Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Things We Carry

The second they come out you try to pigeon hole them into someone they're not. Who does she look like? everyone asks. And you trace your finger down the stub of a nose and think maybe, yes, that's it, she has her father's eyes, her grandmother's toes. She is not her own person but slivers of everyone that has ever come before.

And it doesn't stop once you leave the hospital, your baby bathed, dried, fed and swaddled. One hundred and forty three photos you take in those first few days at home, sleeping baby, awake baby, baby in the bath, baby in your arms, emailed photos to relatives and friends who all comment on her mouth, that mouth, that is so you they all say. And you smile with your mouth because it is true, it's yours, baby, all of it. You plus him = a child that is a push me/pull you of the two of you.
One night years ago before we were even married Bryan drew a picture on the back of an envelope of what he thought our kid would look like. It was an unfortunate semblance of his wide nose, my big cheeks, both of our round eyes, our chiclet teeth, his big lips, bobble head on a stick figure with knobby knees. That drawing languished in the drawer of our coffee table and when I was pregnant I would take it out sometimes and wonder, the envelope resting on my taut belly. Knock, knock? Who's there? Baby. Baby Who? Baby You.
I have my father's coloring but my mother's movement. Both of them gave me a strong sense of the absurd, a love of words, a dark humor and an even darker genetic tangle of melancholy and panic, alcoholism and rage. This is what runs in my family, the things I carry: colon cancer and spending, southern stories that go on too long, curiosity and a pair of sterling silver candlesticks from Black, Starr and Frost or Black, Starr and Gorham, I can never remember which. My grandmother was a Black, my grandfather a Jenkins, my mother's father the son of textile mill workers in the City of Spindles. I am not myself but shards of these stories and I carry these things sometimes without even realizing it, the figurative weight of what came before. And I wonder now, my belly no longer taut but loose, what Zoey will carry without any of us even knowing that we loaded her up with it.
The envelope was only partially right: Zoey has Bryan's starfish eyes and my big cheeks. Jury's still out on the nose but there are times when she gives me a look, head tilted downward, eyes looking up at me, her mouth a half smirk that I cannot place. Who is she, my daughter, this thing that spilled out from us like a secret? I worry that she will inherit my panic, my father's depression, that she will become a diabetic like Bryan, that she really does have stubby toes, that she will carry what I have sometimes found to be too heavy. But what I worry about most is that 1 + 1 does not really equal 2, that despite it all she is her own person and I cannot carry the weight of memory for her.
Bryan would like nothing more than for Zoey to love the ocean. I would like nothing more than to bubble wrap my daughter and keep her on dry land.
If you have not read
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien then you're in for a great read.

No comments: