I started the fifteenth week of your growth, groping through the ether in search of your father. I found him, though part of me wishes I hadn’t. It’s unsettling how little we know each other now. It’s unsettling how little we ever knew each other.
It began as a series of Saturday morning text messages. I told him some of what I’ve learned about you, because that seemed fair and necessary, but I didn’t give him everything. I didn’t, for instance, tell him precisely when Nature believes you’ll arrive. I didn’t tell him the exact date that I’ll learn if you’re boy or you’re girl. But I told him that you pulse through me—that I’ve felt you and heard you do it. He has no way of knowing how matchless this is. So I didn’t bother trying to explain that your heartbeat is a stampede and the last time I listened for it, you dodged the fetal Doppler, whenever the doctor applied pressure, so now, I think of you as part-thoroughbred and part-phantom.
I didn’t tell him that I think I’m starting to know you, in as much as I believe humans are knowable. But I told him that it seems you will exist and he should try to find a way to care about it.
Then I got out of bed, determined to fill my day with distractions. I shopped for clothing that will accommodate your growth. I strolled through a Babies R Us for the first time since I found out about you. I picked out a crib and a sling and your great-aunt bought you your very first onesies; they are plain and pristine and white.
The experience didn’t yield the hives or hyperventilation I thought it would.
I’m getting used to you.
But even with all the tiny revelations a weekend brings, during those glorious hours when work recedes in your mind and you’re left only with leisure, I compulsively checked my phone, half-looking for some sort of response to all that I’d told him. It never came.
I knew, by now, to expect silence, to anticipate being ignored. Sometimes, I imagine that he puts us out of his mind with such an alarming ease that he startles even himself. And it’s that oblivious image of him, that unwitting callousness that sometimes clouds his eyes and masks his voice, that keeps me from trying to contact him more.
That I reach for him at all—and I’ve done so two times in three months—has more to do with you than it does with me. You will need him, and you will need him lucid and accepting, neither of which he seems to be right now.
Oh, but he was, once upon a time. He could be beautiful, before. Before he started down the road to Forgetting. (I imagine Forgetting as a dying village, full of abandoners; all its inhabitants wear thick, dark shades, even though it’s pitch black there eleven months of the year, and they daily imbibe an elixir that provides them selective dementia.)
It seems entirely unjust that you should be deprived of that past part of him, that former-self when he was altogether lovely, at times, in those years before, when I didn’t sleep and wake imagining him as an ogre.
This strangely absent, selfish soul is near-unrecognizable as the wooer who cut into a tree and gave me a slice of it one Valentine’s Day, our names and the year soldered into the palm-sized bark. He is not the man with whom I’d once spent a summer afternoon finger-painting electric blues and burnished oranges on a grassy knoll in a Maryland park. He isn’t the fearless, unembarrassed foreigner who’d walk up to stone-faced Parisians and blurt out, “Y’all speak English?!” or ask me how to say, “Where is [whatever?]” in the limited French I’d learned for the trip, so we could find our trails through the gilded city when I stood apart wide-eyed and silent, too afraid to butcher the country’s language.
He isn’t even the cat who just months ago, engaged me in a months-long game of Truth or Dare, wherein we were still, nearly nine years into our lives together, unearthing new mysteries about one another.
You should know that your father is funny–unexpectedly so; he doesn’t seem it, but he can tell a story about his childhood that will make you laugh until your stomach tightens, that will make you grin at random for weeks to come, whenever you remember a line of it. And he’s heroic, when other men wouldn’t be: once, at a gas station, an elderly woman accidentally pumped gas into her eyes, sealing them shut, and I watched, as your father rushed to her aid, taking her elbow as she clung, terrified, to his waist. He ushered her to the outdoor bathroom, barking urgent, eerily calm orders to the impassive spectators nearby. I think she hugged him, afterward, as her grandson stood expressionless aside. Her thanks were so profuse he could barely break away.
His specialty seems to be car-related distresses. He tells a hilarious tale about stopping to aide a near catatonic woman on the side of the road. And once, when he visited me in New York (a story I’ll reserve for an occasion when you decide that a grand gesture is the best way to win back someone you’ve lost), he changed the tire of a mother and daughter who afterward kept insisting he was an angel in plainclothes, until their insistence weirded him out and he left.
He’s agile, too; he’s been known to shimmy up the sides of brick buildings, to pull himself up from the rungs of iron balconies and fire escapes, to slip himself through narrow entrances.
This is who he is.
But this is beneath what he’s become. And it worries me that you might grow, year in and out, with only my inadequate stories to patch yourself a tapestry of who he once was and who he might’ve been to you—or perhaps you may also have the occasional film he produces, should his reason for leaving you yield the success he desires.
If I let you watch them.
Two days after I wrote to him of you, he did deign to respond. I found the return texts–eight of them–blinking, waiting, when I woke in the third watch of night; and I spent all of the 4 am hour, returning them. He did not mention you. He wrote instead of the life he has always wanted and how there is little place for me in it, now that you’ve begun to push through me. He says that I have always known this, that the noncommittal nature of the transient artist’s life he began just two years ago should be no surprise to me.
I suppose it isn’t.
Neither of us was in any hurry to fully commit to the other. But then, for neither of us was there ever a you.
There are still five months left before you land here, on the Outside. Perhaps by then, none of these notes will be relevant. By then, perhaps my better memories of your father will be the only parts of him you’ll ever have occasion to know. He could be as compassionate to you then as he is indifferent about you now.
That is certainly my hope, though you needn’t ever worry that I’ll be unprepared for likelier possibilities.