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A Baby's Bassinet
She’d been putting it off for weeks now. Just closing the door and pretending the daunting task did not actually exist. She’d walk past the room and glance sideways towards it, always asking herself if she might be able to handle it today. No, maybe tomorrow, she whispered. Though on every tomorrow, she’d do just the same. But here she was now, taking deep breaths of iron, a small wrench held much too tightly in her grasp. Though the temperature was mild, sweat poured from her, drenching her before she’d even begun the real work.
“Here we go” She managed to whisper to herself though her throat was almost swelled shut.
It took her another few moments to focus and slow the beating of her heart before she entered the room. Behind that thin wooden door laid her deepest rooted fears. Her greatest regrets and her biggest disappointments. Her shame and her overwhelming agony. In the shadows loomed all these things, hidden away behind the rocking chair and nestled neatly between the teddy bears. Their glass eyes staring back at her echoed these things through the empty room. She cursed herself for not asking John to remove them.
He had tried to do anything he could to better this for her, offering more compassion than he ever owed her. Sure, the tragedy had affected him too, but never as much as it would always slice through her heart. He hadn’t lost someone who had grown inside of him and who had depended on him for all of life.
So, although she refused to let him touch the crib, that was hers and only hers to deal with, she had asked him to remove some of the worst things. That blanket she’d tucked her baby boy beneath just a few weeks ago, the pacifier she’d gently pulled from his mouth late that last night, the half-full package of diapers still laying on the floor, waiting. She couldn’t face those things. Not now, not ever. But she had forgotten to mention the stuffed animals, and he must have missed them in his assessment. So there they sat, lonely and forgotten on the farthest shelf, staring at her, judging her.
“It wasn’t my fault” She said out loud.
It seemed absurd, but she felt it necessary to defend herself to them. Still they stared on, never once forgiving her.
“It. Wasn’t. My. Fault.” She felt the words grind against her teeth as they left her throat, though she couldn’t stop them. Those were the words she had to say, had to hear. Again and again. Until maybe they became real.
She closed her eyes for a moment. Deep breaths.
Another step forward and there it was before her, the wooden structure of her baby’s crib. On first impulse, she slammed the heavy wrench down against the top rail. It cracked, though not breaking completely, and she took another few swings to ensure it was completely snapped in half before she stopped.
Contain yourself, she thought. This wasn’t meant for her anger. It was meant for memory, for acceptance, for closure.
So where to start?
She grasped onto the two splintered sides, tracing the grain of the wood with her fingernail until she reached the far ends. There on one side she felt around a corner solidly attached to the metal sliding mechanism and on the other a locking piece for moving the side up and down. She found the first bolt. She grasped it between her fingers, feeling each of the sides on the cool metal hexagon individually with the pads of her pointer finger and her thumb. It took a few tries then, to adjust the wrench to the right size with those wobbling fingers, but after a few agonizing moments, there it was. The thing rolled across her palm, and she could do nothing to stop herself as that hand shot out to her right side and flew into the baby blue walls. She sighed as she noticed the small dent it left in the plaster.
Tomorrow she’d deal with that. Tomorrow.
Today was this.
The side of the crib now came loose with a few jerks. When it did, she held it there for a moment, feeling the rough wood and the cold of the metal running up and down the sides. She brought her hand up and stroked it across the broken wooden rail at the top, the place where her boy had just learned to stand, hoisting himself up and clenching his fists around the bar for just a moment before gravity overcame him once more.
Placing the large piece next to her, she started back with the crib. Within an hour or two she had the sides off. They laid in a heap beside her. She turned to them, wiping the new layer of sweat from her brow. She ran her hand over the top piece, brushing it softly across each slat. On one, a sticky residue caught her attention. Holding it up to where it had fit into the frame, she realized it would have been the perfect place for those smooth little fingers to grasp from where she would lay him to sleep. She held her own hand up to it and felt his fist his whole hand grip around a single finger. Ghost fingers were never the same, though.
On the second to last slat, she paused again at the space where he sometimes liked to poke out his tiny foot. He’d happily show off that bare foot after he somehow managed to wiggle it out of his sock. She would tickle it whenever she saw it peek out and it would bring him to the greatest giggling fits she ever heard. That sweet sound echoed around her, hollow now.
She picked herself up tiredly. Sighing, her feet pushed her towards the structure, now merely a bed frame. She thought back to that day at the furniture store, when she had insisted to John to buy the convertible crib, the one that would become a toddler bed when the baby had grown out of his crib. It would save money, she argued. They could be prepared ahead of time, something neither of them had ever been much good at. She choked on her dry laughter. How vain it seemed now. How simple.
He agreed happily then, so here she was with a toddler bed and never would she have one to fill it. All that was left to do was continue her disassembly. She knelt by it for a moment and her fist struck out against the soft mattress where he had lain. Then she sunk farther to the floor and pressed her nose against the flannel sheets. The chalky smell of baby powder brought him back to her for a moment.
