"You're sure," she finally said, flatly, however not due to a lack of belief, but more for sheer willpower in an attempt to be strong for me.
My eyes did their circuit again -- doorknob, rug, stairs -- each pause a beat to try and calm the chaos in my head, to hear my own heart and try to proceed in the best way possible, not just for myself, but for the baby sleeping upstairs.
A single nod was the best I could manage without bursting into tears. The pain in my chest was threatening to rob me of breath, but I shoved it down and willingly gave myself over to my brain's ability to hyper-focus on a single task, and with that ability the drowning out of my surroundings and any outside distractions.
I began speaking a list of things to my mother, the air changing from static to frenetic as we set in motion. She headed for the kitchen to retrieve bottles, pacifiers, baby food, and formula. I carefully ascended the steep stairs, opening the storage closet in our only bathroom to retrieve my luggage, filling a small carry-on with shampoo, face wash, my medications. I could barely keep the frenzied thoughts in my head from manifesting into spastic movements, rushed choices of needs versus wants and forced myself with every purposeful exhale to think logically, to carefully consider what the appropriate amount of items would be required for an undetermined amount of time. Most of the items my trembling hands could find were trial or travel size -- I refused to let my brain process the difference between a force of habit or a manifestation of hope, it just mattered that I had my products, that's all.
The tension in the house was palpable now, the overbearing sense of urgency chanting go go go now now now hurry hurry hurry while I carried the luggage downstairs to the bedroom, haphazardly grabbing unfolded clean clothes out of miscellaneous half-full laundry baskets, not giving much thought to outfit planning or situations I might need to wear more than yoga pants and a workout tank top for. I just grabbed the best things, my most frequently worn things because I knew they fit. It never occurred to me that I rarely left the house, rendering my wardrobe limited and barely appropriate in polite company.
The rustle of plastic grocery bags drew a side eye from me as I paused at the bottom of the stairs. By the light of the exhaust fan over the stove, my mother dutifully filled the inside-out beige and white bags with the feeding essentials for my son. I watched her hunched shoulders try to decide what to take and what to leave -- pulling down a full canister of formula and carefully double-bagging it, then shaking a mostly-empty one and checking the expiration date before placing it back in the cabinet above her makeshift work station.
Before I could process the scene a moment further, I carefully climbed the wooden stairs again, careful to not trip over my own feet. When we'd taken down the small, thin, single stair rail soon after moving in order to remove a sheet of thin MDF mounted behind it, we hadn't imagined that the cracked plaster wall it was glued to would come down with it. Neither of us had ever lived in a house without drywall in it, so the properties of 100 year old plaster and lathe befuddled us. One of my very first home renovation projects was to carefully chip out the plaster in order to make space for a reparative sheet of drywall -- to this day I can remember the smell and the taste of plaster dust on my tongue and in my sinuses as I vacuumed and swept the neverending piles of century old dust away as much as I could, sweat cutting tiny pink rivers down my neck and back through the coat of greyish-black sediment that had formed upon my skin during my toils. I was disgusting by the time I and my unsanctioned project were discovered, but the sense of pride and accomplishment I felt at the time eclipsed any sense of insecurity about my appearance. A friend with drywall experience later came over and helped cover the gaping hole, but a miscommunication about the difference between spackle and drywall mud had left the patch poorly mended and in need of further assistance. There, the first of many "simple" projects remained unfinished, making every step upon the painted treads of that steep staircase an exercise in balance, restraint, and faith that you were not meant to die that day.
The baby's room lay to the immediate right off of the last stair riser, the black enameled door knob protruding only slightly beyond the heavy millwork around the tall, age-marked door. It squeaked when you turned it, and the hinges groaned their tale of supporting solid wood in a frame something close to level when then house around it had long settled in peaks and valleys to complicate the function of the smallest of tasks. The floor transitioned from a wide-plank maple color (not original or matching to anything in the rest of the house) down about a half-inch at the threshold to a thin, cheap parquet floor that creaked and cracked as you walked over it, one-by-six inch strips popping up here and there in a chorus of wooden clanging akin to a Jenga tower crashing to the ground. Sometimes, it brought a thin-headed nail with it, cutting your foot in the dark, but we'd tried to remove most of the stragglers when we made the choice to put the nursery in what had been the master bedroom until that point, so that later when our little bundle of joy was mobile we wouldn't have to worry about him needing a tetanus shot.
I took a deep breath to steady myself as I closed my eyes against the painted white of the door, willing myself to pull it together and not wake him as I entered the room painfully slow in efforts to diffuse the cacophony of operating an old house. Steadily I crept to the giant wardrobe that housed all of his worldly sartorial possessions and began to remove onesies, socks, blankets, burp cloths, washcloths, and hooded towels. A quietly vicious scrutiny came upon me as I sorted through the tiny rows of meticulously folded infant items. I may not have paid much attention to my own clothes, but I'd be damned if I was going to leave anything good of the baby's behind.
I placed the tiny stacks into my suitcase, quickly filling the space I'd hoped was enough for all his needs. A brief flicker of a thought -- you're taking too much, you're not going to be gone that long -- shot like heat lighting between clouds behind my eyes. I paused.
Better to be safe than sor...
A tiny coo interrupted my internal monologue, freezing me in place mid-arc from the open wardrobe cabinet to the suitcase on the floor. My breath caught at my teeth, my tongue ferociously pressing against the roof of my mouth, willing every molecule in my body to cease motion, to make me invisible.
A light sigh came from the crib ten feet away. The puckered sound of toothless gums on silicone rhythmically cycled a handful of times, another sigh, then silence.
He was still asleep.
Quickly, I completed my last deposit of baby paraphernalia into the suitcase at my feet and picked the sturdy unit up, moving with painstaking effort towards the door in as much silence as I could muster, the tiny rattling of the zipper pulls on my luggage betraying both my physical and mental effort. I crossed the threshold, managing to pull the door shut as silently as possible behind me, then turning towards the stairwell with determination and speed.
A pile amassed in the pass-through between the foyer and the living room -- a small bit of luggage surrounded by bags upon bags of baby goods. The monkey-themed travel crib lay on the ground near my suitcase. I stared at it, frowning, offended by it's mysterious inclusion in the collection of items. Oh, yes, he'll need somewhere to sleep my brain managed to muster, and again I felt like the most inadequate parent. The feeling had pervaded my thoughts from the moment I first laid eyes on him, four hours after his birth, as I met him in the NICU with tubes and sensors already coating his tiny, frail body. I had no idea what I was doing and was surely destined to fail this frail child.
It was that thought which propelled my current activities. My fear of being an inadequate parent drove the near hysteria forming in my gut, knowing without a doubt that were I to make a single move without my child at the very foremost of my thoughts I would lose him forever.