The roots of pity contain a lot of thank the fuck it isn’t me. – Joseph Linsta.
Suddenly, I send these swimmers off, injecting the spermatozoa half of you, deciding your sex. She conceives or prepares to. While waiting, we bathe. Wine. Lazy perfect afternoon. Charlestown Township, PA. January 21, 2001.
We’re moving, now, with you along unknown, just a shadow marking time on a day without sunlight. Lambertville, NJ. A house of a hundred years, never yet changed. I’m out walking and call her from a payphone, something I never do, and casually hear about the first of you. “Two pink bars, Daddy”. Buy Goodnight Moon and 50 bucks of lillies. Decide on Emily Jocelyn or Liam James. Call people to get congratulated. Talk of my grandfather (James), of my grandmother (Emily), miss them both. Appropriately, we eat at Mother’s, a restaurant just across the Delaware River.
Days go by in a quick hurdle. We chip at the house. A box here, a bag there. It is a white morning. Six inches of snow to be shoveled. Things continue the same, are forever changed. Moments pass by in forgetfulness and then comes the sight of Beatrix Potter books. Or baby shampoo in previously unvisited aisles. Still the world revolves. Work to be done. The house sifted through, steadied. New projects found and money made for three-to-be now.
I have found myself walking. Having lived for 18 months in the woods without inclination to stumble further than the mailbox, I now enjoy these little town streets with their slight smell of diesel, and houses all two by two. I’m thinking of digital photography and soon I’ll begin. I had the idea of a flip-book, nine months of every day’s stomach swelling out, but am not enough of an artist to follow through.
Nowadays, in this middle dotage, I think art may be determination more than anything. That maligned unknown; perseverance. Other news: Your father may be an alcoholic. His hair is far shorter, having found a barber, striped-pole and all. He approaches forty with the equanimity of the dead. Smoking these cigarettes takes him that way. There are two dogs and a cat. Mice apparently. He loves his unmarried wife. Is confused by life, but not much bothered by it. Owns guitars and a piano. Musical boxes. Is partial to the word Spatula and has been working on a book called The American Alphabet for nearly eight years. He’s taller now than he will be, but first, before that, the snow to shovel, thinking: I get angry with the puppy. Five months old and already so grown. Pulling, pulling. Can I handle a child?
Night. And cold at that. Just got through The Deer Hunter again, and it’s been ten years. Longer. I’ve been here from London for more than that. Strange to think that when I first saw it, the Pennsylvania of their Pittsbugh was just a cipher, some frosty illusion. The Capricorn One of America. But, still, all those people died.
You’re tucked like a cell in the belly of this girl soon to be sleeping, while she tells me that your hand plates were made today. That you are three-quarters of an inch long. That your kidneys are fully formed. My ears are cold. I have strong Belgium beer to my side. She leaves. We are not the best we can be, but essentially decent nonetheless. Our fears, silently and inspected alone, collect. Light another cigarette. But even so, I shiver.
I live on the simple Internet now, that relic of your own 40 year old memory to come. I look for partners, people to play pixel golf with. I wait. My liver aches. Or my kidneys, no longer formed. Pursuing poison with gasping breaths I have become tired. In my head Nina Simone sings of Mr. Bojangles and how his old dog died and after twenty years he still grieved.
It is dark here, but you are a pinprick to me, a molecule or two of moonbeams, unlocated, somewhere in my sky.
Day. I had fallen, but have now got up. It is as though the world (this world) is of two halves. Light and dark. Both inside and out. From this high window I see children, eight, maybe nine years old, in bright yellow hardhats, blading precariously on the icy sidewalk. They do not fall. Down the stairs your mother talks to her mother, your grandmother, a woman I feel you may not have time enough to know well. I hope so. This thought, intuited from the cloudy air, makes me wonder what I am bequeathing to you here. Information only? How it was to be in my mind, this body, on any of these given days? Can you feel me through the years? Probably not, or at least no better than anyone can see and feel another. But we long to sometimes. To make sense of things. Still, it seems as though the effort could be thought as nothing more than ego-driven, the words that by being written say; I was here too; let’s talk some more about me; don’t forget….and that’s what life is also, a collection of forgettings. Of experiences that bear only two signposts: Take This Road or Avoid.
The great sweep of history is all well and good, but give me something I can use (you say), the immediate secrets; the simple short cut. Not so much the Life Lessons, but more the tips and tricks, the cheat sheet. “He learnt humility from forty years of hardship” doesn’t help. What I want is Warhol’s “All I need is someone who pays for it, but doesn’t live there. ” Not “What did you do in the War, Daddy? ” but “How did you steal the eggs? ”
Believe me, I understand all of this, but I am also a man with fat fingers pecking away between thoughts while the Puppy-Who-Shits-On-Everything is making me nervous, prowling behind my chair. Although my own father always counseled that one should buy poodles rather than have children (because, according to him, poodles can always be put to death), I would suggest that when considering a big puppy -Moo is 5 months and almost fifty pounds already- you also consider the amount of shit you’re willing to pick up on any given day.
