Every Woman I Have Ever Loved: Submission #9
Description: Reader submissions about women they’ve loved– all of them, or just a memorable few.
*Names have been changed
Having a kid with someone used to be one of the most un-sexy things I could imagine. When I played at it two autumns ago with Neda*, the majority of our time was spent entertaining a four year old tyrant.
A well-meaning tyrant, I’ll say. Levi* was a bright and happy boy, about as bright and happy as they can be, and I knew a lot about her the moment I met him, a year prior to us ever dating.
Before Neda and I knew we’d be lesbian-ing together, we rode the same bus on the way to Winter Wonderland, the holiday theme park where we both worked. I’d seen this beautiful Chicana with blonde-dyed hair and black roots, turtlenecks and sensible shoes, and I know she’d been seeing me too.
“Levi, say hi to Mommy’s friend.” Neda would sit a row or two behind me on the bus, and I’d try not to get caught staring periodically, as they shared cookies, braided each other’s hair, giggled.
“Aw, what you being all shy for?” Levi would hide at first, seeing me, burying his face into his mother’s chest, trying to slip behind her in her chair.
“C’mon, at home you love attention. Be nice to the beautiful lady.” She’d tickle him to try and make him show his face, bowling over laughing as he tickled her back, and I’d be amazed at how parallel she managed to stay with him at all times. At her goofiness and willingness to lower herself, to see the world from his three-foot-tall perspective.
One day she got on the bus on her way to the park with him, but on her day off. “I’m taking him down the ice slides,” she explained, sitting next to me for a change as he explored the rows behind us. “He has no idea he’s not going to childcare yet. He loves those damn slides. I just hope they let him ride on my lap this time. Last time, he almost threw a fit.”
When we got off the bus, she had me watch him while she went inside the office for her paycheck and free employee tickets. We waited in the parking lot, me and this tiny human in Spiderman rain boots and a Minions baseball cap. For a while he stared at the office door, having that moment that all toddlers do when they realize the person they love most could never come back.
When he saw the pile of discarded tire-sleds walled up next to the office, though, he picked a small rock up from the ground, started trying to make baskets.
“Race you,” he said, handing me a rock to throw.
“Race you? You mean whoever hits the most tires wins?”
When she came out, she found Levi and I engaged in all-out war, with the deflated, water-logged tire-sled castle, using bigger rocks and fake-snow from the flower beds, yelping and cheering at our victories.
I had always imagined that I would hate kids. I couldn’t fathom, and though I never wanted to feel, how hard it must be to have someone’s life literally depending on you. I’d played at taking care of plants when I was in college, and for pets, I liked the self-cleaning, self-sufficient house cat. But having a child is having no privacy besides your own thoughts; your body and vocation are the child’s, especially when it’s just you and them like it was with me and my mother, and Neda and hers.
I couldn’t imagine the strength it takes a woman to raise a child she had with a stranger. Especially the kind who did the things this man had done to Neda. In spite, she was this kid’s sole supporter, his rock, while his father chased irresponsibility in South Africa and, as far as I could tell, did not lift a finger or send a dime.
It was her strength that made me realize I couldn’t hate kids, especially not ones with mothers like his. She did everything in her power to make sure he had the best life. Neda’s older brother lived a building over from her, and helped with babysitting duties when she didn’t want to shell out her paycheck for childcare. But since Neda’s apartment was a studio, Levi set up camp beside her pretty much any time she was at home.
He could be a loud, needy boy when he wanted to be, doing things I never imagined having to put up with from something so cute: jumping and running with the broom between his legs at two in the morning, screaming and hollering because he didn’t get the right toy at McDonald’s at any given hour.
Most nights, when he started getting hyper from an accidental unregulated sugar dose given to him throughout the day by one of us, or from the fact that he was four, and four year olds have no concept of time, she and I were wide awake ourselves. We had a lot of late nights in the beginning, and she enjoyed reading to me whilst coming up with goofy characters’ voices. She had a set of tarot cards that we would dig into, talking for hours of our histories and families. We’d wear each other’s clothes and pose for dumb Snapchat photos, rapping to the radio and dancing with Levi.
