Make Him a Balloon, Nonfiction

Cartography.

When you’ve been here a while, when you’re at least four feet tall and you’ve got one viewing of Roots under your belt, I’ll take your slender wrist between my thumb and forefinger, turn your arm palm-up, and tell you to sit.

There’s something I want to show you, I’ll say.

We’ll look at your veins, winding greenish and blue under what I predict will be maize-colored skin.

Every vein is a storyline.
I’ll trace them with my index finger for emphasis. Every story belongs to a woman who’s come before you. These are your grandmothers’. This one’s your aunt’s. And this is mine.

I will tell you that, just as some parts of the vein are visible and close to the skin, and others are buried deeper, toward the bone, so also are the stories of your ancestresses: some portions are knowable; others will be forever hidden from view.

These days, my own veins have become far more prominent. Beneath my shoulder blades, dozens of greenish paths are writhing and converging in a race toward the center of my breasts. As if overnight, my body has become its own cartographer, my veins a series of routes spread out, as if drawn on an interstate map.

They are paving a way for you.

Though my stomach is darker than my chest, its veins are also emerging, wider and thicker than the ones above.

I am filling with proteins and fats and stories. Years from now, when I hold your wrist and trace its risen lines, I will repeat the words my body is whispering daily.

We will start with the tale of the teenage girl who creeps off to a bar on a corner, with a few of her older siblings. Terribly shy, she feels scandalized there. The walls are sweating liqour; the moisture accosting her skin has no respect for the painstaking work of her hotcomb. She wants a stool in a corner, a quiet place to shrink away and wait for the music to swell. Her siblings have scattered, like ants in bakery littered with crumbs. The brazen suggestions of sailors, the broad, jutting shoulders of bricklayers, the bony, jabbing elbows of wire-rimmed junior collegiates are bruising her body, all over. She considers leaving, obedient as she usually is, and self-conscious enough to know that she’s too young for this scene, full of porters and rail workers and factory men, full of women she’d heard her mama whisper about at first ladies’ luncheons.

But then the band began to kick up, a trumpeter at the fore, beckoning offstage, and out came pompadoured Bobby Bland, in slacks tailored slim and suggestive. The women’s knees buckled before he even neared the microphone. The men cussed their approval, raising glasses of whiskey and gin. But the girl’s own heart didn’t quicken till he leaned in, grinning almost evilly as he crooned: I went down to St. James Infirmary—and I heard my baby groan….

Her body shuddered before she could temper it, and she pulled the collar of her green wool sweater tighter around her narrow neck. She wanted to cast sidelong glances, to make sure no one had noticed, but before she could, an arm snaked its way around her waist and the heat of a gravelly, honeyed voice singed her ear.

“Slow down now, girl.” He rested his chin on her shoulder, then moved before she could shrug him away.

But she wouldn’t have.

Now she’s gone, she’s gone and may God bless her, wherever she may be. She has searched this wide world over, but she’s never found a man like me….

She watched him pretend not to be aware he was being watched. He took a long drag off a short cigarette and narrowed his eyes at the stage. He wasn’t tall, but he was dark and handsome, with eyes at once kind and menacing, and though he wore civilian clothes, she knew he was a soldier long before he told her. She fancied herself intuitive, then.

They sipped watery gin from a clouded glass. She cringed, her entire face a pucker, and his throaty laugh carried, over the somber blues and the raucous chants of the crowd.

She loved him. She was certain of this, at sixteen, even after she found out he was already husband and father to another brown and burgeoning family, even after it became clear he’d never leave them for her and the girl he’d left growing inside her.

Your lips will part, dewy with eager inquiry, but I’ll let my finger flit to another vein and begin anew.

You needn’t investigate these tales for accuracy. Fact, uttered hastily and under cautious breath, is often imparted sparingly in families. Much of what I’ll tell you will be imaginative meat added to bare, brittle bone.

But it’s important that you know what the women who made you are capable of. We are, generation upon generation, fierce and earnest lovers of the absolute wrong men. We are women who tend to breed babies with ghosts. So you must listen beneath the fiction, beneath the fact. You must listen for the throb of the pulse, and find yourself a frequency that frees you from this unkindly inheritance.

I will hunt for new veins till I’ve exhausted our family’s stories. I will never, ever mention that the blood flowing through them is your father’s.

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Make Him a Balloon, Nonfiction

… But Little Girl, You’re My Heart’s Delight.

Before you came to bring us such joy,
how we hoped and prayed that you’d be a boy
but little girl, you’re my heart’s delight;
you make life sunny and bright, Little B.
You’re all my heart sings for.

— “Little B’s Poem,” Jean Carn

I didn’t realize I was trembling until the ultrasound tech ventured, “You’re nervous, huh?” I heard myself breathe an unconsidered confession: YES. She laughed. “I can tell.”

