Martha spent her first weeks of motherhood completely overwhelmed by the reality of the experience. She'd be midway through the most mundane task -- chopping carrot sticks, or folding laundry, or driving into town, when it would strike her. I'm a mom. The idea never failed to set her heart racing, as though this dream could end at any moment.
She knew Jonathan envied her, for her seemingly effortless adaptation to the new situation. She caught him, more than once, wearing a deeply troubled expression as he watched their son. And one night, after another nightmare and another screaming fit, he even dared to say, quietly, "Martha, what if ... I mean ... suppose he doesn't get better."
Martha had levelled a fierce gaze at her husband and replied, "He's mine."
Jonathan didn't sleep well, even on those nights when Clark didn't scream, didn't wet the bed. It was the sort of behaviour he always exhibited when he was questioning a decision. He had endured three weeks of sleepless nights once before he gave in and sold back an ornery bull that they'd bought on impulse. Martha knew he was doubting their choice, to take the boy in and treat him as their own. It infuriated and terrified her, and there were long silences in the night when Jonathan lay awake and Martha tried not to notice.
In her deepest heart, Martha wondered too. Clark was sunshiny and giggly in the daytime, if not verbal. He was gradually grasping the concept of the potty, of clothing, of food and basic manners. He recognized his name and he understood 'no', and 'don't touch', even if he didn't always obey.
But at night, when his dreams came -- he was like a wild creature, feral and terrified. Martha would find him squatting in the middle of his twin bed, screaming tears and curled up on himself. When she tried to touch him, to comfort him, he'd only scuttle away, into a corner or the closet. No matter how gently she spoke, or how many lights she turned on, he never let her approach him.
"What kind of people would send their baby out into nothing?" Martha said, one night, frightened enough to speak to Jonathan about it. "He's remembering that, I'm sure he is."
Jonathan didn't reply, only crossed his arms and watched the little huddle of boy on the floor.
There was no regular pattern to the night terrors. He would sleep soundly for four nights straight, and Martha would begin to think that Clark was better, and then the next night, they would return, worse than ever.
He had been with them almost a month the night that Martha couldn't bear it any longer. The strained look in Jonathan's eyes was only worsening. When she put Clark to bed that night, she read him story after story until he fell asleep in her arms, a limp flannel weight in her tingling arms. She turned off the bedside lamp and lay down, pulling Clark close to her. She listened to the sounds of the house settling in the increasing autumn cold, to Jonathan getting ready for bed. Finally, she drifted off herself.
Clark woke with a scream at 2:06 a.m. Martha bolted awake, feeling his thin little arm flailing into her side. Before he could react to her presence, she sat up and gathered him in, even as he tensed and wailed in her embrace. He was an extraordinarily strong little boy, that much she already knew. His wriggling attempts to escape were bruising Martha's arms and legs, but she resolutely held him firm, murmuring, "Mommy's here, darling."
The harder he struggled, the more firmly Martha grasped Clark, until she was afraid that she would crush his little body in her efforts to contain him. Suddenly, the enraged boy found his tongue and shrieked, "No!" at the top of his lungs. "No! No!"
This occasion of his first word so startled Martha that she almost loosened her hold, but instinct kept her from letting Clark go. Instead, she pressed a kiss into his sweat-damp curls and began to sing.
"Hush little baby, don't say a word," she chanted quietly, riding out the pain and torment of the little child in her arms as he repeated his only word over and over. It seemed to last an eternity, and Martha went hoarse long before Clark, but at last, the screaming ebbed into sobs, and the sobs into sniffles, until finally she found herself in possession of a quiet, albeit shaky, little boy.
"I love you, Clark," she whispered, kissing at a tear-track on his cheek. "Always."
And, exhausted and snot-slimy as he was, Clark twisted in her loosened embrace to throw his arms around her in apology. "Mommy," he said, in a tired but satisfied voice.
Martha kissed her son's cheek and lay down on the bed with him, watching through drooping eyelids as Jonathan's form darkened the doorway of the bedroom and then moved off down the hall.
I'm a mommy. Her heart didn't race at thought this time; instead, it gave an exhausted flop and released a little pang of pain into her chest. She'd never known that love like this was possible.
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