I’ve been writing to our child. Regularly. Twice a week on average, in fact, for the past three months. I wrote the first note, a memo I texted to my Blackberry, a day after the pregnancy test. I’ve never told you, in part because we weren’t talking, in part because it’s quite likely you don’t care, in part because while I was feverishly grasping for connection to the child, you were frantically scratching through a hole to get away from it.
And when you slid through that crawlspace, you mortared and bricked it behind you.
The words come pretty regularly, full of hopes and confessions and lofty ideals. But some days, my animosity is an impediment—and on those days, it makes more sense to write to you.
As tempting as it is, I try not to deride you in the missives I’m preserving for the child. My own mother never did that, when I was old enough to notice that my father wasn’t with us; and I’ve learned a measure of tact and grace from her. But I’m not her. And I don’t have her stores of strength and charisma. So sometimes, when I speak of you to others and often, when I speak of you to myself, the things I say about you are quite… blue. We’re talking cerulean. We’re talking FCC seven-second delay. We’re talking I hope you never learn to read minds.
I worry that even the unsaid will soak into the baby’s marrow, because it is so deeply steeped in mine.
I don’t hate you, but love, I am on the precipice. I wonder if you find yourself there, with me, feet planted at an unseen spot on the selfsame shore. I wonder if you actually resent me for making the decision to parent, because doing so shifts the terrain of your dreams and re-routes your best-laid plans.
That this is even a possibility makes my fury redouble. Rage has this way of regenerating itself, like the severed limbs of starfish. There are times when it’s difficult to contain mine.
Every day that ends without any indication that you are alive—or that you care that I and the child am—draws me closer to a cliff’s edge off which I know I’ll be forced to dive. And when I do, I promise you, the person you once knew—who was patient and tolerant and generous, who wrote you poetry and sang to your voicemail and cooked with and for you, who served as your secretary and editor and financier, who listened to and counseled and comforted you, who apologized profusely when she was wrong and accepted apologies far quicker than she should’ve—will disappear beneath a surface so cold you will find yourself shuddering as she emerges.
I barely recognize myself these days.
About a week ago, I spoke with your mother. I was a whirl of magnanimity, assuring her that I’d made my peace with motherhood and my apologies to God for our indiscretions. Because I could sense that these were important queries for her, I kept a smile in my voice as I answered them. When she told me you’d make a good father, eventually, I agreed with her, because it’s likely true; what I didn’t add is that it may not be true for our child. More than once, she expressed gratitude that I’d written to tell her I was pregnant; if I hadn’t, she wouldn’t have known it at all. She said that she has yet share the news with your family, even as she grows more excited about it herself, because you’ve asked her not to and she intends to respect your wishes.
Before we hung up, she told me she was glad that I chose to keep the child, and her tone suggested that you hadn’t told her you’d asked me, no fewer than five times, not to. I thanked her, holding the words that rippled toward the front of my tongue at bay.
It seems that I’m always protecting you in these ways: notifying family alone; absorbing their criticism alone; listening and nodding while they defend you as a “nice guy” who they’re “sure will come around” and who “just needs time to cope with the change.”
The latter is the most infuriating of all, this notion that because you are male and thereby privileged enough not to carry the literal weight of a child, you should be afforded distance, time, some mystical Benefit of Doubt, and utter exemption from fault, while I budget and buy and cramp and waddle, reaching the milestones of fetal development by myself.
Everyone expects me to wait for you. No fewer than four people have expressed their sincere hope that we “work things out.” I’ve been told that I have little choice, that it doesn’t matter if you decide tomorrow or ten years from now to insert yourself in this kid’s life; I’ll have a responsibility to accept it.
I suppose it’s this myth that emboldens you, that I will continue to reach for you and that I won’t teach our child not to; that a father’s full rights are reserved for men who decide, far too late, to be fathers; that whenever you feel that you’re ready, your reemergence will be met with resounding trumps and forgiveness.
May this myth be enough to sustain you, as you refrain from calling to inquire after the child’s health or gender, as you neglect to offer it sustenance or commitment, as you continue to pretend that it will not exist. For if you arrive unsolicited or announced, long after my dive into indifference, years from now, when our child is old enough to read and comprehend the way you’re behaving toward it right now, expect an indefinite wait at the exterior of our door.