The Love Inside Me
by Kelly Warburton
Maisy sits tiredly on the side of her parent’s bed. She takes a deep breath inwards and wills her shoulders to relax. Her mother is in the kitchen and she has come upstairs to get her a jumper to keep her warm. Her mother is always cold, nowadays. She feels an indescribable anger rise within her. The injustice of her mother’s cells metastasizing inside her, without her permission. She has spent months swallowing it down as she walks the streets of L.A. She finds that every night, she lies in bed thinking only of her mother. She thinks of her mother’s body. Every crease. Every line. She wills her mother’s body to remain strong from miles across the country. Keep beating heart. Keep breathing lungs. Don’t die before I get home this weekend. Don’t you dare die. This has become her mantra and as she sits on all of the flights home, her tickets enclosed in her passport, her fingers beat it out. Don’t. Die. Don’t. Die. Don’t. Die.
Suddenly, a voice pulls her from her thoughts.
“You OK up there?”
She hears her father shout and she sighs.
Moving off the bed, she reaches for her mother’s old Aran jumper, sitting poised and ready for its task beside her bed. Reaching for it, she accidentally knocks the journal on the side of her mother’s bedside table. She sighs and as she lifts it, a flurry of letters, falls to her feet. They are all addressed to her father. Nervously, Maisy looks around. She feels her heart beating wildly against her chest. She sits down on the bed once more and places the cardigan beside her. Her fingers tremble over the letter edge before she slowly, opens it. She digests the first few sentences quickly. Her cheeks burn hot with shame and her eyes flicker, quickly, back and forth. She reads:
26th January 2016
I would have left you that day. I might never have come back to you. I would have left you when you walked out after the miscarriage. I was so angry and so embarrassed. I lied to you about that miscarriage being the first and only one. You uncovered my secret that I had lost two babies that I never told you about. You read my file in the hospital and you discovered my history. I’m telling you this now because I found I could not at the time. When you found out that I had lied you were quiet in a way that you never had been before. You looked at me as though you did not know me. I suppose you didn’t. You picked up your keys and you told me that it was over between us. You looked into my eyes and you told me you could not love me the way I was. You thought you could but you were wrong. I felt the force of those words travel through me and I felt more broken than I already was. You left the hospital in a hurry. It was snowing. Do you remember? I never asked you where you went after the argument. I walked outside without any coat. My hair was wet with snow and my fingers were blue with the cold. I wanted to punish myself. I wanted to feel the ice cold of the wind slap against my flesh, as though it were a physical whip. I wandered around the city in my jeans and my jumper. I still had my hospital tag on. I walked and walked until I could not walk anymore and my clothes were soaked through. I sat in a café and ordered an iced tea. I would not give myself the satisfaction of a warm cup. The waitress took pity on me and she brought me a hot chocolate and some napkins to help drain the water out of my hair. I sat there for hours in physical and emotional agony. I was convinced I had lost you. I hated you and I loved you from that café. I felt as barren of love, as I did of my ability to carry a child.
It took me months after we came back to one another to trust you again. I don’t think I ever told you that? I know, during the six months we spent apart that you slept with someone. How I found out doesn’t seem to matter now. It is in the past and we have moved on. That was what I told myself. Yet, I obsessed about her, this woman. Who was she? How was she in bed? Had you gone for dinner? What did she order? I never asked you and it festered inside me like a disease. The possibility of the two of you. The chance that you might rekindle this relationship. I felt, after every argument that you would leave me, in search of her. I created fantasies. What you would say to her after you left me, in the wake of an argument? How you would come together in the back seat of our car. How she would embrace you in a way I had not. Kissed you in a way that was different to my kissing you. Better. More intimate. My fantasies became more and more aggressive and obscene. Even I was shocked by the force behind them. I went to a therapist during that summer. We had started IVF and I, pretending to you that I was attending extra hospital appointments, was in fact driving to talk to Carol. Carol, whom I told all my secrets too. Carol, whom I unearthed these dark, obsessive thoughts too. I told them to Carol to protect you. I wanted a fresh start. No more lies and yet Carol was my lie. She asked me time and time again to tell you. I don’t know why I didn’t. I want to say now that I am sorry. I wanted to explain. I wanted her for myself. I wanted her to take away my secrets, to tame the demon’s I was hiding in my silence. I came home to you and I lied about the appointments. I did not tell you the truth, that I was in the city letting go of the woman you had slept with and I had never met.
