Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Gray

Today - Valentine's Day - around 5 o'clock in the afternoon, I found myself trudging up Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard, walking straight into the wind, wrestling the stroller over the gray floes of slush encrusting the sidewalk, and feeling very dark indeed.

Last night, I was up late, for hours and hours after the baby fell asleep. At first, I was pleasantly awake, eating English toffee and semi-obsessively window-shopping online for things - lambskins, wools, fitted diapers - that I might want for a theoretical second baby. After awhile, though, I turned a corner of some sort, and I was suddenly uncomfortably awake - too anxious, irritable, and jumpy to eat or shop for anything, theoretical or not. My husband was out with friends, and I began to worry over how long he had been gone and be upset that he was not yet home, and then I began to call him to demand that he come home, but he did not answer, either because he didn't hear his phone or because he suspected that I would be unpleasant if he did answer, or maybe some of both. Finally, though, he came home, and finally, around 4AM, I fell asleep.

All of this would have been fine but for the fact that the baby jumped out of bed around 7AM, refreshed and well-rested and ready to play, and I had to drag my sorry no-sleep ass into the living room to keep him company. Then, at noon, I went to a prenatal meeting, which was essentially uncomplicated, yet horribly stressful because the couple in question are Japanese and my Japanese has been steadily crumbling away over the past ten years or so, to the point that even being in the same room as a Japanese person brings me hot flashes of shame and guilt and makes me want to sew my lips together and never talk again. And after this, my husband and the baby and I all went to Community Food and Juice for a family Valentine's Day brunch. This was a nice idea, of course, and brunch was delicious, but it was not an especially relaxing exercise, given the fact that my son is two, and that the high points of restaurant-going for him are: going to the bathroom as many times as possible, clinking glasses together, drinking other people's beverages, sprinkling salt and pepper on everything, throwing sugar packets, and leaving.

After we got home from brunch, I was certain that the baby would nap, but it does not pay to be certain. Instead of going to sleep, he ran around the bedroom bonking things and then demanded that I read him a Japanese alphabet book over and over and over again. As I read, my eyes began to fall shut of their own volition, and my throat, which had had a hint of soreness when I got up in the morning, got scratchier and scratchier. It was torture - I wanted to sleep but I could not - my throat hurt - the baby was prodding me to open the book yet again - I could not. I shut the book. "We're going for a walk in the stroller," I announced, and out we went.

I had hoped that the baby would fall asleep the moment the wheels hit the pavement, but this was not the case. He was very quiet, but he peered out alertly from under his fleece hat, and it seemed that he had always been awake and would always be so. So we walked. We walked the mile or so to 125th Street, and I went into H&M with the plan of buying myself something pretty to help lift my biliously miserable mood. But there was nothing pretty, nothing mood-lifting, nothing cheap enough to be tempting, and so out we went again, across the cold, windswept square in front of the State Office Building. At a loss for anywhere else to go, I turned back home, even though I had resolved not to go home until the baby was sound asleep.

Just before 135th Street, I saw a striking figure walking towards me, a pretty, thin, young woman smoking a cigarette, wearing a military-style parka with the hood thrown luxuriously back and a beautiful golden-tan patterned scarf and tall boots. As we got closer to each other, I saw that her boots were the knee-high, shearling-lined clog boots that Sven Clogs custom-makes for No. 6 Store on Centre Market Place - the very boots that I bought for myself last fall and that are the single most expensive item in my entire wardrobe. Her boots, though, were this year's model, so the clog base was solid wood instead of being broken up with a segment of rubber, and the heel was higher. And, while mine are dark brown with the shearling dyed to match, hers were a slightly lighter brown with natural shearling.

As she passed by, willowy and urban and insouciant and smoky, a wave of bitterness washed over me. In that moment, I liked her boots better than mine - they seemed cooler, more modern, less outdoor necessity and more fashion statement. I wondered - will my every single, precious, carefully-thought-out purchase end up this way, looking slightly dingy compared to the next year's model? I wondered - why do I even care, why do I even go to H&M to look for something pretty when now and for the rest of my life, I am bound to be passed on the street by ever-younger, ever-prettier girls who will always be wearing this year's model while I hunch under my dingy red nylon coat and push my dingy red stroller, wearing a pair of tiresomely boot-cut corduroys that my mother bought for me at Ann Taylor Loft for $9.99.

And I thought - how can I even think about a theoretical second baby? How could I ever cobble together the strength to do this all over again, or do rather do it double-wide, double-time? I thought - I have no more to give, no more in me. I am giving everything I have right now, just to push the damn stroller over the damn slush when I am tired and unhappy on a gray Valentine's Sunday, and what will I do when I get home and he is still awake and needing me to read the book or change the record or push the truck? How could I even dream of doing this again, more?

I looked up from this miserable reverie to see a short, youngish Latino woman standing in front of Sea to Sea Fish Market, gesticulating towards the stroller as we walked towards her. People in my neighborhood are unaccountably nosy and bossy in regards to babies, and I am always being told to watch my baby more closely or dress him more warmly, so I steeled myself for what I was sure would be a comment about his bare, unmittened hands. "Hey mami," she said as we drew abreast, "your baby is leaning over." Startled, I bent to look into the stroller, and I almost sobbed with hysterical relief to find that my baby had finally fallen fast asleep, his head slumped out of the stroller to the right, his right hand almost trailing on the ground. I felt as though someone had suddenly released a vise that had been gripping my lungs, and I drew a deep breath of fresh, cold air as I straightened and turned to thank the lady and tell her that it was OK, because we were almost home.

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