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[SEPTEMBER 2011.]

Recognition

“Have a great day,” said the attendant helping J. out of her wheelchair, “and a great life.” I was so stunned, with my daughter in my arms, to think these might be the same kind of thing that I had to sit down on a bench, under that sun, with the topiary animals below.

The previous night, R.’s second in life, had been a low point. She screamed for hours; time was a tunnel of screaming; already we had been away from home so long that our previous life seemed to be entirely wiped out, as in the beginning of Lanark, and replaced with a low-grade nightmare in which our home was the hospital and our job was to tend an inconsolable small animal that never slept. She had plastic tags on her wrists and ankles and umbilical stump and was kept in a kind of Plexiglas bin, on top of a rolling cabinet too high for J. to reach without climbing out of her hospital bed. J. was too wounded to climb out. I would pick R. up and try to rock her through space, give her to J., who would try to initiate breastfeeding with no milk; finally we had to call in a nurse, who pointed out the urine-filled diaper that I had overlooked and wheeled away our child, whom we were failing to care for, so that we could sleep. I collapsed into the bed next to J.’s battered body and said that I didn’t know how we were going to raise a child, that we could never be enough for her. But here we are.

She’s beautiful. I have a hard time conceiving that she has anything, corporeally, to do with me. They gave her to me after birth and I held her in the dim light (the bright lights being focused on J.’s agony) and watched her eyes open and shut, roving. I thought they were blue or gray; I still think they are gray or blue, but darker now, with hints of earth. Maybe green. Maybe more changes.

We expected English to be her first language, but in distress all she says is hélas! In better moods she names the parts of her world: lait, and eau, and her birth month août. She reserves a certain effortful grunt for lying on her stomach, lifting her head and turning it from side to side, a feat she was performing by ten days old.

Today we had the first fecal blowout all over the office wall. Malebolge.

She came out long at birth—ninety-sixth percentile—and with a head not absolutely large, but too large for J. and turned unhelpfully to the side. I have never seen anyone in so much pain as my wife during those hours. That she kept her lucidity astonishes me. “Dude,” she said to the doctor, skirting a curse word, “I am in a lot of pain.” She couldn’t understand, she said afterward, why everyone was exhorting her to keep pushing, given that her whole being was bent on nothing but pushing through to end the ordeal, even three and a half hours in.

We had wonderful nurses. Living two days in the hospital was a reminder that the caliber of the nurse determines everything.

Lying on her back, R. makes dances of her reflexes and really seems to be speaking through the language of gesture. Her fingers are long for a newborn’s, always opening and closing. I don’t know if she knows what I am, but she hates to be put down. I hold her a long time at night, sometimes long past my own waking. She’s warm. Her breath is like wind in the grass.

love!

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