Not too long ago, blessed with my usual late summer/fall insomnia, I woke up at 2 in the morning and knew I would not be going to bed again anytime soon. I’d fallen asleep at 11, and so I’d had the 3 hours most insomniacs know, are just enough to preclude any further hours of sleep. The next day I would be at the university from 10 until 7:30 at night. I resigned myself to this state of affairs, and wrote a diatribe against vacuity which I then erased. I read some Lorca. I wondered why they had made Brad Pitt, buff as he may have been, Achilles. I searched for my old video of Kalifornia since for some perverse reason, movies about serial murderers or bad action films lull me to sleep. Brad Pitt is much better in Kalifornia, and I decided it was not his lack of physical stature, but of gravitas that made him a bad Achilles. Around three I heard my infant daughter cry. Clare was up and about and I was grateful. The loneliness of thee night was enormous and I had run out of things to dither over.
At almost nine months, the top of her head still smells, for no reason at all, like timothy grass. She was drunk with sleep, but waking from it, and her cry was visceral–the sound of a child caught between worlds, which is about the same as when she manages to crawl under the coffee table and get stuck there–plaintive, sharp, and impossible to ignore.
I lifted her from her crib, felt her burrow into my heart as we bumped down the carpeted stairs. I tried to put her down on the soft carpet to sleep while I watched the sort of television my wife nixes, but she wailed whenever I let go of her. I was secretly happy that I meant that much to Clare at this moment because, being selfish, I didn’t want to be without the feel of her against me. Soon, very soon, she is going to be far more autonomous and I might even prove an embarrassing figure–someone she quickly passes by in the hall on her way to more acceptable folks.
Because of her need, which was raw, and immediate, and not really like her, I held her the way I have not been able to when she is awake since she was a newborn: head cradled in my left palm, neck and shoulders supported by my forearm, my other arm cradling and supporting my left. I rocked her, cooed, rocked some more, put her down, saw her wake and wail, picked her up, kissed her forehead, and, finally, when I was able to lie on the living room carpet with her, and she had recovered the equilibrium of being fully awake, she reached out for my lower lip, wrenched it (with a little too much bravado) and said: dah dah. When I recovered my lip from her strong little death grip, I said: “Yes, it’s da da. Wannuh, watch Goodfellas or Mad Men on Netflix?” She decided to answer by lovingly gouging one of my eye balls. I decided this meant Mad Men. We watched four consecutive episodes until the Netflix developed a glitch, and the first hint of dawn came to the picture window. By that time, she was asleep, her mother was asleep, and I was floating through a depiction of the 1960s.
To abide with this daughter is deeper than any understanding. Forget understanding. Forget mystery, too. This sort of love is the closest I will ever get to being the shadow of a great stone–something still, and stolid and beyond both understanding, and mystery–a presence, a weight that does not need to be lifted, and is no weight at all. When my wife came down the stairs, I kissed her, explained that I stayed down stairs so as not to wake her with my insomnia, and the baby awoke as if on cue, for her banana with cereal. Clare had slept soundly on the carpet. I think like her dad, she loves floors (you can’t fall from a floor). Her mother lifted her slightly above her head to do the sniff test (pee and poop are recurrent themes in our house) took her up to be changed. I got my computer ready for work, my syllabi, my mind–all in readiness, but, for the first time in years and years, perhaps since I was little, the awful dread of the first day of school overwhelmed me. Leaving, I hesitated, stalled. I held both my wife and Clare in my arms, and, since Clare has the good sense to avert her baby cheeks from my scraggly beard, I whispered to her: “I love you. Thanks for the hang.”