of course there are things to clean. the art room is torn apart. ruth had the urge to go through her archives yesterday (no, i don’t throw any of her art work away. yes, it is a fire hazard and yes, hoarding behavior does run in my family) and tore everything out of the closet. “can i put this away?” i asked during a rare moment that i was able to put joel down, had both of my hands and a full range of motion at my disposal, feeling like a giant weight had been momentarily lifted (oh wait, it had. a twelve plus pound one). “no, i’m still playing with it,” ruth responded coolly. i could shower myself as my sweat producing glands seem to have been amped up since having a baby and during breast feeding i am constantly covered in milk. my clothes start to smell like alfredo sauce after a time. i could bathe joel before ruth is up and wants to “help”. or i could sit here and write this.
a neighbor of mine came over the other day to drop off some coffee. just another thank you i have to write. we stood awkwardly in the doorway, me, smelling of alfredo sauce. her, put together and clean-smelling. “we switched to formula,” she said, “i don’t have time with two kids to sit there and breast feed all day.” believe me, i know. “i have to cook dinner and clean my house at some point.” that’s where things are falling behind around here, i said. “well, as long as greg’s not complaining,” she responded and then ran back out to her car where her husband waited to drive them out to lunch (“out to lunch”????!!!). i guess it’s all about your priorities. i can’t fault any parent who knows their own limitations and structures their lives around them. i don’t have that kind of self-esteem.
my dad was prone to kinks in his neck. that and skin tags seem to be some of the only things i inherited from him. “get into the shower and turn the water on as hot as you can stand it then let it hit the sore spot,” he once said, a method i always employ to get rid of cumbersome kinks. i blame falling asleep sitting up while feeding joel and all of the awkward positions i seem to get into while breastfeeding on top of carrying him around all day in the moby wrap for a higher than usual neck kink rate. i’ve got a neck kink and back burn. ever get that? when one of your muscles in your back isn’t sore, it just burns? i was surprised after having ruth how physically demanding having children is. this time, i’m not surprised. just older, i guess. coffee will fix it. coffee fixes all manner of ills.
joel was born with a heart arrhythmia. did i say that? i held him hours after he was born as the technician stuck a bunch of black cords to his tiny chest, the tangled mess of synthetic material contrasting sharply with his pale, soft new skin. “premature ventricular contractions,” the pediatric cardiologist said the next day, “people live with them their entire lives.” greg and i stood there nodding stupidly. most likely, they said, the issue would resolve itself spontaneously anyways. no reason to worry. just make an appointment at children’s hospital in a month to check on things. we were discharged shortly thereafter. nothing to worry about, we knew. yet, still, as we drove away from the hospital, my own heart felt heavy like a rock in my chest. i was surprised with ruth how i seemed to take on her physical and emotional ailments. again, this time i wasn’t surprised.
that night i couldn’t sleep. our sleeping arrangements needed some serious re-tweaking and joel seemed to not be able to lay flat for whatever reason so i sat up in a chair holding him, feeling that out of body feeling that lingers after having a child, which translated for me, a hypochondriac, into worrying about dying. i took my pulse, and would you know, my damn heart was all sunken and slow, odd for me, a nervous person by nature, my pulse is often very high at resting, often near ninety or a hundred just hanging out. but it was beating a little less than once per second. and it felt heavy.
over the span of that first month, i would take it from time to time and find the same thing. even when i was nervous or exerting myself, the thing seemed sort of sad or something. it just couldn’t get itself revved up. my heart, it would seem, was depressed. it still had that rock-like quality to it.
well, a month passed and the day of the appointment came. ruth’s grandparents came and picked her up and greg and i sat around the house waiting for the appointment time. it was a cold, wetish day. we read part of a book aloud like we used to do when ruth was still a baby and we were able to still get a word in edgewise to each other. we each drank too much coffee, nervously got ourselves and the baby ready to go, seeming to both have two left feet, two left arms (no offense to any lefties out there). joel barfed on himself and i scrubbed him clean so he wouldn’t smell like sour milk at the doctors. “are you nervous?” i asked greg. “no,” he said. but i knew he was lying.
as we drove to children’s, my heart was still thudding away at its sluggish pace, seeming to be sitting somewhere around the region of my intestines. we pulled up to the building and i felt myself tear up at the sight of the animal paintings in the parking structure, feeling all of the tragedy that as probably gone down here. a parent’s worst nightmare. i hoped we wouldn’t see any really sick kids on our way to the cardiologist. i had a fleeting moment where i imagined what it would be like if i were a regular at this place for whatever reason and then quickly pushed it away.
the place was bright and cheery, which only added, in my opinion, to the heartache of it all. i could feel my heart slowing down even more. “c’mon, you useless thing!” i said to it angrily. why wouldn’t it work right?
the cardiologists office was pretty empty and the people were friendly enough. we had another EKG, which joel slept through in my arms. the EKG room had a tv in it for the kids to watch. so sad.
we were then taken to a brightly lit consultation room where we waited for the doctor to come and talk with us about the results. there was a big ridiculous mural on the wall of people tubing on a lake and doing other outdoor recreation. supposed to be cheerful, i supposed. “how good will it feel if he comes in and says it’s gone?” greg asked me. it always shakes me when greg falters. i’m the mess in this family. there is only room for one such person. some of the longest minutes. like five minutes each, at least. finally, the door opened and my heart actually stopped. i felt it beat once in my ear and then nothing. he breezed in, sat down and said, nonchalantly, “so, why is joel here today?” i was still waiting for my heart to start again. greg explained about the arrhythmia. i felt one drawn out beat, then a couple skippidy ones. “well,” he said, “it’s gone. there’s no arrhythmia that i can see on this EKG.” thud, thud, thud, thud…
“let’s get the fuck out of here and never come back again.” i said to greg as we carried joel out to the car. he agreed.
turns out, joel had been fine all along. i was the one with the broken heart. silly thing.