My son is forcing me to do aquatic therapy and he shows up at the front desk of my assisted living community right on time. I’ve grumbled and given excuses for months — it will mess up my perm, I hate smelling like chlorine, I have a cold — but he’s so stubborn and insistent. The doctor said this could really help you heal. Don’t you want to feel better?

So, fine, we’re doing aquatic therapy. I hear myself grumble the whole way there. I don’t even know why. It’s too late, we’re on the way to the pool, but I can’t seem to help the complaints from spilling out. It’s too cold in the car. You need a haircut. Why wasn’t your baby wearing socks in that last picture you posted to Facebook? I know it just adds to the image he has of me as a crotchety old bat, but maybe that’s why I do it too.

I’ve worn my bathing suit — there’s no way I’m changing in front of these rubber band swim instructors. And then I’m in the water, bobbing up and down in the shallow end, the PT telling me Good! That’s great, Mrs. Harvey!  Three more!

I almost think I’ll make it through to the end of the session. Twenty minutes in I’ve almost let myself be present, focused on the movements. But of course, I’m never fully present, never fully focused.

I look up and see my son in the bleachers, a sad, pitying, proud look on his face. He looks so much like his father, and of course, he looks so much like his brother. Would his brother have grown up looking like him – strong chin, brown eyes, sweep of curls over his forehead? Would his brother have been just as serious? Thinking he needs to be the man of the family now that his father is dead and his mom is safely tucked away in a home? And it’s the thought of them sitting together as brothers talking about me, their mom, about how slow I am and how I can’t hear, about how they miss their dad, that stops me cold. I remember his hands churning in the water, the bubbles above him going still, ripples disappearing, my legs burning as I run to get there in time but I’m too slow, too late. By the time I get to the edge of the pond, I’ve lost him, and my hands are covered in dirt and lake grime and I am pumping his chest and he is so cold and he is not breathing and I feel everything slip into the spiraling “after.”

The instructor puts a hand on my shoulder. I’ve stopped moving. I’m staring at my son and now he looks concerned. I’m fine, just lost in thought. Forgive an old lady. She looks relieved, she probably thought I had a stroke. My son exhales too and I give him a shrug like, oh you know how I get. I don’t look at him the rest of the session.


A heat wave sweeps through after the baby is born and we walk to the winery. A duo of singers plays acoustic guitars on a wooden stage in the vines, belting covers with shaky folk voices. When their set is done and the baby starts chewing his fist, you ask the singers to walk home with us. You build a fire in our backyard and pour them more wine while I feed the baby inside. Through the window I hear you telling them that we met at a car wash.

You don’t say that we were teenagers working at the KleanKar. How we got burgers at the place next door, splitting a milkshake. How we kissed at a Fourth of July parade, and it tasted like cotton candy and popsicles. How we got married at the church down the street from the car wash, how the owner of the KleanKar came to the reception and danced with your grandma.

I hear the lady-singer ask how I’m feeling after the baby. You say fine, which is my typical answer, too.  I don’t tell people how nights are so lonely. How I don’t cry anymore but I want to every time I hear the baby whimper. How I feel frantic all the time, how my days feel like marathons, how I am so so tired. How I hate that the baby looks like you. How I wonder if this is my life forever.

Later, you get in bed smelling like sour merlot and woodsmoke. You close your eyes and ask how I am. The baby is nursing and I am sweating and hungry and thirsty and all I want is to sleep on my stomach for days. Your breathing relaxes and you slip into sleep. I never answer.

Madeline Anthes

Madeline Anthes is the Assistant Editor of Lost Balloon. Her chapbook Beautiful, Violent Things is now available from Word West Press. You can find her on Twitter at @madelineanthes, and find more of her work at madelineanthes.com.

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