By Jenni Tooley
Mary Lou’s tits are no longer the size of pert silver dollars. Her silver dollar tits are more like silver dollars accidentally dropped in an Insinkerator garbage disposal–dulled and marred by the spinning blades. Silver dollars that need to be taken out of circulation. Really Mary Lou’s tits are more the shape and texture of a miniature ashtray made out of play doh by a four-year old–the fine edges smeared too thin in some areas and chunky thick in others. That’s what five years of sucking mouths will do to even the most pristine and pertest of tits.
Mary Lou looks down at the current sucking mouth. His lips are ruddy and full like those of his oldest brother. His eyes closed half in concentration and half in titty-milk haze. Mary Lou gently smoothes the bits of flaking dead skin from his eyelid with her thumb–the movement automatic, thorough, intimate in its knowledge of him. The inevitability of little dead bits of skin on this fresh clean life. Her hand smoothes the sandy ocean wave of hair up and over the tight skin of his baby skull. The bones not quite set–still soft even to the touch of a pinky finger. The titty-milk haze drifts from baby to mother. The psychic umbilical cord still connected–her energy drained with the draining of her breast.
The bikini does not fit. It had not fit the last three times she had put it on, but she kept putting it on in the hopes that one of these times it would fit. It wasn’t exactly that it didn’t fit–it was more like her body had expanded like a fire-toasted marshmallow over the edges of the spandex that was supposed to hold it in. The thought makes her want to go raid the pantry for marshmallows, graham crackers and cool crisp bars of milk chocolate. A smack of a broomstick on the wood floor snaps her out of her sweet tooth induced reverie. The snap is immediately followed by the rise of the children’s pent up energy punctuated by the wailing cry of William. She notes that William’s cry is the pissed off kind and not the emergency room kind as she pulls off the tiny strips of fabric that she once wore with pride and throws on a neck-tie one-piece. She tucks and prods her swollen tits into the one-piece suit–it’s just so much easier nursing in a bikini. She had nursed Barney in a bikini on the beach. He was the first and her body had snapped back into its old shape like a fresh rubber band. Except her breasts were bigger–but nobody has a problem with big tits. Lots of people pay good money for them. If all she had to pay for big tits was to whip one out several times a day for the little sucker then she wasn’t complaining. Mary Lou and Barney could spend whole days out on the beach when he was that age–suck and sleep, suck and sleep. Waves of suck and sleep rolling over them until the sun slid down the ocean’s backside. William’s wailing subsides as she pulls the batik cover-up over her head and lets it fall down to her thighs–at least that still fits.
Packing the kids into the car is no problem–the kids are always ready to go to the beach, as is the car. The car is in a constant state of readiness–like a warship docked in the bay awaiting its orders and its crew. In the backseat, Brad pokes his brother in the eye with a nubby finger. William wails less from the pain and more from the frustration that his little uncoordinated body can’t break free of the car seat so that he can beat the crap out of his older brother. Mary Lou looks in the rearview at the two boys. It is obvious that someday the scrappy William will outgrow his older brother. She cuts her mind short of forecasting what lay in store when he is able to avenge himself of Brad’s misplaced finger–at least it was a finger and not a pick up stick.
Mary Lou doesn’t fit into her body anymore. She doesn’t fit into her life anymore. This thing that she is now is not the thing that she was before. She can’t figure out if she has a problem with it or not. Every time she comes to think on it, this thing that she is now has something that it has to do. And that something that she has to do seems like it matters so she does it without thinking about whether it matters or not.
Her commitment to staying at home and raising her kids came easy–she hated her job and she never wanted to go back. At first she had thought that she would need to go back for the money but the saying that “babies come with loaves” turned out to be true when Roger got promoted. Then she thought she needed to go back to keep her identity intact but after all of the years of climbing to create herself in the “world of men” it turned out that she didn’t give a shit about what anybody else thought about her. Then she thought that she would need to go back for the structure of it but it turned out that she didn’t need the structure of the get up early/go to the gym/work a precisely scheduled 9-5 day/attend happy hour/pick up something for dinner from the store/get home in time to eat with Roger schedule.
