Last May, I slept on my side. Robin due soon, I faced the door to his room, unlatched and empty. Each night, I thought someone came, stood there, and waited. Only the boundaries of him moved, like water. He never said anything. Beyond him, some better night kept going on, and I wondered how I got there, to where constellations made a net for catching.
When I was young, I ran. I was on a team for running. My coach used to say, I should have been a hurdler. I should have stepped over every plastic obstacle like a tall animal, indifferent to barriers. I should have been a long jumper. I should have launched off asphalt and shut my eyes, ignorant of the dirt that passed under. But I didn’t, because I was afraid. One May morning before a cold meet, I caught a heel on a hurdle and fell, face-first, into a painted track. I sat, rocked, thinking, I fell over. It’s over. I sat, afraid, while the other athletes passed.
In the bath, Robin plays with fear. He turns his back to me, and I watch the water make runnels down his spine. His hair lays flat on his back as he moves his head closer, closer to where room becomes water. He says something to the edge before he dunks his head, and then goes under, a little diver, a little further away from me. And for a moment, my kid’s in water. For a moment, my kid can’t see. When he pops up, freaked, he wears the bath like a mask, all wet and clear and racing. And he grins, sure he wins, sure the water has little to do with him.
Stewart’s like this. Like kids, he runs with his eyes closed, like glass never existed. When he and Robin play outside, there are no trees or roots or wires. There are no strangers or dogs or ticks. Stewart lives. Inside a body that’s his, his arm cuts, then bleeds, then stops. He watches hurt like science: curious, but uninvolved; like his body works, and he’s pleased. Stewart lives.
“I think, if I were pregnant…,” he says, and I listen to what follows, but I don’t really listen. I believe him when he says he’d greet it fearlessly. I believe him when he says, despite the visits, the rules, the dim shades of another grainy ultrasound, he’d believe the body works. He believes the body works out, like things. But I don’t, because I’m afraid.
When I was pregnant, I wondered all the things I could do wrong. Drink this. Eat that. Move fast. I wondered what ball I could set rolling that might strike down every pin, game over. Before Robin was born, I’d make Stewart park. Behind some bad café, some low field, I’d sit, sobbing, sorry Robin was upside down. Sorry Robin’s placenta was under his feet, like a mat. Sorry he’d be early, pulled this side before he was done sleeping. And we’d drive back, slow, while the other cars passed.
When we learned Robin would be a brother, we were in another pharmacy, but under different lights. Cold, these were blue, and I looked older. I kept watching a woman that looked like me move in the mirror. I kept thinking, If I were pregnant… If I were pregnant. And then, This one’s different. I know what to do. I’m the mother.
This one is different. This one likes to hide his face. Last week, while the nurse searched the night of another ultrasound, we watched his constellation build. One hand, two… We watched his skull shapes shift, another under water infant.
The nurse said, “Here’s his spine, like a stalk.” And she traced the ledge.
“Here are his kidneys, like clouds. See?” And she pointed to some shape we didn’t know moved.
And then, “Here is his placenta, like a hat. Like a high hat. Like a balloon.” And we sighed. Cried. Stewart and I, lost in the better night of this kid. This kid, holding his balloon.
Later, Stewart gave Robin a bath. I sat in the other room, facing a window. Behind me, they moved, and I could see their sound. Wet and clear and racing. Robin dunked his head. Robin dunked his head again. And Stewart laughed. Stewart put a cup on the faucet and said,
“This is how you balance water.”
And I nodded, alone in the room.
“This is how you balance water,” he said.
And I thought, I know. I know what to do.
Both boys laughed. Both boys, alive in the bath. And I’m the mother.