Your mother has gone to sleep again. It is 11.29am and you are wearing her out from the inside. A man from Hungary, via Austria (who now lives in California), emails me and asks us to come to Kansas City in a couple of weeks to make nice and, thereafter, maybe get a paid contract for making nice professionally. Nothing new here, but it will be your first trip.
Unfortunately I’ve already crossed off Missouri, having visited St. Louis to make nice professionally late last year. However, your mother tells me that the State of Kansas itself is very close to the city of Kansas City. The State of Kansas itself is not one I have crossed off yet and thus I am already thinking about hailing a cab in Kansas City and saying: “Kansas, please. ” I will take you with me (along with your current container).
I am not stuck, but I should be working, and thus the words will not fall. You’d think they’d come twice as fast, as though a thief (in this case the thief of time) running from the store with his goods, rather than walking easily away like the legal shoppers. But no.
First appointment day. First of many apparently. We drove the few miles to Logan Square and the mother-to-be met the midwife-to-be, Terri, who is of a certain age (in other words I have no idea how old she is) and is suitably naturalistic without being a sociopath about it. I sat in on my first pap smear and watched the bloodletting process of the first tests. My unmarried wife flopping around happily in a slight gown, her breasts already grown some. I found myself wondering about the word speculum. but didn’t share my linguistic interest. I also felt guilty for being caught in several large yawns, but didn’t explain that unusual situations often bring out the howler monkey in me.
We went to the old luncheonette that will be gone once the lease is up in this antique-store town and then the men came with those most important of parental items; a new washing machine and dryer.
It is late afternoon and I am tired, and thus incapable of writing the three thousand words I would like to about fear, about test results, birth defects, detected fetal abnormalities and how as I fully understand that everyone feels these worries, but so the fuck what? I feel them too.
Seven weeks. I spent all morning playing with breasts. In Photoshop. In a digital ritual as common as parenthood these days, we are planning to record.
Daddy made Mummy a deal: I’ll give up cigarettes and booze, if you’ll give up anger and judgment. Haven’t heard from Mummy yet.
Since mention of your arrival I only smoke outside or here in this office. We’ll see. It has stopped snowing.
The weird thing about fathers is that it can take you a long time to figure things out and even then you never know for sure. For example, I just got off the phone with Frankie (my own, your grandfather, who you may end up knowing little of, as he is seventy-something and coming apart) and I was telling him all about the new house and how it’s shot to pieces and so on, and how when he’s here in a few months I need him to walk around with a clipboard and be a foreman about everything, dispense advice, make comments, bitch and moan and so on. I was telling him that I have this house and know nothing, not even how, remotely, to fix a broken sash cord: I’ll fix that for you, he says in a weary voice. It sounded better than all the I Love Yous in the world. Which is another long story.
Mama is at her Yoga class and Daddy is smoking and drinking. A fine study in contrasts. Spring refuses to come and this upper floor of offices and sleeping dogs is cold.
Night. The cat comes, post-coitally, and wants out into the attic, to hunt. Not the cat, post-coitally, for we were careless with her uterus in New York City a few years ago, and she has lost her liberty to the feral streets since we moved here to town.
It was a tender and powerful thing, the during-coitally, and the first in so many new firsts, one I have not read of previously: First step, yes, First smile, first fall, first violin lesson for that matter. But no literature on first pregnant coupling. Don’t get too creeped; it’s true we are sometime lovers. Let us live without pictures, but let us, she and I, live fully too. You’ll have your time. Strange, isn’t it, how we deny the one undoubted love-life in our history its own life. That we cannot, will not (do not), accept the notion of our parents as sexual beings. There was Adam and Eve (anywhere that they might be; in a housing project, a garden, the house next door) and no others capable, but still their children recoiled in small school corridors, shouting in the confusion of their unformed minds.
In my pregnancy book (there are thousands, but only one for boys) it mentions that later on in the suffering you will begin to think more of your own father. For me it began immediately, in many ways, but firstly, in primacy, I understood, finally, he was a lover, effectively or otherwise. And it’s only now that, without sarcasm, I’m grateful for that mislaid identity. As you should be too. Don’t think about this all at once. Allow it to sluice. If you’re a boy, give yourself until fatherhood. If you’re a girl, ask your mother.
Small victories. Baby steps even. A dead stair carpet is removed. Some Flanders Field of insect crosses, a dry charnel of wings become dust. It cannot be said to be of too much consequence, but I have given up on socks until the house is more sensible. Not the wearing, but the pairing; any two will do.
Week 8 and mostly done with it at that. She is, in the words of the poet, showing. We worked hard today and then at the end of it took pictures of her and you also, there in your (pregnant) pause.
It’s just gone three and I’m avoiding the bottle(s). Your mother talks on the phone somewhere, her voice echoing up the stairwell, in words unknown. I’m distracted (as if you couldn’t tell).
You are just a bump, albeit repeatedly pictured. Not quite real yet, they say; wait for the sonogram, the amnio, the heartbeat and balls (or otherwise). In the meantime, I wish I had my Fathers book here. My this is what is happening today and how you should feel script. But that is three floors down. Too far to go after a fat meal of meat and beans and rice and more beer.
