I held a week-old baby in my arms while she slept. The baby was not my baby in that I did not give her birth, but to this baby I felt a sense of deep be longing. I was holding this baby, which was like and not like holding my own bab(y)ies, who are not bab(y)ies anymore, in that holding a baby can feel like moving back and forth through time. It is like being in all times all at once. And also stopping time. I was holding this baby and this baby was holding me. What I mean is that holding this baby was a little like holding myself as a baby. Bonnie calls this baby, the baby who is me, my “baby self.” We all sometimes need to hold our baby baby selves. I do not know who held me as a baby, but someone did and whoever it was who held me as a baby is not with me anymore. Hey baby, hi baby, my baby baby baby. Sometimes I call people I love baby, and sometimes people I love call me baby or hold me while I sleep. I love all the little babies we are. The sad and sweet and hungry and grumpy and sleepy little babies. People who are dying now were once babies. Everyone who dies or has died was once a baby. Dying makes us think that time works only in one way, but I think it works many ways all at once. I am still my baby self and my baby self is still me. Maybe the same is true for you.
Someone I loved who died was once a baby and, one baby that this person loved is also someone I love. Sometimes I hold him while he sleeps and I call him baby, but very softly so when he wakes up maybe he thinks that it was part of his dream. Or maybe he thinks, just for a moment, that he is a baby again, his baby self, being held in the arms of the person who died, who loved him when he was a baby and with whom he felt a deep, deep sense of be longing. Someone who held me and with whom I wanted, but did not always feel a deep sense of be longing died. She died a long time ago, and sometimes it feels like a very long time, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like much time has passed at all, but when she died, I was not able to hold her, but I was able to watch her sleep. Watching someone sleep can sometimes remind you that they were once babies, sleeping in the arms of someone who loved them. I don’t know why I am thinking so much about babies, but maybe it is because when someone dies, some of the things they leave behind remind us that they were not always the way they were when they died. That they weren’t always frail or sick or tired or broken or maybe there were those things too, but that they were also so many other things and that some of those things were part of their baby baby selves and some of those things they accumulated along the way.
You accumulate ghosts until you become a ghost. For so long, I wanted to be a ghost. The astral weight was crushing. In rehab, the therapists tried to teach me to drop the rock. They assigned me a 10 pound rice pillow to carry wherever I went, including my twin-sized bed at night. It was a bulky metaphor. After two days, they revealed that I could’ve stopped carrying it at any time. They said I could stop trudging alongside my pain and adversity. But I didn’t believe then that I could unload something I never chose to carry.
I wish I could’ve eased your load like you eased mine. My friend, who died in July. You took care of things: your bedridden husband, your adult son with autism, five dogs, 2 cats. (Your favorite, Buddy the kind-eyed Lab, is resting at my feet as I write this.) You helped my mom stay in a psych ward for two months when the insurer stopped paying and the private hospital needed to fill paying beds.
You died when I wanted you to stay alive. During the last months, you couldn’t take your eyes off all the dead babies on the evening news. I wish I could’ve gotten you to change the channel.
You held so many reasons not to seek medical treatment: you had to take a shower, you hadn’t showered in two months; you had a new fear of doors; your husband had lesions on the brain; you weren’t sure that you could make it down the stairs; you didn’t trust doctors, you’d peeked at your chart once and saw the word, “hypochondriac;” all of your friends were on vacation for the 4th; I was in another city. I was in another city. You stopped picking up. Mine was the only call for a welfare check. The responding officer believed you when you said you were feeling better.
Mami, you emerged from the hospital in April the happiest I’ve ever known you. Sometimes peace takes 78 years. Since then, the post-discharge limerence has dulled some, but at least you are not torpedoing the ceiling with empty plastic milk jugs and screaming at all hours. I’ve never thought ghosts are hard of hearing but maybe I’m wrong.
But sometimes peace takes. For too long, I thought the schizophrenia would undo you. It’s difficult to convince a person that they enter fugue states and start fires and poison dogs. But more than one thing changed during your two-month hospital stay. You couldn’t remember conversations you had ten minutes before. You forgot how to make my favorite childhood recipes; sometimes you denied that you ever made them. You couldn’t tell me who was the president before Biden, although I too wish I could forget Trump.
My therapist in rehab told me I should limit contact with you. He said you were a part of my pain and adversity. But now I see you more often. I worry about one day never seeing you at all. I want to believe the memory loss is a good thing; that you’ll forget all of your ghosts, leave them by the roadside to hitch and become a passenger in someone else’s car.
Mary-Kim Arnold is the author of The Fish & the Dove (Noemi Press, 2020) and Litany for the Long Moment (Essay Press 2018). She works in higher education administration and lives in Rhode Island, on lands that are within the ancestral homeland of the Narragansett Indian Tribe.
aureleo sans is a Colombian-American, non-binary, queer, formerly unhoused writer with a disability who resides in San Antonio, Texas. Last year, she was a Sewanee Writers Conference Scholar, a Tin House Scholar, a Roots Wounds Words Writers Retreat fellow, a Lambda Literary fellow, an ASF Workshop Fellow as well as a Periplus fellow. Her work has appeared in The Offing, Salamander, Electric Literature, Passages North, and elsewhere. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fiction, and Best Micro Fiction. Two of her stories are forthcoming in the 2023 Best Micro Fiction Anthology.