Mark loved routines.
He loved knowing that when he woke up in the morning, he would run his shower water, play one of his favorite songs, brush his teeth and look over at his wife watching him with joy. He knew that his clothes would be ironed and left out on the dresser, that by the time he got downstairs he would either have a hot breakfast or a packed lunch, depending on the day. He parked his car at work no later than 8:45am, to walk in no later than 9am, and walk out right at 5pm. Dinner or delivery was served around 6:30, and he was cuddled, laughing and talking with his wife by 9pm until they fell asleep. This was only interrupted by visitors, date night and vacations. Mark knew what his life was every single day, and he loved it.
So when waking up to run his shower water turned into waking up to help his pregnant wife to the bathroom with her morning sickness, and having his clothed ironed the night before turned into him ironing them himself with his toothbrush in his mouth, and making it to work early with his packed lunch in hand turned into running into his corner office ten, even fifteen minutes late and having to eat the cafeteria food he hated for lunch, and coming home to Nadia’s cooking turned into coming home to Nadia’s request for takeout as well as a grocery list filled with more things for Jasmine than for himself or even Nadia, and being in bed with his wife by 9pm turned into tending to Jasmine until she and Nadia both fell asleep and Mark going to bed around 11pm or so because he HAD to go to work in the morning, he was lost. He felt himself having to think harder than he ever had to in his entire life. He no longer knew when he would make it to work, if he would finish the list of projects they had lined up for him, if he would enjoy what he ate that day or even if he would see his wife. The only thing he knew for sure now, was that this was Jasmine’s world now and all he could do was breathe in it. And he didn’t know how to feel about that, so he decided not to.
This reflection slowly woke Mark out of his sleep. He laid in bed with these thoughts loud enough to prevent him from returning to bed, but soft enough that he was alert to hear if Jasmine was crying or if Nadia was singing her to sleep, or on the phone with his mother-in-law who called at least three times a day, to do nothing else but inquire on if her “precious grandbaby” was still doing well. Usually, it was one out of the three. But now, it was nothing.
Mark yawned, then sat up in the bed with his eyes closed. While he no longer really had a routine, he had made sure that one thing was constant: if he woke up in the middle of the night, he would go check on Jasmine and Nadia. Sometimes when he did this he would find precious bonding moments between mother and daughter. Other times he would be relieving Nadia of her duties for twenty minutes or so, just so she could finish eating whatever food he had brought her that day or shower or use the bathroom or check her work email, which was empty and he knew it but he left her do it anyway. He played a guessing game with himself about which scenario might be the case. “Probably sleeping,” he mumbled to himself.
He shifted himself to swing his legs out of the bed and investigate if his hypothesis was correct. He let his feet touch the ground and prepared himself to stand up only to feel a restraint. Mark was startled at first, thinking that his shirt had been caught onto a bed post. He whipped his arm behind his back only to find another one clinging on to him. Mark turned around to find the same person that he was leaving to check on had been laying next to him the entire time. “How could I have forgotten what it’s like to be in bed with my wife?” he thought to himself.
“I missed you.”
Mark was taken out of his thoughts by Nadia’s whisper. He looked at her and could tell that she hadn’t truly been asleep, but rather just took some time to lay down and hope that he would wake up in time to see her. He had questions, but decide not to ask. “I missed you too,” he said and he hopped back into the bed.
They stayed still for a few seconds and Mark realized he did not know what to do. “Should I touch her? Make love to her? Give her a kiss? Why do I no longer know what to do with my-”
“I don’t want to have anymore kids.”
Mark again had his thoughts interrupted. He laughed. “Yeah, this has been a lot to handle but -”
“I need you to get me back on the pill tomorrow.”
Mark froze. He realized that this was no longer a joke. This was an actual issue. This wasn’t a sleepy new mother talking to him; this WAS his wife. He looked at her. She was breathing hard, like she usually did when she was talking about something that bothered her.
“It took me nine months to create this child and it took her three months to alter every single aspect of my life. I can’t go to work. I can’t sleep without worrying about her. I can’t talk to my mother without talking about her. I can’t do anything without her. And I love her dearly, and deeply, but I don’t want to have to do this twice. I’m too young. You are too young. So please. Go to work tomorrow. Get me the pill. Let’s start this early.”
