Begin with the curve of your nose that reminds me of your father, the way you shake your shoulders when you’re tired, the sloppy way that you move – arms and legs flying in all directions. Begin with the small chips at the ends of your fingernails, the untidy robin’s nest of hair that you won’t let me comb. Begin with the smile that moves across your face like water, the way it reflects in your eyes.
Or, really, here: Your father and I, hands held, mouths parted and eyes locked. The white train of my dress spread out like a fan, stray leaves caught underneath. The sprig of baby’s breath tucked into my hair tickling my ear. The sweat trickling down the side of your father’s face as he repeats his vows.
Then, my disheveled hair, disheveled clothes, milk stains down the front of my shirt, bruises underneath both of my eyes so dark that a lady at the grocery store stops me to tell me about a shelter I can go to. Then, you. Your screaming and the way it makes every nerve in my body jump and bang against each other until my skin burns and the muscles beneath roil and twitch.
Or here: Me, sitting outside your door while you scream and kick at the slats of your crib, sleep training book splayed out open in front of me, lapping up my tears. Me, staring at my watch as the seconds stall and stall and I can’t breathe. Picture the sharp kick of your heels against my chest as I finally rush in and pick you up. You, flinging yourself out of my arms, throwing your head back so hard we both almost topple. You laugh as I gasp and sink to my knees, clinging to your body to keep you safe.
Then, later: The master bedroom with the crib against the bed, all the furniture pushed to the corners of the room to make space. The crib gathering dust as you sleep next to me in the bed, my eyes open as I watch you breathe, my hand shooting out to feel your chest whenever I catch myself sleeping. Your muscles twitch under my touch as if trying to throw me off.
Begin with the smart clack of your head against mine as I breathe the baby shampoo scent of your hair and you throw your head back into me to stop me. My head would ring for days afterward, but you barely notice – crawling away as I lay my head across the floor and try not to throw up.
Begin with the smashed peas and bananas and oatmeal that you splatter across the walls of the kitchen, stains so deep I can still see them underneath new paint. You refuse to eat anything and instead store it inside your cheeks until they puff out like a chipmunk’s. The moment I let you out of the highchair, you let it all slowly drip down the front of your shirt.
Begin with your one-legged bear crawl, how you refuse to let both knees touch the floor, the determined way you move across the hard tile of the floors.
And then, the shuffling of crawling quickly turning into footsteps scattered from room to room, a path of open and emptied cupboards lying in your wake. Me, finding you sitting happily in the middle of a pile of mail, and you, happily gumming the envelopes into mush.
Begin with the toy balls in the shapes of animals that you loved. The ones that sing and whir when they move. You, smashing the one that looks like a frog into the back door so hard you crack the glass, a small spiderweb erupting from the place of impact. You point to the spot each day and tell me “Mine.”
Begin with the board books you tear into pieces while you are supposed to be napping. The small flecks of paper spreading out across your crib like snow. The plush animals with their stuffing torn out. Your blue eyes hold mine as you look at my face and laugh.