Suddenly we have a dog problem. The beast is on the couch, licking at a rawhide chewy, I lean back a little, make the merest contact and she bites me on the lovely, bitable, upper arm, all fleshy and immediate. And thus we have visions of you (ugly ones at that) with your face ripped off. Of course, this is really a lesson in paying attention. To puppies, and someday soon, babbies also. So begins the regime.
I worked in New York City when I first met your mother. Long after I had happily fallen off the precipice of everyday life into her, I used to walk to a large studio on 39th Street from a small studio on 53rd. Every morning the energy ran through me and walking was the only way I could calm myself enough to not go running from the world of Manhattan to wherever she was. All things looked intense and perfect to me through my own eyes, but conversely gray and flat when seen through the eyes of others. I wrote a lot then.
I am trying to take two hours a day for the house, doesn’t matter what. Yesterday was prevarication with books. One bookshelf actually, although a large one. After a little work I am now going to fill the smaller one in our bedroom with `those that don’t belong downstairs’. Nothing esoteric, just both sides of her nature: books on healing and books on money. Nothing wrong with that I guess, to be wealthy and well. But if we could get 50 cents on the dollar for them, your education would be close to paid for.
Films worth finding.
The Sweet Hereafter
The Year of Living Dangerously
The Long Good Friday
The Third Man
The Parallax View
Withnail and I
I’m informed by those in the know that today your tongue became finally fully-formed. In addition, I am also told that the word placenta comes for the Greek for `flat cake’. Yum.
Late. Pixel golf and wine again. It’s not so much that life is slow, but I am waiting for you to come and make your difference. The Book for Boys says, authoritatively, that at this juncture I will hardly believe in you, that your presence in the belly could be little more, apparently in my mind, than too many doughnuts. These folks are fools. Too late, we bought the book already.
I am somewhat confused about 1st birthdays, a subject I’d never much considered before your apparent impending.
Your mother’s sister (your aunt even) will be bringing her two children to Cape Cod this summer (they live in Texas now, where do they live in your now?). We will gather, but her husband (your uncle) had originally cried off with scheduling conflicts. The house was booked and the week of its rental falls on their younger child’s first birthday. Much huffing. Result, he is coming on the basis that I’m not going to miss my little girl’s first birthday, I can tell you that.
Concurrently, there is a magazine, as yet unread by me, which lies sodden on our bathroom floor. On the cover, pride of feature place, is the headline: Birthday Blowouts; Go Nuts For Baby’s First! In past times, I would have just ridiculed this idea, or exampled it as the apotheosis of the consumer finally complete. But now, I only wonder at the power of parenting. At this date, I still see absolutely no point in anything other than a sincere thank-you to the birthing unit for her efforts by way of jewelry or particularly good champagne. But, and here is the creased-foreheadedness of it all, will I still feel this way in the October following the October? Will the Stepford unknown bloom, even in this funny breast?
Let us talk of theory. Of unknowingness. Of love.
Alright. Let’s not.
What? I didn’t mention I was married before? And that’s what brought me here and thus, despite acrimony, boredom, and divorce, that I will be forever grateful? Without her, obliquely, no you.
We went shopping and I cooked a lamb steak dinner, while she began to clean. Perhaps this is the vaunted nesting kicking in. We are civilized. We are grown. It’s true that I am drinking thoughtfully and making an itinerary for the rest of my life, but then these two things often coincide. I am exhausted, truth be told, and strangely sore. My mouth is broken. I long for the warm waters, for gentleness. I feel a little like an ugly thing tonight, burning. I am incapable, not dangerous.
“Goodness!” her friend said, staring at the diamond necklace.
“Goodness had nothing to do with it darling.”
Songs (in no order, but each with a purpose)
-Memo from Turner (The Rolling Stones)
-Reward (The Teardrop Explodes)
-Drug Buddy (The Lemonheads)
-Crazy Mary (Pearl Jam)
-This Land is your Land (Pete Seeger)
-Bring Me Little Water Silvi (Leadbelly)
-Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
First Second Visit (if you get my meaning). In fact Only Ever Second Visit. Half an hour and then off we go, up the road and over the bridge. All I ever need is 15 minutes, to prepare for the world that is. We have brought the magical showerhead with us. The same one she had in her farmhouse when I first met her. I fell in love with her first, but the magical showerhead was a close second. It takes adequate water-pressure and delivers to a body the feeling of being stood beneath an entirely wet rainbow.
First Second Visit and timely too, as she is bleeding somewhat and shouldn’t be. Although all these nearly mothers do, or so it’s said. But still. If it wasn’t already the First Second Visit, we would be going for the First Rushed Worried Visit. A quiet whistling fills the house and fingers are invisibly crossed.
It is the next day. 24 hours, almost exactly, after my last entry and there is no baby anymore. We saw the midwife and she inspected. We gave her a check which she didn’t want to hold, somehow suggesting that it would remain unearned. At her prompting we went to the hospital for an emergency ultrasound. That supposed moment of happy recognition. The grimy black and white printout to be put on the fridge or sent to relatives proudly. But no.
The bleeding increased. And then it was night and a bathroom floor-full. And now she sleeps. Alone.
No words left.