in the room, he gives me some mishmash of hours, days, and semester breakups that wouldn't make it possible for him to relieve my mom from being the second parent. His ego is back up, and I mentally rub on the still open, and now salted wounds. I assume position looking at the hanging thoughts on the ceiling as he walks into the bathroom to brush his teeth.
Sunday, May 1, 2011
The train is there when I arrive at the platform, and I quickly dig through my bag for the card, swipe it through the turnstile, and make it into the train before the doors close. When I am not busy with grading papers, or planning my lesson, the droning people on the train disappear and the past reinvents itself in my mind. The sun beams again on my skin, and I am complete. The most pleasing sound in the world is the giggle of our son. He grabs onto and pulls his father's long locks as they swing over his face. Unable to walk yet, he lies helplessly beside him on his side of the blanket where there is shade. I smile. At 59th street a swarm of people rush in before the doors close. A thin, tall, redheaded woman walks in, just missing the doors, and I begin to feel warmer underneath my wool coat. I don't undo my scarf. I just watch. She finds a seat left vacant between two large bodied men. She easily slips in, slowly crosses her legs and tucks them in, places her hands on her small red leather purse, rested on her flattened, but still small thigh, and looks into space. Her lips are painted red to match her bag but the rest of her seems to carry a sort of natural, yet sophisticated, look. His redhead was shorter, and perhaps less graceful in her movement and stride. But perhaps that's what he liked about her. He never liked soft women, he once told me. She catches my less than tender gaze and quickly looks away, keeping me in her peripheral vision. I become aware of the tension in my eyebrows, and I try to soften them. They don't listen to me completely and fight back. At 42nd street Times Square, more people come between the redhead and I, but it still feels warm. They disappear again.
He would spend endless hours at his desk, shifting between windows downloading, digital drawing, and playing music. No music played that particular night. I'd say something, knowing I'd have to repeat what I had said, or get no response. No responses came that night. The leaves outside had turned red and it was almost two months since our boy had been born. Without saying a word, he got up and grabbed his small blazer from the closet. I tried not to remind him how small the blazer looked on him. I remembered how sensitive he was to criticism. I told him it was chilly out and he grabbed a scarf instead. He was going downtown, for a walk. I paced inside my mind as I held our suckling son against my breast. The chilly air blew the dust from the windowsill into the stale air. Ten minutes had passed and I couldn't sit still any longer. I sat at his desk, feeling like I had become someone I didn't want to become. I knew her name. I met her once in passing and noticed something strange. I searched his inbox. There were no messages. Perhaps he already thought I was this person I was becoming. I searched the trash. Four messages. My hands shook against the keyboard and I moved back slightly so that the tears wouldn't wet the keys. I clicked and read with my racing heart and the coo of our son interrupting the ringing silence. The living room had chilled and I could no longer hold back the wailing screams.
My fists slam onto my bag and I look to see if I had dropped anything. I read the faces to see if anyone had taken in my small blast, but like the redhead, they kept me at their peripheral. I stopped caring, and I let the tears fall. I look for the redhead but she is gone. Instead I see his redhead in my mind, her hair wound around my tight grip, knocking her off balance. I had been mindlessly picking at the dry skin beside the cuticles of my thumbs, until I hit tender meat. Fourteenth Street arrives and I swiftly grab my bags, head towards the door, and push against the insisting crowd.