My daughter is now six, but she was three when my husband was diagnosed. At four, she lost her father to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a disease that it took several more years for her to pronounce. As a six-year-old, her grief isn’t like mine. Hers is also down deep, but mostly unconscious. When it bubbles up unexpectedly, it takes us both by surprise.
We are hanging new clothes in what used to be my husband’s closet when my daughter has the sudden realization that her father’s clothes are gone. I packed them up almost a year ago and took them to charity, but she doesn’t remember this, nor the days of agony it took. It’s as though she has just noticed the absence.
She has a sudden and immediate urge for one of her father’s shirts. In my misery, I was mindful of folding and parting with his old clothes. I bagged a special care package of his most-often worn, some torn, day and night clothes for each of us — my daughter, my eleven-year-old son, and me.
Now I take my daughter to the hidden items. Inside the clear bag with her name quickly penned on a torn sheet of printer paper is a faded black ribbed tank top that seems suitable as a summer nightgown. I reluctantly release a few sprays of his cologne from a bottle at the bottom of the bag (they have since discontinued the line) creating a darkened spot on the chest of the tank, and slide it over my daughter’s downy blond head. She is tall for six — 4’3 (her daddy was 6’5) — but even so, the arm holes drape so low that her purple monster underwear is visible from the side. Her flat nipples almost peek out the top of the neckline. She is so proud standing there, barefooted, being held by her daddy’s scent and strong invisible arms which I can quickly imagine, but she does not remember. I am both as comforted as she is and so pained that I need to force my expression into the smile she wants to see. She climbs onto our marriage bed a few moments later and sits for a photograph.
In the still image of that moment before me, I see in her face my husband’s round cheeks and mouth shaped into her own partial smile, which is perhaps shielding as much as his own did those last weeks. I see also an unfamiliar cast to the eyes she inherited from me — vacant and simultaneously grieving and yet not fully aware she is. It now seems to me a six-year-old’s contemplation of death captured for mere seconds before her attention shifts and she leaps up to go watch a cartoon, smiling and waving as she walks out the bedroom door. She leaves me both palpably satisfied with her pleasure and painfully seized with the fear of not knowing what is coming next—certain that something else dreadful surely will.
She has worn the shirt to bed every night since, and I can’t yet bear the thought of washing it.
Deirdre Fagan is a widow, newlywed, mother of two, and assistant professor at Ferris State University. She has composed poems, stories, and critical essays while nursing babies and snuggling children on her lap.
Last year my husband and I made a list of things we needed to accomplish before we sell our house. This list included things like gutter upgrades, roof repairs, paint that needed updating, and a few small renovations. Now, almost a year later, our list is growing short. We’re on track to list our home in the spring as planned, and I’m both excited for our future and preemptively nostalgic.
Our home, the one we’re planning to sell, was the first place we lived together. We planned a wedding in this house. We adopted our dog in this house. After renting the house for a year, we bought it, shifting from renters to owners in a rather underwhelming fashion (no key ceremony or champagne, but no moving either!) We got our first adult jobs in this house, celebrated promotions in its kitchen, weathered storms of nature and emotion in the living room. We rang in the last five New Years in this house, surrounded by our friends and neighbors. We furnished it, painted it, and planned for our future in this house. We picked out the color of our someday baby’s nursery years before I was pregnant, taping the turquoise swatch to the bedroom wall to see how it looked in the light of every season. We brought our son home from the hospital to that turquoise room, took our first family photo on the front porch, and celebrated his first birthday in the backyard. The entirety of our family life has happened in this house and leaving now feels…disloyal.
We love our house, but we know it can’t grow with us. As we dream and plan for the future, for a larger family, for hosting holidays, for aging parents, our little house cannot serve us. I know this. I also know that I curse our house on a weekly basis for all the things it isn’t. I already feel the pinch of living without storage or counter space or a dishwasher and yet, I feel so saddened at the thought of leaving. Moving out of this house and into something with more growing room will also mean moving from this moment of life to the next and all the uncertainty that comes with it.
I want so much to stay in our little house, as if staying within its walls would keep time from slipping by. Our little house fits our little family well right as we are now. This moment of our life is one I wish I could stay in for eons. This sweet present where I am reached for by my son’s little hands, where I am able to give him the entirety of my attention and revolve my life around his needs. I want to dote upon him as he is, a toddler, my only child, as long as I can. On the other hand, I cannot wait for a new home to settle into, one with a playroom and more counter space. I cannot wait for the next moment of our lives, where my son is old enough to need me less, where I can imagine nursing another baby without guilt.
I know we’re no longer in the start of our lives and that this is the heart of my trepidation. We’re dipping our toes into the messy middle; and our starter home has outlived its usefulness. Our next home will see us through the next stage of our lives, one where we will hopefully experience more joy than pain, more births than deaths; but there will certainly be challenges to overcome and tragedies to suffer through. It is a part of life and one that I’ve felt mostly sheltered from by youth. It’s difficult to leave behind the home where we became a family and march toward the uncertainty of the future, but it’s time. All I can do is look back on our past with gratitude and hope that one day I will feel this way again many, many years from now when we start looking for a small house for our empty nest.
A house with less space, but so much love, a house much like the one we have now.