Lying back on the crinkly white paper of an examining chair has become second nature in the past few months, but this darkened room, sufficiently dimmed for viewing the movement of a half-gestated fetus, was new.

Before your great-aunt and I came here, I sat in my apartment, savoring my last few hours of ignorance. This sounds strange and I will rarely, if ever, encourage you to “savor” ignorance, but in this case, all the things I didn’t know carried with them a certain calm. I cannot tell you how often in life it’s been soothing for me to hold fast to my little delusions. Yesterday morning was one of those times.

It’s just so true: before you know exactly who and how someone is, she can be anything.

Yesterday morning, and for many days before, you were a boy—a brown and hardy enigma I was eager to spend the next twenty years of my life figuring out. You were the long-absent maleness my three generations of women so craved. You were a towering teenage star, with fists clenched in defense of home, of hearth, of mother, if ever they were threatened.

Admittedly, I don’t get boys. Having one would’ve been something of a social experiment. Perhaps I could’ve finally cracked the codes that’ve been so elusive to me all these years. Maybe we would’ve had strangely, unexpectedly illuminating conversations and our lives would’ve been near-constant filament bursts of inter-gender understanding.

It was a silly sort of dream, one that placed too much onus on you to teach me, one born of unfair expectations that would’ve led to inevitable disappointment.

I may’ve watched you walk across commencement stages, gazing through a twilight of awe and thinking, “I still don’t get boys.” And one of my biggest fears as a parent is never growing to understand my child. With a male you, there would’ve been impediments, anatomical and theoretical; it would’ve been hard.

And worse, there was the acute possibility that I would’ve spent more time obsessing over all the things I could lose you to—premature, inaccurate learning disability diagnosis; police profiling or brutality; stray bullets; random or targeted violence; unjust (or just) incarceration; drug use or distribution—than I would’ve spent cherishing you. I know these ills aren’t unique to the black male, but that wouldn’t stop me from fretting over their heightened probability for you.

And then, had you escaped it all, I still would’ve worried that the pressure to become some great  bastion of Black societal uplift would’ve cracked you in irreparable ways.

In the end, it’s equally possible I might have ruined your disposition with all the clucking and coddling attendant to all those concerns.

There are no end of worries for Black men.

So I wasn’t too deflated in the doctor’s office, lying back and looking at the organ the sonographer was circling as she typed, “IT’S A GIRL!” across the monitor. This was the very first part of you she showed me (which is symbolic of so many private things I’ll whisper to you after you’re here). Then, she spent ten minutes identifying thigh and calf and ankle, bicep and elbow and forearm, all the bones so white and prominent, the shape of each limb all curved and defined. I could see your heart, this heart whose sound I’ve already come to memorize, then your kidneys, your cranium, the delicate silhouette of your brain. I saw your spine and its notches of vertebrae, curled against the hammock of my ever-expanding uterus.

“Are you gonna stretch out for us, baby?” the sonographer asked you. She can’t, I thought to myself, she’s a giant.

Already, you are formidable. I don’t mean that in a way that suggests rivalry or a lifelong battle of wills. I mean you’re a force. A bundle not only of joy, but of power. You have track-runner legs; your hands and your feet are overlong, like your father’s.

You will easily envelope things: moths and lightning bugs and fireflies, secrets.

You won’t tread lightly. I won’t expect you to.

Girl, there are stories. There are myths and legends and mysteries about your foremothers, enough to have us speaking in reverent and relishing hushes for the length of both of our lives.

I will tell you about the distant cousin who wandered into the woods during a storm and blew away. I will tell you of your great-great aunt who, at 19, was already Wife and Mother, who, at 19, ventured into a nightclub in Natchez and died in the fire that consumed 200+ patrons within. I will tell you about your grandmother, the evangelist; your great-grandmother, the jazz connoisseur; your great-great-grandmother who lived to be 95 and who floated about in her final years, like an ancestress with the mysteries of eternity within a fingertip’s grasp. I’ll tell you about my three cousins, all preternaturally wise, with whom I spent all my adolescent summers whispering secrets about boys and reciting lyrics to the r&b that was forbidden to me back home.

I will tell you of the first time I met your father’s mother. She wafted into her living room, in a summery sleeveless top, her skin dewy from the hours she’d spent gardening in the sun. I noticed the moles on her neck and arms, raised and round like chocolates. She told us about the hedge in front of their home and how she’d spent hours trimming it—first daintily with clippers and then, for the more stubborn stalks, she said, “I just started using my hands.” I looked closer at the hands she’d stretched out before us, and noticed a trail of fresh, tiny scratches paved from wrist to shoulder on each side.

Your grandma’s hands are a marvel. She can break trees with them.

