Poems & Essays

25 Jun

The Nights are Long

Babyhood No Response

You are laying in bed on your left side, lower back tight, legs slightly more than perpendicular, one on top of the other, trying to stay as still as possible. A position just like the one that pilates woman demonstrated on that show. The one you failed at. But here it is possible. Because a life depends on it.

Your body moans at you for staying this way for hours. One arm is beneath your head, splayed out near the tufted headboard, a long angled, limp high­five. The other is scrunched up between you and your puffy­cheeked, milk­drunk infant, close enough to touch, but not too close to disturb.

Your shirt hangs loosely open, unclasped and ready, skin tickled by chilly air. A pillow is tucked behind your butt to keep you from rolling backward. There is also one underneath your head, but only partially, because anything too soft near his face can be deadly.

You don’t mind this awkward position; you’ve perfected it since you and he graduated upstairs from the couch to the bed. He is old enough to sleep on this squishier surface, which means now you can sleep a little too, thank God, because your brain yearns for rest. The darkness in here is a luxury; there are curtains to block out sun, and there is a door to block out noise. In here, visitors are not allowed. In here, it doesn’t matter if dirty yoga pants and used tissues litter the floor. In here, it doesn’t matter if the diaper pail is bursting. But, most importantly, now that you are in the bedroom you can achieve brief periods of soul­replenishing sleep almost every night. In the mornings you are able to stand and stretch with less achy limbs and a back that doesn’t seize.

You have also finally mastered the roll: using one hand to pull out the butt­snuggling pillow, sweeping both arms up, then carefully and quickly thrusting your torso away from him, tumbling to the edge and off the bed. You do this only if he is asleep. On his back. No sheets or blankets near his arms or face because you are a safe mother.

You do that now. Clasp your shirt quietly (one hand muffling the other) and push. Deft and quick, your double­socked feet hit the carpet. You pop up, and hold your breath. Make sure that he is still breathing. Yes. A successful escape. His eyes flutter back and forth underneath his eyelids. Hopefully those movements are weaving together a delicious dream.

Does he dream? You wonder as you dart to the bathroom. Your body relaxes as you become one person again for a precious moment. You squat over the porcelain. A free woman. Even so, your mind never leaves him.

You don’t flush; the wall is paper thin between the toilet and the bed. When you emerge, you check. He is still there, protected by three bordering pillows, diaphragm puffing in and out in a miraculous, rhythmic wave. You push aside a pile of milk­stained shirts and sit on a tiny ottoman next to him, mesmerized by the little life you created, the little life that you are responsible for.

A squeak.

You duck. Waddle to the edge closest to him. His tiny grunt melts your heart but also makes it quicken. How many minutes do you have left? He settles and your breath escapes, silent and slow.

You pad toward the cracked door, peek down the hall at the guest room where your husband lies, gangly arms wrapped around a pillow. You wish you were that pillow. If there was only a way to be at two places at once, you’d crawl into his bed, reach your fingers to his stubble and snuggle your face into the crook of his neck. Be held instead of holding. A minute would be enough.

Another squeak.

Your heads whips back. Soon you will be summoned. It doesn’t disappoint you, not anymore. To be here, not with your husband. It is tiring, and it is hard, but being more than a foot from your tiny human is harder.

The sheets shuffle. You take a deep breath, squeeze your shoulders up to your ears, release. Give your neck a roll to each side, hear the cracking of joints.

A gurgly squeak.

You reach for your water bottle, take a sip, look at him. Your body aches but your heart melts. Time to switch sides.

He is not fully coherent as you slide him a few inches left. You round the bed and curl up into the warm spot he was in before. Readjust the pillows and maneuver onto your right side. Unclasp your shirt.

 

 

Kristina Hunter is a freelance writer and editor who lives in New Jersey. She enjoys reading, gardening, and trying to keep up with her two rambunctious little boys.

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