630 2nd Street
Traverse City, Michigan
Sometimes when Ray is busy working on the car, or pushing the mower across the long blades of grass in our front lawn, I step silently into the bathroom and close the door. I turn on the shower and I sit on the edge of the bath and I cry. It is not only the changes that are happening in me because of the baby, or that I’m hysterical or something. It’s because I have a sense of the way things should be and it’s a kind of ache because my life is not the way I imagined. I imagined my parents coming over with casseroles and Jello molds, and Mother would crochet blankets and booties for the baby, and Dad would try to fix things with Ray only he’d fumble things up, and I would watch from the kitchen, and run my hands along the slope of my abdomen, and sometimes I would laugh at our simple happiness.
Our weekends, though, are much quieter. We live in a two-bedroom house in Traverse City, just blocks away from the bay. It’s a small house, brown, part of a city project of housing for veterans. The houses are close together, so close I can hear the neighbors fighting, and I can hear their gentle moans as they make up. I can also hear the water calling at night, and the wind sometimes smells of rain. Days like this, when it is dark and cloudy, when there is a stillness in the air of something about to happen, that is the time I sneak quietly away.
I cry because crying helps. And then later, I cry some more. I do not want to hold the tears because I do not want them to change my baby. Surely what a mother thinks and feels affects her child? My daughter is kicking now and I imagine that she is happy. I intend to keep her that way for as long as possible.
“Do you think a person is fully formed at birth?” I asked Ray one night over dinner.
“Of course he’s formed. Otherwise it’d be like a monster or something.” He scooped mashed potatoes into his mouth. I tried not to think of monster children, of babies misshapen.
“No, I mean the personality. Are you born who you are or do you become who you are? I mean, do your parents matter in the grand scheme of things?”
He chewed awhile, dipped the meatloaf in ketchup, took a chug of milk. “How do I know, Beth? I turned out okay. You turned out okay. Our kid will turn out okay. That’s all that matters.”
I nodded and tried to eat a little. What I did not voice was, “What, exactly, is okay?” There is the surface of things and then there is the truth beneath the surface. There is the city that is beautiful and ornate, and underneath are the tunnels and machines that make it operate.
Of course, all of this is just me, thinking of my mother. And my father of course. Am I who I am because of them, or in spite of them?
It’s my mother I think about the most. Still, all these years later, I haven’t been able to piece together who she was. She was my mother and a stranger. She was beautiful and a monster. She was, I guess, who my father created her to be. So maybe it isn’t our parents who shape us. It’s our spouses.
This, I guess, is why I sit in the bathroom sometimes and let the water run. It’s so that I can cry without being afraid.