by Dave Sanfacon
I touched the warm skin around her belly, searching for the hint of a bump. It was early yet, five weeks I think, but already she radiated the heat of a pregnant woman.
She moved my hand from her belly to her breast. From one breast to the other she moved my hand. Taking me where she needed me to be.
Her skin, the heat of her skin, how was it even possible, this heat? Everything she had on I took off. We lay on the couch, naked and giggling, as if for the first time.
December dropped hard and cold on the sixth week. We stayed inside, mostly, watching movies, eating takeout. She was happy sometimes and sad sometimes and sometimes she felt nothing at all. Sometimes she’d want the windows opened and sometimes closed and sometimes, late at night, she’d descend into strange and violent dreams, animals latching onto her body – piranhas, hyenas, tigers. One night she woke from a dream, feet flailing beneath the sheets. “Baby tigers,” she said. “Biting my toes.” She fell asleep cursing at the creatures in her head; her skin illuminated by bright blades of moonlight spiking through the bedroom window.
She was adapting to the invisible. It was lovely and hard and for six weeks we didn’t let go of each other.
On the first day of seventh week she sat naked on the toilet screaming ”No!”
I knelt beside her as she screamed “No!”
Over and over again, “no!” while that thing – tiny as a pea – dropped from her body into bloody water. I reached for her hand but she pulled away as if I were a stranger, an intruder, in violation of some defined space that held no definition for me.
I remember the coldness of her skin as she betrayed my hand, how tightly she clung to herself as she walked to the couch, how easily she turned away from me as she pulled a blanket over her shivering body. All curled up beneath her blanket looking so small, the top of her head poking out from one end of the blanket, five toes out the other. The rest of her was gone.
Her sadness surrounded everything.
Her grief grew claws and fangs.
Her feet, at night, kicking beneath the skin of a warm, white sheet….
I tried, sometimes, to de-stifle the air, speaking when I should have remained silent and remaining silent when I should have spoken. So I stopped saying much of anything. And she started taking long walks alone along the banks of the Charles River.
“Babies,” she’d say when she returned. “That’s all I see.” And then right back out again, the next day and the day after that and the weeks and months that followed, as if needing to be in the presence of the very thing that made her walks so dark and miserable.
I began to wonder if her walks had become a form of penance. Had she already imagined herself into a mother? Already felt the skin to skin, the tiny lips at her breast, and the kissing of a playground wound? Did she feel as if she’d failed in her responsibility to nurture her child into existence? Did this perceived failure require something of her that I’d never understand?
“Don’t you feel anything?” she asked one night.
“Don’t you feel anything?”
“Of course I do.”
“What,” she said.
“What, what?” I said.
“What do you feel?”
“What do I feel?”
“Yes!” she said. “What do you feel?”
How was I to tell her that whatever it was she’d lost had never become real for me? That it was only during the act of miscarrying that it became real, but real in the way that a virus is real, or a malignancy. I wanted that thing out of her. I hated it. I hated it for the suffering it caused and the savagery with which it caused it. I hated it for exposing my limitations, for not allowing me to protect my wife from its violence.
I felt as if I’d failed in repaying a debt. A gift she had given to me four years earlier when my father had died, and it was I who walked the streets alone, returning home unhinged. I remember one day walking down Mass. Ave., two blocks from our apartment, and suddenly losing all sense of time and place. The objects surrounding me – a brown paper bag skittering across the sidewalk; a broken traffic light blinking red against a bright blue sky – lost all sense of purpose and meaning.
When I got home I sat on the couch with Laura.
“I think I might be losing my mind.”
“No,” she said. “You’re just grieving.”
“No,” I said. “You have no idea what’s happening to me.”
“I know exactly what’s happening to you.”
And she told me that she’d grieved in much the same way when her father died. She told me that she too loved my father; that she too felt the loss. And this made it our loss. And I learned that to share grief with someone you love is to forge a safe space in which to lose your mind.
And now it was my turn to share in her grief, to make it our grief, to create a safe space for her madness. But I couldn’t do it. I felt a separate grief. A grief for the way we used to be, on the couch, skin to skin. And while it seemed to me a selfish grief, I held to it as one holds to a wondrous dream, grasping at the vanishing pieces.