Yesterday I and my ex brought our daughter to college for the start of her Freshman year. What is there to say about this? How fast they fly out the door? How I recall the moment she was born, my uterus ratcheted back and the doctor in surgical scrubs holding up a dark blue baby who made not even a smidgen of sound? The whoosh as the pediatricians, who had been waiting against a wall, rushed forward to jam a tube down her throat and to coax color to her skin? The first cry I heard, a warbling, like that of a tiny bird on a distant branch? How my husband ran from my side to the baby's, watching them pump out the meconium which was as black and sticky as tar? Later, after her breathing was established and a night had passed with her in intensive care, later, meaning the next morning, the sky outside my hospital window as blue as a baby's blanket, they brought her to us, bundled like a burrito with a striped cap on her head, covering the soft spot which I touched to confirm that, yes, it really was soft, as soft as baked squash, her brand new brain quivering beneath its membrane sheath. I wanted to see it. I wanted to run my finger down the ravine called the corpus callosum, that rift that separates the two hemispheres of the brain. I wanted to tickle her memory, swipe my finger across fear. I knew her new born brain was jam packed with neurons, axons, dendrites, so many connections and cross connections that she would soon be capable of learning ten, even twenty languages without any instruction at all. As we grow we lose the thicket of seething activity that marks the developing brain. By the age of five, probably, the branching brain has been pruned by the scythe of time; by the age of twelve learning would take effort and even some sweat and she would have memories, long term, carved in canals comprised of neurons and the bridges they form.
Birth is the beginning of loss. You lose the ultra private connection you have while the baby is curled inside you. You lose the flickering feel of her movements. You lose the ability to totally shelter her from all sorts of weather while she feeds off your excess and then some. I remember the morning after the night she was born so badly, how they brought her bundled like a burrito to me, how my husband, who had come to visit me, or us, rushed from my bedside where I floated high on fentanyl and other dream making drugs, to hold her, while I watched, my Ceasarian incision hot as embers, as coals, a raised vexed crimson welt stitched in blood clotted black.
He took the baby from the nurse and, as the nurse turned to leave the room, my husband began to dance with her, our Clara, holding her tight to his chest while I watched them 1,2.3, and spin, 1,2,3 and spin, each rotation taking them farther and farther from me, he leaning over her and singing something about the tundra and time, the stretch of red grass, the emerald icebergs and the mountains piercing a mist. Come back I wanted to say but my voice had scurried away and my engorged breasts ached, full of fever and collustrum.
On and on they went, dancing across continents and the moon. He was smitten. He was 100 percent involved. I, in the process, had somehow gotten myself eradicated even though just six or seven hours ago the singular wall of my singular body had been sliced in half, the packet of myself ripped open and the baby pulled out of a gushing stream. I needed care and more pain pills because my wound continued to sparkle and flash. I wanted my husband back but he had gone to Venus with our daughter and was not available for comment or connection. "You know," I said, as loudly as I could, "her job is to grow up and to leave us whereas our job is to stay together forever."
To his credit, he returned then, if only for some moments. "I know," he said, and then he was off again, 123, turn, 123, swirl, 123, soar, I watching them get tinier and tinier as they crossed clouds and exited the atmosphere. This, I'd say, was the beginning of a brand new loneliness for me. My uterus, formally packed with nutrients and fetus, was now oozing the last of its lining. My husband, formally with one eye on me always, was now doing the rumba with our brand new baby in some other unreachable world. My IV bag was filled with some glistening liquids that ran into a tube, through a needle entering the veins at the top of my hand. After awhile the pediatrician came in, unwrapped the space traveling burrito and pronounced her fit. Her umbilicus was as hard as a scab and would soon fall off so long as we swabbed it with alcohol 3 times a day. I didn't want to do that. I wanted proof of the private connection that had been mine for forty weeks. Still, 3x a day we swabbed the scab and one morning I found it in her bassinet, her bellybutton making its appearance.
And now, 18 years have gone by. A few months ago my daughter was showering and I came into the bathroom. "Mom," she shouted. "I'm in here!"
"I can't see a thing," I shouted back to this girl who would not think of sharing her body with me, despite the fact that we had once been curled like commas around each other. "I'm not looking at you," I said as I rushed forward to snatch whatever it was I needed and peered up for a moment to see the mirror dripping with dots of steam and her reflection in the glass somehow completely clear, a body I had not seen naked for who knew how many years. She was a woman, that much was clear. She had gone from being a blue baby to a pink woman with perfect curves and the healthiest hair I could imagine. I rushed back out of the bathroom and felt old.
As we were driving back from dropping off our newly minted freshman I asked my now ex husband if he had ever loved me. In our divorce he is so distant, and in our marriage too. "We got into trouble once we had kids," he said, and I knew her was right. I remembered how he had brought our newborn girl to the edge of the galaxy while leaving me to drip dry in the hospital bed. From there it only got worse. He was one hundred percent invested in the children, driven by a love so consuming there could not be any room for me. Meanwhile our girl, and then our girl and boy, continued to grow, pounding through the tunnel of time while I watched, astounded. I believe that having children accelerates time in some inchoate way. With children, you can never forget about time; you cannot toss time aside to play in some stream bed for awhile. When they are infants there is always the time between feedings, the number of hours they slept last night, their clothes, which they grow into and out of so fast you are constantly cleaning the closet, holding up garments that seem impossibly small and yet, just 3 months ago, the girl wore them without trouble. There are the necessary birthday parties, each year marked by a cream covered cake and, in our case, the dramatic release of dry ice from a box my husband picked up, the mist rising up from the cardboard carton and covering the floor in clouds while the children dove into the frozen whiteness, paddling in it with their hands and laughing. One minute your child is babbling; the next she is saying "I want ice cream" and then "I want high heels" and so it goes. Its a cliche but its one that still hurts whenever you say it. They disappear so quickly and so constantly. Each one of their milestones marks not only their success but also your eradication, as a mother, and, in my case, as a wife as well, my husband applauding and applauding while he planned the next activity and I did something in the kitchen, or in my study, surrounded by the balm of books.
I will miss my daughter. I'm glad I got to see her body in the shower because it was a picture of astounding health and fecundity. She is beautiful, too. As a fetus floating inside me, some of my cells slipped into her blood stream and some of hers slipped into mine. It always works this way. Thus we carry each other until our time is finally over. I like this little fact. I like this secret exchange. I like how her hair cascades down her back, a brilliant glossy brown. I like her hazel eyes and her tiny waist and the muscles in her calves, sculpted on the hills of Harvard, where she lived for so many years. I like her words especially. They are, to me, as firm as flesh and underscore a connection that cannot be broken except by death. We talk. We always have. Back at home now, night falls. How is my new freshman doing? I call her on the phone. She tells me all her things. She brings me trinkets and gifts and stories of her travels, her words creating for me a path, a tunnel back through time, so I am young again, in love again, water pouring over me and over me while steam mists the mirror and the soap foams, seething bubbles like tiny eggs held in my magnificent hands.