March 28, 2018 at 9:59 am #7777
She does not stir. I am awake. Murmurs escape her lips, but the sounds are mere gibberish spun from whatever crevice in her brain is still operable. Alone beside the window on her bed she lies. I can see my shriveled body on the plain bed. Whilst the nurse elevates her head to change the pillow case underneath, the patient’s glazed eyes fall onto a spot on the white plaster walls. She sees without understanding. They will come for me soon. A lady arrives with two young creatures in tow and a warm mug of soup in her hands. This woman has kind eyes. Her touch is comforting, her voice soft with love. Smaller, blurrier shapes play at the foot of the bed, giggling empty words. Look at me lying there, swaddled in a diaper. So infantile. Life has boiled down to just this one room and those faceless strangers. When she closes her eyes for the last time, no thoughts pass through. Emptiness, finally; so long had her mind been crowded by thoughts, so soon those thoughts extinguish into an oblivion. Silence has befallen, at last, and she is gone to rest.
Once I had lived outside these walls, away from the nurses and the strangers that know me. I was a woman. A mother. A lifetime ago, I had changed the diapers and bathed the sweet pink skin of my own baby. Now I only remember.
She wakes early, before the sun has risen and the morning still hushed. I was never grateful for my mind when I was actually using it. He will be out of the bath in a moment. His hair will be stuck to his temples, wet from the shower. She can anticipate the warm sting of his lips against her forehead. I remember those years after the divorce. Whenever Connor crossed my mind, I would flinch onto myself as though he had become a contagion coursing through my veins. I would have given anything to live one day, any day, without thinking of him and the life we had once shared. Bundled in a tattered terrycloth robe, she walks into the kitchen to prepare breakfast for the family. Annie will want her Mickey Mouse waffles. Syrup to fill each of the tiny toasted squares, whipped cream to form the eyes and a sausage mouth. Two banana slices as ears. Connor must have already departed for work, briefcase in hand. She can even hear the grating scrape of asphalt, signaling the old car’s lethargic chug down the cul-de-sac. The stench of the pungent black coffee he never trusted her to make still lingers in the air. But that was a lifetime ago. He had faded at this point into a distant memory, a tingle in the back of my mind like a long-ago dream. I had almost stopped counting the reasons why I despised him, almost began to forgive him. Or at least, forget. “Buster!” She opens the screen door and awaits a dog, but the sound of pattering paws is only a phantom. As smoke curls in tendrils from the toaster, she glimpses her withered reflection in the mirror and slowly place two dishes back in the cupboard.
I started to think of my old life as a fiction I read or a film I saw. I would go to the doctor later that day, hear what I already knew but never wanted to confirm. The news did not hurt as much as it would have if I was still clearheaded and able. A benefit of the dying mind, I suppose. My sense of injustice died along with my brain. I simply did not know I was suffering. I just suffered.
She can feel her body aging. The years weigh down acutely upon her body like an enclosing shell. Her skin has become papery and her bones weak, like a storm-weathered house ready to teeter into a pile of shrapnel at the frailest breeze. Catching sight of the wrinkles speckling around her eyes, she ponders whether it is a recent development or perhaps she has just become adept at averting her gaze from reflective surfaces. I grew old without knowing it. She is outside today, a rarity as she usually remains in bed not sleeping but drifting aimlessly through the currents of her memory. I lost so many years to the grief. Everything became a haze. My mind was not yet clouded, but I was already lost in a state. There was no more life left for me to live, no existence to speak of. I will not lie, I waited for it. To die. To see him again, or to just to leave. Annie, always Annie, gives her a reason to remain in the present. When the little girl clambers on Annie’s knees, she cannot help but catch a glimpse of her own rosy-cheeked daughter reflected in the soft child’s whimsy. That little girl is grown now, with children of her own to marvel at. Seeing Annie filled the time, but more than that it provided me a reason to be present. Months were structured all around the moments I could feel like a living person again, with my daughter and the children and even the curmudgeon she married. The rain has dried, but the mud remains omnipresent on the child’s polka dotted tights and skirt. Parenthood has worn Annie down, but here in the park she maintains the façade of blissful maternity if only to convince the scrutinizing eyes of the other mothers. She and Levi would often watch, bemused, as Annie arrived in a heap of exhaustion at their doorway. I could not help but lament the unfairness of my life at this point. It seemed to be a curse over my head, the gnashing claws of time always closing in on me whenever my heart opened wide enough to love. Like a rug pulled beneath my feet. To love someone, again, has been to lose them. Levi, with three currently adult children of his own, tames the shrieking child with expertise. He dances around the kitchen as the child wails for her mother, wiggling his fingers and making obscene noises. She watches idly from the corridor. I had lost one husband with gladness. This one I lost with a sorrow I did not know I had in me. I cried rarely, but felt it more every day the sheer loneliness of my state. On the day he died, she holds his hands in hers and admires the soft bluish skin sagging around his knuckles. His grip is as warm and familiar as her own. The years they spent with each other were spare, yet she cannot imagine a time before and cannot fathom his absence in the future. Death no longer menaces their horizons and instead haunts with undisputed surety Levi’s remaining hours. I’ll miss you. Will you miss me? He would miss her. He would miss the children. She was not hurt that these final thoughts were not reserved for her, as missing children she understood all too well.
