Someone Else’s World
The story begins on a second grade carpet, comfy, tattered and riddled with hidden germs. Ms. D’Adamo puts on her red glasses, holds up a globe. This is the earth. She spins and spins while talking; I watch it circulate, quickly and perfectly. She stops it abruptly and points to a spot in the middle. This is where we are. All of us in that room, we are there, in that tiny speck. Maroon nail polish covering me, my family, my home. The New York State thruway and the Nanuet mall. Canal street, where we go for Sunday dumplings. This carpet that I’m sitting on: it’s under my body, yet under her finger. I am 8, staring at this shiny round ball, then the carpet, then back. Trying to understand.
Years later, as I move my own manicured finger to different parts of this globe, images will appear. The stray cat, covered in bugs, outside a villa in Tuscany where I drank orange juice on a hot morning. A small tattoo shop in Fort Lauderdale where an artist tattooed “integrity” onto my wrists, after warning me that the minuscule letters would eventually become an unidentifiable blur. The tall green of the Luxembourg gardens, guiding me as I ran endless circles, sweaty and foreign and homesick for an unworthy boyfriend. A giant broken clock in the middle of a village in Ocho Rios seen during a walk, holding hands honeymoon style with the new love of my life. Here was a new version of my earth: the blanks of its canvas slightly filled in, patchy and spotty, becoming more infinite with each detail.
The story continues. It’s been 25 years since that day on the carpet, and I’m sitting on a cloth glider after midnight, holding a warm screaming entity in a yellow striped blanket, rocking her back and forth. Up for so many nights, they all blur together, and I’m certain that I’ve lost myself. I hold her in my arms, put my face right up to her alien eyes. She stops. The screams are replaced by fast breathing, then slow breathing, then breathing so calm I can’t hear it at all, only feel it, like I know she can feel mine. She stares up at me, with a suddenly palpable magnetism. She sees nothing else: neither the wall, nor the window, nor the clock. Not a spec of anything in our apartment, out on the streets of Broadway, in this big city, this big world. It’s me, and only me, and it has been for her entire existence. For the first time, I am able to see past the crying, the shitting, the carrying, dressing, buckling, wiping, washing, contorting, and realize, that when your baby is just a baby, it’s only you. You are actually someone else’s entire world.
When they ask me, What is it? What is the thing that you were least prepared for when you became a mother? this is what I will say: that I didn’t realize, peeing on the stick, seeing the line appear, reluctantly flushing my prescriptions down the toilet, watching my belly grow–frantically setting up my house and throwing out baskets of beading and comedy writing and other artifacts from my extended youth; what I didn’t realize on those final days before she came, when I rocked alone on a glider in her room imagining everything that having a daughter would be, was that the big green and blue and brown globe that I spent my whole childhood spinning, and studying, and traveling, or just staring at from a dirty blue carpet with vast wonder, this is what I was about to become. Tonight, I see her little face, her tiny fingernail scratch on her nose, her fuzzy head, and I can see she’s looking back not just at me, but at her whole wide world. Here I am, in sweats and a tank top with my hair in a messy bun: 130 pounds of world. An entire one.
It’s a paradox, the weight of it, and the way it frees me from myself; I feel massive and light.
Though she will grow. She will sit, then crawl, then begin to walk away from me. She’ll start school. She’ll make friends. I will wake up one morning and she won’t be waiting by the side of my bed in a nightgown, asking to climb in. I know she’ll fall in love with the boy with the Converse and the clichés. And some nights, I’ll lie in bed, not staring at a monitor, but looking at a phone, waiting to hear where she is and why she never came home. As her universe expands, I will shrink. As her world gets bigger, I’ll have less and less space. Eventually, I’ll become the size of the actual model of the globe, not the massive entity it symbolizes. I will be fragile and flimsy, spinning on my own axis while she stares off from somewhere, separate and unaffected. I will become smaller and smaller, but hopefully, I’ll never disappear. I’ll never be tossed aside, buried in a basement toy bin somewhere beneath monkey puppets and an American Girl doll, covered in nostalgia and dust. I’ll be somewhere that, if she looks, she can see me in plain sight. Because one thing I know is that I will always keep spinning for her, wherever we are.
Back on the glider, I hold her, consumed with the relief that in this moment, it doesn’t go beyond me. This is the earth, I tell her. She is minuscule, and held to my surface by gravity; I’m the equator and the north and south poles and everything in between. This is where we are.
I am her world, and that makes her mine.
After a five-year long hiatus from writing, Emily James is finding her way as a writer and a mother, as well as a 9th grade teacher in Brooklyn. She lives in Riverdale, Bronx with her two little girls and her husband. She blogs at Emilysarahjames.wordpress.com.