His hands are clutched in his hair, fingers clawing for pain they can’t grasp. He twirls them at the back of his head when he’s tired, but now they’re frantic and futile, at a loss for something, anything, to comfort.
He curls next to me under the covers and starts to cry, his head cradled in the crook of my elbow. He hovers between whimper and wail, shuddering with pain but more with frustration. I try to stroke his forehead. He shoves my hand away while burrowing further into my side.
He collects his strength and whispers into his chest, ‘Is this how it is? For you?’
When I rush through the door, to the stairs, to the bed, hissing through my teeth, and Mommy cautions him to leave Daddy alone. And I’m whimpering, naked, on my knees on the bathroom floor, and a small, warm hand rests on my back. Stays. Waits.
‘Yeah, kiddo.’ He cries, for want of a different answer.
I reach for his book and read, Houdini the hamster gnawing through a water pipe in the kitchen and reveling in the feel of his teeth clashing against the metal. One page, two, and the shudders fade. His breath is warm and even on my arm as he retreats into sleep.
We used to call him ‘Houdini’. The mewling baby with one arm raised above his head in triumph, freed after minutes of struggling against Daddy’s straight-jacket swaddle. I fumbled in the dark, feeling the tightly wrapped bundle for signs of escape. Felt the arm, waving, and caught it. Re-wrapped my package, safe and warm and snug. My burrito.
Solutions have long since failed to be so simple, so cleverly held with crisp folds and tucks. This, I cannot swaddle. This, I cannot soothe. This, I cannot.
My fingers fall numb as I start to feel the cooling glaze of drool oozing from his mouth.