Do you remember that story The Emperor’s New Clothes? If not, I’ll remind you. The weavers tell the emperor the clothes they are making for him are so beautiful that anyone who is stupid or not worthy will be unable to see their finery. In reality, the weavers make no clothing—but everyone is sufficiently buffaloed into pretending he is a peacock draped in silks of unparalleled magnificence, so as not to appear unworthy. One day he marches in a procession before his subjects. All present pretend to have never seen such lush material, such marvelous tailoring—afraid to point out what everyone else sees, but no one wants to admit…everyone, that is, except for one child who yells out that the Emperor is actually naked.
In that parable, I am not honest enough to be the child. Instead, I am the parent of that child. I am the parent who chooses to pretend because I am weak. And I am angry at myself. I can no longer be angry at you for the constant disappointment you bring to my life. Instead, I am angry at myself for expecting anything but disappointment from you….and not preparing better for it. After all, if I already see you are walking around naked, I cannot be angry that you keep losing the things I ask you to put in your pockets.
It was good for a while, wasn’t it? I remember our first date at the Tram a couple days after Christmas. I wore a dark colored fit & flare dress with a large red belt & 4 inch red high heels with frilly t-straps…somehow already knowing you would fixate on those shoes. Later in our relationship, you would always reflect about seeing me come around the corner of the coffee shop wearing those shoes, trying to remind yourself of the girl you thought I was. We talked for hours. For a first date, the conversation was remarkably & emotionally intimate. It was easy. I was soft as a rose petal, a vulnerability I no longer am capable of. I remember I drank all my coffee halfway through but didn’t want to stop talking long enough to get up and order another. So I just sat there, cradling a bowl-sized mug—occasionally forgetting it was empty & taking a sip of air. Later, I told you about the charade and you loved that I had pretended, for some reason. I remember you telling me that you had trouble with reading social cues & that you were socially awkward. For some reason, I clutched onto this with something like tenderness. It was on.
At first, I would go to your house, we would drink & listen to the alternative music station on your tv, as we sat on your couch. It inevitably led to making out. I liked the way you would take your glasses off after we made out for a while, looking shocked and a little undone by the way I kissed you. You told me you felt like you were 17 and sneaking your girlfriend into your parents’ house again. I would drive the 45 minutes home at 3 am, windows open despite it being winter—my hair whipping around my flushed face, blood pumping hard through my excited body….grinning like a lunatic. After a couple weeks of this—things pushed past the usual. You undressed me, climbed on top. I fell away from this moment into one from the past, shaking and sobbing, putting my fists up to protect my face so you…no…he couldn’t hit me there…As I came out of it, I saw you had wrapped me in a blanket and you were just holding me, reassuring me. Humiliated, I tried to flee from my shame, pushing you away and snatching my clothes up from the floor, agitatedly trying to put them on without looking ridiculous. Failing at that and getting angry, I snapped, “Well, it’s been nice knowing you. You don’t need to call again, it’s fine.” “What? What are you talking about?” “You don’t have to pretend. It’s fine. I wouldn’t want to see me again either.” At this point, the rage gave way to tears. Your response was to grab me by my hand and lead me up to your bedroom & hold me. You were my hero in this moment. I stayed the night. A month later, I moved in.
It was fast. Too fast.
But, still, things were good for a bit. I was honest from the start that my ability to give wholly of myself was limited. I warned you about the ghosts who would share your bed, your house. I warned you about the tides, the shifting moods. I warned you about the magnet pull to self-destruction at the very hint of abandonment. I warned you, I warned you. But you just saw that girl with the red shoes, coming full tilt around the corner at the coffee shop…the cocky, sarcastic girl who told you that you weren’t brave enough to ask her out. That girl is me too, but she works for the Others; the destructive, self-loathing ones inside…and they’re usually the ones calling the shots. You never understood that. You still don’t.
I remember shortly after moving in, I was running in a hamster wheel of a bad manic spell. My thoughts looped around suicide, hurting myself. An infinity loop of self-loathing winding through my brain. I couldn’t sit. I cleaned the house in a panic. Whorled through the living room, the dining room. I kept thinking of my favorite Bukowski poem…the one about his lover spitting in his jello, putting it back in the fridge and leaving the house in a twirl of angry skirt. That was me…a twirl of angry skirt. You finally caught up to me in the kitchen, as I scrubbed the sink, battering it with the sponge. Crying. Frantic. Slightly scared. You put your arms around me & held me fast, “It’s ok, sit for a bit. Come sit.” “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t,” I sobbed. “What’s the matter?” “I’m manic & I don’t know what to do with myself, with these thoughts & I can’t stop.” You looked at me and joked in mock seriousness, “Wait, you’re bipolar? What? I wouldn’t have let you move in, if I’d known.” For some reason, the comment comforted me…I guess it helped to know my instability was something we could joke about, laugh about. I loved you so much then, for making the things I couldn’t accept about myself, ok.
