by a contributor
Stephanie Lynn Devine
“What if someday, through evolution or whatever, we’ll be able to remember what it was like before birth?” I’m thirty-two weeks and lying on my back, pulling deep, empty-feeling breaths, belly blocking all evidence of a lower body. I swear my daughter is using my left kidney for a footstool and my right lung for a pillow, all four pounds balancing on a single disc of spine; but she’s been nonstop since twenty-nine weeks and I know she’ll rest if I can just lie here, flanked by softness on all sides, asking questions to the wall and staring up into the fan. I used to do this a lot when I was a kid: imagining the blades flying off and impaling the windows, the walls, me. But I’ve become catatonic with third trimester panic—Jesus, I’ve imagined whole lifetimes by now—and so, as I track the rotation, I place us, five and thirty-five, on a carnival ride. The kind that spins you, lifts you, and drops you, all in the name of that one second of blurry weightlessness.
“Maybe,” my husband says from beside me. I close my eyes to quiet the voice that says I should be worried I can already forget he’s right there.
“The hippocampus, the memory center of the brain,” he goes on, “would have to develop much more in the womb. Most neuroscientists suspect there’s a biological benefit to forgetting.” I can feel my lesser cells flinch in his direction and if I wasn’t weighed down, I’d roll now to face him. Fixing my eyes instead on the wooden blades, I tell him that seems incredibly unfair.
So I ask, “How would people be different if we could?”
“Whole generations with Oedipal complexes,” he offers. “Infants stunted by Post Natal Stress Disorder. Fear of doctors, of pain, of parents, resulting in less vital risk-taking and independence in early childhood.” He’s as a psychiatrist and likes to play the skeptic.
I counter with possibilities (nearly) pregnant with idealism: “Truly autobiographical memory, confidence in our ability to endure, empathy (and with it less war, poverty, hatred).” I can’t help myself. I am, after all, literally overflowing with life.
Our predictions from both sides roll out into sticky, leaden air. Ideas swept up into the ceiling and dispersed.
“Fear of the vagina?”
“Real male feminists!”
“Preoccupation with sex and pro-creation.”
After a while, it’s clear that he prefers the idea of a sleepy awakening to toddlerhood, whereas I guess I just want an answer to one of the two greatest mysteries of the human experience (what’s it like to be her?).
“What’s the other one?” he asks.
“The other what?” My body is silent and I’m only a third in the room. The other parts of me are watching my daughter graduate salutatorian from her high school, hold up a markered drawing at the kitchen table, call to whisper she got the job, sweatily clutch my first pink grandchild. The darker fractions, blinking at the blades, sit like flies on the wall of her bathroom as she, grey and creased, vomits twice before noon, walks out of her sixth going-nowhere job, comes home from school silent and bruised, calls to mumble her husband is leaving. Those parts try their best to obscure the potential of a woman who, her whole life, lies back on the bed and imagines a fan loosening and piercing her bluntly through the heart.
But I can’t help but land back on the idea of my daughter, no matter who she becomes, remembering this particular afternoon. Our voices a distant warble behind the thunder of my organs.The security of heat, water, darkness, sound. And, as her father pulls me up off my back, dizzy from the fan, the sensation of that characteristic drop: falling, floating, free.
Stephanie Lynn Devine is a PhD in Fiction student at Georgia State University. Her stories are forthcoming in Fiction Southeast and Glassworks Magazine.