I have discovered that a mother’s love is more than the process of the loving itself; it is my daughter’s purity I worship. Her sentience, although derived from my own genetics, is not inherently my own, but of that belonging to her environment, of a cerebral cortex not yet calibrated nor clouded with the inevitable bullshit of the world.
I have looked at innocence through many different lenses in my lifetime. In those, I have almost always seen it as an absence, but in her, there is a fullness, a pride in having created something that cannot be blind, but cannot suffer as a result of her culpability.
When Abi turned one, her brain began the process of pruning its synapses in tune to her world. I loved her not out of unconditional obligation but out of a chemical addiction. Here was something I could not harm. Something that could not really be touched, could not really be seen, but could be felt in neural circuitry.
Today, six days after her third birthday, she cries when the doctor gives her a tetanus shot in her left arm. A nurse reassures her, and reminds me, excitedly warbling, that my daughter will soon be able to retain what she remembers, the things she feels. It doesn’t matter if she was born too small; now, she has her whole life ahead of her.
While I strap her into her car seat in the hospital parking lot, I realize this means that I must learn to love her as I loved my husband—in fear of my own influence, in scarceness and vanity. I must give my daughter the gift of a caution she has never before needed. This is the job of a mother. A job my mother did not teach me. I have not been bred to be kind, patient; I was born nuclear, confessing my devotion to chaos as soon as I was given the opportunity, tearing through my mother’s abdomen with a fatal wound. I dug a grave in my creator but retained nothing. No memory, no guilt. Just a stinging, restless feeling that never really went away.
Abi doesn’t let me hold her before she falls asleep. That’s the problem with children—eventually they learn the words to reject you. When she was still a baby, I had something to hold, something to kiss, to love. I could tug her hair, scratch her cheeks, pinch her nose, bite her arms, make her cry, dry her tears. Although I know she cannot yet remember, there’s an underlying angerin the way she looks at me, as though her limbic system has evolved ahead of its time. I listen to her fall asleep on the baby monitor mounted beside her mattress. When her eyelids shudder into REM sleep, I enter the room to count her eyelashes and pretend that I am plucking them while kissing the baby-fat, creamy margarine skin on either side of her dimples. I imagine putting her hair up in pigtails and barrettes and combining it with my fingers, unknotting tangles with my teeth as I go, and her, my daughter, my baby, as much as I would like to think that she would thank me, or touch me, or simply allow me to look into her the way I want, to keep her safe, I imagine she would only struggle. She seeks to hurt her mother in a depth that defies her own innocence. She seeks to separate herself. Gently, over time—and this hurt cannot be measured like the hurt I caused my own. It’s worse. It’s too patient. It’s too kind.
Today, I draw her a bath. Abi loves bubbles and sponges, the way the faucet drips even after it’s off. She loves to be clean.
I help her into the tub. Her small body becomes distilled under various panes of water that shift with tides from the faucet. Some panes are those of clarity, others, of bright pink soapsuds, others, just slightly milky, where sudsy storm clouds brew beneath the surface. I wonder if her memories have already begun to blossom, to solidify. I know I cannot allow her to one day comprehend the ugliness that I have gifted her, pollute the only form of sanctitude I’ve ever made. She tells me not to touch her and I touch her anyway–mothers always know what’s best. And then I grip her head and stomach. Press her spine to ivory. A slick, weak-willed worm, she writhes against me while I squeeze until her lungs collapse. The tub fills until it spills over the lip, onto the carpet, where her poppy-patterned clothes are lying in the corner. Only then do I tickle the flesh of her still belly, skin just as smooth as the first day I held her.
Marah Herreid is a 20 year old from Denver, CO. After studying creative writing for five years at Denver School of the Arts, she is now a sophomore at Colorado University majoring in cinema studies, and she hopes to one day make some strange feature length films of her own.