In the morning, I wake and my skin has been turned inside out. Tender tissue and brittle nerves run the length of me. I am still tired, even though I’ve slept.
Good morning, mama.
Sticky, milky toddler fingers touch me, and I recoil. Everything hurts. But she is sweet honey and I reach for her and pull her to me. I try to ignore the ache.
The day begins immediately, and so do the voices - smack! - like a ball sent rolling down a hill.
is the day
that everything goes wrong.
I carry Aspen to pee and coo at the baby as he kicks against the bedsheets. I watch the sunlight growing through the curtains. My eyes feel heavy. Mornings used to fill me with sweet light and newness and an ache to write poetry about beautiful things. Today, I hunger for nothing, except maybe more sleep. I try to smile. The corners of my mouth feel raw.
Pancakes sizzle on the griddle. Blueberries boil in sugar and juice and I spoon some onto a plate for her, and for him, and for me. I breathe. My mind is somewhere far off.
What if these pancakes make her ill?
Were those eggs still fresh?
Should I drop one in water to check?
Maybe I should toss these in the trash and make the batter again.
KC coughs and sniffs springtime mucus back into his nose and the sound grows hands and rubs them along my skin. I wince. He does it again. I set down my fork, clench my teeth, swallow.
We are invited to visit a friend who lives a half hour away. I start to pack the bag - a clementine, four diapers, wipes, chapstick, my wallet.
Maybe a change of clothes for the baby, too, in case he blows out a diaper.
And maybe change of clothes for Aspen.
I wonder if the road is windy.
I wonder what she’ll do while I’m driving.
What if the baby screams the entire time?
What if Aspen is carsick?
How will I know if she’s carsick?
Will she tell me?
Will I be able to stop driving if she needs me?
What if she chokes on her vomit?
What if she’s still feeling carsick and doesn’t have a good time at her playdate?
Will she be afraid to get in the car again?
How will I —
I stop packing the bag and type out a message: We can’t make it today, I’m so sorry. We just have too much going on.
I swallow. I feel safe. I feel lonely. Anxiety holds my shoulders and whispers: Hush, I’m here. For a moment, I imagine folding KC until he was very small. I would shove him into one ear and let him live inside my head. Only for a little while. Only until he understood.
What if I told him the truth?
If he heard the voices, would he leave me?
Would he think I was crazy?
If he left me, would I be better off?
He would be better off.
I am crazy.
Maybe I should leave him.
I should save him from myself.
He deserves better.
But without him, I would be just like her.
Without him, I would be just like —
We eat leftovers for lunch and wipe fingers clean. Outside, the sun is shining hot and setting free the trapped smells of springtime: cut grass, lilacs, cigarettes, burned cement, fry grease. I walk with Aspen in the stroller, and the baby on my breast.
Aspen is asleep.
Why did she fall asleep so easily?
Is she getting sick?
What will we do tomorrow if she’s sick?
Is she going to wake up angry?
Have I done something to make her so melancholy?
Why did she take so long to fall asleep?
Was something hurting her?
Why is she holding her cheek like that?
Why is she —
Night comes, and I am drenched in anxiety. Dip-dyed. Skin stained. It leaks from me like a strong perfume. I am anxious about feeling ill. My anxiety makes me feel ill. I am anxious about feeling ill. My anxiety makes me feel ill. And again…
I cook, I clean, I try to eat. I hope that KC will keep Aspen busy for a while so that I can sit, and breathe, and shake skeleton fingers from my shoulders. As I lay beside my daughter and wait for her to sleep, every shift and kick and turn of her tiny body feels like sandpaper against my skin.
She lays still. I count backwards from 60. She moves. I begin again, teeth sore from waiting.
60, 59, 58…
It’s the end of the day. You’ve made it.
But it isn’t the end, is it?
Tonight, she will wake at two
and you will wonder why.
You will watch her adjust her tired limbs
and your palms will sweat,
your stomach will turn,
you will wait for her to be ill,
you will wait for her to kick you awake again,
you will wait for her to cry out,
asking for water,
asking for a better blanket,
asking for you to hold her,
asking for —
In the morning, I wake and my skin has scabbed and scarred like tree bark overnight. I do not feel the weight of hands against my shoulders. I stretch arms above my head. Beside me, the baby is grunting and rooting blindly for milk. On my other side, Aspen sleeps, knees to her chest and underwear crooked. She is beautiful. I cannot wait for her to wake. I cannot wait to hold her.
I watch the sunlight growing through the curtains. Outside, a garbage truck slams an empty can back to the ground. Shoes shuffle. A dog yips. Someone lights a cigarette.
I close my eyes softly, and listen.
is the day
that I am