My son, Milo, talks to crows.
IIIIIIIIIIIIThe first morning it happened I found him standing in his crib. Milo had just figured out how to pull himself up, and his chubby fingers clung to the edge of the bed. I ran to the room after hearing the strange screams, but stopped in the doorway to watch him. He didn’t notice me immediately, and he let out a great “cawwwwwwww” into the chilly morning air. He had ripped down one of the curtains to see the birds better; I leave the window slightly cracked because he runs warm.
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe talks to crows, and right now I stand in the doorway, watching him let out his great bird caws. They swoop close to his screams and then back out. There is not quite enough room on the ledge for them to perch.
IIIIIIIIIIIII curl my fingers tighter around the handle of my coffee mug. My hand shakes. I take a sip of decaffeinated coffee.
IIIIIIIIIIIIHe turns around and stares right at me. He recognizes me.
IIIIIIIIIIII“Come here Milo,” I say, my arms outstretched, and pick him up. I pull him close to my body, and feel the small fierce warmth that he expels. He smells like clean sheets and something a little sour that I nonetheless recognize as part of my own chemistry. He is from me and me only. This I am sure of.
IIIIIIIIIIIII am five months pregnant. I want this new child, but I find myself treasuring the last moments of my solitude with Milo. We will not quite reach two years, but this time together has felt vast. Before him there was loneliness; after him there was a constant. I feel already, even at twenty-eight, that I will miss this time for the rest of my life.
IIIIIIIIIIIIOur morning routine is always the same. He sits in the living room on a blanket, babbling and playing with his binkies. I listen intently for any hint of a word. He lines the binkies up around the outer edge of the blanket in straight rows, almost like he’s counting them. My brilliant boy, counting before he even has the words. I wonder if the crow talking is a bad sign? Mike, my husband, would think so, but I think it is magic.
IIIIIIIIIIIIIn the kitchen I reach for the cereal, and pour it dry into a bowl. Despite Mike’s protests I let him eat with his fingers on the blanket. He laughs and makes a mess of everything, but he eats this way. Something about being in the high-chair makes him too anxious, he cannot handle being confined for too long. Afterward the two of us go for a walk through the city; passersby and people on the train always stop to play with him. They coo and squawk and try to get him to laugh. He is a serious boy and only occasionally will break into a smile. If he is nervous he will look up at me as if we are the only two people in the entire world.
IIIIIIIIIIIIMike shows little interest in him. He was not in love with me when we were first together, but I so wanted a child. I began to skip pills, tilt the 96% effective rate a little lower until an accident was inevitable. There was no going back after that, his family insisted on the marriage. I think about my brashness in that moment sometimes and perhaps my cruelty. It was one of the only moments in my life where I seized what I wanted without remorse. It was wrong, definitively so, but looking at Milo it feels like something I can live with. Life sometimes feels like nothing more than the accumulation of things like this that we manage to live with.
IIIIIIIIIIIIAs we walk Milo stares silently at his surroundings in his stroller, a serious furrow in his brow. He caws and caws every time he sees a bird. In the low gloomy clouds, I only see crows, great big black things swooping in and out of the sky. The city seems to yawn that morning, breathing us in, a great inhalation of sound and energy. I feel consumed, digested, disintegrated, as if the edges of my being are blurring into the world around me. We’re supposed to do the shopping at this point, but I do not need to, I won’t be doing any shopping for Mike anymore. I’m leaving tonight, I know it to be true. I’m taking Milo and this new baby away from him forever. I’ve managed to pay for six months up front, in cash, for a cabin in the Catskills. From there I do not know what is next, but I have enough money stashed away to get me to that next decision, the next curve in the road.
IIIIIIIIIIIII go to a small out of the way park that seems to be empty. We lie in the grass and look up at the morning sky. For the first time I feel the new being kick my insides and I place a reassuring hand over my belly. Milo doesn’t seem to notice my belly. Just then a crow swoops overhead and Milo becomes alert, excited, and begins to squawk as loudly as he can toward the crow, reaching up toward the sky. I stare at his little body. It has gone rigid, straining with all his power to reach those vast black wings. I notice something in his face, that same anxiety. How much does he know in his little mind about Mike and me? What exactly can he discern? I wonder what the thoughts look like in his head, what images he sees: Mike slapping me across the face, Mike fucking me against the refrigerator while I clench my jaw and wish it done, me slowly drawing a razor across my wrist when it’s all over. Can he even comprehend what all of that means yet? Some part of me knows that he can, some part of me understands that he does. This is why it is time to leave.
