We were raking leaves in his mother’s backyard when he asks me. I am in the middle of trying to explain why siblings so often turn out completely opposite from oneself. Sibling are alternate universes, I tell him. They’re all those curious paths littered with either glass or rainbows or used needles that we don’t take. I glance at him then, curious to see if he finds this statement as clever and amusing as I do, but his brow is furrowed and he is looking down at the small hill of dappled leaves at the base of the live Oak tree.
My brow matches his, furrow for furrow. Did you hear me? I ask. (It is always difficult to let one’s cleverness go unnoticed). He looks at me then, but doesn’t answer the question. Instead, he asks one of his own.
“Do you ever wonder what our kids would look like?” he asks.
I laugh in response. Not a chuckle or a derisive smirk, but a loud Santa Claus-bellow. I fall, arms spread wide into the leave pile, destroying an afternoon’s work with my uncontrollable laughter.
Of course the laughter isn’t directed at him. It is self-propelled and self-directed. *Me*, with a kid? It echoes over and over.
Winded. Between sputtering giggles, I half-laugh, mostly gasp: Can you even imagine *me* with a kid?
He smiles then, his thoughts about my sanity (and his own for loving me) reflecting clearly on the transparent screen of his face. He laughs out loud then as if he’s just gotten the joke of 42-year old me chasing a wily toddler about. He joins me in the soft disarray of autumn, kissing me gently, before plucking a not-yet-turned- green leaf from my Medusa curls.
It was just a thought he says. Just a thought.
More like an incantation that.
A charm—a barely whispered enchantment.
A soft-spoken hex falling around us like all of those dappled leaves in his mother’s backyard.
I connect my cell phone to the radio, fasten my seat belt, hit play on a podcast for the half hour drive into the city and start the car –all muscle memory actions for a Monday-Friday life. I put the car in reverse and clear the street behind the driveway with a cursory glimpse in the rear view mirror.
And there you are.
A strange mixture of us: his green-speckled, heavily lashed brown eyes set in my heart -shaped face. Your nose and mouth mirror images of my own; his peculiar freckles confined only to your nose. And that smile, exactly like the one he’d given me in his mother’s backyard last weekend when he’d conjured you up with a briefly utter prayer, disguised as a thought. Just a thought
You are no longer there as I whip around to search the backseat, entangling myself with the seatbelt in my haste. But you will be back.
Soon you are a frequent visitor. My own not-yet born ghost, trailing me around the house, your shiny black curls captured in two afro puffs, your long, skinny fingers touching everything we pass. You pop up at the kitchen table for breakfast, head atilt, that half smile turning your serious face into sunshine. I don’t know what to say to you, but I read aloud constantly–maintaining a one-sided conversation in the likelihood that you can hear me in your liminal state. I read the newspaper, the nutrition facts on every food package, I even turn on subtitles and read those aloud while watching television.
I am quiet now. My chattering replaced by observation. It is you –our unexpected apparition –that makes me examine him closer. His handsome face a beautiful wrapping for a brilliant mind. I take in his long fingers –same as yours—tapping a tune against the steering wheel with infinite patience as we wait in traffic. His kindness presenting itself as listening and smiling at all the right spots, finding me clever without my prodding. His care for me — like two weeks ago when I was a-bed with fever – makes me weepy and prone to exceptionally bad prose that I never show anyone. He is the only man that I have met who does not treat me as a clear and present danger to his bachelorhood.
When he leans across the front seat to kiss me, I want to gently turn his chin so that he’s see you, our perfect spell. I want to finally answer that long ago asked question. *This* is what our daughter will look like, I will say to him. And he will laugh remembering that moment of bewitchment in his mother’s backyard.
I don’t do that though. Because I am the woman who does not want kids. Who has never wanted them.
You should know that I’m not opposed to small children. In fact, I’m quite the *thing* with the under 5 years old crowd. But at some point in your life, there will be something that you want oh-so-badly, yet cannot have. Either it is made of unobtanium, or just outside of your grasp, or belongs irrevocably to someone else, or your eggs will age beyond your control while you wait for him. And so you will pretend that you don’t want that thing oh-so-badly – that you don’t want it at all. You will loudly proclaim it over and over, like a mantra, as if to provide yourself immunity from the very desire. You will repeat it until you believe it. Until it becomes a not-so-inside joke with your friends. Until you can answer recklessly –nonchalantly even — “oh but I don’t want children.” In this way you will insulate yourself from the eventual pain of not having that thing so desired. It is the way of this world –one small thing that you will learn without me ever having to teach you.
I am afraid to tell anyone else about this thing that we have going on. About the spell that I am under. What exactly are the words that I should use to explain that my as-yet-unborn-daughter of a man-who-has-not-yet proposed is haunting me? How do I put your perfection in words? How do I describe your brown-skinned face that no one else can see?
After months of starts and stops, almost a full year of your visitation, I decide to tell the Bestie, who, in real life, is also a psychiatrist. I suspect that she will diagnose me with an unpronounceable disorder and prescribe anti-psychotics.
Instead she laughs loudly, much like my backyard laugh, and because she is my best friend, she does not reprimand but, I thought you didn’t want kids. Instead she grabs my hands in both of hers and yells as if I am asleep; Oh Goober, you’re in love.
Love. So that is the name for this dream that keeps me awake? The name of the unraveling melody that never ceases and the long-desired daughter who appears each day at my bedside. Ah the sweet relief that comes from naming the sickness that ails you.
You’ve started to bring your little brother to the breakfast table now. He looks mostly like me only in male form, but with Daddy’s eyes.
And so tomorrow I will ask your father: Do you know that we are in love?
And I will wait patiently for his loud laughter to subside before I ask him to describe those children that he saw amidst the dappled leaves in his mother’s backyard.
I suspect that they will very much resemble both of you.
And as his kiss descends on my smiling face, I will murmur the secret charm that brought you into existence: It was just a thought, I will say. Just a thought.