Shannon Curtin is a 2014 Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of two collections of poetry, Motherland (Anchor and Plume Press), and File Cabinet Heart (ELJ Publications). She is the current poetry editor for The Quotable, and her writing has been featured in variety of literary magazines including Mothers Always Write, The Muddy River Review, The Mom Egg Review, and The Elephant Journal. Shannon holds an MBA, competitive shooting records, and her liquor. You can find her at www.shannonmazur.com and @Shannon_Mazur.
Our neighborhood is “hidden” off the main road, shrouded by nature. Ten-year-old Matthew says, “It’s not too country and not too city.” We can be on Interstate 84 in two minutes if we need some action or stay within our own community where the kids always have a playmate if we chose to not venture too far. Strolling through my neighborhood with my daughter, we stop at my sister’s house to let the dogs play for a minute and then continue around the block. We don’t pass a single car as my dog, Macy, runs ahead of us, diving into the brush to sniff out any creatures and then zigzags to my neighbor’s to visit their dog, Louis. This is Macy’s go-to place; she waits at my neighbor’s garage door for a treat and immediately helps herself to their couch when they open the door. Later, they ring my bell and deliver her back once she is done visiting. Even the dogs have friends in my neighborhood.
Wildlife is abundant in The Heights. McKenna and the other kids have all told me about the stray cats that roam the neighborhood. I have also seen the “big orange cat,” his fur matted with dirt as he darts back into the woods each time my car passes. Nate says the “poopy bear” has been to the neighbors and has broken their birdfeeder. In his three–year-old voice, he tells me about the mommy and baby deer that walk between the yards. I have seen this family of deer as they walk across the road, pausing to observe the inhabitants of their land, and then leap back into the woods between the houses.
The trees are starting to turn. Acorns drop from their limbs, bounce off the roofs and cover the ground as the air gets cooler. I hear the birds chirping, and I know the days are numbered before the silence of winter blankets the ground, quieting the usual sounds of hide and seek and chirping crickets. The bikes will be put back in the garages, replaced by sleds soon to be buried under three feet of snow. Amy and Annie say they can’t wait for snow days and for sledding with friends in our back yards.
The kids running back and forth through the neighborhood will come to a slow as the weather turns cold. Walks to the bus stop will turn to drives as the wind whips down 4th Avenue our “wind tunnel,” and I will be lucky to turn around and see one snow suit covered little face peering in my back window from time to time. The neighborhood is “kid friendly” Amy says, and my little friends from next door “The Becks” agree. They are free to run from one house to another or take the wooded path that links our homes. My phone frequently pings from my friend Laura, “Are my kids at your house?”
“Yes, but they are now headed back your way,” I say.
My niece, Carla, tells me she loves our neighborhood for its “freedom.” How much “freedom” a six–year-old needs is beyond me, but she seems pretty happy to ride her bike up and down the gated driveway with no fear of cars. They can ride down the hilly streets and not encounter any “meanies” Isla chimes in. Isla asks Carla, “Did you bring your stunt bike?” She shakes her head “no,” and my kitchen table erupts in giggles.
These are the days I love when the neighborhood children run from house to house, raiding the pantry, leaving a trail of snack wrappers and half-drunk juices boxes behind them. You can always find a cup of sugar or a dash of wasabi powder with a simple group text. On snow days and sick days, the moms find sitters in each other, and a glass of wine awaits when we need to unwind. No one thinks anything less of a neighbor seen walking to the bus stop with unwashed hair, pajama pants, and flip-flops. We are just happy to stand at the bus stop and catch up with each other as the kids run circles around us.
Maura Maros is pursuing her Master’s in Creative Writing at Wilkes University. She is a full-time working mom. In addition to raising two children, she is pursing her dream of becoming a published writer.
Are you carrying me, or am I carrying you?
Me, unmade mother, singing to you in four languages,
in a dimly lit, narrow flat. You, buoyed up
in a grainy sea with an anchor of blood and tissue,
to connect you to mainland me,
you make forays into my abdomen; your sharp
kicks protest the oddity of immigrant meals:
the feta cheese floating in a sea of coconut cream, the tangy
aftertaste of satay sticks drizzled with
garlic paste; the defrosted biryani that even the
mould won’t touch; you are made of soft, mango pulp-
and seedless tamarind, consumed
with roti on cold, European nights.
Am I dreaming you or you, me? Our life together,
unopened like these crisp, cardboard boxes.
We both take stock of things. You consider the
hum of voices that convey to you
immeasurable loss, I count my belongings
to see if I have,
packed enough of my life,
in anonymous, black suitcases.
We have both taken that one-way ticket home, you
and I and there is no turning back.
Leaves cascade from lean branches,
rain taps on the window sill,
grey clouds gather and ebb,
so unlike, a Lahori summer
where torrential rains,
Have you reconciled with me? Small, fetal gymnast,
you somersault inside me,
I gave you, the residue of dreams in Urdu and their
echo in English, the half-formed memories,
of Malay and their reflections in a mirror of Arabic,
I gave you life in Dutch and loss in Hindi.
You may forgive me some day. For, we be of one blood, ye and I.
Rakhshan Rizwan was born in Lahore, Pakistan and then moved to Germany where she studied Literature and New Media. She is currently a PhD candidate at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Papercuts, Cerebration, Muse India, The Missing Slate, Blue Lyra Review, Postcolonial Text, Yellow Chair Review and The Ofi Press. She is the winner of the Judith Khan Memorial Poetry Prize.