I lied about my own IVF treatment with Maisy. I could not bear the thought of people knowing. You thought I told my sister and my mother but I did not. It was my business and nobody else’s. I made you swear not to tell your mother that we were undergoing treatment. My womb was my own business and it wasn’t to be considered fodder for gossip for your mother’s book club and your sister’s friends. You said it was the Irish in me. I did not want to share anything of myself. I was suspicious and shady. Is that the word you used? Shady? So very American of you. In fact, I was always shady. I shared very little with you and now it seems I am telling you more in these letters than I have ever had the nerve to tell you before. Don’t get me wrong. I wanted to tell you earlier. I wanted to tell you about the miscarriages. I wanted to share with you the agony I felt, as I injected my body with the hormones, every day. I wanted to tell you that I did appreciate your support and love. I was embarrassed and ashamed by my body’s resistance. I felt it was a sign. Perhaps, I was not supposed to be a mother? I did not let you, even after all these years; tell Maisy that she was created that way. I am intensely private and I realize only now, after having lost many other privacies throughout this illness, how useless it all was. How pointless. I wanted to speak then but my mouth betrayed me. It remained closed, as my words pushed to get out. Often, I would make love to you to avoid confronting those conversations. I think you knew that? You always knew. I kissed and caressed the questions and objections out of you.
1st February 2016
She’s home. Maisy. She came up to me today and stayed for hours. We must have watched five films, back to back. She won’t talk to me about work. She doesn’t want to. She won’t even talk about the inevitability of losing me. She thought I was watching the movies but really, I was watching her. All of these seconds are precious to me. I want to watch the movie of her. I want to watch her as she moves page by page through the script that is her own life. She wrapped her legs around my legs and although my foot became stiff quickly, I daren’t have moved. My beautiful girl. My first girl. She was always different. Wasn’t she? Even from when she was only a little thing? It’s so strange to think that we made her, you and me, Tom. She was such a tiny thing, wrapped in that white, hospital blanket with the two navy stripes at the bottom. She was wrapped up so tightly by the nurse that she looked like a tiny burrito. Do you remember that? All I wanted to do was to unwrap that tight cloth and smell her skin. Skin I had made, that we had made.
Promise you will encourage all that creativity that we tried so hard to foster in her when she was little. Now, she is fully-grown and she is complex. There are depths to her that even I do not know. Sometimes, when she comes back to us, weathered by people and the world, I long to wrap her into my arms and place her back inside me. Does that sound strange? I want to unzip my own body, so that she can crawl back inside. That weekend she came back to us; it must have been two months after she left to pursue L.A. She came home and said nothing. It was clear that something was wrong. I walked into her room and she lay down fully dressed on her old bed and pulled her childhood blanket over her head. Tucked up to her knees, she looked every bit a child again. You looked at me from the kitchen. You sensed there was a problem. I lay down beside her and rubbed the winged bones of her back in circles, the way I used to when she was small and ill. I could smell the city on her. I tried to imagine, lying there, my own flesh and blood walking about in that place of dreamers and addicts. I wanted to say: What is it? Has something happened? Tell me. Speak to me. Show me where it hurts. Instead, I lay there all night filled with anxious dread. I felt her body relax and my hand continued to rub her back in slow, large circles. I wondered if she had met someone in L.A. who did just this but not in the way of a mother. I wondered if a lover had touched this body I had spent nine months making. I wondered if that lover marvelled at it or simply took his pleasure and left. Is it strange to say I thought that about my daughter as she lay there? Maisy never told us anything. She was born filled with secrets. I lay with her that night and I marvelled that it had been so long since she had afforded me this simple act of showing her love.
The next day when we met at breakfast and Maisy was out of the room you asked me what the problem was. I told you it was boy trouble and you nodded, continuing to stir the scrambled eggs. I lied. I don’t know why I did that. It is funny that such a small lie would come to me now and haunt me, so that I must write this while you sleep, deeply beside me? I think I was ashamed that even after all this time I have not been able to unravel the mystery that is our eldest daughter. I wanted to tell you that I did not know. I wanted to say, I didn’t open my mouth, Tom. Why didn’t I open my mouth? The upset and the empty ache of it filled me full to the bone.
9th February 2016
Jenny, my lovely, Jenny. She’s so kind, too kind. She rubbed my back when I got sick today. I wanted her to leave. I do not want her to have memories of her mother like this. She would not. She took full control of the situation. I wondered at this sudden authority. Was this my fault? Had she taken on the role of adult too soon? You were out at the pharmacy. The nausea is crippling. I’ve been told to expect this. We were talking, when all of a sudden I had to run for the toilet. As she rubbed my back, I began to tell her about my morning sickness with her.
“I lost thirteen pounds with you,” I said. She laughed and said I should thank her. She rubbed my back with one hand as her other hand held my hair.
“Let it all go, let it all out,” she said. She spoke to me just as I had spoken to her throughout every illness, just as I had spoken to both of them. She was so gentle.
