When I was sixteen, I wanted to have five children–a need, I think, that stemmed from the deep-seated loneliness I felt as a child. Sure, I had two brothers–one older and one younger–but my mother left when I was a baby, and I always felt a sense of longing. Of something missing.
I was certain that having five children meant I’d never have to be alone, and I’d prove to my father and his wife that I’d be much better parents than they were. Isn’t that what having kids is all about? Self-delusion?
After I had my first baby, a girl, I insisted on riding in the backseat with “Jessica” on the way home. She was 6 pounds, 8 ounces, and her car seat was too big. Jessica was hunched over, all tiny and delicate, her hands hanging limp. I started bawling. “She looks so uncomfortable,” I said. “Like a little bean.”
Her father Jeremy laughed at me. But I saw so clearly while looking at her why my father was so goddamned strict with me. If any person tried to touch a hair on that baby’s head, I would kill them. Not punch them, not kick them. Literally spend years in prison eating slop and never seeing the sun, for murder.
When I was sixteen, telling my father, “I want five kids,” he’d say, “Honey, no you don’t. All they do for the first year is eat, shit, and cry.” Well, he was wrong. All Jessica did for the first two years was cry. She may have eaten a little and dirtied a few diapers, but Jeremy and I spent many nights staring at the ceiling listening to that wailing little person, wishing we were dead. And we were there for stitches, and puberty, and her first heartbreak–wishing death on others.
Jessica’s a remarkable 22-year-old now, and she’s one of my best friends in the entire world. No, I didn’t have five, just for the record. Three is plenty. No, they didn’t cure my loneliness, and yes I’ve screwed up just as much as my parents. But more on that later.