She felt the bread break as she tore the dough apart with her raw hands. The loaf lay in two separate pieces, each of equal size. She stared at the loaves, side by side like twins just born from a womb. The twins were quiet—too quiet—for she could not hear their cries nor their breath. Silence. Perhaps the blade of a knife would create the desired noise. She reached for a long knife and forcefully pressed down on the bread. The crust broke first, and then the knife proceeded to tear the soft middle until an additional two halves remained. Such a dynamic movement for continued silence.
Stillness had never seemed so distant from serenity. The bread lay unattended on the cutting board, taunting her with its alluring peace, yet refusing to share the state. The doughy middle filled the loaves with life and substance that while the exterior appeared passive, she knew that the bread had a depth beyond the expected, simply awaiting to reveal to the world. Envy of a lifeless, yet lively grain.
Turning away from the bread, she took a black Sharpie and drew a line through today’s date on the calendar that hung on the wall: October twenty-eighth. An innate planner, yet she still marked each day. But as the black ink glided across the twenty-eighth square, all she could feel was the chilling, augmented emptiness. She turned the calendar back one month and stared at the colorful page before her. The pink writing represented appointments; the blue was for time-sensitive responsibilities; the orange stood for family events; the red was reserved for their future plans. She ran her finger along September twenty-eighth, which, in red Sharpie, read: House Hunting For Our New Family. As a child, she dreamed of having a bedroom with pink walls, a bed full of stuffed animals, and a little window that let the morning light spread its glow and hope around the room. She still remembered the rush of girlish excitement she felt when they decided to look for a house, one where she envisioned the room from her childhood dreams. The handwriting on the calendar, so distinctly different from her own, took her by surprise. For a moment, before the pain settled in, she barely recognized whose it was now that the words had lost their promise.
Who am I?
She stepped outside into the fresh air, looking for relief and perhaps a sense of self. The sidewalk boasted an array of scattered leaves, mostly crushed from the shuffling of feet. Yet as she glanced down at autumn’s characteristic presence, reminding herof how boldly he defended the season’s merits, she spotted the largest leaf she had ever seen. The leaf was entirely intact, not missing even an edge of its classic shape. Its burnt, golden color revealed symmetrical veins that travelled across its body. This leaf knew of its power, both in beauty and grace. As the other leaves easily blew away in the wind, it remained where it was on the sidewalk. If the wind happened to overpower it, the leaf never lost composure, dancing along to the wind’s song as if it had rehearsed for that very moment. She brushed her hand against the tree’s bark, the likely origin of the exquisite leaf, feeling every rough patch and scar it bore in absence of its companion. The bark left scratches on her hand. One. Two. Three clear scratches.
Time’s very essence of continuity, a truth she always believed in, seemed to fade in the days after he left. As a child, she vowed to not repeat the mistakes of her mother. Her future children would never hear the silence that stole the youthful joy of her childhood. They would never feel the absence of a father nor the neglect of a heartbroken mother. They would never know isolation: the feeling of having nobody on their side, nobody to pack their school lunches, nobody to give them advice about their first crushes, and nobody to read them stories at night when they cannot fall asleep. Yet, as he led her into the living room of their two-bedroom apartment last month, she saw the seriousness in his expression, felt the tension of his hand in hers, and watched her vow crush under the weight of his words.
The actual conversation she could not entirely remember. She heard “break”, “time apart”, and “space to figure out”, but she was not really hearing. She was seeing and feeling, but she was not hearing. That suffocating silence, unfamiliar to her at the time, began to fill the space between them. She did not cry. She did not speak. She just sat on the couch and watched the scene unfold, as if she was no longer a part of it, but rather a mere observer. She felt the baby kick for the first time and smiled, wanting more than ever to fall into her husband’s arms and allow him to share in her excitement. But instead, the kick, the baby’s first attempt to say “Listen to me. I am here!”, was instead ignored and somewhat resented.
He left that day, leaving her and their baby alone in the world, returning only to retrieve his reading glasses. She hadn’t spoken to her mother yet, partly because she was not ready to hear her explain the struggles of a single mother, making excuses for why she never had time to teach her how to braid her hair, for why she came home late every night from a different bar, and for why she prioritized the current man in her life over her daughter. But another underlying, and perhaps dark part of her was not ready to let go of her false perception of reality. She did not want to fall into her reoccurring family history of single mothers who had to tell their daughters that they could not go to dance class like the other girls because the lessons were too expensive or have the conversation one day about why her father left all those years ago.
This is not me.
She went back inside the apartment, back into the silence. On an inclination of spirit, or perhaps a refusal to repeat the past, she grabbed her keys and drove first to Home Depot, then to Walmart and Target. Upon her return, she carried the shopping bags into the room across from hers, the one that already had the crib that Michael built, and worked through the night. Her belief in time’s continuity was restored as she painted broad, pink strokes across the walls. A sense of purpose motivated each, fluid motion. She felt the baby kick. As she let the paint dry, she carefully placed the stuffed animals that she bought into the crib. Their plushness seemed to heal the scars that the tree left behind on the palm of her hand. The baby kicked again. At four in the morning, she began the second coat, painting over grief, suffering, resentment, fear, injustice, and history with every stroke.
This is me.
And as the morning light spread its hope and glow around the room, highlighting the pink walls and stuffed animal filled crib, she had never heard so much noise.