My children are flames. Oxygen they can get any number of ways but the most efficient is if I blow on them. My job is important—at least until they build walls to keep out the wind.
They haven’t yet constructed such structures; if they had, I wouldn’t have thought it necessary to keep driving even though I was dead. I would’ve pulled over.
I kept going until we got home.
The children: Maeve strapped into a front-facing car seat, a mini purple Barcalounger with a snowflake pattern, Luke in a grey booster seat, the padding gone from the useless armrests, and Jake beside me—the big man. I kept driving, talking, changing channels, singing along with the oldies.
My first-born was growing up too fast, taking care of people, following instructions. Reading instructions with such forced intensity, like a stubborn husband spending Sunday putting together an armoire from IKEA.
That’s my little man, Jake.
We were still two hours away from home. Just me and the three of them—small flames burning fiercely—and my heart stopped. It was the most pain I’ve ever felt, worse than childbirth. Like someone had heated an iron until it glowed russet and plunged it into the middle of my chest.
Luke was snoring. Jake and I had quieted him with countless verses of “Wheels on the Bus.” Maeve was making noises indicating that she was waking from her nap, but she was content. She still had a juice box between her thighs.
Jake stared out the window. He’d been snaking his hand in the direction of the iPhone in my purse and had finally given up. He was fidgety and bored and kept asking how much longer. So after I died, I reached into the purse, plumped like a beanbag between the front seats, and got out the phone. When I handed it to him, he looked at me with such timid gratitude that my heart ached. The other pain had stopped. All pain had stopped. Everything had stopped but he looked at me and I felt it.
Before I met them I had no idea how things would change. Each of them like an invading army slowly colonizing the inside of my body. Not just my uterus but my thighs. But that wasn’t them! What was swelling out my upper arms, my jawline, my behind? It was all me, I guess. I was a big flabby teepee sheltering something I pretended to know.
It was Jake’s birthday. Seven. I let him sit in the front for the first time. Judge me if you want, but parents have done worse. We traipsed along Bearskin Neck, bought saltwater taffy and ice cream and strudel, and I felt it. The jiggling, tickly pain zooming up my chest and down my arm. But when you’re alone with children, you can’t entertain weakness. You’re in charge and that’s the way it has to be. So, our fingers sticky from sweet things, we returned to the car. The little ones tired out, ready for their car-sleep. Ready to be ferried home and carried inside. Ready for their father to come home, slide open his necktie just enough to yank it over his head, the collars of his shirt being pulled up and rumpled, a barely-visible five o’clock shadow appearing as he walks in the door. At five o’clock. Like magic.
I’ll miss him too.
I wanted to hold on until after midnight, so Jake’s birthday wouldn’t be tainted. It’s just a day, I know, but it seemed to matter. Not enough, unfortunately, so when I pulled the emergency brake, it ended. Jake pushing and shoving me and the two in the back awake now and snotty-crying, horrified that I’m not moving. And, forever, they’ll think that’s when it happened: after we parked. They are made out of me, and still they’ll never understand the lengths I went to.
And my grandchildren will suck up all the wind my children have stored in them. Maeve and Luke and Jake will blow and blow, and each of them will think they are the first to feel this kind of love. But they’ll be wrong.
© Sara B. Fraser
[This piece was selected by Sommer Schafer. Read Sara’s interview]