Chapter 2: Now

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I can't remember anything about the night Thomas was conceived.

Well, to say I "can't" remember implies that remembering is something I actively try to do, when in reality I do my best to avoid thinking about it. So let me say instead that I don't remember anything about that night after I arrived at the holiday party that our neighbors, the Dolans, were throwing at their home. Part of me wants to let myself believe that some set of facts exists that would excuse whoever did this to me. I can't imagine what those facts could possibly be, but as long as I don't remember that night, I don't have to imagine anything at all.

Owen once told me that's how he manages to think about anything else besides that night: by tricking himself into believing that maybe the hours I lost weren't so bad.

But if I'm being honest with myself, it's more likely that forgetting that night is the kindest thing my memory has ever done for me. I mean, people only block out traumatic experiences, right? It must have been pretty bad if my brain straight up refuses to let the memory of it live there among all the precious ones.

Whatever happened the night I got pregnant is the second "near-death experience" I mentioned, ten years after the car accident. I have to assume it counts as "near-death" because of the way my body felt for weeks afterward, and because of the way my heart still feels about cuddling and the sound of some men's voices.

When it comes to my memory's coping mechanisms, I'll take empty space over recurring nightmares about dying in a car accident any day.

*

The first twenty weeks of Thomas's life are one long, unsteady ride on a teetering carousel, the world spinning by in a ghastly blur of noisy confusion. Days are no longer divided by restful nights; they blend together into a fitful series of naps. Keeping Thomas alive absorbs all the energy in the house, and Owen ends up doing most of the work. At first I feel embarrassed that my husband is up during the nights feeding the new baby from a bottle while I sleep or wander around in a fog of dull pain. But I can't seem to do anything to change it, so I'm trying to focus on 1) bonding when I'm able to and 2) not wallowing in guilt.

The pediatrician explains that because Thomas was born so early, he needs to have his diet supplemented with formula. As it turns out, I can't produce enough milk to feed him anyway, so he only eats formula. For weeks, I mourn what I see as my failure to properly mother my baby. I hold him to my breast for hours at a time, my hot tears dropping onto his forehead as he wriggles in my arms and pitifully gums at my nipple, eternally disappointed.

But then, as gradually as the bright colors of early autumn in New England, that sadness fades and falls away. Now, nearly all the leaves have died below the feet of costumed children and the smell of their decay hangs in the otherwise empty air.

I watch Owen feeding Thomas in the front parlor as the warm, waning sunlight pierces the large bay window and illuminates the scene in its misty glow. Sometimes the baby looks up at Owen hungrily, wonderingly, cheeks and throat pulsing. It's a beautiful tableau, objectively, and if I were a painter I'd try to capture it before it passed.

But as my gaze moves up to Owen's face, my heart saddens. He doesn't notice the baby enthusiastically blinking up at him. Instead he stares straight ahead at the wall behind the davenport where I'm sitting, his eyes boring right through me as if I'm not right there in his line of sight, also trying to be worthy of his attention.

The swaddled little bundle in his arms suddenly gives a snort and startles Owen out of his daze.

"There you are." I tease him gently with the phrase he uses to welcome me back to the room when I've been zoning out like that. We haven't been speaking playfully with each other lately, and I'm hoping he'll notice the invitation in my voice.

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