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The Baby Between Us

I worry our baby is coming between us before she is even born. She is here, in our touches, in our sleep. On our last vacation, on our final night, I sit on the couch of the house we are renting and weep, imagining that this is the last time I will be alone and able watch my husband swim in the lake outside the window with only the sound of the splash from his dive. Soon she will come out, and come between us, and we will no longer be reaching for each other’s hands.

I watch my husband swim and wonder if our daughter will make me feel left out just by existing. Will she want to swim with him when I will not, like now? Will I feel more alone watching, when there are two of them?

My fears are grounded in reality. Both my husband and I come from father/daughter families: families in which the father and the daughter have a secret, a bond, that leaves the mother out. I am guilty because I am part of it. In college I hung a black and white picture of my father when he was young above my bed. For years I thought I would never meet a man as good as my dad.

My father and I had jokes my mother would not understand. We both liked spicy foods. Worst of all, I sided with him, always. I made us a force.

Now that my daughter is about to be born, I think of the ways in which my mother has been left out and I want to swim back through the years and wash those moments away.

Meantime, while she grows, her father swims and I watch the sun set behind him. I feel her kick inside me, and touch where I am sure her tiny cheeks are. I am secretly glad I cannot hear her crying yet, even though I often wish that my belly skin was see-through. Sleep, everyone tells me, while you can.

But I cannot sleep. At night I lay awake and imagine my husband and daughter in the waves while I wait on the shore. They splash each other, then eat scallops (which I hate).

I have seen fathers and daughters like this all over. For so long I thought that secretly my father liked me better than my mother. I was a better version: bigger, stronger, with longer hair, and none of the nagging. Of course there was no sex, but there was a certain humor my mother could only laugh at, and never join in on. My mother laughed and had sex with my father; I sparred with him, and let him kiss my forehead when he came home from work.

But at night, I must remember the one comforting thought: in my childhood home my parents had a door put in to close off their section of the house. The door was often closed and kept me out. I had to knock on the door to get to the study, their bathroom and bedroom and the hall closet. They had agreed on the door and had it installed. It meant there were things I did not know about; that they sometimes wanted none of me.

On our final, childless vacation I open the screen door and walk down near the water where I lie in a hammock. I watch my husband emerge from the water. He touches my belly first, then kisses my forehead. I like when he does these things – the forehead feels like it has only to do with me.

“Why are you crying?” he asks, and I tell him.

I imagine myself the way I used to think of my mother: soft arms, large hips, a lap I could lay my head on.He laughs. A silly fear, he says. Then he teases me, talking to my tummy, telling it her mother’s jealous.

The idea of having a revenge-boy occurs to me. He will be mine; our girl will be my husband’s. We will pair off, spar. A balance will enter our house someday.

But until then:

I lie in the hammock and my husband stands above me, blocking out the last bit of sun. I imagine myself a sex-less lump, my daughter and husband laughing, outsmarting me. I imagine myself the way I used to think of my mother: soft arms, large hips, a lap I could lay my head on. I think of her stroking my hair behind my ears again and again when I cried.

My husband gets into the hammock with me and we swing and look up at the pine trees. He is still a bit wet beside me. He lifts up my shirt so we can see if our baby is kicking.

I curl sideways, away, surrounding my daughter where my husband can’t reach. For now she is still mine.

“Come here,” my husband says, wrapping his damp self around us.

And I can see clearly where I will be someday, but also where I am stuck. It is our final vacation and I am surrounded: with child, with husband, alone.

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