Why We Could Never Keep It
I loved that first crumbling house we lived in: the claw-footed tub that was impossible to shower in – water spraying the floors with a thick mist that I slipped on every time I stepped out; the old glass in the windows that had settled, making the panes bulge at the bottoms like skirts; the tiny bedroom that we crammed our king sized bed into even though it meant crawling across the mattress to get to the dresser on the other side. Stacks of bricks held the house up like it was on stilts, and whenever you dropped a ball or a car, it would roll from one end of the living room to the other. Still, I loved the sound of your father’s car in the gravel driveway at night, the way his body sunk into the mattress beside me and my own involuntarily rolled towards him, the way his beard scratched the skin on my cheeks whenever I kissed him.
When I first met your father, he reminded me of a boy I used to love with his dark hair and emo band t-shirts. I hadn’t wanted to date him because I was afraid that I would call him by the wrong name, that the other boy’s name would accidentally slip onto my lips whenever I saw him, that I would feel the weight of the other boy’s palm in my mine. But, your father was nothing like that first boy. When your father first kissed me, I couldn’t breathe, the shape of his lips so different from what I had been expecting. He had walked me to the door of the apartment I shared with two other girls and had pressed his mouth to mine before I could stop him. Afterward, I couldn’t stop smiling. The truth is, when I first met your father, I was dating someone else – a boy a friend had introduced me to. Your father had laughed when I told him that I already had a boyfriend.
Then, years went by. We moved out of that crumbling little house a year and a half after you and your sister were born. The amount of baby stuff was so overwhelming that at night we would clear a path from one room to the next, not bothering to put anything away; there was nowhere to put it. We squished the two of you into the tiny bedroom off the kitchen that I had used as a closet before you were born. Your two cribs were on either side of the room, but still so close that the two of ya’ll could reach out and hold hands whenever one of you was afraid.
At the new house, you each had your own room. And then, the baby came, and your father had his own room too, sleeping in the spare room upstairs while I woke up with the baby at night to nurse. It was the baby and I against the three of you like some kind of invisible line had been drawn between us. You and your sister got older and your father worked more and somehow it felt like the baby never changed. He would whisper to me about dinosaurs and crocodiles and the eating habits of snakes while you and your sister played outside and jumped on the trampoline and threw balls over the neighbor’s fence. Then, we found the dog, the four of us, while your dad was at work. You wanted to name him Lightning and your sister wanted to name him Thunder, and the baby wanted to name him T-Rex. We couldn’t decide so we called him Dog and gave him a bath in the big jacuzzi tub in the master bathroom. He shook his coat and sprayed soap all over us until we all smelled like wet dog and the floor was slick and greasy. I didn’t bother telling you that your father was allergic to animal dander.
When your father got home we were all laughing and the dog was running to each of us begging for bits of our dinner. You and your sister were still arguing over his name and none of you noticed him come in. He smiled and sat at the table and laughed with us as we told him about finding the dog and everything felt shiny and precious. He tried to catch my eye, but I ignored him and stared at each of you instead, memorizing the looks on your faces – wide smiles that slid into your cheeks.
I could tell that none of us wanted the night to end, so I suggested we watch a movie and popped bags of popcorn and we all stayed up until well after bedtime. The baby fell asleep on my lap and his snores were so loud we had to turn up the volume on the TV. After the movie was over, I carried each of you up to bed, one at a time, your heads soft against my shoulder. You hadn’t let me do that since you were the baby’s age. After you were all tucked in, I came downstairs dancing and threw myself into your father’s arms. He whispered that we couldn’t keep the dog and I nodded and let my tears fall onto the shoulders of his shirt.