“You’ve been crying, haven’t you?” my mom asks me over skype. The question just makes me start crying all over again.
I begin from the beginning.
After a full weekend, I began the week on empty and then Joaquin refused to nap. But the baby ducks, they were so sweet, and I would go sit with them in the bathroom, talking to them, holding them, trying to surround them with calm. And so did Sol. He spent as many moments as he could, holding his duck as if it were a wish, fragile, ready to burst, his responsibility to nurture into being. He’d ask me to go sit in the bathroom with him, so we could help the ducks adjust to their new family together. And I would. I’d go sit with him. I’d watch my firstborn tenderly stroking his duck, pulling his hands away proudly to show me how the duck was calm, relaxed in his lap. “It’s almost accepted me as its Daddy,” he’d say.
Last night, Sol’s anxiety was a tiny snake striking at our bedtime prayers. The schedule had changed. The next day, I would be picking him up instead of Daddy. No matter how I tried to reassure him, the transition was an abyss and he wanted nothing to do with attempting to navigate a bridge suspended over it.
Exhausted, I said, “How about you just stay home and help me with Joaquin? So long as you and Zaviera promise to help and let me rest, because I’m very tired.”
So, our plans were made. Sol would stay home and he was excited about this because it would give him all day to spend with his duck. I sent him into dreams with an endless loop of Brahms lullaby. I imagined my vocal chords being carved away by eight years of humming this lullaby, shaped like water shapes stone as it passes over it endlessly.
I slipped away from Sol when I felt his body exhale, that moment when the tension leaves and he is away, somewhere else.
I was worried about the ducks. I didn’t know why, but I was. So I gathered them to my chest, their long necks wrapping around mine, their webbed feet scratching my chest as they scurried up into my hair, and I clucked to them, waiting for one of them to shit on me, just so I could make a joke about it, but they didn’t. They nuzzled into my hair, their hearts stopped pounding so fiercely, and I held them to me, imagining a wildly maternal and crazy thought of spending the night in the bathroom, so they’d have another warm body near them, so they’d know they had a new flock.
But I didn’t. I didn’t think Dan would be too pleased to find me curled up next to the bath tub. I could imagine him sighing, “After three children, I’ve almost got my wife back and now I have to compete with some ducks? Really?”
Instead of a night on the bathroom floor, I curled up next to my husband, our third and final child throwing his arms around my neck, sighing, and I fell asleep to dream of sharks, cows that acted like dogs, and steep trails with treacherous drop-offs, I woke up to not enough oxygen in my muscles, duck-scratches on my neck, and three children with plans for the day.
I say to my parents, wiping at my eyes that are swelling up and already too-stingy, “So yeah, we drove to the plant store and bought an avocado tree for Joaquin’s birthday, and some cabbage and broccoli, and Sol was asking me about the lifespan of a duck and he was so excited to get home, he had plans to spend the rest of the afternoon sitting with his duck and getting to know it.”
And then we got home. I sat down at the computer, needing to feel the edges of my body return, and Sol came running down the hall, tears in his eyes, “Mommy, something is wrong with my duck! It can’t stand up properly.”
I’m up and following him, hoping that this is just a moment of confusion, but knowing, somehow, it isn’t. When I see the duck, I know.
I pick it up and set it down, watching it collapse, it’s head thumping into the towels. I gather it to my chest and sit on the hardwood floor.
Sol looks at me, his eyes…how do you describe something like this? You can’t. Or, I can’t. I can’t describe what it was like when he said to me, “She’s dying, isn’t she? Can I pray? Can I do something to make her better?”
And all I can do is let him see into my eyes, to see them in the same way that I saw his, and say, “No, sweetheart, all we can do is hold her.”
He did. He held her for almost an hour while she slowly died. He cried and I cried.
I’ve never been in such awe of him.
When the last of her life had left, he placed her in my lap and began gathering materials for her burial.
There are so many more details, so many things he said, but honestly, writing this has wrung me out. There are funny things, profound things, in-between things, all I want to really record is this:
I am in awe of my children
I am in awe of you, Sol-Raniera Noel Clarke
you are an amazing spirit
thank you for choosing me as your mother
This is the story I attempted to tell my parents as I stared them down through my laptop: missing them, their presence, their scent, their everything.
I am not sure you can ever tell these stories. It’s more like throwing out handfuls of words, trusting that life will find its home and begin again.
Sol is right. That duck was special. And I’m sure that right now, somewhere on the other side of this life, it is wagging its little tail, watching over us, and shitting all kinds of great manure to grow our heavenly garden.
Bless you wee little creature. I loved you. I did.