Happy Halloween, Everyone!
For my favorite holiday this year, I’m posting the beginnings to two spooky stories. Look for part one of “He’ll See You” . . . unless of course, you’re TOO AFRAID!
“I love you so much!”
At the sound of her lover’s voice, Mira looked up from their baby Celia who was nursing noisily on her left side. Her eyes teared up as they always did when Celia really got into it. Even through the blur, Mira saw Joan’s own tears. She watched Joan reach out to her face and felt her fingers brush the drops from her cheeks. She choked back the overwhelming feelings of her own love, as full-on sobbing would surely disturb little Celia.
Instead, Mira took a deep shaky breath as Joan joined her in their bed, stroking Celia’s wisp of hair.
“Sleep now, little CeeCee,” Joan cooed. Mira watched her kiss Celia’s head and breathe her in deeply. She thought of everything they’d been through to get to this moment, and just as quickly put the thoughts out of her mind, as the amount of gratitude she felt also threatened to make her quake and gasp. So many roadblocks, so many detours, so many more years than either of them had imagined, and how many times it had almost fallen apart!
Yet, here she lay with Joan, the woman she loved more than she’d ever imagined she could love anyone and little Celia, the actualization of that love poured into a body so tiny and perfect. Mira’s emotions swirled inside her and through her, and she thought about how moments like this often closed out books, movies and plays. This was the “happy ending,” and what she was realizing, more and more, was how much it was really the happy beginning.
Celia’s nursing noises subsided, and eventually, her tiny lips fell from Mira’s breast. Without jostling her, Mira let her body relax down into the pillows and sheets, cradling Celia’s head in the crook of her arm as she let her own head come to rest on the pillow. Joan scooted closer to them and the two women and their baby girl lay together, all wrapped around one another in love.
* * *
When Mira awoke, she found Joan and Celia gone, the overhead fan blowing blessedly cool air on her, and late-afternoon sunshine peeking through the closed blinds. She felt her face stretch into a broad smile. How lucky was she to have a partner like Joan?
She’d heard from so many new moms how exhausted and overwhelmed they felt. While Mira could certainly relate, she also knew how different her experience was from theirs. She’d heard about husbands who slept (or pretended to sleep) through hours of nighttime crying, fathers who “took the weekend off” and left their wives alone with their newborns just days after the birth. She’d heard about a couple of bright spots in the father realm as well. One new mom relayed that her husband slept in a recliner with the baby laying on his chest all night, every night, bringing her into their bedroom when she needed to nurse and taking care of all the other nighttime wake-ups, diaper changes and everything. That had warmed Mira’s heart.
Still, when she tried to imagine what it would’ve been like to become a mother with anyone other than Joan, she just drew a blank. She had never even considered it before they’d met. It had never been something she thought she wanted. She could look back now and realize why, only because of the years Joan had coached her toward introspection. She could see how her own mother’s inconsistent parenting had left her feeling unmoored. She could see how the years she’d spent telling herself she never wanted to settle down with someone had taught her to avoid putting much faith in any partner.
Mira turned over on her back, wincing ever so slightly as the motion stretched her C-section incision. She let her eyes stare up at the ceiling as her mind continued on the same track. Even getting together with Joan was something that could’ve so easily gone the other way. Mira had felt very lukewarm when they’d met. She’d even friend-zoned Joan for a while, a move that turned out to be the ideal way for the two of them to really get to know each other more deeply. Mira remembered thinking that she’d met and known so many people over the years, but could count on one hand the ones with the depth, steadiness and self-awareness Joan possessed. She remembered thinking, If only I could find someone like this, I might actually consider a real relationship again. It was something she laughed about these days, how Joan had patiently waited for her to come the realization of how well they fit together, and not only as friends.
She turned her head toward the nightstand, and saw a glass of ice water there, beaded with sweat. Joan thinks of everything. Mira started to reach for the glass, but a flash of movement in the corner by the door caught her eye.
“Oh, Joan, I didn’t see….” She trailed off when she realized the face looking back at her wasn’t Joan’s, wasn’t even entirely solid, but hazy as if it were made out of curling smoke. The eyes were a woman’s, and they stared piercingly at her, appearing hungry or angry or both. Mira felt frozen. She heard something right next to her and turned just in time to see the glass tip off the night stand and shatter on the hardwood floor.
She jerked away to the other side of the bed, her eyes flying back to the corner of the room, but the face was gone. Could she have imagined it? How had the glass fallen?
Joan burst into the room. “What happened? Are okay?” The sound of Celia crying from the next room made both women turn their heads.
“Celia!” Mira gasped and leapt from the bed.
“Mira, what is it? Mira, stop, you’re bleeding!” Mira sprinted down the hall, but found Celia safe in her pack and play, merely fussing and pushing her tiny hands into her mouth. She scanned the room wildly, feeling Joan’s hand on her shoulder. “Mira, what’s wrong?”
