My newly pregnant wife woke me at dawn to tell me she dreamt we were on a speedboat. It was brighter than the time, white day coming in slivers where the cats had pushed the curtains aside, and I summoned myself from sleep to listen. We were on a speedboat careening out of control through a choppy sea, and I would not, could not, and refused to slow it down. It was dangerous and fast and she was furious at me for my disregard, of her life, of our lives, of the lives of the swimmers in the sea, but the two controls were only set to “fast” or “faster.” She was trying to stop the boat in other ways—find a key, find a brake—and I wouldn’t help her. I was letting the boat speed on with abandon, and I wouldn’t help her.
The next day, I was scheduled to return my lease, a mid-sized SUV. The moon is waning, I thought, good for getting rid of; how good, then, for getting? After three uneasy hours of being sold to, I found myself in the front seat of my new compact sedan. As the salesman droned on at length about the safety features, the Jetsons stuff of new cars just a few iterations from self-driving, I found it increasingly hard to breathe. OK, I’ll write you a Google review, yes, I understand Bluetooth, leave me alone now, please.
And alone at last, I wept. This car is too small for the largeness of a baby’s life! Larger than mine!
Larger than any passenger! Baby on board! Baby getting rear-ended, accordion metal, all of us ejected through the windshield, fire, and regret for wanting the cheapest new car on the lot. It was too much for this small space and I felt it all at once: the responsibility of a life not my own.
I’ve never cared much for my own life. Sure, I’m terribly afraid of the slow, descending process of dying, and my life is filled with wonderful, challenging things, but I’m generally all right with the concept of death because then, only then, I could stop worrying. If an accident befell me, I wouldn’t be around to hem and haw over the whys and ifonlys. Now I have to why and ifonly for the rest of my life as I think about this straw-hole-sized being that I have agreed to try and keep alive. Now everything is risk, from sedans to splinters. Now I can’t absolve myself from this worry.
I remind myself that a good amount of fear is healthy. It means the cogs are working, the gears are spinning, we are trying to stay alive as our lizard brain wants of us. Did our hominid ancestors fear this much for their offspring? Or was it so long and good luck? Is it even possible for me to fear my child’s mortality without fearing my own? Must I now, at last, begin to fear death?
I’ll think on this as I drive my compact car called Wendy—so named for the patron saint of children, the caretaker, the Mother—and imagine a rear-facing infant car seat in the back. I will imagine their delightfully inchoate infant sounds, their simple being, and the road before me, free of others, it’s just us, moving steadily through space, reaching our destination.
Zea Archer is a writer and librarian living in Northern New Jersey. Her poems, plays, and reviews have been read and performed in queer spaces, including Skin to Skin, Your Name Here, and The Lesbrary. Her nonfiction work on (impending) queer motherhood appears in Hot Metal Bridge and Santa Fe Writers Project Quarterly.
* This is the author’s first work to appear in print. *
SEPTEMBER 18, 2019 / MUSEPAPER ESSAY PRIZE #33/ NO TURNING BACK