Atlas Body


Today the earth shattered. Mine did, at least. I watched my husband leave me and the kids without even a second glance back. I write this without any added dramatic flair. He told us he was leaving. Midas asked if we had done something wrong. My husband had glared at me, his mouth turning down so slightly into a disgusted grimace. As if my becoming comfortable in my normal routine, as if my body evolving as they all do after the birth of a child, let alone three- as if I, just by existing, had done him some wrong. And he said, looking at Midas, his voice dripping with malice, “Well, it wasn’t you.”

What he didn’t want to say was that he just wasn’t happy with this boring life. He wanted to start fresh. His gray and thinning hair that he noticed suddenly one day had surprised him. The veins that stood out like used up maps on his arms terrified him. I tried to reassure him that it was normal. I reminded him I had stretch marks, amply mapping out every moment my body changed, but he just looked at me like I was too tired and used up for his new tastes.

He just wanted a new life.

Cadence cried as he walked out the door, and I watched carefully for any sign he might regret his decision. He didn’t flinch as her keening reached a fevered pitch when he passed over the same threshold he carried me through. He didn’t look back. He just slammed the door behind him.

Heron, our oldest, stood stoic and silent, watching his father’s back. Feelings flickered across his cheekbones into his eyes: resentment, anger, hatred, pity. His gray eyes flashed bitterly. He looked at me with pity and sadness. “You know this isn’t really your fault, mom. He’s just an asshole.”

I stared at the empty doorway and sighed. “Watch your language,” I whispered.

Heron grabbed my hand. I looked at him. He was biting his lower lip, a habit he had always had. “Mom,” he whispered.

I felt myself caving inwards, my bones folding over, my heart hiding deeper in my chest, nudging its way firmly behind my sternum. I could feel my throat closing up, the sobs ripping at my lungs. I took a deep breath through my nose. To quell the pain that came in every crease in my body. I balled my hands into fists, my chewed off nails cutting into the flesh of my palms.

Heron touched my face, right under my eye and above my cheekbone. “Mama, you’re better than this. Cadence and Midas…” He let the words out like a sigh.

I looked out over his head, the bookcase we had shared for years now devoid of the books he had collected on 1954 Fords and the history of the Hoover Dam, the encyclopedia of aspen trees and the tiny manual on how to draw your own maple sap – not that it was very hard – they were all gone. He even took his mother’s cookbooks, which I had used so lovingly for so long and which I knew he took just because they were from “his side of the family.” There weren’t even divorce papers. He said he would have them sent to me later.

I took another deep breath and looked at Heron, a spitting image of his father and yet with a completely different character. He carried himself like Meme said Papa carried himself. Humble and concerned.

His gray eyes were so like my own father’s that it startled me sometimes when I looked at him directly. As if suddenly my father were alive again, lecturing from behind the cheap drugstore glasses balanced carefully on the end of his nose, a smirk teetering precariously on the edges of his mouth.

I nodded to him, half attentive, and looked at Cadence. She sat on the floor and I could see what she was feeling. Her tiny three-year-old body was folded in on itself as I can only imagine mine had been, and maybe still was. Midas looked confused, sitting next to his twin sister with his little arm drawn around her shoulders. She wasn’t crying, really, not like three year olds normally cry. She was crying like an adult who didn’t want anyone to see- but she did it poorly, her shoulders shaking, deep, gulping gasps erupting from her tiny chest in staccato and arrhythmic bursts.

I sat cross legged next to her and pulled her into my lap. Midas followed, wrapping his little sister up in his notorious tiny bear hugs. Heron knelt in front of us. 15 years old. This wide gap between my children.

“This will pass,” I whispered to my children. I told them the story of their grammy’s first husband, who did this to her.

He said to me before they were around that he never wanted to see any of us again. I wondered why he would never want to see his own children, but he kept saying he wanted to start fresh. I don’t think he realized that no matter what woman he started fresh with, she would end up with the same glorious atlas on her body if she carried children too. He didn’t realize that we’re humans – nothing is fresh. We have baggage and memories and trauma. We have things we can talk all day about and things we’ll mention once and then never again. I think he’s confused. But I am not going to beg for him back. He had no regret, no guilt. He felt free – that was palpable from his unflinching exit.

And as I sit here with my children I realize I feel free too. And I think at least Heron does, as well. He’s old enough and experienced enough to realize what’s happened and to feel the difference.

And suddenly I break out into great big belly laughter and my kids all look at me confused and I’m laughing so hard I’m crying.

I told my mother I thought he might leave and in her usual manner she had said brusquely, “well then good riddance. It’s been a long time coming. Tell him to let the door break his face on the way out.”

At the time I felt like what she said was a slap in the face and only now do I realize that she was trying to make me feel better. And in usual fashion, her humor only hit when it was needed most.

And as most laughter is, mine was contagious, and suddenly we were all rolling around positively at the mercy of our giggle fits on the dirty mudroom floor.

2 thoughts on “Atlas Body

  1. I see now what you were saying about how you write your pain. You have captured a moment in time very well. There is an incredible peak at the time you talk about wondering if he knows that the next woman will have all the same ” faults”. and then it comes down and unfolds wonderfully.

    1. Thank you Cairn. In some ways, I’ve watched a lot of women very close to me struggle with their body image – for a variety of reasons, some similar to this. I thought it was time to write a character who refused to see her body as a flaw.

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