Out of the corners of my eyes, I see shadows. Subtle movements. Apparitions that when I turn to see face on -- are not really there. Sometimes, it's just my own hair falling into my line of sight. Or the shadow cast by the sandbox, looking for a moment like a black animal crouched in the yard. Or a piece of furniture in the other room that I saw a second ago as something stepping through the bedroom door.
Even though I am easily spooked, these split second sightings do not raise the hair on my neck. But several times a day I do these double takes, expecting to see something unexpected. It's never anything but it leaves footprints in my mind, murmuring echos of something not here that was. Or not here that will be.
I can't tell which.
I'm 23. It's something like 2a.m. The nurse walks in and softly speaks. The baby won't settle so she thinks its time to try feeding again. I sit up. She's changing the baby's diaper and I think maybe that's my job but I'm happy to sit right here and watch, too lightheaded, still, to get up. She gentles the baby into the crook of my arm, an awkward transfer. I'm afraid of that floppy neck. The baby's weight and shape feel foreign to me as I try to position her for a good latch. After much trying and much assistance, I feed her successfully. My feelings of accomplishment are dampened slightly by the dawning realization that this is a process I'll need to repeat. Every two hours. For a year.
A small voice in my heart starts chanting -- oh no oh no. But I ignore it, focusing instead on memorizing the shape of the baby's face, and the curve of her lips, and the impossible small size of her hands.
A heart murmur, they tell us lightly the day after her birth. We'll have you get that checked out.
And now she's two weeks old. I'm morphing into something new, cocooned in a microcosm of hours that blend together, days that bleed into nights. I look in the mirror and my own face looks huge -- her tiny features have been burned onto my retinas and I'm shocked by the grotesque size of my nose and lips and forehead.
She sleeps through the heart ultrasound. The tech says little. I watch the blues and reds dance on the screen, wondering what he's seeing, worried only a little.
The doctor declares the murmur benign and it fades into nothing as the months pass. It's only in retrospect that I learn about the gallons and rivers of worry that this could have deserved. That in rare cases where the nothing is really something, babies die.
I had no idea. I could only focus on learning how to feed her.
And now she's seven. It's something like 7:30 and I let her know she needs to start getting ready for school. This, somehow, sends her into emotional imbalance. The next twenty minutes are hard for her. I don't take it personally (for once). I'm learning.
When it's time to meet the bus I start to put on my coat. She declares that she wants to walk by herself.
My heart murmurs -- oh -- and a subtle sigh shivers behind my ribs.
She only has to cross one side street to get there and it's not a busy one and I wanted her to start walking on her own soon anyway with the new baby on the way. But she has always responded with because I love you and want to be with you when I've offered the option in the past.
And here it is -- no hug, a short good-bye, and she's walking down the street with cloudy, unsourced anger stuck to the bottoms of her boots. I want to follow her. Take the hug she doesn't want to give. But I just hang up my coat instead.
This is, perhaps, the first of four times forty-four such exits, my heart murmurs.
I know, I sigh. I know.
It surprises me that no one is out walking this morning. It's cold but calm. Icy but sunny. I'm enjoying this as much as the dog. I always do. We are both pretty easy to please. Simple.
I cross the bridge and pause to look over the side. The stream beneath flows shallow and swift, only its edges crusted with ice. The dog stops pacing and the breeze stops whispering and the distant traffic lulls for a moment. I expect to hear the water as it sighs over partly submerged rocks and branches, as it tinkles past brittle bits of ice -- but there's nothing. It moves silently, at least from my vantage point.
I watch a small piece of bark taken by the current, turning over itself, end over end, passing over the ripples imprinted on the sandy bottom. Even though my ears can't pick up the sound, my heart hears the soft murmurings that it rides upon, as it comes from wherever its been and moves toward wherever it's going.