Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Incipient Stains

I used to resent it when friends had babies. Over and over again, I saw witty, intelligent, amusing people reduced to distracted morons, able only to converse about the contents of their infants' diapers.

But I ran into a colleague of mine yesterday, three weeks after the birth of her baby boy. Although she was trying her best to make intelligent conversation with me, it was clear she was deep into that state of post-partum distraction. Her normally smooth hair hung in damp strings, her normally chic clothes had been replaced by baggy knits, and she was going on about how odd it was to risk appearing in a classroom full of students when involuntary milk stains were a real danger.

There was something damp and beautiful and primal about her standing there in the mailroom, somnambulent and primordially female, attempting ironic chatter about professionalism, that made me rethink my whole disdain thing.

I don't think I'll ever find infant effluvia a worthwhile conversational topic and I still don't understand that particular phenomenon. One of the most horrific things I've seen in recent memory was a small sheep struggling to birth a lamb for several hours, bawling in pain as her baby hung, trapped and suspended, half in the world and half inside her. For some reason, I'm just not wild about birth, or infants, or people who find them irresistable. But I think I understand now how sublime it must be to have just had a baby, how it must be like walking between worlds. Sort of like tripping on hormones.

The closest I'ver ever come to that state that wasn't chemically induced or one of those random visionary states I used to get when I was young, was when my father died. And the best thing about that time was, unlike when I'm tripping or being visited by perceptual non-sequiturs, my entire family was right there with me, walking in the same deeply peaceful, hyperaware daze.

It changed me, watching my father die, my brother and I meeting each other's eyes across the last animal thrashings of his body when his heart and lungs finally refused to sustain him, our focus going, automatically, to the crossing-over place to guide our father there because he was getting lost and didn't know the way. My brother, still without saying a word, went to the kitchen, got a bottle of Jamesons and a shot glass, toasted him, kissed him goodbye, and passed the bottle to me and then to each of our cousins, all standing there.

After that time, my habitual urban alienation, the professional irony that had become an emotional habit, just seemed--extraneous. I wanted community, I wanted connections I didn't have to work at or think about. Since then, I've been back to my hometown every few months and go to every family occasion that I can. I moved to a small town, acquired a partner, made friends.

Perhaps, strangely, quietly and without fuss, the sight of Christina in the mailroom: damp, distracted, filmed with late-summer sweat and incipient milk stains, is a similar epiphany.


Blogger arguchik said...

wow, me too. you are a beautiful writer, and i wish i knew you in real life. not to gush, but...just wow, that's all.

1:06 AM  

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