by Kate Jones
In the beginning, it was about a shirt. Green, button-down, material unknown. Cotton-soft, yet silky in the way it hung from your torso. The dark green was the colour of holly leaves in winter. It made the lighter, springtime green of your eyes reflect.
Though an attraction between us existed, that night, squeezed between work colleagues in the Greek restaurant, something about the way your eyes caught mine in the flicker of the table candles, the way you brushed my fingers as you passed the bread, rubbing your foot against my calf. The sound and music around us stopped. That was the second it fell into place.
You had the green shirt for years, wearing it occasionally, with a smile, calling it your lucky shirt. I’d peel it from you, throwing it to the bedroom floor. Eventually, the collar became threadbare, and you threw it out.
You wear a green T-shirt today, olive green. It doesn’t match your eyes, nor reflect their light. Your green eyes look lined, pensive, tired, as you gaze over the top of your coffee mug. Neither of us slept, our ten-month-old awake in the night. After I’d been to her a half dozen times, I’d shouted, sworn, thrown a pillow at you to go to her this time.
You’d climbed from bed, stumbled to her cot in the next room. I lay and listened to you trying to soothe her. I thought of her eyes, staring up at you, quiet as you rocked her. You are so much alike. When you leave in the mornings, it’s like you leave a little piece of yourself behind as a token.
Returning, you’d curled into me, but I was irritable, turning away. I think of those nights, tearing that green shirt from you, hungry, desperate. Now this bed is for sleeping, or trying to, between our daughter’s whims of wakefulness. The people we were seem lost in the fog of parenthood.
She cries again. I go to her and bring her back to our bed, knowing I shouldn’t, succumbing to my need for sleep. In the morning, the three of us lie, tangled in bedclothes.
You’ve made breakfast for us and brought it back to bed as I feed her. She falls straight into a dreamless sleep, in the centre of our bed, oblivious to the impossibility of sleep for us now. We sit, drink coffee, watching her, not daring to speak for fear of waking her. I notice your green T-shirt has a white stain down it. Everything I own is stained.
As we sit in silence, listening to the morning sounds outside our window, your foot rubs against my calf under the bedclothes. I am still here.
Small snowflakes fight the rain and lose. The wet pavement prevents any from sticking. The traffic lights change in a monotonous loop. The branches cling to their last remaining leaves, yellow dulled by emissions from passing cars. I remember us driving through this part of town, desperately wanting to live here, to raise our kids in the bustle of the city’s outskirts. It seemed that everything happened here, everything that mattered.
We finally made it when I was heavily pregnant. Driving through these streets we now know so well, my belly spilling over the seat belt as we looked at terraced houses to rent. It was just before Christmas, and you joked we were like a modern day Mary and Joseph. The trees were bare, black silhouettes by then, but some were dotted with tiny white lights tracing the edge of the darkening sky.
I often worried you were indifferent, difficult to read, that you kept worries to yourself. Struggled to share. I wanted to be first on your agenda. Your time often seemed split between work and the baby, leaving me feeling invisible.
The radio in the corner of the bedroom is playing a sport programme. You love to listen to them on the weekends. How I loathe those programmes: the hum of motor racing, over-enthusiastic men shouting of goals.
But still, I’d rather share the room with you when you’re home, and I’ve grown used to the background noise, despite my grumbles. I sometimes think if you weren’t here, I’d still have it on in the background. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to read or work without it now.
After the baby was born, I’d stare at her for hours, whole days disappearing like water down a plughole. I was afraid of her. I was afraid I’d break her, that you’d be angry, that I’d go mad. Some mornings, when you left for work, I’d have to shove my fist down my throat to stop from shouting you back, to stay with me for the day. I would wonder, listlessly, how I’d get through another day alone with a tiny squirming human that couldn’t speak. I’d envy you, hate you even some days, for going to your nice office, a secretary making you hot mugs of coffee that you could actually drink without it going cold, leaving a rancid scum on the surface. The Friday pub lunches.
When you came home, full of happiness to see the baby, taking her so easily and confidently in your arms, you’d ask what I’d done today. Sometimes, I made things up. I didn’t know how to say I’d stared at her for hours, fearful hours swinging between not daring to hurt her and not wanting to wake her up when she slept.
But then there were the other days. The days when I felt sorry for you, leaving the house for eight hours whilst this tiny human was changing and growing, and missing it. Those days when I curled up on the sofa with her laid on me, feeding and making little gruffly noises into my chest. When she first smiled I felt we shared a secret no one knew. When her little fist clung to my fingers, when I could sit and inhale her scent quite happily all day long without the need for anything else.
The baby is growing now, sleeping through the night. Our bed has become our own again. We read beside one another companionably, classical music playing on the radio (my choice in the evenings), and make occasional conversation. The fog of new parenthood has lifted a little. We are still gentle around one another, like learning how to be in love all over again.
Slowly, you have begun to open up more, sharing your own fears, and you tell me that you threw yourself at work when she was born, afraid of not providing for this new family you had helped create. Subtly, we have settled in, finding our way, sometimes stumbling, holding one another up.
As I turn to tell you something, and I meet those eyes that have become so familiar, I see a little of that younger man in the green shirt, and I’m shocked by how you still make me feel like the same girl I once was.
It was 31 years ago when I was in your place, Kate, and you made me feel like it was yesterday. Beautiful.
This is a beautiful piece, Kate. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but it ALL goes by in a blur. “The days are long but the years are short.” That really is the only true parenting adage.
Thank you both so much for reading & commenting. Totally agree – the days can be very long but the years start to fly! : )