Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Indie Ink Writing Challenge: "Call To Arms"

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Cedar challenged me with "Your protagonist is suffering from extreme sleep deprivation. " and I challenged Leo with "?"But part of grace is not speaking-like the silent ballerina." -Courtney Love"

It got old, that was the surprising part.

Initially, it was a rush- her pregnancy, the waiting and worrying followed by the joyful spreading of news. The well meaning advice from older friends, saying jovially "get your sleep now, while you still can," and "be prepared to give up your social life!" The sheer volume of stuff- the gifts from relatives and friends, the hand me downs from neighbors, the shower gifts that remind me of my uncle's dictum that it took less time and equipment to liberate France than it takes to bring a young baby to the store- suddenly piles up, pushing CDs and bookshelves full of deep literate novels into forgotten corners.

I felt shoved into a corner, too. It was early in the morning, what Fitzgerald called the deep dark night of the soul, my dear Julie pathetically mewling, "I can't...I just fed him...I can't...," when the baby monitor blurted at us. We didn't formally take turns- there were functions where I was no help at all, but I tried to pinch hit to give her another few microns of sleep. The newness of it was gone, and raising a child was now grinding, endless work. I answered the call, padding into the room as his cries grew a little stronger.

We had to get up and work through the day, fueled by caffeine and willpower, but at night, we started getting snappish and resentful, each trying to outdo the other with tales of fatigue. As the novelty faded and the offers of help disappeared, we turned on each other like a pack of wolves. The joy of parenting faded into lists and work and errands and inconvenience as hobbies and other interests were swallowed by the massive whale that is The Boy. We tried all the sleep tricks they told you to use, but in the end, he outlasted us, and we got up when the caterwauling didn't stop. Neither of us had slept through the night in weeks.

I turned on the TV, muting the sound. It was on the sports channel, revolving highlights of the games and plays of the day. I watched the anchors move their lips, the multiracial woman in an angular blouse and the trim, suited man telling me about the Yankee who got injured, the strong pitching effort by an Athletic, the Cubs' struggles on the road. My son was silent the moment I picked him up, but I knew from experience putting him back down would not work, so I settled on resting him on my chest on the couch. He sighed once.

The overwhelming thing about fatigue was the stupidity. You walked into a room, having no idea why you went in there. You left your coffee on top of the car and drove off, forgot to return phone calls, made silly mistakes, lived everything in a general miasma of nothingness and doubt. You slept whenever you could, leaving no time to do anything else, and never once feeling rested. Everything felt flat and stale, and you started resenting your partner's sleep when you were the one who was up.

My son gathered himself into a warm bundle, almost immediately slipping into deep, even breathing. It was pleasing, but almost frightening, how trusting he was. I wanted to tell him, "I don't know what I'm doing. You know I'm new at this, right?" He calmed down so readily, slipping back into sleep once I chased away whatever had disturbed him. I could feel the peace radiating from him. I didn't feel worthy of this trust. He believed in me, for no good reason other than I came when he called.

I could change the channel, I thought, or get up and try to put him back down, but I felt the weariness deep inside me. My bones felt heavy, like moving them would take far too much effort. I decided against moving. I looked around our living room, baby toys strewn about, mobiles and blocks and stuffed whales. I saw dust in the corners of the room, and studied the angles and walls, looking for cracks and weaknesses. The lines of the walls seemed to waver the longer I looked at them. Were they really straight?

I didn't really want to go back to bed anyway. I knew better than to ask Julie for sex. We were both far too tired to do that. But it seemed like any physical affection, any tender gesture, was misinterpreted by her and merited a curt rejection. It was hard when you lived with someone and could barely touch them. People said it would be hard, said it would get better. I couldn't see that. It was like being in the Holland Tunnel, when you feel like you're so far underground you'll never get out.

The streetlights came through the lacy curtains Julie had hung over our living room windows. I heard a car drive by, and thought about something my mother used to say, "nothing good happens after midnight." There was a whole world full of danger, threats and violence and heartbreak and misery. My son slept away, safe and cocooned, unaware of a world that wanted to chew him up. He trusted me to protect him, and I watched a Royal homer off an Indian, and I wondered how I would ever live up to that.


  1. i love this one, especially paired with your other new one, the one that's, um, wherever it is. two sides of a coin. love.

  2. I enjoyed this. I never realized how much toll a newborn can take on his father too. My husband was up with every cry at first too, but then seemed to become immune after a few weeks. I can picture every word in your story, what the protagonist is doing each step of the way and I remember feeling like this too. Simply beautiful.

  3. The wonderful litany of exhaustion right here:

    "You left your coffee on top of the car and drove off, forgot to return phone calls, made silly mistakes, lived everything in a general miasma of nothingness and doubt"

    and the way the couple turned on each other. Those things completely captivated me. I felt returned to the early days of my newborns' lives. I wanted to offer to walk the baby for a few hours, so the two of them could sleep, but I knew I was a stranger to their house, that my presence would have only caused them alarm.

  4. You nailed this. Bravo for the brave honesty of where it can take you, along with a very good telling...


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