How We Became Strangers
It began when I balked at the idea of riding the subway at 4 A.M., and my husband retaliated with one of his "Who do you think you are, Queen Elizabeth?" remarks. By the time we made it home, we were cold and tired and wet, but it was New Year's, already the dawn of the new day, and in our one-bedroom brownstone with the kitchenette the size of a closet, into the third year of our entry-level jobs, life was good and D. was sexy in his white T-shirt and damp curls. We slept and we awoke. We were groggy and hungover and our bodies touched. We were burning like a patch of dry summer grass I once watched turn to flames as I held a thick glass close to the ground.
And then there were three. No one prepared me for what it would mean to have a baby in the house. Was it possible that I would ever sleep again? Truth be told, I didn't want to sleep. I wanted to perch beside my child's bassinet like an owl on a limb of a tree to make sure he was still breathing. I loved to study the perfect shape of his head. The way he crinkled up his fingers, shorter than the end of a Q-Tip; the size and shape of every yawn. He was like an extension of my body. The first time I was away from him I left the house for half an hour to get my hair cut, one block away. I was so anxious, I had to leave the salon in the throes of a panic attack, hair still wet, foregoing the blow-dry, and run home. Instead of my husband rubbing up against my body at night, I awoke to my son's hands gripping a clump of my hair or digging into a roll of my flesh. My body served only one purpose: It had become a vessel with which to sustain this child.
I kissed him all over as he lay on his changing table bare naked, while he kicked his legs and screamed for more. I rubbed his back as he squirmed and tossed and fussed himself to sleep. I cradled him in my arms like a football and walked him from one end of the hall to the other in the early hours of the night. I wiped his vomit off my shoulders, let him bite down hard on each one of my fingers to ease his teething. I nibbled on his fat, pudgy legs. I bit his cheeks. I kissed his little button nose, his eyelids, his tummy. His little penis sprayed me when I opened his diaper. I rubbed Desitin on my fingers and squeezed it between the crack in his buttocks. I tasted his formula before I let him drink from his bottle. I rubbed his little tummy when it was cramped with gas. I called him goose and boo and bandito ban dox and dolly and my little tulip. When he was sick I stayed with him all night, putting cold washcloths on his burning hot skin and catching his vomit in a little bowl. I pried open his lips with my fingers to get Tylenol down his throat. I kissed his forehead and let him snuggle against my chest. I sang him lullabies, made up stories. I kissed him all the time. I was so tired. I taught him how to kiss like an Eskimo. I rubbed my eyelashes on his cheek in imitation of a butterfly. He was mine. His body. He was all mine. Sexual desire vanished inside this intense kind of bliss. What more was there to crave when every part of myself was devoted to this child?
Next: Suddenly, their son was 6, and everything was different