I got pregnant about a year and a half in. The pink plus sign was unexpected, but I was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to tell you. I should have waited. You were at work & your initial response was not one of excitement. You quietly said you just needed time to process. I had to work late that day…and I worried that you wouldn’t want the baby, because I did. By the time I had gotten home, though, you had sent me a link to a youtube video of Paul Anka singing that dopey song, “Having my baby.” I knew it would be ok. You would come around. And you did. You were excited throughout the pregnancy, coming to all my appointments. But even then, there were problems.
At the time, we were going through a core-shaking kind of custody battle for your son from your first marriage. When I met you & found out you had a son from a previous marriage, I expected to come second to him. I didn’t expect for our daughter to also come second. For the custody trial, I was put on the stand at 9 months pregnant. Your ex’s side tore me apart. I already knew that I would be painted as someone unsuitable to be around your kid. I wasn’t prepared for them to go after our unborn child. She was referred to as a mistake, they referred to her as an “it,” as an inconvenience in her brother’s life…as a presence that didn’t deserve to be here because he already was. Like there wasn’t space for her. Like they were fighting over armrests on a plane. I kept my composure on the stand, holding my hands protectively over my belly, as if to shield her. After I was done, I waddled off the stand and your lawyer assisted me. You didn’t even attempt to comfort me after. Your lawyer did, patting my slumped shoulder, asking if I was ok. He looked disappointed the next day when I showed up to support you, our family. “I went home and just kept worrying about you. I was kind of hoping you would maybe stay home today. I am afraid of the effect of the stress on you & the baby.” It was more than you said to me when we got home. Instead you went upstairs, curled up into a ball & I took care of you.
A couple weeks later I was induced. She was perfect. My heart exploded and put itself back together every time I looked at her, as they cleaned her & sewed me up & I waited to hold her. I didn’t cry the first time they put her on my chest, I just smiled peacefully. Even though your son was safe with family, you left me in the evening to go back to him. I changed her first diaper on my own. I fed her throughout the night. I counted her fingers & toes, traced the lines on the bottom of her little monkey feet. I memorized every inch of her….the fat rolls, the stork bite on the back of her downy little head, under her Mohawk of curls. I sang to her, breathed her smell in as she laid on my bare chest. I marked her as my own in your absence.
We brought her home. I tried to power through as a first time mom…but being off meds & experiencing sleep deprivation sent me into depression. You didn’t even sleep in the bedroom with our daughter & me. You would go tuck your son in (despite the fact he was 13 & our daughter was a newborn) & fall asleep in his room every night. Layers of lead & steel coming down in my brain. I shut down to you. The bed no longer knew the us of a couple years previous…We were no longer that couple because you were no longer the man that wrapped me in a blanket and led me up the stairs by my shaking hand & I wouldn’t have let you anyway.
I got pregnant again when Bridget was a little over a year old. Bored & drunk, we had fucked during Memorial Day weekend for something to do & not used protection. I knew almost immediately I was pregnant…before I could even take a pregnancy test. When I took it, I wasn’t shocked when I saw the plus sign. This time, I was not excited to tell you.
For what it’s worth, you were excited. You were even more thrilled when you found the baby was a boy. I was devastated. I did not want a boy that would be compared to your son…to live up to your preference for your son. Bridget clearly hadn’t…and this made her feel more mine than anything. This time going off meds was harder. I was sicker. I wasn’t in my right mind & I made alarming statements about leaving this baby behind with you & Ian and taking Bridget because I didn’t want a boy. To add to it, the pregnancy was hard, as I’m sure you remember…or maybe you don’t. Once again, I had morning sickness 8 out of the 9 months like I did with Bridget. But I also developed gestational diabetes that were uncontrolled even with diet & exercise. This meant insulin injections 4 times a day. I developed all sorts of infections—bladder, ear, viral respiratory…I was sick all the time on top of the general malaise from the roller coaster of blood sugars. I had multiple appointments each week so they could make sure he was still alive and growing…that my body hadn’t killed him. Because I had so many appointments this time, you weren’t able to make most of them. I was terrified I was going to go into an appointment and find out he was dead & that I would be all alone when I found out. Because I had already shut you out, I couldn’t explain this to you & instead acted out. I refused to bond with him. I refused to pick out a name for him. I didn’t speak to him like I did with Bridget. I didn’t prepare for his birth. I started telling you I felt like a baby incubator, that I hated this baby. I didn’t hate him at all. I was just scared & mentally ill.
