I don’t know how long I’ve been standing in this purgatory, with perfect life squirming behind the window at my front and grotesque death lingering behind the door at my back.
It might be seconds.
It might be days.
Time is lost amidst the whitecaps of my internal tempest, a ceaseless assault of blooming heaves of love and bleeding hollows of loss. The clock behind me points to one—in the morning, I assume, given the night shift that bustles at the periphery of my exhausted existence.
Behind the small steel diamonds that reinforce the glass between us, a tiny pink fist punches its way through the soft bundle in the tub of my attention, waving in response to an unknown dream. I try to imagine it’s a nice dream—pleasant, safe and pink—though I suspect it’s more of a nightmare, where the cocoon of crimson warmth is suddenly shredded by the harsh claws of white fluorescence and the jarring teeth of unmuted cacophony.
Her face is squished and red under the brim of the little pink cap they’ve snuggled atop her tiny head. I can’t tell if she’s about to scream or if that’s just how humans look after being unwillingly ripped from womb to world. They all seem to have that same expression—a standard portrait of shock, confusion, and defiance.
Despite the common countenance amongst all these little blank slates, however, I am sure that I already see brilliant glimpses of Mel in mine.
Under the crust of afterbirth, tufts of red hair will someday sing in the sun.
Above searching gums, a nubby nose will wrinkle with every giggle.
Behind scrunched lids, sapphire eyes will fell the hearts of many.
Her dream reaches a crescendo that manifests in what I am sure are impressive wails and a second flailing fist.
A nurse in garish pink scrubs zig-zags through the room to tuck her back in. I assume she babbles in baby and murmurs silly soothing sounds, and within minutes the chaos is re-swaddled in slumber.
Satisfied that her charge is content once more, the nurse straightens and our eyes meet. They’ve all been careful, but caught off guard her genuine smile slips momentarily into a piteous grimace.
I suppose this is how it will be. I suppose I should prepare for the tidal wave of friends and relatives who will coo in her face and blow raspberries on her belly and exclaim over her miniscule sneezes, and then turn to me with awkward gestures of sympathy like pre-cooked casseroles and phone numbers for favorite baby-sitters.
The nurse pokes her head out the door, her professionally compassionate mask firmly back in place. “You should come in,” she says softly, “You should hold her.”
I don’t answer or acknowledge the invitation. I am bound, immobile, to this sterile floor amongst a sea of sensible squeaking shoes, hushed voices, and rustling papers while love beckons to my soul and grief tugs at my heart.
Here, looking through the window, I can see it all.
We’ll sit on a piano bench under a ticking metronome. Her hair will be tied back in a green ribbon. Her feet will be clad in shiny Mary Janes and white socks with ruffled cuffs. Her fingers will fly across the keys with an easy flourish while I sit quietly at her side with my clumsy paws in my lap, a poor substitute for the teacher who should have been.
I’ll hover behind the front door, desperate to interrupt but paralyzed by the promise of her teenage wrath. A peek through the curtain will turn my world red and I’ll fling the door wide and tear them apart. He’ll run. She’ll storm up the stairs and give me the silent treatment. I’ll flounder alone in regret and stubbornness.
The theatre will be dark; the stage will be bright. She’ll prance across in her cap and gown, shaking wizened hands and waving blindly out at me as the gold tassel swings across her face. Her smile will soar with the angels and my hands will sting from proud applause. The seat next to me will be empty, a somber echo of the home to which I’ll return.
And here, with my back to the door, I recall it all.
Mel captured my fascination under the nettles of pelting rain and the rattle of booming festival speakers, her flaming hair flying as she twirled with wild abandon. She caught me staring from the edge of the beer garden and, without missing a beat, somehow swept me up into her arms and the thrilling rhythm of new beginnings, my Kokanee discarded forgotten on the grass.
The moon winked silver in the ripples of the river as we meandered down the park path arm-in-arm and warm with wine. I plucked up my courage three or four or more times before I knelt. She was confused at first, thinking that I’d stumbled or paused to tie a lace. When I mutely held out the miserable speck of diamond, she threw her head back and roared with melodic laughter.
We laid in bed in tangled sweaty sheets, bathed in the amber glow of a dying day. I traced the swelling curve of her stomach; she hummed contentedly with closed eyes, waving her fingers across the invisible notes of a new composition. I interrupted occasionally as I was struck with inspiration for names. We added a few to the list and then drifted off into bliss.
The nurse sighs, gives a pointed look to someone at the station behind me, and disappears back through the door to placate the emerging fuss of another, less perfect, infant.
My feet ache. My back cries. My eyes swell. I notice and ignore it all, only vaguely wondering how long they’ll let my vigil go on, how long until I’ll have to peel my forehead from this pane of glass, how long until I’ll have to call someone and find the words to deliver life and death in a single breath.
Just as I decide to stay here, caught between will and was forever, a no-nonsense hand with long sure fingers grips my shoulder and firmly guides me past the throng of the arriving day shift to the other side of the window.