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Before I go to bed, I check the window fasteners and the door locks of the entire house, twice: once before I check on the baby, and once after. When checking on him, I tiptoe quietly into his room, the white noise machine allows this, and I lower my face into his crib to confirm breathing. If his breathing is inaudible, I have to place my hand gently on his back in order to know that he is fine.
For the rest of the night, I observe him over the XB – New Infant baby monitor on the infrared night vision setting. It has temperature check, digital zoom, and a six-inch LCD screen. It was ranked the best baby monitor by Consumers Report two years in a row. There are five preloaded lullabies as well, but I don’t use those for him. I want him to be soothed from a real human voice, not by artificial stimulus through speakers.
He is eight months old now and has just started sleeping in his crib. I put him down thirty minutes after his last bottle of formula for the day. Then, crouched on the floor, I read and point to the images in his picture books. Lately, he likes the Food one.
“Yogurt,” I say, pointing to the glossy image. “Pizza. Cheese. Milk.”
He sits up straight and claps, smiling to me, or he smacks the images. I think that he likes the strawberry one because the seeds are rough to the touch. When he gets tired, he crawls over and pulls himself up into my lap and leans his weight against me. I cradle him in my arms, and we say goodnight to everything we see: “Goodnight fan. Goodnight car driving by. Goodnight lawn. Goodnight books.” I put the air conditioning on seventy-two degrees, meaning that his bedroom alternates between seventy-one and seventy-three most nights; the monitor confirms this.
Finally, I zip him up in his breathable sleep-sack and rub his gums, now with four tiny teeth poking out, with fluoride-free toothpaste on my index finger. First though, I pretend to brush my own teeth while making faces, and he laughs.
I rock him, sing songs by Neil Young, Carole King, Jim Croce, or Paul Simon, and put him down gently and slowly. Kristen loved Carole King.
He’s usually asleep within five minutes, and during that time, I handwash his bottles and teething rings. I check the baby proofing on the furniture corners, toilets, cabinets, and drawers, just to make sure everything is still secure. Once that is done, I’m free to get caught up on filling out the invoice slips for work and emailing them out to the appropriate vendors. I enter items by SKU number into inventory or create the information if it doesn’t exist in the system yet. I okay transfer orders and respond to emails from clients. Everyone has been very understanding, especially my boss, and I really appreciate that. I don’t know of any other position I ever had would have allowed me to work from home but the one I have now.
Walter, my boss, said that he couldn’t possibly understand what I am going through, but as long as the work is completed, he doesn’t see why it’s a problem that I work from home. I get some of it completed during his nap and the rest done later. Honestly, I was worried at first, but I adapted quickly. Hell, I welcomed the change of schedule, and it probably helped a bit, if I’m being honest. Sometimes I’m so busy taking care of him that I don’t have time to think, which might actually help.
The only issue that I really had was with Vincent, the field manager, who “recommended” that I go to a strip club and meet a nice girl for a night. “That’ll help yeh out,” he said, scratching his stubble, cigarette bobbing, even offering me a twenty for the first lap dance. Walter took him by the arm and led him outside. I don’t know what was said, but Vincent has avoided interacting with me since, even when I brought the baby in one day.
The Claytons, my next-door neighbours on the right, have been dropping off meals in Tupperware on Monday, Wednesday, and Fridays, while the Murrays, on the left, have the other days. Both families are grandparents, so the meals have that old-world feel to them that only comes with time and experience. The Claytons are mildly racist, though, occasionally telling me about how “the neighbourhood’s been changing, if you know what I mean,” and I do, but I don’t have the energy to engage with teaching equality to an old racist couple. The standard daily schedule of three meals has been ignored as I simply just take bites throughout the day at random now. A spoonful of lasagna here, a cut of chicken parm there. There’s some correlation between experiencing a loss and people suddenly wanting to feed you. I’m not complaining, though, because home-cooked meals seem to momentarily ground me, and all of us seem locked in a pattern that no one knows how to break. They don’t even bother to knock anymore; I just find the stacked Tupperware on the doorstep in the evenings, and I return them, cleaned, the next day via the same delivery method.
Each day swiftly builds to this silent limbo that I’d fear if I weren’t operating on autopilot, almost feeling unhuman: my work is done; the house is clean; he is fed, and he is safe, so I sit. My half-closed eyes burn with exhaustion, my fatigued limbs rest across my lap.
The stillness of this time is almost thunderous.
My parents moved in with me for the first few months to help. I don’t think anyone knew what to do other than be present. My mom did the laundry and went grocery shopping, my dad took care of the lawn and random maintenance that I had never got around to before. I appreciated the help, but mom just kept talking about Jesus’s plan instead of talking to me like a normal fucking human being. Jesus this and Jesus that. I’ve never considered my parents from an objective standpoint, but I couldn’t help it when I heard her singing gospel songs to my son while rocking him. I unexpectedly realised that most religious fanatics have ulterior motives, whether they’re aware of it or not, and, for the first time in my life, I didn’t trust her. Dad just shrugs and lets her go, whether in public or private. The poor servers at restaurants. She’s probably the type to leave a Bible verse as a tip. Dad must have given up a long while ago. Sitting in silence with him on the porch over cold beers was much more supportive than having religion being forced at me, so I looked forward to that quiet time together. They left after three months; Mom said that the church “needs my help, too, you know,” passively smiling with a self-appointed sense of being needed.
Kristen always said that she’s nuts, but she’s still a good woman.
During this quiet time, I flip through Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and HBO-Go, never actually settling on one since I don’t have time to actually invest into binging a new show, which would only frustrate me since it would take me a whole month just to finish four episodes, so I usually just watch reruns of Saved by the Bell or Dawson’s Creek. The nostalgia and wholesomeness are like a warm blanket in a freezing landscape for me. I wish that I was worried about holding a girl’s hand or surrendering to peer pressure at a high school party. Oh, my God, do I. Things felt more human then, much more real and alive.
Around nine, my eyes begin to slowly shut just as Pacey finally kisses Joey, so I get up and check the locks, check on the baby, turn on the dishwasher, and sit in the shower under the stream of hot water, with only the glow of the monitor placed on the toilet as light. I’ve always sat down in the shower, which was something that Kristen always gave me shit for, but I like it. I started doing it in college when I was hungover, and it just stuck. She didn’t know me then.
I check the window fasteners and the door locks again and take my wooden bat, which I got at Fenway Park with my dad when I was much younger, from the closet and lay it on the empty pillow next to mine, just in case I have to grip it quickly during the night.
Once I climb into bed, I get back up, take the bat, and I check on him again, blindly listening for his tiny, quick, successive breaths in his darkened bedroom. When I find those breaths, for a second, it feels like a hand pulling me up, saving me from drowning. Or even a sudden rush of morphine, immediately calming every screaming nerve in my body.
In the dark, I lie down on the floor next to the crib, surrounding by his breaths, and finally fall asleep, gripping my baseball bat.