When we started getting serious, she told me that she hadn’t settled down in a long time, because many weren’t willing to go on dates that were always Levi-friendly.
“When people take me out they wanna go to a bar, or want me to have sex with them and only late at night, but I hate leaving Levi alone for that long. I want him to wake up with me there every morning.”
Sex became a quick thirty minutes in the afternoon at my house, while her brother covered for us, or making due with what we could in the car in front of the house for ten minutes, in the middle of the night, before Levi realized we’d deserted him and started incessantly screeching.
Those nights we’d stumble in at one or two A.M., find Levi where we left him and crawl into bed exhausted. Only to have Levi hear us grumbling over sheets and tangled limbs, coming to bed and deciding that he wanted to sleep between us—with his feet in my nose and his nose in his mom’s hair.
Four hours later, the sun barely risen, we’d wake up to him torture-cuddling the cat or begging Neda to let him watch T.V., “please, Mommy, please, I ne’er ask you for a-thing again.”
Most times, she’d laugh at him. “You think life is hard?” she’d say, the sun making her hair glow, light glistening on her plain eyelashes. “Wait until you have bills to pay, mijo. Now there’s something to cry about.”
We would stay in bed until 10 a.m. sometimes, strategizing how we’d spend the rest of the day if we were tyrants, who never had to work and who never had to worry. Remembering what it was like to have nothing to do except fun, as Levi lists the things he’d like to do at the zoo today.
“I let all the monkeys free,” he told us.
“All of them?” said Neda. “Even the little babies?”
“What about the Zebras?” I said. “What about all the other animals who want to go free?”
“I let go, but they have come back. The peeps-le will want say ‘hi’.”
We took him to sing-along concerts, had picnics in the park, and went grocery shopping whilst letting him feel like he was the decision maker. I found it didn’t take as much, or at least as much as I’d anticipated, to make a four year old happy.
What he loved most in the world was his mother, and all the shit she put up with, from his father, day-to-day menial obligations, was so that he would grow up to be a kind human.
“He’s really sweet,” she said to me in tears, the morning she’d had to hit him in front of me. I was there to witness it not because I wanted to be, but because that hand was swift and at that point, I was “Mom #2.” She struck instead of moving him into the closet like she used to, him kicking and screaming and her telling him that if he didn’t want a spanking, he had to stop pouring Mommy’s nail polish and bleach cleaners all over the carpet: “I just had this carpet cleaned. You got two hundred dollars to give me?”
“I don’t like to hit him,” she said miserably afterward. She wiped tears from her eyes and paced the floor as he wailed in the bathroom with the door shut.
But just ten minutes later, as we lay in bed and she briefed me on her child support progress, as I ran my fingers through her hair, he came out red-eyed and pouting, but ready to make up, cuddling next to her and holding her face.
“I sorry, Mommy. I don’t do it e’er again.”
‘The clean reset,’ is what I call this. She asked me what she thought of my hitting him the day after the incident, the two of us on her couch and me rubbing her feet, as he played pretend in cardboard-box-turned-passenger-plane.
“I’m not an expert, but at this age,” I said, “he’s not even really going to remember it, am I right? I mean, I know you remember getting hit by your mom, I do too, but it’s more like I have this image of myself in that closet that I can’t place, and less like I remember time or specifics. I think most of the time, the reason was silly.
“When he grows up, maybe, he’ll be more upset. He’s going to realize that he’s different from the kids who have two straight parents, who have a lot of money and who have their own rooms. But you make him this little world of happy no matter where you two go. He wants to remember that world and those moments, more than he does these. Kids are resilient.”
She was resilient, waking up every day and starting over with him, no matter how hard, no matter the tide. In the end, I wasn’t ready to be a mom for the rest of my foreseeable life at that point, and understood when she wanted to find someone who was.
Even though she ended up needing something more than I could give her, it was a love that changed my life to witness, a love I felt lucky to share.
Want to submit a piece for this segment? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org