that t-shirt though
When you’re a kid, they teach you the international sign for choking and encourage you to use it, instead of slinking off to the grimy restaurant bathroom to die slumped over the toilet because you were too embarrassed to ask for help.
But you’re just a kid, a kid who’s maybe peed on the playground or regularly has to be asked to leave the dinner table to fart. And you’re like, what? who would die just because they were embarrassed?! And the teachers look at you like, oh honey, there’s so much you don’t know.
This morning I learned what it feels like to actually make that “ggaaaahhh!!” sound which I’d heretofore only used via text. I think I’m going to keep doing it, except maybe next time instead of doing it alone in my guest room, I’ll do it in the grocery store or in the backyard or when my married neighbors just won’t fucking quit interrupting each other in front of me. When one of them looks at the other and says, you know, you’ve been really hard to live with this year, and I’m just supposed to sit there listening.
I was thinking about this this morning, after my primal scream, after I spontaneously took the day off because I was sick (I am, I really am), and about how the real reason I got an epidural when Maggie was born was because I knew that I was about to start screaming, and that I couldn’t scream, there in that hot tiny green room with my mother and my husband and all the nurses and a doctor who came from the break room to check my cervix, flecks of marinara sauce still on his collar. I just wasn’t capable of that kind of public display, and that — not the pain — was what I was afraid of.
Then I thought about when Caroline was born, how I wasn’t afraid to ask for anything, but numbness didn’t kick in until she was like halfway out because everything went so fast, and how I just gripped Ben’s hand and stared at his nostril (why?) and whispered “it hurts” over and over until the moment I had to push, and how he never looked away and just kept saying I know, I know.
After one of their births, one of my legs wouldn’t move for like six hours. I was trying to remember which kid it was (I remember which leg it was), and I wanted to ask him, this morning, while I was walking down the street by myself. I remembered how he got mad at me, when Maggie was born, because I asked him not to wear this one T-shirt he has, because I hate it, because it was the T-shirt he wore on a night when we broke up, on a night when he told me that he couldn’t stay with me because I was like “a flower he planted that never grew.” He told me months after Maggie was born that it was controlling to tell him what T-shirt not to wear while I pushed his baby out of my vagina. And I guess it was a little weird, right? I mean, who cares? But God, I hated that T-shirt. I’d just kept staring at it while he was talking.
We would argue, late into the night, so many years later, and I would sit there mute and shivering with adrenaline. I could never process what he was saying, in the moment, so I would fixate on little details around the room. Each argument is a corresponding pattern, or crack, or piece of lint in my memory, like Caroline’s birth and his nostril, like that fucking T-shirt.
Most days now I’m grateful for the constant influx of tiny tasks that keep me moving steadily forward, prevent me from flailing too vigorously in this sticky, intractable quicksand of near-constant solitude. Just keep going forward, gently, gently. I tie up another bag of kitchen trash, pull another package of chicken out of the refrigerator, trip over another pair of shoes in the dark corner by the garage door. I feel despair descend on me hard, shocking, merciless, and in the same instant I want to look around for him, because despite my near constant failure to express myself, despite every swallowed scream, every so often, in those days, I would be able to say what I meant, and every so often, he would say I know, I know.