I realized it was never going to work the day she brought the baby home from the hospital. He was preternaturally quiet. To me, his face looked wise. This baby knew things I couldn’t even begin to grasp. He was only three days old. She set him in my arms and I felt my body sink deeper into the dingy, floral-printed couch in our living room. I looked up at her. I wanted to ask, what the fuck am I supposed to do now? But I didn’t say anything.
She took a Polaroid camera from the mantle and took a picture of me holding the baby. She was smiling so big it made my heart hurt. My precious boys, she said to herself, barely loud enough to hear. The photo printed and she waited for it to develop. She didn’t shake it; I had told her years earlier, when we first met, that it ruined the picture.
The baby began to cry in my arms. I wanted to cry too. She showed me the picture. I looked younger than I ever had in it. Holding the tiny baby, I looked like I was barely out of high school. I had heard that having a child aged you instantly, but I had never felt so immature.
She took the baby from me and pulled the sleeve of her tank top from her shoulder. The baby began to eat and she closed her eyes. With all of my being, I wanted to get out of this house.
She told me she was pregnant when she was already four months along. She wanted to keep it, she said. I kissed her and I told her of course we would. I loved her. I really, truly did. I loved her. She said her grandfather would want us to get married before the baby was born. We could go to city hall, she said. I shook my head. It wouldn’t be right that way, I said. I told her we should have the baby and then when things had settled down we would have a real wedding, with her family and mine and a big white dress and a band. Her eyes went big. She asked me, really?
I guess I lied.
I would be gone before the baby was a month old. I’d be too much of a coward to tell her to her face; I’d leave a note and slip out in the night. I wouldn’t stop to look at the baby, asleep in his crib, one last time.
We had been together for years. Neither of us had ever said I love you. I had wanted to, for a while, but now I wasn’t sure that I loved him anymore. But anyway, the two of us—it was convenient, easy. I didn’t want to look for a new apartment, didn’t want to share custody of our dog, Rufus, didn’t want to have to make new friends. Maybe it was pure laziness, but I started to believe that it was possible to have a happy, loveless relationship.
We were walking Rufus—this was my favorite part of the day, the two of us, arm in arm, the dog pulling us along as he explored, the sky glowing pink and blue as the afternoon turned to evening—and we stopped while Rufus was sniffing in the grass and it was a terribly unromantic moment, but he pulled me close and he said, baby, I love you so much.
And I pulled away and looked at him and smiled, and I didn’t know what to say, and he looked so expectant, and then Rufus started to bark and I was so thankful for the interruption.