This is an excerpt from Breathing Asteroids, a creative nonfiction book in progress.
I go to the dermatologist to get my many moles checked out and this weird rough spot on my boob that I pick at constantly, that I thought was a blackhead but isn’t. In Providence there are no fancy doctors. A petit white man enters the room and he is no nonsense, small pointy hands. I tower over him as he looks me up and down. He asks if I’d like any of my skin tags removed. I ask if he sees anything that might be dangerous and he says no and then proceeds to tell me how a woman’s body really is the first thing to go after childbirth. I then let him pick at the spot on my boob. A small man who likes to squeeze things. I won’t be back.
Last night I got a migraine, induced by epic amounts of Leo, my toddler son crying and too much sugar. I was sitting on the step stool next to the potty chair in my son’s room while he peed and proceeded to have a complete meltdown but wouldn’t get off the potty chair and because he was so over tired he was kind of yell crying while resting his head on my knee. The sound wouldn’t stop and soon enough I saw the familiar spot, like a sun spot in my vision, the outer edge brilliant and sparling and then pretty soon expanding, the outer edge widening, becoming a strange spiral pattern of connected triangles or zigzags blocking out huge amount of my vision. Leo finally stood up, and I got him into bed, but he wouldn’t lay down, still yell crying, me in the rocking chair because he said he needed me there for him to fall asleep, with my hands over my ears probably telling him to stop crying which is something I never want to do. It seemed at one point he was asleep while sitting up and still yell crying, and when he finally gave in, his head hit the pillow, and he was out. His breath still catching on the post cry breath snags.
I passed out for a few hours and woke up full of anxiety. I got up and went downstairs and sat on our new sofa. We had been sofa-less since I was pregnant and Ben and I moved to Rhode Island and our 1960s sofa wouldn’t fit up the narrow staircase of our first apartment. I had never had a new sofa. It was decadent. We hadn’t had a comfortable place to sit for years. I tried to meditate, told myself all the calming things I could muster, and then eventually I just curled underneath my grandmother’s afghan and cried. It had been a long time since I had had the time to cry. My grandmother had been dead maybe a month and missed her in a way that hurt in my chest, that still brought spontaneous brief tears throughout my day. It was because of her death that we could buy the sofa. Her wedding photo on the shelf next to me. What would she think of my crying? Indulgent? I thought about all the time I used to have to take care of myself, about the very average looking man I saw in his car earlier in the week, and I knew he had no plans, and was just going home to eat private food and be alone and watch good or bad tv and I was jealous. I worried about the upcoming endometrial biopsy I had scheduled, and the blood work I needed to have done. I was anxious that my son had been biting children again at daycare. I didn’t know how to find time for anything any more, not even crying. I thought about a friend who told me you’re still grieving so much, you have to allow yourself to do that when I saw her four years ago. How wide that grief has gotten. Maybe the answer is waking up in the middle of the night more regularly and crying on the sofa. The crying couch.
And then a day appeared, as they do, where Leo was magical and bit no children, and when his dad went to bed early with a cold, and we had dinner and a bath and read books and he played jokes on me and we laughed so hard when he was falling asleep and then he asked me to sing the really sad verse of Puff the Magic Dragon that I always leave out but he’s learned the words himself and I told him I couldn’t remember them. What I didn’t say was that they are too sad to sing to him. A dragon lives forever but not so little boys.
This week I bought lotions, masques, creams to make my face soft and youthful. I look at my students and I think all of them are so beautiful, their skin thick and soft, eyes bright, and all the time they have. This semester there is a boy who is the smartest I have seen at this institution, and his pretensions are forgiven because I figure he might not have any one to talk to about the things he knows. His last poem floored me. I want to sit and talk with him in a space that isn’t here like my teachers did with me, but I don’t know how to do that. This college isn’t the same as the one I was taught in. I give the class The White Album to read. I read them the first paragraph and pause to discuss it, audible holy shits from the boy and his friends in the back. He says that now he never will write again. I had the same feeling reading her for the first time. My heart floods. Today I taught them something. Maybe today I’m still relevant. Maybe this moment will allow me to write again.