IIIIIIIIIIIII wrap him in my arms and push the stroller with one hand back to the house. I lay him down in my bed and the two of us slowly drift into a midday sleep.
I wake up too late. I can already hear Mike coming through the door. He comes into the bedroom and stares at me, half-awake on the bed with Milo.
Why is he in here with you?
It was just for a nap- it was an accident.
He needs to be in his own room- it’s dangerous.
It’s fine Mike, he is fine, see.
Put him in the other room.
IIIIIIIIIIIIWhen he talks to me I feel muted, reduced. As if I were simply part of the wall. It’s like trying to talk to someone underwater.
IIIIIIIIIIIII lift Milo’s heavy sleeping body and take him to his crib and place him there. When I walk back in the room Mike is already watching TV. I order in from a take-out place. Once it arrives I take the valium out of my purse and crush three of the pills into a fine powder. I open up the sweet and sour soup I know he will start with and sprinkle these into it. It dissolves enough. Then I take another three and put the powder from them in the sticky low-mien, stirring it until the chalkiness seems no longer evident. I pour copious amounts of duck sauce over it and then serve him a plate. I leave it on the table, clinking it down loud enough for him to hear it, and leave the apartment. I need to clear my head.
IIIIIIIIIIIIThe night sky glows a deep red as I walk down the street alone. I crave a cigarette desperately, but can’t bring myself to buy a loosey from the bodega. Despite the early hour very few people are out. I pass rows of brick buildings, some gleaming bright red and some so dirty their brick is almost black. A group of teens is on one corner laughing loudly and talking over each other. Two of them begin to do a dance I do not recognize. I want to stop and watch them, but know that would seem strange, invite interactions I don’t feel capable of.
IIIIIIIIIIIIWhen I get home I see that the take-out food has been ravaged. Mike’s wallet is lying out and I take all the money that is still in it and slip it into my purse. I quietly go into Milo’s room and lift his sleeping body from the crib. I grab the bag I have packed out from under Milo’s crib and leave the apartment for the last time. Once I am back in the cool night air I hail a cab and ask to be taken to the train station.
IIIIIIIIIIIII sit in the waiting room holding Milo in my arms and my other child within me. I look up at the large clock overhead. It is almost time to board. I make it all the way to the train, find three seats in a row with a view of the window. It is then that I begin to hear my heart beat in my ears, the slow steady thrum of blood rushing through my head. I look down at my purse and count the money that I’ve taken from Mike. It is less than a hundred dollars, eighty-six to be exact. I notice that my hands are trembling. I remember my mother, five years ago when she was still alive, holding my hand tightly in the hospital room. She was scared, I could see it in her face, she had been scared her whole life. She’d never had the strength to leave my father, was never really free until he was dead.
IIIIIIIIIIIII stand up and move back down the aisle, a sudden streak of anxiety forcing me to get off the train. It’s not too late to fix it, to get back before he wakes up. I realize I cannot do it alone, at least not this way. I need more time. As I reach the door, my heavy bag in one hand and Milo in the other, the Metro-North has just closed the door. She turns to me, her large stocky body standing between me and the door.
Can I help you?
IIIIIIIIIIIIThere’s nothing to say, I turn around and head back to my seat. Tears appear on my cheeks like they had been there all along and a great wracking sob escapes from my chest. As the train begins to move I realize I have never been more scared in my life. The city drops away and I feel something solidify in me. I look down at Milo and I feel a surge of strength like I have never felt in my life before. My fingers are tingling and then my whole body. It is as if every nerve ending in my body was asleep and now they are awake. I hold him close, I close my eyes, and I realize that forward is the only way to go. Up above I imagine Milo’s crows following us through the star-strewn sky, ready to welcome him in the morning to his new home.