I’d waited, as
all most women in my position do, for you to want me again. It wasn’t as long a wait as I imagined.
I’d thought Story would be elementary-aged, perhaps embarking on her first role in a school production. She’d be playing a hummingbird or a cornflower, wearing a costume I paid someone else to design. You’d be in the audience, in a seat right next to mine, waiting for some other child to deliver his single line so you could start whispering a semi-rehearsed spiel about how “good” we once were together and how we owed it to our daughter to make another go of it. We’d applaud at the appropriate moments: when a honeybee curtsied,when a pilgrim cracked a joke. And we’d spend the downtime hissing protests.
“We don’t work,” I’d murmur with an eye to the stage. “This is not something we need to ‘try again’ to confirm.”
“We’ve never tried it with a kid,” you’d counter.
And I’d guffaw, inappropriately, then field the death glares from camcording parents in the surrounding rows.
After the play, we’d go to dinner, someplace where kids eat for free on Tuesdays and anthropomorphized ice cream sundaes are served. You’d try to hold my hand across the table, and I’d let you, because recoiling the way I’d want to would send the wrong message to Story.
But I’d be thinking. Even then, I’ll be thinking. Of now, of a year ago, of the strange callousness that possessed you for the first two trimesters I carried our child, of the pervasive, intergenerational expectation that I pretend that callousness was a figment of my imagination.
This sentiment rolls around my mind, on occasion, like a ululation from the ancestors: Become an amnesiac, for the sake of your child. We have.
It’s hard to take heed to such an admonition. Bruises inflicted on the ego don’t heal as easily as those that stain the skin. And a heart stitched hastily will keyloid.
I am not finished stitching my heart. The thread is thin, the tissue it’s sealing mercurial.
I cannot promise you an amnesiac’s forgiveness. I cannot assure you of more than yeoman’s love. What I’m capable of, with you, is a care that’s efficient and serviceable, is a tenderness contingent on pleasant memory.
You always want a hug at the baggage claim. That restarted when you arrived for Story’s delivery. It continued when you met her for the first time at a month old. And here you were again, with an easy grin and open arms. I didn’t understand it; between us, an embrace seems a gesture of foregone intimacy. It’s too easy, hugging, like little has changed.
Even so, I embraced you without refusal or protest. But I did it limply, pulling away as quickly as I leaned in and taking off toward the car a half-foot ahead of you.
I would do the leaving here.
Within a half-hour of your arrival, we were chuckling at my precarious night-driving ability, eating Frostys in a Wendy’s parking lot.
“I miss you,” you exhaled, with a kind of relief and wistfulness that tends to inspire a kiss.
Immediate gratification: you missing me is an admission of my importance to you, is a concession of significant regret. The way things are is not the way things should be. This is enough, I suppose. But it isn’t.
I avoided returning the sentiment. Just absorb it, I told myself. Don’t cave and confess that you miss him, too. Resist the urge to be smug. Refrain from being difficult and saying, ‘You should.’
It’s tempting. We are parents; we have power. We could erase all our acrimony. We could pretend that the only parts of last year worth remembering are our apologies and our laughter and the healthy birth of our daughter.
I could delete all my pregnancy essays and replace them with lovely fables that reconstruct your absence as something noble, inconsequential, but necessary.
We could rebuild reality, tell her this was our plan all along: bicoastal life, no marriage, co-parenting in five-day stints.
She would believe us, at first. She’d believe us if we kissed, held hands, embraced. If we all played Wii together on weekends, if she saw us whisper intimately at recitals, she’d believe.
And then one day, she wouldn’t.
Our carriage is only so convincing. The seams will begin to show. The basic incompatibilities we’ve both bemoaned would rise like buoys, despite our best efforts to sink them.
At four months old, our daughter stares. Her stare is long and unnerving; she doesn’t blink. She looks, until she’s decided something. Only then will she glance away.
She will not outgrow this, not with us. She’ll be this way, lifelong. She will look back and forth between us, until she’s confirmed a suspicion: you two could’ve been happier. You could’ve searched for a more settling love, instead of settling for a love that underwhelmed. You should’ve been more specific about what you needed; perhaps then you would’ve learned to fulfill each other’s needs—or else, it would’ve been easier to let each other go, rather than running each other through a wringer of reevaluation. There was nothing to reassess. I will always love you both, regardless of your relationship to one another. You needn’t have emitted smoke or erected mirrors for me.