Annie, I lost without mercy or pity. She may have come back, but not without the cinder block of missed years wedged between us. With her and her new family, I might be happy for a while. Levi would always linger though, even stronger in my joy than in my sorrow.
She fiddles with her thumb while staring at the door of the coffee shop, willing her daughter to materialize while simultaneously dreading the ring of the bell. The illusion of Annie as a little girl with a halo of curls remained as potent in her mind as ever. Whoever entered the door would be a woman and a stranger. The life she lived would be an unfamiliar one, made up of other mysterious figures. Levi told her that morning to be calm, that it would happen as it must happen. On Annie’s terms. Expect the least. Stay for at least one cup of coffee. Be polite, but not overeager. Don’t expect the same little girl. I called those years the sweet years, if only because the time before was so heavy with pain. It goes to prove how matters can change so swiftly, as if pulled by an un-anticipable current. Meeting Levi had enlivened her for the first time since Annie left. Weeks ago, he shoved a bouquet of wildflowers into her arms as though she was a schoolgirl instead of a woman already a few steps down from the hill peak. He tucked her hair behind her ears and whispered sweet nothings into her ear as they walked along the pier. It feels so improbable, that something like this might happen again. She thought her days of being loved and loving others were long since passed, but Levi goes and awakens her in a way she never knew possible. My friends would argue that I placed him on a pedestal, and I am guilty of exaltation if only because his memory is shrouded by such happiness followed by such grief. Even as her womb quiets, she dwells on the fairytale notion of having Levi’s baby. But Annie. The eternal question. Perhaps she would still be there, in this alternate timeline, but with different hair and different eyes. Another name as well; Levi often stated that if he could have another daughter, he’d call her Ava. Should she tell Annie that she is in love again? Perhaps it is too soon, and she should save some news for the hopeful next time. The door clangs open in a whir of mist, and there she is. She breathes a sigh of relief, for she recognizes the face of her daughter. Missing years could not erase the sparkle in her eyes, the tiny crooks buried into her cheeks. The only anomaly was the belly, swollen into a bump underneath stretched fabric. When they made eye contact, the time in between disappears. This is how it is meant to be.
Levi likely had nothing to do with Annie’s re-entrance into my life, yet the two events are irreparably linked within my mind. Finding my love for the first time, and finding my daughter for the second. My first true love, and my last, all in a window of time when I supposed my life was dawning on me.
