by Catherine Callicott
Some days, days like today when the sky is cloudless and the sun is warm on my skin, I can’t breathe. A sound, a sight, or some other invisible trigger can start a constrictive coiling that starts from a thin white scar low on my belly. It slowly winds upwards across my chest, and squeezes as it heads towards my throat. Today is picture perfect. And I can’t breathe.
“Are you even listening to me?” Greg said with an eyebrow cocked my way.
“I’m sorry hun. It’s just… I don’t know.” I smiled through thin lips. “What did you say?” The space between our words was punctuated with the laughter of a small child and Greg’s eyes softened.
“Were you thinking about…?”
“Emma? Always.” I turned my head away and tried to mentally block the distant sound of joy from my ears.
Greg reached for me, easily closing the inches between our lounge chairs and lightly gripped my hand. “Beth, it’s been two years. I know I’ve said this before, but maybe it’s time we see someone. To talk to.”
I removed my hand from his. “I don’t need to see someone Greg. We lost a child. That’s what is wrong with me. How many mothers have had to see their child ripped from them and then lost? I never even got to hold her warm and breathing against my chest.” My voice was rising and I could feel the heat building behind my eyes. “It’s not something one gets over very easily.” I glared at him. “At least for most people.”
Greg’s eyes narrowed, although his voice remained calm and even. “Hey, I have grieved too. I do grieve. You know that. Only I know there’s more to life than living in the past. Our futures die if we live only in memories.”
I crossed my arms in front of me and fixed my gaze on the small lake our house sat on. A small rowboat languidly crossed it, the oars dipping in and out of the water. The sereneness of my location contrasted with the chaos in my head. Silent screams echoed against the inside of my skull, but between Greg and I hung only a heavy silence. After what seemed an eternal minute, a resigned sigh escaped from the lips of my husband. The scrape of wood against wood followed as he stood up. “I’m going inside for a drink. Want an ice tea or something?”
My eyelids fluttered, fighting to not automatically look towards him. “No. Thank you. I actually need to run to the market.” My heart clenched inside my chest and again I had to remind myself to take even, deep breaths. Greg stood still. I could feel him analyzing me as the insides of his brows sunk down and then arched up together like were choreographed in some sort of odd dance. “What?” I said trying to deflect his attention. “Did you need me to pick up something for you?”
“No.” Greg shook his head.
“Ok, well text me if you think of anything. I’ll be back soon.”
Greg reached out as I passed and gently turned me towards him. “Hey, are you okay? I mean really? Please babe, you gotta talk to me.”
The corners of my lips trembled upwards and I cupped his cheek with my hand. With one sweet touch between us what remained of my anger faded. “I’m okay.” I sighed. “Sorry for snapping at you… She’s just been on my mind a lot today.”
Throughout the rest of the afternoon the memory of that day, Emma’s birth – and death – repeated over and over. I was hot. That’s what I recall most about my labor. Greg had found a cast off magazine on the room. One that, from its haggard appearance, had been read by countless other laboring mothers and waiting fathers. As soon as I saw it in his hand I motioned him over.
“I need that,” I said.
He walked over and held it out. “Here you go babe.”
“No, I mean I need you to use that on me. Can you fan me? It’s so hot in here.”
“Seriously? You want air blowing on you?”
I laughed. “I know. The girl who keeps a blanket on in July. But yes, I’m serious. And don’t stop until I tell you to.”
“I wouldn’t think of it.”
A shrill alarm went off somewhere and another nurse joined the one already in the room. After that my memory blurs into segments. Words were said. “Severe distress.” “Emergency c-section.” Some images and sounds remained ingrained in me forever. The expression on Greg’s face as I was whisked away from him. The corner of the fallen curtain and the flash of limbs that should have been a healthy robust pink, but were purple limp things instead. Beeps. The constant beeping. The soundtrack of my child’s death.
Later, in the shower, my tears mingled with recollections of that painful day. The day that had stained the rest of my days since. The water couldn’t wash away the scars left behind though and I knew I couldn’t wait any longer. I stepped out of the shower into the dense fog hanging beyond the curtain.
The water rolled down my body, between my breasts and settled for a moment in the shallow divot on my abdomen before continuing down my leg to pool on the moistened rug. In the steamed mirror I stared at the haze of my naked reflection. I’m seemed a shadow in the mirror, a blurry version of myself. But I know I’m still there. I’m still here. My hand trembled forward reaching for the future.
I stepped out onto the back porch in search of my husband. Greg had rooted himself again in his favorite dockside chair and the fading sun made the glass of wine cupped in his hand sparkle as if infused with a special light of its own. I walked to him until I stood just behind the chair.
“Greg.” My knees were trembling and I hoped I didn’t fall. I felt as if I were going to.
“Yeah?” He turned toward me and jerked upward to his feet. “Beth?” he said, stumbling slightly over the foot of the chair as he moved towards me. “Beth? What are you doing? Are you okay? Where are your clothes?”
I looked down past my toweled middle to my bare feet and shrugged. “I have a towel on…” My face felt pale and sweat stuck to my upper lip. Fear started crawling its familiar path up from my belly. Before I could be overwhelmed by the emotion I held out the plastic stick.
“I’m pregnant,” I managed to squeak out between my lips. And suddenly, with the words spoken out into the air, the fear melted into overwhelming happiness. Greg shouted and pulled me close, wrapping his arms tight around me. My throat tightened with unshed tears, tears of joy, and I had to gasp for breath.
Today was picture perfect, and I couldn’t breathe.