My favorite time of day is when Clara wakes up, though closely second is when she goes to sleep. As far as I know there is no genre of fiction called Maternal Grotesque, but if there was, it would be full of strange motherly affections. I love that Clara has morning breath and the way her hair is fuzzed up by sleep. I love her slightly sweaty, musty bed smell and the way she stands and chews on her crib as she waits to be picked up. I love how she immediately reaches for the door to make her exit into morning and says “dadadada” when she’s ready to get up and “mommmaa” when she’s ready to go sleep.
Part of the Maternal Grotesque would include occasional waking dreams of gruesome life-altering tragedies. Aaron and I have an unspoken agreement that if either of us is more than twenty minutes late, we have permission to dive into an overdramatic state of fatalism and imagine the worst. A few months ago, he was supposed to be in Anchorage to play a gig and the guitarist called to say he hadn’t arrived. The roads were covered in packed snow and incredibly dangerous around that time. I pictured his truck toppled into a ditch and the gangrene settling in on his exposed fingers. First, I called my mom and bawled. Then, I called the Soldotna police but got their “call 911 if it really matters” voicemail. It turned out Aaron was locked out of the building without cell phone reception, but I had already decided that I would take Clara and the dogs either to winter in Florida and summer in Illinois or to an abbey where I would dedicate my life to the memory of my deceased husband as a single-mother celibate.
It’s not quite as intense as picturing trucks in the ditch, but lately, I circle the cabin like it’s a museum, looking solemnly at all the pictures of Clara and thinking that soon, this little baby will only be a memory. I know when she’s grown I’ll want to jump into those pictures just to smell the sweet baby morning breath again.
That we only have one life can seem cruel. Yesterday, a young twenty-something male in my class presented on his research paper topic, titled “Why Get Married at All?” He offered us the usual but still oddly compelling divorce statistics and managed to dig up some comparisons that favored partnerships over marriage. Meanwhile, an older woman in the corner, who is back to school after raising thirteen kids and enduring her husband’s prison sentence for sexually abusing their son, is crying softly. After class ends, I ask her if she’s okay and she says that after twenty-five years, she is going to ask her husband for a divorce even though they said they would always stay together. She says that their marriage survived homelessness and the loss of a family business. It amazes me that entire lives, including my own, can be built around a vow, around words, and that those words become a belief and that belief becomes a life. And, even more, that there is only one life. That there is sometimes only one love and that she is, they’re not kidding, only a baby once.
This leaves me no choice: I shall have to believe in reincarnation. I’m getting greedy. I want more lives, and I’m starting to wonder why we only have the one. I want Clara to grow up and start over. I want to be ten-years-old again and up at 4 a.m. to barter Christmas stocking candy with Samantha while we wait for Mom and Dad to get up and call Grammie and Papa to come over to open presents.
But since I can’t be sure the life cycle includes me, and that even if it does, I won’t come back as a tree in a parking lot, I’ll likely still keep imagining what might have happened. If I have to imagine the worst, then that must mean that a lot of this one life is the best.