I suppose my entire life has built toward parenting you. If there’s one thing I’m prepared for, it’s teaching a woman how to live in the relative absence of men.

You are a fourth generation Brown woman. At this point, some things are inherent. We know the longing for male validation. We know the resentment that accompanies the lack of it. We know the resignation to its dearth that you can reach quite early on.

We know how conquerable the want is.

With each successive Brown generation, there is an evolution of awesome. This means the likelihood of you being a purple-haired poetry-spouting mathematician and electric guitarist is disproportionately high.

In time, you’ll understand why I wanted a boy. In time, I’ll understand why our matrilineage just keeps spawning more women.

Don’t worry. I am not disappointed.

We can do this. We can do this well.

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Make Him a Balloon, Nonfiction

The Precipice.

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.

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Make Him a Balloon, Nonfiction

Somersaults.

In eight days, I’ll sit in a cold, stark room and watch as a sonographer wheels in the machine of her trade. A frigid dollop of gel will be slicked the length of a belt buckle, and for the first time since you’ve been here, the wand the doctor sets aglide will provide me moving images of you. I hope to see two arms and legs, the arc of your soft sloping cranium, and tight little balls of fist and foot. I hope to hear the word, “healthy,” as I stare transfixed at the screen that projects you.

I am told I might also be able to find out your gender that day, if you’re positioned just so and you’re feeling cooperative. I must confess that I’m far more eager about this than I should be. I have a shamefully strong preference, one that I hope will become little more than a trifle over which we’ll share a chuckle someday.

Should you defy all prediction and pleading, I promise to sing you this during 3 am feedings (though not as awesomely or loudly as DeeDee does):

In the meantime, I’m just trying to focus on growing you—and you’re making it surprisingly easy. There’s been no nausea, little heartburn, and relatively uneventful sleep in these first sixteen weeks with you. And sometimes, when we’re alone, and I hook a pair of headphones onto my ears, up the volume on my Doppler, and listen to you moving (because your sound is too delicious to be confined to 45-second soundbites in doctors’ offices), the swish of you, somewhere inside me, brings a peace more profound than any I’ve known.

I realize, when I hear you now, that it won’t matter to me if you’re boy or you’re girl, if you’re pensive like your mother or brooding like your father, if you play some sport for which I have little knowledge or tolerance, if you require long nights and longer patience, if we need to learn to speak with hands instead of mouths to communicate, if you excel at wind instruments or show less aptitude for English than Math.

It won’t matter as much as I thought it would, when we begin, in unconscious ways, to hurt one another. I won’t likely lament the loss of these quiet, autonomous days Before, when all you are is sound and a shadowy, shimmying figure on a screen of greenish static, as often as I suspected I would.

I know this by the sound of you, somersaulting currents of amniotic fluid, as eager to join the world as I am to deliver you to it.

I think of this sound far more often than I indulge in my urge to hear it. My heart has it memorized; listening too often would obliterate the workday veneer of poise I use to pretend that pregnancy is simple biology, that growing a human is something short of incredulous and spectacular.

I know now, whoever you are, I just want you here and I want you alive. At four months and a week, we are nearly half-there.

Spend the balance of winter and spring surviving the confines of my body and I promise I’ll devote each day to making you believe it was worth your while.

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Make Him a Balloon, Nonfiction

On Acquiring God.

It feels strange to write to you of God, when it’s quite possible that you know more about him right now than I do.

I could be wrong, but I imagine that embryos’ knowledge moves in reverse, so that by the time they are infants, they’re amnesiac and have the overwhelming task of relearning things they knew when they were wise and ageless spirits luxuriating in an open heaven. (I think F. Scott Fitzgerald might’ve agreed with me, which you’ll understand when I read you “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” before bed. I’ll probably read you Fitzgerald till you groan. Do try to be tolerant, until you’re old enough to develop your own literary interests.)

You will hear me say this a lot, this “I could be wrong”—especially in our conversations about God. This is because I’m not always sure what I know. I’m not entirely confident that the truth as I understand it is the way the truth should be understood. My life—and quite possibly everyone’s lives, from the evangelist to the atheist—is full of the unexpected and the unexplainable. No one has developed so precise a formula for understanding, that his life is entirely exempt of uncertainty.

And so I can’t say with complete confidence whether I’m right about many of the things I’ll teach you. The more we know, the less we know; for me, this has become something of a mantra.

But in our household, God exists. He is quite real, as real as oxygen or hydrogen or any other element on the periodic table that’s invisible or intangible to the naked eye. God is ever-present, listening and watching closely. In crisis, people often expect Him to, but He does not always intervene. Sometimes, when unspeakable atrocities occur, our belief in the existence and presence of God helps us to cope. Sometimes, it doesn’t help nearly as much as we’d like it to.

