By Jordan Langley
I kick the headstone. Then I’m dizzy. The leaves sway with me, the forest outlines the pocked, trim grounds of the cemetery. I’m anemic, my urine a dark brown tested at the obstetrician’s office. The water I drink is never enough. The vitamin D from the sun can only help me, says the doctor when she measures my belly. Dry and bulbous.
These woods are a protected nature reserve. A black bear could charge me. A two-for-one. Deer graze here at night, I’m told. Dinner on top of a grave.
The baby had a grandfather and then lost him. He shot himself in a parking lot and the world was surprised. And then the world forgot. Bus routes continued, salon appointments kept. This doesn’t happen to everyone. Such a thing, this poor baby. To have a past before birth. But me, I’m still in a cycle. Round and round my thoughts travel. Every day and every night. He knew he was due to be a grandfather. I’m on bed rest.
The first day, I experience zero morning sickness, which I had in abundance before. If I cared about my well-being when I learned of my father’s passing, I’d be curious about the effect shock has on my body. The surge lasts only a day.
My father and I had many days together. I was the first-born and I believe he’d wanted a boy from the way we watched football on the sofa and how he coached me to shake off a softball hit to the mouth. I’d be whatever he wanted me to be, so beholden was I to his white-toothed smile.
He was most captivating at dinner, when he told stories about growing up on the streets, darting around train tracks, and living across the street from his Catholic school where even on days off the paddle-wielding nuns barked orders from the chapel door. My father sparked for me, a love of the spoken story and a voracious reading and writing habit.
I strangle the urge to cry. It’ll make the baby sad, they said. And don’t put your hands above your head, you’ll miscarry, they said.
Not medical professionals. People.
Still, my belly heaves up several inches when I sob, breathing in, and then jiggles and lowers when I breathe out. Tears release brain-calming chemicals, says my therapist. I see her for over a year and cry about the same thing every time.
The funeral is Catholic and we ask the priest if they “do” suicides. He says yes. They didn’t use to. They wouldn’t have, in my father’s neighborhood in South Side Chicago. Old school. It’s open casket, oh God, who decided that? The songs and speeches are quick and numbing. When my brother’s friend, whom I haven’t seen in years, pays his respects, I retch.
My father’s family leaves too early after the salted ham sandwiches and macaroni salad. I haven’t seen them in person since. My father, a bridge, and now the track broken. Everyone does tequila shots that night, the best agave, and my mouth waters for it.
My mother is a victim, she says. She never saw it coming. I say you can’t live in the same house as someone and not notice they’re struggling.
My husband holds me because there is nothing else logical to do. He’s defensive someone put his child in jeopardy.
My brother found him. The youngest. Another baby. My father hadn’t counted on family, let alone his child, finding his body. The best laid plans.
I head back to work and hear questions like, why did he do it? How? Hunger for the grisly details. Everyone’s a crime scene investigator. I say I just want to move forward. That’s what I say.
I visit the grave every weekend and lie sideways on the fledgling grass, or sit on a bench with a different dead person’s name engraved on it. I cuss out my father and cry. I tell him I love him. I scream the stupid question everyone asks me, as if I fucking know. Why? My baby watches me from the inside. A man visits the cemetery the same time as me and he stands above his particular grave. I’m careful when he’s there because I don’t want him to hear me talk to the ground, the bones or a spirit. Once, when he leaves, I walk to where he stands and it’s a woman’s headstone. There’s an empty plot beside her.
My father escaped. The note said I’m tired. I’m tired too. The months pass, but I can’t get past my first true love leaving me. We’ve found out it’s a boy and he leans so low on my cervix that I’m dilated three centimeters for months. He’s a bowling ball ready to drop.
I’m asked if we’ll name our son after my father. No.
Is he a sad baby? My son is pulled from my body seven months after the loss and laid on my chest. The lights bright. He lifts his head up and his blue eyes, which will never change color, look at me. Like a friend, a contemporary. I see our years together, the putrid smells, late-night nursing, finger games in my lap, the deathtrap tricycle he loves, grade school, the soccer games, endless distractions.
In the hospital bed, I see his newborn hand shaking on mine, the white down on his head. The eau de parfum his skin naturally gives off. And he knew me. He knew about everything and he cried.
Jordan Langley is a writer who’s essays have appeared in Richmond Family Magazine and on the website Hello Grief. She lives in North Chesterfield, Virginia with her husband and two sons.