everything is fine

The other day my mother asked me how I was, and the question sounded so foreign that I had to ask her what she had said.

“How what?”

“How are you, sweetheart?”

I thought for a moment and answered that I was fine.

“Yeah?” she asked, looking over the steering wheel.

“Yeah.”

Lately the only thing that’s mattered to everyone else is how Aspen is. Whether she’s crawling or trying to walk, whether she likes to eat purees or whole cooked food and whether or not she’s choked or gotten a cold or learned how to wave hello and bye. Sometimes I forget that I’m here, too. Sometimes I just feel like the shadow that carries around the baby and roasts vegetables and keeps the house looking tidy.

How am I? I am a stranger in my skin. I am lonely, even though I’m surrounded by loved ones. I am anxious, even though I have nowhere to be. I want to be touched, but I also want to be left alone. I want everything to change. I want nothing at all.

Today KC held onto me too tightly and my breasts leaked milk through my shirt. I groaned and pushed him away and he said, “I feel like I’m doing everything wrong.”

And I wanted to tell him that he was, that I just needed him to be gentle, that I was hurting, that my heart was sore. I wanted him to know that I was broken in two and overflowing. That I felt there wasn’t enough love left in my heart to give to him. That I didn’t ask for help with the baby because I felt that she was my burden to bear. That I should be able to hold her and cook dinner for three and finish my studies and write great novels, all at once, because I was the one who "wanted her."

But I didn't.

I told him that everything was fine.

Fine.

would you still love me (how we stay together, 4)

"Would you still love me if I cut off all my hair?" I noticed that the space between our skin had grown wider, so I moved closer to you. I tucked my head into the nook of your arm and listened for your heart.

"Of course." You said. You pressed your hand against my spine.

"Would you still want to have sex with me?"

"I'll always want to have sex with you."

And for a moment, I wanted to call you a liar. As if you were pocketing some secret desire for  a wife who painted her face with foundation and blush, who curled her hair every morning and shaved her legs and sprayed herself with things that smelled sweet. As if no man would be willing to love me completely, truly, without a polished exterior. As if no man would be willing to love more than the honey between my thighs. As I couldn't believe that my naked spirit was worthy of your love. 

Even you. Even after all this time.

I swallowed. "Would you still love me even if we could never have sex again?"

I felt your stomach soften. I felt that you were smiling, though I couldn't see your face.

"I would love you no matter what. You are my life."

And for the first time in three years, in six years, in twenty-three, I believed you.

suddenly she's a child

At ten, Aspen woke up alone in the bed and cried out for me. I pulled my shirt over my head and tossed it in the hamper and lay down next to her, pressing my bare belly against her velvet back so she could feel me breathing. Her knees were tucked up into her chest and her arms folded one over the other. She was so small, and yet so much bigger than I remembered. She woke only slightly and turned to face me, eyes open. She smiled. And with her little palm cupping my finger, she fell back asleep. I said, "rest, dear one. Baby bear, little squid," but that didn't feel right. She was suddenly a child, and I her mother, so I said, "sleep well, Aspen, my daughter, my love." I waited until her lips gently parted and her fingers loosened, and I slipped from under the sheet and closed the door behind me. 

the saffron grill

We ordered samosas and garlic naan and bowls of basmati rice to be passed around and covered in different colored curries. Aspen patted the table and patted my arm, feeling the difference between the two. She reached out for a cup of coffee and nearly grabbed hold of the rim.

“No, no,” Ken said, and he moved the cup away.

I like to watch her toying with the idea of determination. She reached out once more for the coffee and cried out when her little fingers were met with empty air.

The owner of Saffron Grill is a marvelous Indian woman, dark skinned, dark eyes, breasts that meet belly and arms meant for holding onto the shoulders of another human being. She came to our table and reached her hands out to Aspen, motioning inwards. I tossed the little baby’s body in the air once to get her smiling, caught her, and handed her off. 

Aspen looked wide-eyed back at me, head bobbing as she was carried away into the kitchen. I heard men setting down pots and knives, calling out and singing to Aspen as she met them all, one by one. My mother heart broke open. A stranger had carried my child away, and though she was safe, I felt resistance simmering within my womb. 

Lately I’ve been surrendering more and more to motherhood. When I want to hold on, to protect with all I have, to hold Aspen instead of allowing her to crawl, to stand, to fall, I breathe in. I close my eyes. I surrender. And that’s what I did then, too. I spooned some cashew cream over my rice and dipped the salty corner of a samosa into chutney. I heard Aspen laughing from behind the kitchen wall, and I could feel her joy as if it were my own. 

It was my own, really. 

that kind of love

In the beginning, they're very small and very still, and you might not realize the profound nature of what you've done. But very soon they grow, they reach and pull the glasses from your nose and smile at you when they wake, and suddenly you know that you've created an entire person, and everything you do and everything you've ever said or done will shape them like clay between your palms. This is equal parts terrifying and insanely beautiful.

Last night I sat with KC and said, "They don't tell you how much it hurts to be a mother, or a father. Babies wreck you."

"How do you mean?" He said, leaning against me.

I tried to find the words, but nothing fit properly. "It's like walking around with your skin torn off - everything is so tender and raw. I've never felt so much. You look at this sweet thing, this person, this other-worldly being, and you think, my god, I can't imagine a life before her, or a life without her, and to imagine her hurt or sick or scared makes your entire body ache. She's blown my heart wide open."

He smiled at the floor and nodded. "I agree. You could end a war with this kind of love."