In our household, we believe that God can be felt in wind and seen in sunrise. Sometimes, we think we hear Him when we think. Sometimes, we stop in the midst of our toiling and it occurs to us that we’ve gotten to where we are and we’re heading toward wherever we’re destined, not due to any particular foresight of our own, but because of propulsion from a force far greater than our Selves.

And in that moment of pause, we thank God.

You will hear many of His names, uttered and sung, over the course of your childhood. But I cannot guarantee how often we’ll go to church. I went just about every Sunday of my little-girl life, and there’s part of me that wishes this for you. There is an irreplaceable sense of community you’d find, growing up in pilgrimage to the same building and seeing the same people, listening to and learning the idiosyncrasies of their worship, listening to and learning the poetry of the bible.

There is nothing more lyrical than a sermon. I’ve found this to be true, regardless of denomination. The minor melodies of the Jewish cantor’s Hebrew are as beautiful as the recitation of the rosary; the slow and rocking baritone the Baptist minister rolls up from the barrel of his gut can be as fascinating as Arabic incantations prayed eastward five times a day.

This may sound confusing. It isn’t always. Our world is full of faiths, and our family has espoused one. In tandem with the tenets of our faith, you will learn about free will and how the decision to accept or decline a faith is personal and individual. But you will also realize that we are born into traditions of worship—or born into an absence of them, and this free will to decide your faith doesn’t really kick in until you’re grown. Even then, you’d be hard-pressed to eradicate all of the rituals with which you were raised, and it’s likely you won’t want to.

In our house, we believe in Christ, crucified and resurrected. We believe in the Trinity. We believe in asking for salvation from sin, even though sin is inherent to humankind. We believe in an afterlife that includes both a heaven and hell. We believe that the occurrences recorded in the bible are historical and instructional, not fictional.

But we do not isolate ourselves from those who don’t. And we do not respond defensively when people question our beliefs. They are ours; in the end, the only people who need to understand why hold fast to them are us.

Perhaps this is why you’ll need church—because I don’t always understand why I hold fast. And ultimately, that will be a knowledge you’ll need to acquire on your own.

In the meantime, before you arrive, I’ll look out for a place to which I feel I can entrust the delicate acquisition of each point on your moral compass, the infinite beauty of a life aimed toward a higher purpose than its own caprice or pursuit.

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Make Him a Balloon, Nonfiction

Patchwork.

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.

Perhaps.

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.

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Make Him a Balloon, Nonfiction

The Tidal Wave, The Undertow.

I felt you. Sunday morning. I was in bed, and my body had managed to contort itself into a kind of half twist at the torso. In the stillness, as the darkened winter daylight wafted through the window, there you were—all your tiny ounces aflutter, stretching toward the edges of your warm, widening room.

You felt like a ripple of water under the skip of a stone.

When you first took root, I would awaken panicked every morning, acutely, uneasily aware that you were present and wholly unsure what I was supposed to do with you. This was why I told everyone about you so early. I didn’t trust myself as the sole bearer of such a profound actuality. You were too large an occurrence to keep secret; even before you could be felt, you seemed to me a seahorse, a lavish curl of vertebrae, all this soft and pliant tissue pulling itself into bigger whirls of baby everyday.

In my mind, you have this rich interior life. You’re thinking about the time Before, which was vast and infinite. You’re anxious about who you’ll be on the Outside, terrified you won’t remember the refinement, the satisfaction of eternity. None of us do, once we’re here. I’m sorry to have pulled you from it.

But now I feel you moving. And I must admit: this makes me selfish. The Outside yearns for you now, tangible and finite. I want to watch you swell into someone incredible and I’m desperately impatient about it.

You’ve made my life a precipice. I’m driven by a wave of want, propelled by intricate fantasies of what our lives together will be, pushed toward an ideal apex, a fever pitch of wonder: you’re there.

But in this state, I also feel poised to crash. There are terrors, too, and doubts. I have no idea who you’ll be—or who I’ll be to you. How often will we fail each other? Will we grow old and apart, without ever understanding who the other truly is? Will you read these essays about your pre-self and feel alienated rather than adored?

Is it possible that we will prove to be too much for each other?

As often as I marvel, I’m also overwhelmed. Unlike so much of my life, you will not remain interior. You are not a philosophy or ideal; you’re flesh, incubating. And when you arrive, I will be your only source. I have often been a source, but never someone’s only.

The magnitude of this is enough to pull me under.

You mustn’t worry; I don’t plan to succumb. Mama trades in melodrama and rarely takes leave of her senses. But this bit about the precipice is true: you’re the tidal wave and the undertow. You’re the division between Before and After; you’re the gravest test of my sink/swim mettle.

I do not intend to drown.

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