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HOLD YOUR BREATH by Spencer Litman

Meet your wife in the hallway. Do not make the door handle click by turning it with too much force. Avoid kicking the toys scattered like landmines on the carpet. You do not want to wake your daughter, but you need to see her breathing. Walk to the crib rail like a procession of two. Place your hands on your wife’s shoulders in case she melts like she did when she found your son cold-dead in the middle of the night. Repeat this ritual while your daughter sleeps every forty minutes for the first six months of her life. 

Try not to blame yourself even though you heard him crying much earlier and rolled over thinking, he’ll go back to sleep. He always does this. Babies are resilient, and I am so tired.  

No matter how many times you have gone back and forth reassuring each other that there is no blame to be had, there is a chasm of rumpled sheets on the bed. In this forty-minute reprieve you feel close to her. Maybe if you do this enough, it will be a habit, this closeness, something you both do without thinking.

Your little daughter sleeps on her stomach, face pressed into chevron patterned sheets, butt sticking up into the air, snoring just loud enough to hear it over the soft ocean roar from a white noise machine. Your wife rests her head on your shoulder. Feel her exhalation, her relief when she sees the shallow rise and fall of your daughter’s back, unlabored and steady. 

Breathe to this fragile rhythm that only you and your wife know is fleeting, capable of slipping off while no one’s looking to somewhere implacable and permanent.

Leave the room. Close the door, still careful not to catch the mechanism in the handle. Lay in bed. Make your leg a bridge over the chasm and feel your wife’s cold toes against your shin. Hold your breath for thirty-four minutes.

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