It stretched out in the liquid warmth, extending its nearly developed legs against the fleshy wall of its confines. Rotating a mere few inches made all the difference in that bubble of a home. It felt a hand softly reciprocate its pressure from the outside, along with a steady and heavy melody of forced, learned breathing.
What soothed it most, though, was the accompanying vocalizations that reverberated through a foot and a half of insulation and entered its ears as a hardly audible cadence. Half command, half reminder. The most recognizable and most reiterated word.
Deep inhale. "Breathe." Deep exhale. Repeat.
It had heard the word throughout the span of its growth, from the first time when mother found out about it, panicking, coaxing herself back to rational thought. Again during the Lamaze classes once a week that she attended by herself. And finally from father late at night after heated arguments about the future and money and what they were going to do about or how they were going to raise it. Now routinely for everyday feats: climbing stairs, tying shoes, getting out of bed. It knew that breathing was good, that it helped mother relax and focus and live.
It had become more aware of the outside world. More attuned to the customs and practices, the preferences and habits. Though many of them it could not understand. What it found most fascinating, though, was the omnipresence of sounds. Even in complete silence there was still the deep, rhythmic breathing. Everything it heard was muffled by skin and fat and then amplified in the fluid but over the months it began to try to decipher each sound from the next.
Every new day started with an abrasive, high-pitched beeping that lasted only a short while and which cued mother to wake and rise. This was almost always followed by the gentle rush of a million tiny taps of water that felt warm and soothing. The remainder of the day would be flooded by music. It was aware that music was a separate entity from all other sounds, and had heard mother play all kinds of it. Sometimes the music was loud and fast with indistinguishable words that made their hearts speed up involuntarily. Most times, though, it was soft and nice, with smooth vocals that mother would sing along with or hum to, swaying lightly one part of her body or another. Once mother put headphones over her oversized belly and it got to enjoy the clear and mellow serenade of something she called Jimi Hendrix. On the outside it would try to find music in things like public transportation and city street bustle. Construction site percussion accompanied by a backed-up-traffic horn section. Or at the office that mother worked in it could hear the constant ringing of phones and copying of papers; staple machines and clicking keyboards. It tried so hard to find a melody, a consistency in the world, and sometimes it could, but most times there was just a muddled stain of sound and noise. Then of course there were the voices. All around, vocalists with varying pitches and tempos cracking dirty jokes or talking stocks and bonds. A cacophonous choir of millions, each reading from a different hymnal, singing to a different tune.
It knew that everything, including people, had a name. The only ones that it knew of for sure were that of mother and father, though it could not remember them exactly. They called each other many things, some sweet and endearing. It referred to them as 'mother' and 'father' because that was how they referred to each other more than anything, in a number of contexts both good and bad. It, too, was called by many names, both good and bad. Time spent between mother and father became less and most of that was taken up by yelling. They didn't fight so much in the beginning when there was still a connection that they shared and love in their voices. It didn't take long for that to dissipate and eventually father stopped speaking to mother altogether. As this transition was occurring, as father came by less and less, mother had begun to cry more and more. It didn't know what caused this to happen, couldn't read the thoughts that were going through mother's head, but what it did share was the sadness. Sometimes she would cry after an argument or a certain movie or song or even a sentimental television commercial, but more and more she would cry for nothing at all, she would sit and hold her stomach and weep. It was during these times, too, that mother would share quiet confessions with it, “I don't know what to do,” or “I don’t think I can love you.” Sometimes she would ask it questions without expecting an answer, "why are you doing this to me?"
And even if it could answer, it wouldn't know how to. It didn't know exactly what the words meant, but it could feel the sorrow that mother felt. Mother had nurtured it, carried it in her own body to make sure that nothing bad would happen. The last thing it wanted was to make mother feel these feelings and think these thoughts.
She spent less and less time, too, outside or at work, and would spend days on end inside, alone. It would pace around the house with her and convulsed uncontrollably with her as she sobbed. It shared a euphoric initial tingle as mother lit a cigarette, but got lightheaded and heavy-hearted when mother drank glass after glass of dark, red wine, the alcohol coursing from mother's blood stream into its own tiny body. It felt outside of itself when she smoked a joint. It felt her loneliness as she talked and cared for it less and less until it was finally ready to leave what for so long had felt like heaven to face the world on it’s own.
Mother was sitting, leafing through an old photo album and remembering the times when she didn't have to worry so much, when everything felt right and felt like it would always be right. What she felt next was a warmth that surrounded her underside and crept along her bare thigh. Looking down she saw the expanding wetness and instantly knew what it was. Confusedly she looked up at the Anne Geddes wall calendar that hung next to the door. The feeling in her chest was more like a quickening pendulum than a pulse as her heart began to pump to a rhythm rather than a beat. Names entered and exited her brain as she thought who to contact first. The phone rang twice before an almost human voice answered.
“Nine-one-one, what's your emergency?”
“I'm having a baby.”
She didn't remember giving her the rest of her information but she must have gotten it somehow because ten minutes later two men carrying dingy orange boxes rushed through her door. Inside her it felt the weightlessness of being carried and wheeled on the gurney and lifted into an ambulance. It heard the wailing siren and the noisy monitors and stern voices. Waves of adrenaline flowed and ebbed, her natural anesthetic, as she pushed when the doctors told her to and breathed like she had been trained to. It heard mother scream in pain and animosity towards nothing and everything, no one and everyone, all at the same time.
“I'm pushing as hard as I can!” mother assured the doctor at the top of her lungs.
“So am I,” it thought, working to relieve mother's woes. The doctor reassured both that they were doing just fine, although neither felt that way.
After many hours of labor, both of them gave one final and simultaneous push and it was over.
It felt human contact for the first time, through a thin rubber layer as the doctor held it in his hands and severed the life chord that had connected it with mother since the beginning and, in a moment, the wholeness that it had felt while attached and inside mother was erased and a deep loneliness that might be confused with independence had settled into the void in just as much time.
“It’s a boy.” The doctor made the announcement beneath his medical mask, though with no hint of excitement or disappointment.
It was a he. A him, a male, a boy, a member of a specific sex with a specific identity; tangible and identifiable within a certain group with which he could relate. He felt movement as he was passed from one set of warm latex hands to another and carried a short distance inside a small set of palms.
He knew that she could see him and so he attempted to open his own eyes but could not muster the strength. While inside the womb, when there was light enough, he could sometimes make out certain shapes and colors, so, through his translucent lids he strained and saw lying under bright white lights a skinny figure whose chest rose and fell beneath a hospital gown, with long skinny arms that he knew were exhausted of any energy though he still longed for them to reach out and take him as her own. He saw the outline of a frail face that glistened with perspiration and wondered what color her eyes were and if he had similar features.
Charles Neadom is married to life and literature, 'til death do them part.
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