On the way home from Market Hall with some groceries, I trudged down Ocean View Drive just off of College Avenue. I couldn’t wait to get to our apartment. We lived on the top floor of a pale blue craftsman at the end of a block of bungalows and two story craftsman houses, painted in varying shades of pastel colors. My son Simon was in his baby sling. My head was down as usual, focused only on getting us to the apartment. I was able to get home by recognizing the gardens, my head rarely lifting to the sky. I knew which lots were studded with purple and orange lantana, which were growing wild with sourgrass. Almost home, I just wanted to sink into the couch, turn on the T.V., and nurse Simon. Talking to the ingratiating store clerk had simply taken too much out of me.
Ever since the accident, I felt like I was disappearing. I no longer participated in conversations. I hid behind Simon. Everyone fussed over him with his beautiful blond hair and fat red cheeks. All the store clerks knew him by name.
He recovered, just like the doctors said he would. That first day he was pretty quiet, didn’t cry much, and slept more than usual. By the day after that his goose egg had gone down considerably. His head was almost completely smooth and he was back to his usual, gurgly baby ways.
In the next weeks he gained weight quickly, thriving as if nothing had happened. But his robust physicality and happy nature did nothing to quell my devastation. I had failed him, that was that. Letting others fuss over him and fading into the background was easy, but more than that, it was what I deserved. So I spent time alone and mostly stayed at home, taking Simon on a walk each day only to get food or run necessary errands.
My gaze shifted and I spotted a good friend about a block away heading towards us. Simon weighed hotly against me in the sling and I was thirsty. My friend was in between me and my refuge. And I looked like crap. I couldn’t bear the thought of making small talk — of having to tell him the usual, new mom’s automatic response of, “Oh, I’m fine, a little sleep deprived, but he’s so beautiful! Being a mom is worth all the hard work!” God, I hated hearing new moms say that, because I knew it was fake. I fantasized about shouting at them: “TELL THE TRUTH!! Sometimes it just sucks! Sometimes you just want your old life back! And then you cry because you love your baby so much and you know you can’t have both.”
My hair was in a messy ponytail and I could practically feel the bags under my eyes. I wore a maternity dress, the only thing not in the growing pile of dirty laundry by our bed. It was comfortable, but it must have looked like a burlap sack.
Eating seemed like a bother since the accident. The morning Simon was discharged we went straight home. By lunchtime Jack and I were starving, and realized we hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before, a lifetime ago. Jack wanted to go to the grocery store but I said let’s just order in. I was terrified at the thought of him leaving. The hunger felt kind of good, clean. It was Sunday, and Jack had to go back to work on Monday. I rested in bed with Simon, Jack put our things away and did the laundry, erasing all visible evidence of our hospital stay. I had Jack call his parents to tell them what happened — but I couldn’t talk to them. What if they blamed me? I did call my mother, but I kept saying that Simon would be fine, that is wasn’t that bad.
My friend was getting closer but he still hadn’t raised his head. I crossed to the other side of the tree lined street, pretty sure he hadn’t seen us. “Becca, hey Becca!” I heard him calling my name. Shit. I looked down at my dress. There were spit up stains and my legs weren’t shaved. I really did look like crap.
I had lost weight steadily. I once treated food as more than fuel, saw it as one of the chief pleasures in life. Now, I wolfed it down only when necessary and when Simon was awake and happy, or better yet, when he was asleep and I wouldn’t be interrupted with him needing me if he suddenly became fussy or hungry.
I slept at every opportunity. As soon as Jack came home I went to sleep, and awoke only to nurse Simon back down after his night-time awakenings. I told myself that this was normal, that it would end and I’d spend more time with Jack as soon as I “caught up” and became more rested. My secret was that I’d fallen in love with sleeping, become addicted to it. It was the only time I felt free, undistracted. I could think whatever I wanted, let my mind wander.
I dreamt of college, of my activist past, of old loves, of feeling sexy and powerful. Upon awakening I greedily counted the amount of hours I had slept, when Simon awoke, and how long it took him to get back to sleep. Two hours here, three hours there… four whole hours of sleep one time! My hair was falling out, the springy curls I gained during pregnancy darkening my pillow in large clumps.
Everyone told me how great (meaning thin) I looked so soon after having a baby. I didn’t contradict them, because I knew they couldn’t see me. After all, I was invisible. I barely weighed a hundred pounds — borderline for my five-foot tall body.
I definitely didn’t look great walking home from the market today. Shit. My friend had spotted me and was crossing the street. As he got closer he said with a half sweet, half mocking smile, “Did you just cross the street to avoid me?” My face went red with shame. Simon beamed up at him from the sling.
“Wow, ” he said, “You look great! And he’s so cute! How is life as a mom?”
“Oh, I’m fine, a little sleep deprived, but he’s so beautiful! Being a mom is worth all the hard work!”
Then I walked home.