I warned you. I warned you.
I remember being several months pregnant and finding a google search you had done. You were asking how you knew when it was time to leave someone when you had kids together. I wanted to lie down & die….but I just kept on going, dragging myself from day to day.
The labor & delivery was equally catastrophic as the pregnancy. If I had been able to find anything funny at that point, I would have had to laugh at this comedy of errors. I had to be there early because I needed antibiotic drip for 4 hours….but the nurses gave us the wrong time—so my dr was waiting for us. Then they induced me 2 times & it didn’t work. I was in labor for 2 days. Because I wasn’t progressing the first day, they couldn’t give me an epidural. They gave me an iv of something that provided relief for a bit. Later you told me I said the most hysterical, inane things—but it’s a fading twilight memory at this point. The only thing I remember is asking you to cover me up & when you did, I sat straight up and asked if I was dead. You laughed and asked why I said that. I told you, “In movies or tv shows, if they pull a sheet up over your body, it’s because you’re dead.” Unfortunately, whatever was in the IV slowed Rowan’s heartbeat so they had to stop giving the drugs to me. The doctor warned me they might have to send me home if the labor didn’t progress.
I lost my mind. Hysterical, I told him if he sent me home I was drinking wine & getting in a hot tub & eating lunch meat & sushi & smoking cigarettes…all the things you shouldn’t do while pregnant…so he better get this kid out of me. He thought I was joking and laughed. I wasn’t. Your response was to look up labor & delivery jokes on your phone to try & make me laugh. I told you I had a joke for you & the punchline was, “I’m going to hit you in the head with a fucking hammer.”
I wished you would have told me it was going to be ok. But I never asked for it. You never thought to do it on your own. We both bear responsibility, I guess.
Luckily the labor did progress.
I tried not to complain as the contractions made my legs shake & my teeth chatter. When I was in labor with Bridget, you sat by the bed and held my hand. This time, you sat and played on your phone across the room. You kept leaving to get takeout food and eating it in front of me, even though I wasn’t allowed to eat. Finally they gave me the epidural…but they had missed the mark, so it didn’t work. They had to take it out & give it again. Relief. During this time period, you managed to disappear for a couple hours. The nurses looked for you. I tried texting you. Finally, you reappeared with no explanation. These are moments that stick with me. I know they sound nitpicky & I also contributed to the divide, but, for me, these moments are all pushpins on a map of your abandonment.
After two days of laboring, I gave birth to our son. I was exhausted, emotional. This time I asked you for what I needed—for you to stay. I told you I was overwhelmed. But you left a couple hours after I gave birth…Bridget was with my parents, Ian with yours. You went and got only Ian and then went home. The nurses kept bringing Rowan in. I tried to feed him, but struggled. He screamed and cried. I felt myself losing control. To keep myself from screaming, I sank my teeth into my hand so hard it left purple marks. Then I worried the nurses would see it, think I was crazy and take him away from me…so I smashed it on an bed table to a more vague spherical bruise, so the indent of my teeth wasn’t as visible. Finally, a nurse came in to see me sitting on the side of the bed, my son screaming in my arms, my purpled hand cradling his head. “He’s been crying a while, is everything ok?” I just stared at her. “Why don’t I take him down to the nursery for a bit?” I felt happy he was gone & then painted over the happiness with guilt for feeling that way. When she returned an hour later, he was swaddled and calm…and I stared at his beautiful, sleeping little face & fell so perfectly in love with him.
And out of love with you.
Especially when I had to text you the next morning to see if you were coming back. You showed up at noon because you were hanging out with Ian. We brought Rowan home, I remember you looking at me in the kitchen & saying, “Thank god that pregnancy is over. That was difficult on me.” I smiled thinly at you. In that moment, my brain erased it’s love for the man who had held me in that same room we were currently standing in & who, with a joke, had made me feel like it was ok for me to be bipolar. Gratitude for my children was written over that part of me that once loved you.
I have come to understand that you are going to disappoint me because you are selfish & never really understood me. And I hope that soon enough, I will find a new place to live & we won’t have to interact as much. However, my suggestion to you is to invest in a new wardrobe. It is time you know that the weavers have deceived you and more of you is visible than you know. Because I am weak, I will continue to pretend not to see your nakedness…but, if you remember the story about the emperor, you know your children will not be as blind as I am pretending to be…and it would be horrible for them to see their father in certain lights…