There was silence now. Mark knew he wasn’t thinking anymore. He knew Nadia was thinking, but he didn’t quite know what she was thinking. Was she even thinking? She couldn’t be, to have the audacity to think of such a thing.
“Fuck, Mark, why can’t you -”
“You know exactly why I can’t, Nadia.”
“No I don’t. You never tell me.”
“Exactly. And the fact that I never told you and never brought you into it should let you know that the answer is no.”
“Mark, I just don’t understand why – “
“And you won’t.”
That last line came out a little more heated than Mark anticipated. His breathing was louder. The lights were off and he couldn’t quite see her, but he could feel Nadia’s emotions pierce through her eyes and right onto his face. He knew her. He knew she was upset. He knew that this silence was her way of forming her thoughts together in a way that was stern but that wouldn’t end in divorce. Mark was in for it. He knew what he married.
“I didn’t realize that you had total control over what happens to my body, Markus.”
“I didn’t realize that you had total control over when we stop growing our family, Nadia.”
Nadia stopped breathing. He knew he had her then. He looked at the clock and saw that it was 5:57am. He continued.
“Do you think I don’t want any more kids? Do you think I don’t want a son? One that is mine and will be mine? Things ain’t just hard for you, and I know I might not have it as hard, but this ain’t no walk in the park for me either. And even still, that doesn’t mean I throw the towel in.”
He paused to catch his breath to listen. Nadia still was not breathing. He opened his mouth to continue only to hear what was the beginning of a temper tantrum coming from Jasmine’s bedroom. He sighed. “Do you want me to go and get her?”
“Nadia. You don’t have to get up if you don’t -”
“I’m not going to get up, and you aren’t either.”
Mark turned to his wife. Jasmine was starting to become even louder. “Then who is going to get her?”
“Can you hear yourself think?”
“Can you. Hear yourself. Think.”
Mark pause. Jasmine was now loud enough to be heard equally with his own thoughts. He had heard it was time to start letting the baby cry but, goodness. He wouldn’t let her win though. “Yes, Nadia. I can hear myself-”
“Give it some time. Now you listen to this. Remember. Before all of this, we could do what we want. Live how we want. Be who and WHERE we wanted. And then, our bundle of blessings came -”
Jasmine was screaming now. Loudly. It was overthrowing Mark. It was overpowering Nadia. But he knew where this was going and he would not lose this argument.
“-so think of what it would be like to sacrifice all of that again-”
Jasmine was wailing.
“-no money to afford another child-”
Mark could not hear.
“-everything doesn’t have to be by the book all of the -”
It was 6:15.
“-we can try when Jas is older-”
Mark had had enough.
He flung back his sheets, ran down the hall and burst into the nursery. He ran, exhausted, to the crib and picked up Jasmine in his arms. “Shhhh, shhh… Daddy’s here. Daddy’s here.”
He opened his eyes and found that just by his touch, his daughter was much calmer. Her eyes were focused right on him, as if she was surprised to finally see him be the one holding her at this time of night. He sighed in content, finally being able to hear Jasmine in a better state and his own thoughts with clarity. The only movement he had left in him was the side step he was doing to rock Jasmine back to sleep. He was tired. He had work in the morning. But with the steps he felt creep up behind him, he knew that the night wasn’t over.
“Imagine that overpowering feeling, where you can’t hear yourself, get your thoughts together or even breathe, all over again. For the rest of your life. In double be the amount. Because you want to have another child this soon.”
Mark turned around. His wife, the one he knew he married, was doing the very thing he knew that she would do: stare at him with a smirk on her face that screamed “You really didn’t think this through, huh?”. They stared at each other in silence for seconds until Nadia turned around and left the room and Jasmine, oblivious to it all, fell right back to sleep after receiving just the amount of attention that she wanted, and Mark stood in the middle of the room knowing that his work clothes were unironed and his breakfast would not be made and that he would be late to work again and that there would be no dinner, and that for the rest of his life there would no longer be any notion of a routine.