There are many days like today. The sun feels good, lightens the mood. We look at a house for sale that I know before stepping inside is not for us. The snow from yesterday’s storm is heavy and still fresh looking, large clumps plopping after being warmed by the morning rays. We go to the grocery store, decide to eat lunch there before shopping and Ben and I are able to laugh at the three trips to the bathroom with Leo, the three meltdowns after each trip, his insistence that I remove the paper seat cover from the bowl of the toilet when it slips in. It rolled off, doesn’t get to me. Leo naps in the car and we don’t argue, the roof of the car gets beamed by falling snow as we drive through the affluent suburbs near the bay, each time we jump, our hearts beat faster and miraculously he doesn’t wake. Sometimes I’m still surprised we can buy all the groceries; drive a nice car, that I am wearing new boots. Seeing snow near the water feels contradictory- something the Californian in me can’t get used to. Leo wakes peacefully for a change. We pull over so he can pee in the snow and I’m angry for a moment that Ben decides to pull over in a crowded parking lot with people sledding to do it, but mostly because his sense of timing has always felt off. The urgency that shoots through me sometimes minutes before it even hits him. I’m the mother. Back home in the driveway, the towering maple is dropping more heavy snow onto the roof of the car and I’m afraid to get out. Once inside I make Leo a smoothie and popcorn and we sit on our new sofa and share the snack. Ben leaves to go to a Chinese New Year party and we stay behind because of Leo’s cough. I’m not sure what it is that turns in me later. After making soup for dinner and thyme tea, a bath, stories on the radio, the dog peeing on the rug, Ben comes home. Leo won’t eat the soup. And I stop talking and it feels the way it did in my house to me when I was little even though I know it’s different, my parents never even together, the weight and the tension is thick here as it was then with all that isn’t being said. I take the dog outside. He won’t poop. The walkway slick with ice. I feel so far from home.
The next day I am sure that no day that has been colder. In the car on the way to get pizza last night my chest tightened and I think it’s frozen in there, everything is stopping, a heart attack from the freeze. I grabbed Ben’s arm. This weekend we decided the dog will be given away because he’s biting Leo in the face and has been for two years and Prozac and training and animal psychics didn’t work and my heart is breaking, another kind of attack. The feel of his warm dog body in my hand is too much to bear. We look at more houses for sale. They are like museums, water stained wall paper, chipping paint, fake wood flooring, awful light fixtures—I’ve lived in so many places that they all seem oddly bearable and impossible at the same time. One seems great, but taking the plunge seems too big and what do I deserve and what is the right thing are unanswered questions. The geese are curled up on the frozen pond like downy footballs with their heads tucked in. My back is sprained and it hurts the most to lie down and I am so tired, which Leo says often lately, and I think it’s because I say it all the time I’m so tired. I miss breastfeeding when I hear my friends daughter ask for the “spicy booby” while we are on the phone. The three of us have been inside for most of the last three days. Leo runs back and forth between rooms in our small house with no hallways. I leave to grade papers and do it at the grocery store because that’s the only place I ever really go and we need heavy cream and bread. A young woman calls me ma’am, she says “ma’am, you forgot your bread.” This is startling. When I get home Leo and Ben are napping and I tiptoe around downstairs and when he wakes up his curls are wild and his face puffy from sleep and he comes downstairs and is thrilled at the discovery that I’ve returned.
I head into a new physical therapist office, recommended by my alternative healer physical therapist who my insurance won’t pay for me to see. I see that it’s an out of shape man that is going to be treating me, and despite the lovely clean space and Pilates machines, I want to run. But I see it through. Insurance will pay this guy. He asks me what my issues are and I tell him about the 18 hours of pushing that happened in labor and the three years of lugging around a baby/toddler/child and know that he has no idea what that means. I see it through. His assessment exercises are gentle. I am willing to do anything, I tell him and myself. We talk about the psoas muscle. He attempt to release mine and I feel like I may sob but I choke it back, I feel the fear of labor, the doubt in myself, the mark of experience well up. Last night we got a sitter and took our dog to the airport to meet it’s new person who had flown out from Denver to adopt him. Leo kept saying wait this many more minutes and holding up two fingers and then he started to cry saying he was going to miss me and then started to sob and yell for me Mama! when we left. He’d never done that. We pulled away, me watching his wet face in the window. We ate decadent Turkish food and dessert and managed not to talk about anything after the airport, a scene still unbearable to revisit of me handling over the warm small dog body and walking away without it. What if we die and the last time Leo saw me he was begging me not to go? This thought won’t leave me. Drive safe, I say, the left headlight is out and the moon is almost full. I don’t have my dog for the first time in eight years. Leo wakes as soon as we come home, I need you Mama, and I pick him up and tuck him into our bed, like I had promised. He falls asleep almost immediately. Curls on the pillow, pajamas with feet. He sleeps between us.