There is such bravery in being soft, I think. She is a vulnerable soul. She is not as strong as Maisy. I am not sure, looking at her, that she will ever develop that thick skin. Is it awful to say that I don’t want her to? What was it you used to say? The softness inside our Jenny is a gift. I smiled and agreed, although my mind raced, thinking about that day in the hospital. Do you remember when Maisy had fallen out of the tree at the end of the garden and winded herself? In the end, she had broken a rib. Just thinking of it now I still feel the incredible guilt. How dismissive I had been of her injury. We were anxious to get back to the dinner party we were all having. When at last we took her to the ER, following her diagnosis, neither Maisy nor Jenny would look at us. Do you remember that? They were together in their anger. Jenny cried and cried for Maisy. She cried as if the pain was her own, as if Maisy’s rib was her own rib. Her cries would not cease, even when you try to make amends. On the way home, you lost your patience and shouted. You slammed your hands down against the steering wheel and she contemplated you with a stare I had never seen before. It was shock, yes, at the sudden force of your temper but much more than that it was anger. It rose within her. I saw it through the centre mirror of the car. Her tiny chest took one steady breath inwards as she geared up for one more cry. The strength of that rebel breath rattled through her as she let out a roar, which bellowed through the car. Her eyes bored into the back of your head as you drove. Her tiny body so rigid with livid anger. She focused all of that energy on us. Her eyes quickly turned to me: You did this. You allowed this to happen. I expected more at least of you. I have never forgotten that look, the fierceness of it. I did not know that Jenny had it in her, my gentle, soft baby.
The way they looked at us that night, we were on the outside and they were their own team of two. It is not the first time they have cut us out. We have never discussed it but I never forgot. I often think of it and wonder if they still carry it within them. Whatever passed between them that night we were to see it again as they grew up. Infrequently, but it remained there in times of crisis. How they rallied for each other. Now I lie here and I look at you sleep and I think: I will be gone and you will be left with that small tribe.
20th February 2016
I read a story about a man who lost his son and when he died he ate a piece of him. I don’t know why but this story came back to me today, as I lay cuddled up with Jenny in bed. I remember reading you the story in the car that day when we were collecting Maisy, or was it Jenny from drama? I remember how disgusted you were. But I understood. In the strangest way, I understood everything about that man. I understand it now when I hold onto our daughter’s fingers and breathe in her musky scent, so wonderfully spicy and sweet. When you love someone that deeply and that truly, it goes beyond what it is to be human. We are reduced to animals again when we love. We love each other with a violent streak. There is something animalistic in the way I love you and the children. I love all of your smells. I could smell each one of you out of a room of people, blindfolded. I know you by touch, taste and smell. I love you all that much. I love you past social convention and ‘normality.’ I want to consume you all. That is how much I love you. I cannot bare it. I cannot bare the weight of all the love inside me.
“Well, are you lost up there?” Her father’s voice brings her back to herself and quickly, she places the letters back into the cover of the journal. Breathing in deeply, revelation rattling inside her, she walks slowly out of her parent’s room and into the hall. She realizes with a start as she walks down the stairs, her hand clammy, that she has forgotten the Aran jumper.
Three months later
Tom sits on the bed. He caresses the pages of the letters in between his forefinger and his thumb. He hadn’t realized she had written them until now. She had tucked them into the drawer by his bedside table. Each letter addressed to him. Her handwriting steadily getting worse as the illness claimed her from him. His throat feels raw. Suddenly, he is aware of a figure by the doorway. He forgets that Maisy has come home for the weekend. Silently, she walks across the room and sits down beside him on the bed.
“She said that the first time you kissed her, your hands were shaking.” Her voice is low and gentle. Tom looks up at his daughter, considering her expression. She is so like her mother. Her golden hair is down and is fanned out across her shoulders. When it catches the light, she looks like an angel.
“I was nervous,” he replies.
“She said that that was when she knew she loved you. She told me that. When your hands wouldn’t stop shaking.”
She reaches down and she laces her hand with his. She lightly taps the letter in his hand with her index finger.
“I read some of the letters,” she states. Tom glances at her. He is unsure what to say.
“How did you find them?” Tom asks.
“They fell out of her journal.”
Tom says nothing but feels everything. Her hair falls onto his shoulder, as she leans her head against him. One golden strand falls, touching his forearm.
“So, IVF then?” she says, softly.
She pauses for a moment. Tom can feel her shuffle closer to him.
“I’m glad you got back together.” She says, quietly. Tom smiles. He lifts her chin with his finger and looks into her eyes, so like her mother’s eyes.
“We were always going to come back to each other. It was meant to be.”
Maisy nods once and a small smile pulls at the corner of her mouth. Gently, she rubs his thumb over and over again. Her small, soft hand enclosed within his rough, large one. He realizes with a start that he has missed the simple act of holding her hand. She is a young woman now and there is no cause for it. It is something that he took for granted when she was only small. He glances down and watches her small fingers rub at his own. He focuses on the smooth softness of her thumb. The knowing is in the touch. Her simple caress says more than a thousand words could ever say:
I’m here. I’m here.