It turned out that the kids kept their own schedule and measuring time in babyland versus time in adultland was impossible because time in babyland just doesn’t exist. It folds in on itself like a wave, ebbing and flowing in a rhythm that is constant but indefinable. If you let yourself go with it there is a freedom involved like a surfer getting a really good ride. But if you fight it, it will throw you against the rocks. Batter you until you are broken. And once she learned that she would never get anything done again in the time that she needed to do it she was quite happy–and got everything done regardless.
The kids burst from the minivan like baby turtles bursting from their nest–immediately drawn to the sea without any other thought than diving into it for their survival. But Mary Lou has trained them like a pack of dogs to know the boundaries of their freedom. They are free to do whatever they want to as long as they respect the boundaries–for within those boundaries they are safe.
Barney and Brad run with abandon, William does the two-handed-one-foot crawl, and the newest of the brood tries to wriggle free of the baby bjorn he is wrapped into. After they get their feet wet, Mary Lou calls them in. They each have a job according to age and ability. Brad lays out the towels on the beach. Barney sits on the towels with the littlest one propped up between his legs while Mary Lou gets the umbrella out of the back of the minivan. Brad gets out the bag of lotion and the bucket and shovel. William pounds the sand with the shovel. Barney lays the littlest one down on the towels. Even William puts a hold on his shovel pounding to watch the little fresh body wriggle and writhe under the baking sun. Then Mary Lou and Barney sink the umbrella pole deep into the sand bringing delicious cool shade over them all.
Time is calculated by the movement of the umbrella to keep them shaded from the passing sun. The pile of empty juice boxes growing higher and higher. Little hands digging deeper and deeper into the box of Cheerios until only crumbs stick to wet skin. Sandwiches eaten. Oranges peeled. Castles built and crumbled. Suck and sleep. Swim and sleep. Suck and sleep. Swim and sleep.
Mary Lou brought a book to the beach this time. Its binding was unbroken. The book was a suggestion made by a friend. A friend who thought her own struggle to keep her identity intact was Mary Lou’s struggle. It was her friend’s idea of keeping in “the world.” Keeping her adulthood. Keeping an umbilical cord to her authentic self. Mary Lou took the bait. The shame part of her overruled the wisdom part of her. Convinced her that there must be something wrong with her. The part of her mind that struggles for naming and a structure to attach itself to made it very clear to her that the book must be taken to the beach. That she must read at least two chapters by the end of day or she would be a complete failure. She would be nothing but a mommy. But the book lies there unopened.
Mary Lou looks at the book. She looks at her littlest one. Drool slides from the corner of his mouth up and over his fat little cheek. Sand coats his sticky baby skin. His eyes are half open but he is fully asleep. His little body is growing again–it has forced his mind to take a break while it uses the energy to grow.
Next to him lies William. He has an identical line of drool. He is wiped out from pounding the beach with his shovel. Brad and Barney are near the water working on a sandcastle. They work well as a team–Barney acting as the lead engineer, his younger brother looking to him for guidance in each task. She wants to call out to them to tell them to build the castle further from the water’s edge but she doesn’t. They will learn themselves. Must learn themselves. She thinks that they should have figured it out by now. She cannot count how many castles that the boys have built that have succumbed to the sudsy waves.
Perhaps that is part of the boys’ process–to build, to watch their work be washed away, to build again with the same delight. Tabula Rasa. Buddha dharma. Perhaps they are not given enough credit–these little people. Perhaps they don’t need to be taught everything that they need to know to live. Perhaps they have exactly what they need but are taught to lose it so they spend the rest of their lives finding it again.
Mary Lou looks to the book again. She could pick it up and read it. But she does not want to. The waves have washed away the part of her mind that needs outside structure to tell her what to do. The waves have washed away the needs of her friend that are not her own needs. She has forgotten for too long all of the things that she knows. And what she knows is that she will bring this book with her to the beach every day not to remind her of who she should be or what she should be doing but to remind her to be who and what she is. Mary Lou checks the babes one more time–all is well. Barney is small but on the lookout. She stands, steps away from their little encampment. Her titties ache. She takes a breath into this body that is hers and dives into the ocean. Its waves relieve the weight and takes the titty-ache away.
Copyright Tooley 2012