You send a text:
You’re not coming home tonight.
You’ll just stay in town – save on gas money.
You love me.
I send back my own “Goodnight, love you,’” then put the four-year-old and two-year-old to bed. I lie down to nurse the baby. My right nipple feels like an orange-hot fire poker. It is likely I have a breast infection. My left side is also sore, overused due to my reluctance to offer the other. I grit my teeth as our son, irritable with intermittent constipation, alternates between clamping my tender flesh between his gums and yanking his head away in order to howl.
The room lights up suddenly, like someone with a flash camera is snapping a picture through the bedroom window. But it is only lightning, followed by thunder so loud it wakes the other kids. They come running to our bed and fill it with arms and legs.
I wake later to find the baby sleeping in a hollow created by his sisters’ bent bodies. I snap a pic and send it to you.
I look at the time. 9 am. I wonder what the day will hold – our first time at a new playgroup. I’m not eager to meet anyone but the oldest has been asking for friends. I pull myself out of bed. I shower with the bathroom door open and the curtain pushed back, spending only seconds with my head under the water, sticking it out the stall the rest of the time, listening for any indication of the baby stirring.
There is none.
I comb through my wet hair and sit down to write my five hundred words. I wonder if you are awake, yet, and if you’d seen the pic I’d sent you.
I will wonder for the rest of the day.
The play group will go just fine. Upon our arrival, the baby will finally poop, and it will smell so horribly that I will slink like a criminal from the restroom where I’ve changed him. Another mom will hear my complaints about sore nipples and will sell me a bottle of essential oil. Our oldest child will make a friend.
Around three days later, I will reach out again. You will be up to your ears in paperwork and employee drama and irritated I’ve called just as you are about to finally have something to eat.
I will ask why you do not call home more often and you will tell me you never have very much to say. I will ask this question again a handful of times over the next ten years, and you will always give the same answer, so I will stop asking.
You will stay gone.
I will stay home.
We’ll both keep pretending it’s working.