Mira picked Celia up and held her close. “I saw…” she breathed. “I saw a woman… a face, in our bedroom.” Joan left her side and Mira watched, noticing for the first time, a sharp pain in her foot and angry throbs from the incision on her left side. She looked down at the floor in the hallway, and her eyes widened, seeing streaks of blood on the rug. Celia’s fussing intensified. Joan returned, and helped Mira to the couch, handing her the nursing pillow.
“There’s no one in there. It looks like you just knocked the glass off the nightstand.” She reached for Mira’s foot and Mira inhaled sharply as Joan pulled a tiny shard from it. “And you jumped out of bed so quick, you stepped on this.”
Mira felt dizzy, and looked down at Celia who was rooting around on the outside of her t-shirt and fussing.
“I’ll bring you some more ice water,” Joan said. “Maybe a plastic cup this time?” She winked, and Mira laughed weakly. She loved Joan’s quirky sense of humor, but she still felt her heart racing, and even after she pulled up her t-shirt and unhooked her nursing bra, it took her several minutes to get Celia to settle down and nurse. Mira was sure her babe could hear her pounding heart.
When Celia finally latched, Mira felt the regular nursing tears at the corners of her eyes. She usually loved gazing down at Celia nursing, but she felt compelled to keep casting her eyes up toward the hallway and around the corners of their bright sunny living room. She wiped the tears away to be sure her vision was clear. Nothing looked out of place. After a few minutes, she began to feel more calm, and let her gaze fall to her child. She loved the way Celia squeezed her eyes shut whenever she nursed, but Mira realized with a start that her baby, though nursing noisily as ever, had her eyes wide open, gazing right back at her.
The next 45 minutes reminded Mira once more why she appreciated Joan so much. After bringing her ice water in a large plastic cup, Joan returned a few minutes later with a small tub and wash cloth and began tenderly washing Mira’s injured foot.
“Sorry, it’s cold,” Joan said. “If I use warm water, it might start bleeding again.” While Mira continued to nurse, eventually switching Celia to her other side, Joan bandaged her foot, and then disappeared into the bedroom to clean up the shattered glass. Mira watched her take the vacuum in and close the door behind her, so only a light humming sound reached her and little Celia in the living room.
By the time Celia had had her fill and fallen asleep, Mira was feeling a little guilty as Joan, on her hands and knees, scrubbed the blood stains from the hallway carpet. Mira couldn’t help but feel foolish about the incident now. Maybe she’d dreamed the whole thing. Her mind flashed back to the terrifying moments as she’d stared at the ghost-like face in the shadowy corner of the bedroom. She remembered how hard her heart had been beating. It hadn’t felt like a dream, but….
“What are you thinking about?” Joan asked, leaning back away from the stain she’d been scrubbing.
“I just… I’m sorry. Look at all the trouble you’re going to while I’m just sitting here….”
“Whoa, stop right there, love.” Joan rose, and joined Mira on the sofa, gently brushing the tears away from her face again. “You have one job right now,” Joan said. They were the words Mira had heard so many times throughout the months of her pregnancy, and at least several times a day since they brought Celia home. “You did all the heavy lifting bringing this little beauty into our lives.” Mira watched Joan stroke the wisp of Celia’s hair again. “She’s just barely a week old. You’re doing the work of three women just keeping her fed and comfortable.”
“You help so much with all that too,” Mira sniffled. “You’re just as much her mama as I am, and she already knows it.”
“But we both know there’s only so much of it I can do, and it’s not my body having to eat for two and put itself back together after nine months of carrying her and a C-section.”
Mira nodded, knowing Joan spoke the truth, but despising the facts, no less. Though far from begrudging Celia the way she’d come into the world – every time she looked at their little daughter, she felt like she would’ve gladly gone through three C-sections for her – it didn’t change how much she hated feeling weak and diminished, especially at this time when she wanted to be giving her all to Celia and have at least a little left over to make sure Joan felt loved and appreciated.
Instead, here she sat weeping in Joan’s arms again, asking for even more when Joan was already giving so much. And Celia! Celia deserved better. Mira felt undeserving of them both. Joan held her. Mira let the tears stream down her cheeks. She hated the weakness, the exhaustion, the mood swings, the tears that flowed so many times every day and night.
“You’re so beautiful right now,” Joan said. “I can tell you can’t see it, but Mira…” and Mira felt Joan’s fingers on her cheek, “you’ve never been more striking or awe-inspiring to me than I’ve seen you this last week. It’s like I love you at least three times as much.”
Mira knew her lover to be many things, physically limited, but hardworking, humorous, but honest, and above all, loving, but direct. Joan liked to joke, but she never BS-ed. Would her lover be making an exception, given how vulnerable Mira knew she appeared? She didn’t want to think so.
