I remember, before my oldest was born, people telling me how motherhood would feel. “It’s amazing,” they said. “You’ll want to give the baby anything. You’d be willing to die for him.”
I’m sitting now on a dusty floor of a cave deep in the mountains. The sun is just rising but the air is still chilled. The small blanket across my shoulders is barely anything, yet I can’t seem to force myself to get up and put it down. I will have to, soon. My son will awaken and we both need to eat. Better to gather the wild plants we need now, before the sun gets too high and the desert air becomes so hot your soul seems to melt through your pores.
At home, I had a comfortable bed. Thick brick walls that reflected the worst of the heat. Staples in the cupboards that I could combine into a million different dishes. Friends. Children. Halvard.
By my side, Dale stirs. His elbow brushes my side. The cave was uncomfortably small when he was eight. Now, two years later, we barely fit. His shaggy dark hair falls into his eyes. He has his father’s features, though I am told his dark eyes resemble mine. Easier to see is his resemblance to his siblings’: all five are dark haired, but Dale and Nedra are lighter than the others. I compare them often, when he’s asleep. He was once paler than the others but our years in the desert have darkened his skin. He was always the lightest, fast on his feet, slim and trim. Scrawny, Halvard said, and insisted the boy exercise and eat more, to get him to the solid build of the others. I blamed it on his being the baby: the other four are much older. He was a happy surprise, and what did it matter to me if he were a bit small?
We waited eagerly for Dale’s debut day, when his abilities would surface. Halvard was already suspicious. I was eager to prove him wrong. He even brought up the options, if our son were a crossover. Abandonment. Petrification. With our climate so inhospitable, which would be most merciful? I was angry at the talk. Dale is small. That meant nothing. No freckles, no unusual hair. Just small. Just a baby.
I remember the look on his face. Pure joy. He held a wire sculpture in his hands, a mass of little wires that buzzed when I touched it. “Very nice,” I said, “but don’t show Daddy.”
I could not answer. How could I tell him that his special talent made him guilty? My silence proved our undoing, for he showed Halvard when my back was turned. I won’t recount the arguments. The tears. The hate where love had been. My older children had their own families. Halvard had friends, yes, friends who would have disdained his different boy. But Dale had no one. No one but me.
His eyes open. His face is too thin, his skin course from the sun, but he is alive. “Morning, Momma,” he says, bouncing to his feet. Where does that energy come from? Did he somehow siphon off all of mine? I remove the blanket from my shoulders, straighten my ragged dress, and stand. Out on the desert we will find food. We have a rusty pump—once a spring, but Dale had assembled garbage to create the pump that brought us water all year. All two years. He’s got a gift, my boy.
My friends were wrong. I am not willing to die for my boy. I give him not a single act but an eternity of choices, day by day, moment by moment. I live for my boy.