She slams her first on the counter, inadvertently causing the glass to splinter. A shard pierces through her skin. The harsh bite of glass is not an unfamiliar one. What is surprising is that she is still capable of feeling pain, given the past years where numbness had become a permanent state. It wouldn’t be long after the papers were signed that I lost Annie. Somewhere between the eightieth and hundredth fight that ended up with him hurling their wedding china against the wall and her sobbing at the foot of the bed, screaming like children became less of a jarring occurrence and more of an inevitability. The way we dug into each other, it’s a surprise she didn’t abandon us sooner. We’d scream and yell, pull out our hair, trash the house like we were wild teenagers. She should have been the reckless, stupid one. Connor has a cruel streak, but she is the one with the knack for picking through their rubbish and finding a reason to raise fists. He spits cruel words, and she knits her wounded hand in her sleeve while her mind races through their tangled history to find a sharper dagger. She is a devil, a bitch, a cold-hearted and heartless woman with no love left in her heart. He is a selfish and idiotic child uncapable of caring for anyone but himself. She cannot help but wonder if fighting is the only way they can tolerate being with each other. What else would they even do to fill the time? Any chance of intimacy or romance had gone by way the shattered glass in her hand. Instead we ruined her, our only child. With our selfishness, our naivete, our strange belief that if we screamed long enough and loud enough our problems might disappear. The rift between Connor and her is stressful enough, but as per usual God refuses to allot her an ounce of peace or well-being. Sometimes she wishes Annie would yell at her as Connor does, as that would at least signify that her daughter would be at home long enough to start a fight. Annie does not yell. She cleans her room and brushes her teeth, folds her laundry and does her homework on time. She is a good girl, but she never comes home and when she does it is trailed by unfamiliar perfumes of the outside world. Since when did Annie smoke cigarettes? Her parents do, but her parents also do a lot of things that shouldn’t be imitated by children. When Annie was little, she placed her pink hand against the cool of the window and called for her father as though he could hear her through the walls. When he came home, she would frantically tell her about her day as though he would be leaving for war come midnight. In fact, she used to give him the checklist herself. Annie smiled. Annie burped. Annie dropped a spoon and tried to pick it up, but her stubby little legs were too short. Now come eat dinner. It’s cold, but we can crack open a bottle together. Those days were not so sweet lived, but remembered they were probably the best moments of her life.
When the door never opened, I drifted away. Slowly, one by one, a piece of me fell apart with each day Annie grew smaller and smaller. Until I only saw her in my dreams, and even then, I was too afraid to touch her.
She knows she ought to return to class, but what her parents did not know wouldn’t kill them. To think they enrolled her in this fancy women’s college to learn a trade, perhaps go into the home furnishing business. Instead all she thinks about was a ring on the finger. Every day it seems one of her friends were off getting hitched. They speak in a foreign language of homemaking and potlucks and babies. He is a young man, graduating soon like her. Handsome, that is for certain; but there is something more about him, a sense of intrigue. Their courtship, chaste as it is, feels dangerous. The discreet smiles they share always leave her with a buzz she formerly associated with the occasional sneaking sip of champagne. Every time she and her friends drive over to his campus, the same innocent routine ensued: he smiles and asks about her day, she makes sure he sees the short skirt she borrowed from her roommate. I was naïve, certainly. But can you truly discount youthful bliss? He is going to law school next year. What does she want to do? She is always too bashful to give a proper response. He likes her, she can tell. She may not have had the years of experience as her friends, but the sight of a man blushing is a welcome reminder that she is no longer the sniveling little girl at the adult party. When Annie had grown past the threshold of newness and married life became mundane, I remember that first jarring sense of dissonance between what I had dreamed adult life would be and what was currently occurring. I saw it all in my parents and Connor’s parents, and yet we ended in the same sinkhole of marital doom. When Connor finally proposes, she feels her life unfold right then and there. What she wants to do with her life is quite simple. As a girl, she would daydream about a day when her skin would be radiant and her limbs graceful. A man would love her and everything would be as it should. Close her eyes for a moment, and she lets it sink in: finally. I suppose there are two people. Those whose lives are dictated by what they do and those by what they did not do. Those who have lived, and those who have had life happen to them. I was once the first, but settled into the latter. I became everything I vowed never to be; a spineless woman, a quiet mouse, a dreamy fool. A failure, in marriage and motherhood and everything that matters.
Life did not work out as I had hoped. Nothing does, I suppose. Yet, I cannot help but wonder if everything happened as it must for Annie’s sake if nothing else. I look at her and her family, and I see what I thought I wanted but could never truly have been satisfied with. I would do it again, I think. Marry a man, hate a man. Have a child, lose a child, and find her again as a stranger. Love again, and lose again because that is the pattern everything seems pre-destined to follow. If I never bared my teeth or shed so many tears, I might bypass heartbreak but the things I would miss!
She is a girl with porcelain bones, scooped into the air like a weightless thing and whirled around and around. Lifted into the air, she soars high enough to dance on the moon and swing with the stars. For a moment, she knows not what will happen next or why. She feels no need, no pain in reflecting back on years pass. Her eyes are open, and there is so much left to see. This is the only time I was unburdened by the “what ifs” and “remember whens.” To think of holding my newborn daughter is to remember the door swinging shut. To kiss Levi for the first time is to taste the bitter lips of the last. But here, in the arms of my father, I do not know what it is like to be too big to fly.
I think I might stay here a while, if that’s alright with you.
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