There is a thumb-size dimple at the nape of his neck, the muscles beneath soft, a sweet slope of smooth skin. On his right thigh, a feather of pink decorates milky flesh. Will it grow? Fan out to occupy a greater portion of this stretching body? A single hair waves indecently fine, longer by two inches than all the rest.
Microchimerism—the genetic material of mother and child, exchanged in the darkness of development. A mother’s cells, and so her DNA, cross the placental walls into her child. A child’s cells make the same journey into mother, traveling without sentimentality into her body, her brain, her heart.
His eyelashes are the longest I’ve ever seen. There’s an evolutionary explanation for this: long lashes protect delicate eyes from dust and dirt. An infant’s forehead is disproportionately large, their eyes unnervingly round because these attributes are scientifically proven to attract and inspire compassion. Babies have bodies designed to convince others to protect them, and yet, I did not need convincing.
I am a mother now. The words feel uncomfortable, like a sweater two sizes too large. This is a job description for which I have no credentials. And though I have washed this child with unscented soap, he smells of citrus and summer breezes, proving I have lost my mind. Science does not exist here. I do not need genetic testing to know there is something different within me. I am changed and changing and as helpless as the one I am trying to protect.
I know my mother was the one who comforted, who rocked me to sleep by the cast iron stove, cooed a rhythmic Ah ah ah ah. I know she changed the sheets on nights I had accidents, and there were many. I know she told stories and baked cookies and played in the snow. I know she protected me, taught empathy, kindness, and compassion. I know, but I don’t remember.
This is the way of pleasant memories; they rest easy within the mind—undergo a slow churning, a softening. Remembering my mother is much like longing for the comfort of a warm bed at the end of a long winter’s day. I can’t recall what the bed looks like, what color the sheets, or how many pillows. I can’t picture the creases in the featherbed as it dips to cup the curve of a hip or shoulder. Instead I feel the warmth, crave the release of tight muscles, and remember, with pleasure, being wrapped tightly in the dark.
At 97 my grandmother cannot recall whether she has eaten her morning oatmeal, forgets to take medicine, and has trouble recognizing the faces of her grandchildren. But sitting in her green armchair, white hair parted down the middle, wire-rimmed glasses balanced neatly at the bridge of her nose, she remembers easily that she is a mother. She recollects with great enthusiasm the trauma of her labors.
What will I remember of this child when my hair has whitened, my eyesight blurred, and my muscles weakened? The quiet moments, the blue of his eyes, the curve of his upper lip—will they fade? Will they soften?
There is a science to forgetting. The Halo Effect it is sometimes called, a neurological numbing. Pain followed by intense pleasure is muted by hormones designed to dull the memory of our aches.
How far does this halo extend? Where do we pass from forgetting into remembering?
This child grows and his minutes are woven into hours into days into years. Memories like tangled impressions, lost to the chaos of a growing mind.
I am a mother now. I am an historian—a woman gathering memories. The warmth of his nose, nuzzling sleepily at the soft skin beneath my chin. The bulge of flesh resting innocently atop his straightened knees. The way his fingers taper at the tip, so plump at the base they can barely press into a fist. The heat of his feverish temple pressed gently against my breast. His first laugh, a sweet unexpected chortle.
2 replies on “The Historian”
I absolutely love this piece. I’m saving it for inspiration. We are all historians. Beautiful.
The power of pure, and unconditional love. Beautifully written.