It was there that John found her. He hadn’t expected she would set out on this endeavor today. Really, he hadn’t expected it to happen for a long time, and he was unprepared. As quickly as he caught sight of the open doorway, one which hadn’t moved an inch on its hinges for weeks, he rushed in, placing his leather computer bag beside the doorway and sidestepping the littered pieces of the bed. She stared much too blankly at the white sheets. Her face had grown much too pale. All he could do was sink down beside her, hold her close, and struggle for words that did not exist.
She did not turn when he entered, or even once he wrapped his arm around her. She’d mentioned before, in a whispered conversations hidden at the far end of the hall from this room, that this comfort only made her feel guilty. He told himself that would change, though, if he just gave her time.
“I don’t deserve it” She muttered into his sleeve. Thinking back, he remembered the first time she’d said them.
She was there, standing outside the baby’s door on the first night that room was empty. In her hand she grasped the doorknob, turning it again and again, but never once daring to open it and go in. And, even though she knew he was there, she wouldn’t say a word to him. So he kept his distance, leaning against the wall across the hallway, watching her and letting the silence engulf them both. He approached cautiously, tenderly wrapping his arms around her waist in a painful embrace. She immediately recoiled at his touch.
He backed up a step, and she stared blankly at the wall to his left, muttering, “I don’t deserve it.”
He didn’t hesitate a moment, “No you don’t.”
In later conversations, he realized he had misinterpreted her words completely. It wasn’t the death she believed she did not deserve, but his love. Nature took children, she said, and no one ever had a choice in the matter. No one ever would. But, she murmured more to the bed sheets than to him, he could choose to put up with her. He could easily choose not to, she’d said as she drifted off to sleep.
But really he couldn’t. He couldn’t choose to leave her alone in that pain, even if he never felt its weight as strongly. Though she’d beaten his chest with her flailing fists, though she’d shouted long into the night and retched until morning rolled around once more, he pretended to understand. Because he had to. And though not a single tear ever adorned her cheek, when so many had fallen from him in silence, he pretended that wasn’t wrong. John sat with her, heard her pain. They both knew not a word he said could calm her; still he gave plenty. It could heal nothing, yet he continued to fix bandages where stitches were needed. He knew at least it comforted her to see him try. So try he did.
“Can I help you?” he asked, picking up the wrench before she could answer. He was referring to the crib, though he knew they both heard something deeper.
She ripped the tool straight away, “No.”
He watched her set back to her work with new resolve, tossing the sheets in a heap over the teddy bears’ eyes. The mattress was propped against the wall. She found more bolts to pluck from their places. John sat there wishing he could say something to stop this mad struggle. What could he do, though? What authority had he over a mother grieving the passing of her newborn? Sure he could cry with her, if a tear ever left her. He could talk, though she couldn’t bear to hear it.
Her ache had always seemed bigger, more whole than his. It seemed easier for him, somehow, to let it out than she ever made it seem. As weeks went one, he had felt himself healing, and he had seen that she hadn’t. In healing himself, though, he’d have to glue together the shattered half she occupied too. His job was as a husband of a grieving wife, not as a grieving father. Not now at least. He saw no place for himself in ripping apart the bed which carried that boy to his final rest. He could only watch. He could only mutter what he thought to be comforting and assume her silence meant he at least hadn’t said something wrong.
Then, as he was just nodding off to sleep, he heard it. A pained cry, which in a house mourning such sadness might not seem so out of place, actually caught him off guard. Especially as he wiped away his sleepiness and caught a glimpse of the scene before him. Rather than piled neatly as they had been, the side pieces and posts laid littered across the room, hiding away almost all of the beige carpeting except for the patch beneath his own feet. The entire framework had been taken down and all that was left was this boneyard of wooden boards. Then he saw her.
She sat where the bed had been. Still she clutched the wrench in her right hand, but in the other was something else. He didn’t know what at first, but her gaze had said it all. The white fabric about the length of his thumb made sense. A sock. His. One he must have escaped from and proudly tossed aside in his favorite game. One that had probably brought on a tickle session from his mother and a good twenty minutes of pure, innocent laughter. One that had been lost and forgotten long before. One that was empty now and would stay that way. She clutched it in her palm, clasping and unclasping her fingers around it.
And on that white, a small speck suddenly appeared. He looked up at her face, the trail of a tear scarring that perfect cheek. He wanted to cry too at the sight of it. Yet he also wanted to cheer. Finally, something. Something real. If she could cry, maybe eventually she could talk. And maybe eventually she could heal.
Maybe he was too optimistic. Maybe he had to be.
She looked up at him and smiled, dangling the thing from her fingers.
Then came the horrible sobs. The ones which would echo into the night and tear through his nightmares.
“You don’t deserve it.” he said again.
She repeated, “I don’t deserve it.”
This time she meant just what he did.