I woke up at five in the morning with contractions that were a minute apart on my daughter’s due date. Four hours later, after a mere hour of pushing, my baby was born in a tub of water only a foot from my bed. This little human that I held in my arms coughed, and started breathing on her own.
We had a rocky beginning. Motherhood was some sort of surrender to a stability I’d run from for a decade. But I found strength I’d never known was there. Strength from knowing “I can’t” doesn’t exist, and clenching teeth and ducking heads and preparing for hitting the walls to make it through, saying “I must,” does. I found a love that drove me, surviving, moving me forward, to work, to school, to getting our own apartment.
The small space had furniture I’d collected over the last few years. I found the blue couch on craigslist from an ad by an old woman that said, “Free Fold-Out Loveseat.” Two people could barely lift it. I’d moved it several times by then: from the cottage where Emilia was born, to the trailer where I lived with her dad for a few months, to the homeless shelter’s cottage after he kicked us out, then the transitional apartment, the subsidized apartment, and to our own studio.
Emilia liked to line up her My Little Ponies that someone had dropped off on our porch in a brown paper bag. They fit on the rim of the bathtub, or the toilet seat, and the breakfast table. All pink and orange and blue and green and yellow. They watched her drip oatmeal and pick up blueberries with her fingers.
The freeway below never stopped buzzing. The cars, the trucks, the fifth wheels, the sirens. A plastic bag jumps from one tire to the next. I held my coffee close to my nose and watched it shoot up, drift, land, and shoot up again. Never forward or backward. Just up And down.
There’s a little hole in the wall the size of a shoebox that I tried to plug with cardboard and a pillow case. It’s an old heating vent. The dirt of the basement can be seen in the daytime. The mold and dead rodent smells float up, visible. My grandpa was in love with a girl who once lived in this house, before they separated it into three apartments. We had the entryway The sunroom.
But this little girl lived there now. She rode her tricycle around the couch on the wooden floor while I picked up her markers and coloring books. We lived in one room. The neighborhood boys smoked pot on the curb below I watched them pass the joint and breathe out without coughing, their noses up, trying to look cool. I missed the smell. I missed the high. A younger boy threw a bouncy ball—the kind you get out of dime machines in the entrance of restaurants—towards the freeway. It’s florescent yellow. I watched it bounce over a red truck, then disappear.
The gray sky is damp.
It covers everything with
slimy, black, wet, moss.
She bounces from the couch to the floor
in a blue swimsuit with white stars.
She feels no winter.
The walls of that apartment were windows. It snowed a foot one night and stayed for a week. My boss canceled work, saying it wasn’t worth the risk to travel, because in Northwest Washington it really isn’t. The apartment had a side room, separated by French doors that we used as a bedroom. I couldn’t afford to heat it. The blue loveseat became our bed for a few weeks. Emilia said it was like a sleepover because we could fall asleep to movies I stayed up after she drifted off, chewing my nails over bills, and tried to do homework. Sometimes she’d flail in her sleep, kicking me and whapping me in the eye with an arm. But sometimes she’d snuggle up to my back, and I could feel her breath on my neck. And I wouldn’t miss having my own room.
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