First I just stand and watch him. So relaxed, so uncomplicated.
They don’t talk about the times when you envy your child – really and truly grok the advantage that the adorable little son of a bitch has on you – simply by virtue of being too young to shoulder a single burden.
“He’s two,” Todd says without moving his eyes from his iPad. “You want something different? You thought you were giving birth to the exception?”
He’s strangely sexy in these tuned-out moments, blue of eye and furrowed of brow.
“You want a machine, go to Fry’s.” That’s one of his favorite lines and he pronounces it as though it was the first time. Every single time. “You want a person, you’ve got one right there.”
Sexy, but jumping him never enters the picture, even if Forrest weren’t sitting three feet away in his high chair, drooling something purple or pink or otherwise gaudy-colored onto his chest. These days I don’t even bother with a bib because when I try to put it on he screams like he’s being waterboarded. Instead I just take his shirt off and wipe him clean when he’s done. That’s the easy part of my day. Believe it.
When he was born we agreed I would be the one to stay home. It just made sense: I was the one with less money, more commute, stronger piss-off about having to be somewhere at a certain place and time. Offices were never my thing. This could be the exit door I needed.
Baby as utility, as reason. You think it just happens on Jerry Springer?
“So negative.” Todd closes Facebook, opens Facebook. He caresses Yelp and cheats on it with Reddit. “You just carry this shit around with you and it poisons your heart.”
Thing about Todd is, he’s an asshole, but a smart asshole, and so often a correct one. That’s the hardest part: you hate him, not because he’s too direct or too right, but because it’s that much more pointed and painful that you could love him.
I did. Honest.
“Well,” he said when the pregnancy test turned up positive, “that was unexpected.” Then a flick, a short, steep intake of breath. He’d been trying to quit smoking. It was fun while it lasted.
“We can do it,” he said over Zagat-approved food that night. “It’s whether or not we want to.”
I did love him then, I did. My love for him was tentacled, a hydra-head. It stretched and peered in all directions. It had powers that far outstripped those of your average serpent. It could kill you and for that I loved it, I loved the love.
Pregnancy: a series of paper cuts against those heads of hope. Each malady – night sweats, restless legs – felt a fresh insult. You. You did this to me. Then I turned up with placenta previa and we weren’t allowed to have sex until the baby was born. Fine. Fine by me.
Labor: a crystallization of what was to come. Push through the pain. Bear down and breathe out. Legs up, down, over and across. Spread them and pray. Finally, finally. Forrest. A gray bundle with an oxygen mask across his tiny crumpled face. I held him against my chest and our hearts fought each other through our flesh.
Breastfeeding: a joke. He tried to latch onto my nipple, wanted to feed. Nothing came down to sate him. The film they’d shown us in class didn’t look like this.
“That’s theory,” Todd said, correctly, of course. “This is reality. Worst case scenario, we’ll do the bottle.”
We did the bottle.
Nights: the worst, as they are for every honest parent. Outside with its swaths of black, inside with Dr. Brown’s bottle at hand, formula dribbling down his chin. The screams echoed for hours. Reflux. Colic. Food allergies. All the possibilities, all the permutations. Todd took him from my arms and the sound seemed to dwindle just enough for the difference to grate on me. I carried you, you little fuck. Pushed and howled and tore, and still you prefer him.
“He’s a month,” Todd said. “Two months. Three months. Not even a year.” Time drew on and still he was never wrong.
You couldn’t get him on that.
You couldn’t love him for it either.
That’s his face there, sleeping in the car seat, our child’s features arranged in the folds of his father. Except he’s not sleeping. Except I didn’t even realize he was in here. Except it’s 85 degrees outside and he’s not moving.
You pluck methods, piecing them together like floral bundles. You find your way. And then one day there no longer is a need for direction. The path cut short, littered with the crumpled corpses of petals.
You too, crumpled.