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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Finest Worksong


Mom was annoyed that I'd gone into labor early.  She and my sister were planning to visit the following week.  She'd bought me several modest nightgowns with matching robes that she wanted me to wear in the hospital.  I called the house from the phone in the recovery room to let her know that Kirin had arrived.

"Mom, it's Mary.  He's here."

"Goddamn it," she said.  "What am I supposed to do with all these nightgowns?"

Perhaps my mother thought some practical sleepwear would help me develop the sense necessary to take care of a baby.  That's the best explanation I've got for that question.

"What are you wearing?"

"I packed t-shirts and boxer shorts.  They said I could put them on tomorrow."

"Jesus Christ, Mary.  Must you go out of your way to embarrass me?"

"What do you mean?"

"You're a mother now.  You've gotta stop dressing like an asshole."

And then, we talked about Kirin.

"You realize I'm not dippy about that name."

"Yeah, Mom.  I figured."

"What does it mean, anyway?"

"It's a Japanese beer.  A Seagram product," I told her.

"I'm calling him Devin.  I like that better."

She wasn't kidding.  She hung onto that threat for months.

My sister had already been to Disneyland on her honeymoon, but it was Big Mare's first plane ride.  She was a little wasted when Jason and I came to get them at the airport.  When I think about that trip, I realize what a huge deal it was for my mother to travel 1,250 miles to be with us.  To leave my dad to his own devices, even for just a couple of days, was a miracle.  She must have been a nervous wreck. She didn't know Jason from a hole in the wall.  We lived in an unknown place.  She was always worried about me.  And now, I had this child to raise.

I could tell Mom was still angry with me for getting pregnant.  She was, however, just as equally overjoyed to be a grandma.  She and Judy slept on foam rubber folding chairs in Kirin's room.   My mother fed, rocked and burped the new baby. She changed diapers and did laundry.  She filled our refrigerator and pantry with groceries.  Even though I was grateful that she bought us some stuff, I felt threatened by her patronizing maternal instinct and largesse.  Her generosity came at a price, and I was never sure how much it would cost.

We went out to eat twice during their stay, at restaurants that didn't serve alcohol. The town we lived in, Jacksonville, was in a dry county.  We generally bought our liquor in the next town over or on base.  Mom stared into the waitress's apron just a little too long when the woman told her she could have iced tea, but not beer.  My mother looked like she really could have used a drink.  Me, too.

"This Ahrkansaw is bullshit," she whispered loudly across the table.

I couldn't have agreed more, but I felt determined to make the best of it.

After supper, we went back to the house and passed the baby around.  Like always, my mother inventoried each trip I made to the fridge.  She commented on every glass of wine I poured.  She could drain as many beers as she wanted, but she was dead set against my drinking.  And she made sure everyone knew it.

"What are you?  Your father?" she asked.

At one point, she caught Jason laughing at something I'd said.

"You think it's funny now," she told him.  "You have no idea what you're in for."

I tried to ignore her snide remarks.  I resented her condescending judgment.  I felt bold and out of control, like a willful child.  Determined to do exactly as I pleased. For fuck's sake, I was a grown woman.  I'd show her.  I drank even more.

Our visit was strained and unpleasant, punctuated by the screams of a colicky newborn and the smell of baby shit.  My mother turned her cheek away and lifted her eyelids dramatically when I kissed her goodbye.  She squinched up her face, as if my gesture was something to be endured.  I missed her as soon as she left.

And then, it was just the three of us.  For a very long, very short time.

Every day, I got more familiar with loving my son.  I was surprised and confused by the feelings he encouraged in my young, inexperienced heart.  I couldn't believe I was capable of that much emotion.  We lay in bed together in the early mornings, getting to know one another.  With him propped against the front of my thighs, I sang little songs into his open face.  He cooed and barfed up the contents of his bottle into the crook of his neck.

Motherhood was hard work.  I found myself in my pajamas all the time.  I was worn out and needed more showers than I was getting.  The house reeked of sour formula and throw-up, as did I.

I held my baby and watched TV.  I washed his little clothes and picked up the house while he slept.  I felt tired and shellshocked all the time.  With seemingly so much to do every minute of the day, I was still terribly bored and lonely.

Beyond the three rooms that Kirin and I occupied during the day, the rest of the world moved and spun on its axis.  I watched from the window.  My husband left every morning for work and returned in the evenings, exhausted and stressed out. Babies were more expensive than either of us realized.  It seemed as though we needed so many things and had very little.

Jason was conscientious and pragmatic in his approach to our married life and the future.  I was impractical and unrealistic.  I wasn't interested in agonizing over our finances.  I was afraid to learn how to drive.  I was more concerned with why I no longer felt attracted to my husband.  I dismissed the possibility that I was afraid of having sex again.  I thought if I got myself drunk enough, I might feel more inclined to be with him.  Most nights, however, we ate supper in near silence, he went to bed and I just kept pouring.

It's funny.  I don't remember us fighting much.  We just drifted toward our neutral corners and worried about different things, separately.  The whole while, I continued to drink.

I curled up on the couch listening to music with headphones on, sobbing myself to sleep. It became a regular way to comfort myself, along with the booze.  I wondered if Jason was getting sick of me.  I was certainly getting sick of him.  And that made me cry even more.

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