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A Missing Heart(8)

By´╝ÜShari J. Ryan

I don’t think that’s the case tonight since his screams have only increased in volume since I got up. Removing the bottle from the warmer, I hold it over the sink and let the drops of breast milk, yup, that’s my life now, fall onto my wrist so I can make sure the liquid my hot wife pumped from her breast six hours ago is not too hot. Yup. Breast milk, not too hot. It’s perfect. For Gavin.

With the bottle in hand, I grab a burp cloth from the pile of laundry stacked up on the living room couch and head upstairs to Gavin’s room where the piercing noise begins puncturing tiny holes in my ear drum.

I scoop up my little guy and carry him over to the rocking chair Hunter was nice enough to lend me. What are brothers for? Other than to lend each other rocking chairs. Who am I right now? How did Hunter and I reach a point in our lives when we lend each other rocking chairs?

The second the nipple, which isn’t a sexual word anymore, fills Gavin’s mouth, his cries stop and his body relaxes into my arms. I look down at him and the soothing look on his face, and I fall in love with him all over again, just like I do at three in the morning every single night. I might be tired as all hell, but I’d do pretty much anything for this little guy. It would be nice if he understood this and did me a solid by drinking this bottle a little faster, but what can I say, the kid takes after his dad and savors good food.

Keeping my eyes open is the only task at hand right now. Thirty minutes of staring at a dark wall goes by and the bottle feels light in my hand. Gavin’s mouth has released the nipple and he’s sound asleep. But I have to wake him up to burp him. Those are the rules I’ve learned. They’re really stupid rules, but something about him throwing up and falling asleep in his own vomit, then drowning in it scares the life out of me, so I’ll do what I’m supposed to do. I wake up my sleeping baby, who otherwise would probably just let me sleep the next three hours in peace and quiet.

Within a minute of lightly tapping my hand over his little back, I hear the small gas pocket pop in his belly and I lift him up to place him back into his crib. Except, now he’s looking at me. He’s smiling at me. Maybe it’s gas, but I think it might be because he knows he’s about to keep me up for the next three hours.

Before Gavin came along, I was never aware a person could actually sleep while standing up. I have now proven that this can actually work if I’m exhausted enough. But now…either Tori is shaking me or there’s an earthquake. Nevertheless, I’m not sure I have the strength to peel apart my eyelids. When I receive an elbow to the gut, though, my eyes flash open and I find myself hanging over the side of the crib—an empty crib, and my back screams with pain as I straighten up to face Tori. She appears rested, as I probably would if I had slept in a bed since three in the morning, but I know she needed it more than I did.

“You look miserable,” she tells me. I’m tired. I have to be at work either now, an hour from now or an hour ago depending on what time it is.

“What time is it?” I ask her. God, it sounds like I have a rusty nail lodged in my throat. Why is she looking at me like that? Like I should be smiling and standing here with a cup of coffee, reading the paper, instead of hunched over our son’s crib.

“It’s eight,” she says, unemotional and detached, as she has been for months now. We’ve been married less than a year and for most of that time, I’ve been trying to decode her.

I know she loves me and I love her, but this parenting thing is obviously wearing us both thin. I suppose this is why it’s typically suggested to get married and start a life together before starting a family. As unplanned as my life has always gone, this is no different. Doing the right thing has never been a question in my mind, but I don’t know if the right thing is ever really the right path in life. This time, I’m making this the right path, though—I’m going to be a good husband and the best dad Gavin deserves.

“I was hoping to take a quick shower before our playdate this morning,” Tori says. It’s eight and I have an hour to get to the job site Hunter and I are scheduled for today. “I know you have to leave soon.”

Tori hands Gavin to me and offers a pathetic smile. I guess telling her I’d like to take a shower before work won’t go over well right now. With Gavin in my arms, I take him downstairs into the living room and plant my ass down on the couch—the only piece of furniture I had a say on when we moved in— and melt into the plushness as I power the TV on. Maybe I can at least catch some of the replays from the game last night.

The second I lean back into the couch; my eyes fight the familiar battle of exhaustion. I am so damn tired. Caffeine probably can’t save me now. Maybe just a few minutes of sleep will be okay…Gavin is out, and God knows Tori will be in the shower for a half hour.