In the beginning, I looked at my fiancé as a specimen in a diorama at the Natural History Museum. Most of the time I got in there and interacted with him. But sometimes I simply watched. My fiancé became a father. Then a husband. Then he devolved, becoming extremely hairy and, coincidentally, started thumping his chest. He makes happy grunts when he stands in front of the mirror holding naked Poe. “Uurgh uuuuurgh. Bah bah bah.” That’s Andrew. Occasionally Poe responds, usually with laughter. “Why don’t you use words?” she silently asks. Andrew bahs back.
No, this is not a metaphorical device. Come on over at bath time or breakfast or playtime or whenever you want and you will witness the modern male Neanderthal loping around the apartment.
I write that with love.
We went out for dinner on Andrew’s birthday. He covered his loin cloth with a pair of baby blue pants and donned a linen shirt. He honored the day of his 9 lb body busting out of his slim, gentle mama by showering. He does this once a week, or so he grunted in reproof when I asked him when he showers. In his defense, our bathroom wall is hosting a thriving ecology at the moment. To be specific, mold and plant(s?), a tendril of which peeked through next to the shower-head.
At the pizzeria Andrew picked for our night out, I looked for ways to fill the silence. He adjusted his seat, seeking a neutral position for his back. He injured it lifting stones at our wedding while braying in salute of our nuptials. Tonight he was quiet. Tired.
What do Neanderthals discuss when their baby is being guarded back at the cave? Trump’s campaign manager. Hillary’s. The art on the walls. The way I eat pizza. The similarity between the restaurant host and a friend’s ex. Plans for the next day. The chewiness of the snap peas. Not Poe. Or not much of Poe. Not much of anything with personal consequence.
My life and Andrew’s are now like the contents of Poe’s colon. Lots of undigested bits remain distinct and intact. But do you really consider them separate when they exit the same hole? Can you smell a difference between that asparagus stalk and the sweet potato? I attest: you cannot.
I see Andrew. I feel his energy longing for the differentiation between my bit and his bit. (No, Andrew, I’m not referring to our private parts.) We each generated “nurture lists” and we put them on the fridge. Me: “doing yoga, meditate, have a family picnic, travel, read a novel, get a haircut, write a poem, etc.” Andrew: “read, walk, run, journal/blog, etc.” Our intention is to help the other person do one of the actions from the list every day. A few of my actions involve spending time with Andrew, but we both prioritized being alone, separate from our significant other.
Becoming a parent is rudely awaking in the alternate universe of sleep-deprived moms and dads, specters we used to pass through on the subway, in the street, everywhere. We’ve been sworn into the society of volitionally milk and shit-stained. We are constantly reminded of how un-unique our experiences are – gratefully, gloriously! common.
But I don’t want to be a “mom” in Andrew’s eyes, my colors muted by sleeplessness and daily chores. Moreover, I don’t want Andrew to blend in with that sea of dads, vanquished, denuded of their man caves. It’s in that space he cultivates his particular aroma, the one that made me want to stick my nose in his armpit and breathe deeply. So when Andrew asks to go for a walk while I sit with Poe, I say yes both begrudgingly and with relief. He widens the distance between me and him, a space across which I peer at his identity. Not as “dad”, but as intelligent, sexy, unknowable man. Apart from me. Not a part of me.
Back at home, I foisted birthday cake on my exhausted caveman. He ate each bite while affirming that yes, he liked the cake, wow, that must have been hard work, mmm, I now taste that saltiness. All this without language. That will come back, in the morning, or after another few years of our evolution. Meanwhile, I am content to stand on the opposite side of the glass tank. I am content to not be able to touch all that he is. He is not mine, neither is Poe for that matter. In preserving a self outside my reach, he preserves us.