“Oh, I forgot to ask,” said Joan, “is your incision okay? Jumping out of bed was the fastest I’ve seen you move since CeeCee was born.”
Mira let Joan lift Celia carefully from her lap and put her down gently in the pack and play. She leaned sideways to let Joan lift her shirt and ease her PJ pants down partway. She didn’t want to look herself.
“It looks fine,” Joan said. “Does it feel okay?”
Mira nodded, even though she did still feel some tiny throbs. She didn’t want Joan to worry over her any more.
“No more gymnastic exits from the bed, okay?” Joan said.
Mira nodded again, wishing she had the energy to laugh with Joan. She knew her love was winking at her, even if she couldn’t bring herself to meet her gaze. She felt a wave of exhaustion rush in.
“You should go back to bed,” Joan said. “It’s all cleaned up in there now.”
Mira shook her head without even realizing why at first until the image of the ghostly face in the corner wisped its way back into her brain, perhaps carried on the wave of fatigue. The last thing she wanted to do was go back into the bedroom.
* * *
The next few days and nights ran together for Mira. Celia seemed to run on one-and-a-half and two-hour cycles, nursing, sleeping, waking and fussing, and nursing some more. Sometimes it could stretch to two and three hours between feedings during the night, and Joan helped out as much as possible. Mira didn’t want to think what it would be like when Joan had to go back to her desk job, but that was still weeks away.
As much as Mira basked in every moment she spent with CeeCee, she couldn’t quell her longings to get back to even a few of the things that had made up her life before. The kitchen especially called to her as she found herself craving some of her favorite recipes. Of course, their fridge and freezer were beyond stocked with so many casseroles and covered dishes brought over by everyone from Mira’s mother to Joan’s co-workers.
Mira was grateful; she honestly was, but in the long hours she sat with Celia sleeping in her lap, she noticed so many little things like where the evening sunshine touched the wall between two picture frames. While she’d never paid much attention before, now she felt sure that when the light had been this way in the evenings last year, she’d been trying a new soup recipe she’d fallen in love with. She thought how amazing it would taste right now, all that fresh, in-season produce. It made it hard to get excited about the prospect of her mother’s meatloaf again tonight.
She wondered for a half second if the soup might be something Joan could manage. The kitchen was NOT Joan’s purview, but… Mira remembered about the freshly roasted red peppers and the grated carrots and fennel the recipe called for. No, it was not something she could ask of her lover. So patient about so many things, Joan had no stamina or attention for detail when preparing food. It was one of the things that usually worked so well in their relationship. Mira LOVED to cook and bake, loved spending hours in the kitchen, the meticulous attention to ingredients, preparation and teasing out the most robust flavors. Joan LOVED eating everything Mira made, never failed to share how much she enjoyed it, and always jumped right in to do the dishes and help with clean-up.
Even with her Ehlers Danlos, Joan always found ways to wash dishes, carry in the groceries, do so much around the house including handyman tasks and even change the oil in their cars. The beautiful ring splints she wore on her hands helped with things like scrubbing dishes or carpets, but she couldn’t put her entire body in a brace. For time-consuming chores, she used her stool to avoid aggravating her hips and knees. Joan’s ingenunity and creativity in problem-solving were all the more reason Mira had fallen in love with her.
* * *
Just as Celia turned every day and night into a string of cycles, Mira found these thoughts cycling through her mind often as the days turned into weeks. She loved and hated it. Before now, she had always valued making every day unique. She felt she needed to remind herself how hard they’d fought for this, for exactly what made up her days now. She honestly loved so much of it, but even giving herself those reminders when she felt bored or tired started to feel like part of the never-ending cycle.
She found odd thoughts and memories popping into her mind as if her very brain were rebelling against the monotony, and it wasn’t long before the vision of the ghostly face made an appearance along with so many others. Mira sat in her usual nursing spot on the couch, and as the image floated through her mind, Celia opened her big blue eyes and stared up at Mira just as she had for the first time that fateful day a few weeks before. Mira wondered if her heart had skipped a beat at the memory. She doubted it. As days and nights had layered one on top of the other, the details of that moment got hazier and hazier. With the way the evening light seemed to trigger so many things in her, she felt more and more sure, she’d imagined the whole thing.
She cooed to CeeCee, whose eyelids began to look heavy once more. Mira closed her own eyes and let her head fall back against the couch. In the last few days, Celia’s afternoon naps had stretched to more than two hours. Mira wondered if she might finally have the time and energy to put a simple dinner together after CeeCee went down for her nap. She let her eyes open slightly, her vision swimmy with nursing tears. Was that….?
Her eyes flew open and her startle unlatched Celia who began to wail. Mira felt like a scream should be coming from her own body, only what she saw, up high at the apex of the vaulted ceiling felt like it froze her cry inside of her. Ghostly smoke-like wisps curled together to form the woman’s face in incredible detail. The eyes! That expression again! Sadness! Longing! Anger!