I am at the sea and I am bleeding. The waves pulse in and out, salty wet that touches my toes and tingles my skin in the February sun. Inside, I pulse, too, a thick sea that flows and ebbs, ebbs and flows. Except for these waves in and out of me that keep me company, I am alone.
This is my first trip alone since the baby’s birth. She is fourteen months old. I did not go before because I was her world. Now I see in her giggles and wiggles at the presence of her sister and father, grandmothers and friends, that she has a world populated with more than my body. And so I am free to go. For a while.
A loneliness set in when I first got here. And so I turned to the tide for comfort. I gaze out over the colors of ocean, and think of her lavender sleeper, the pink on her cheeks in the morning, the focus she gets in her blue eyes when she’s looking at books.
The first time my husband and I went out for a date after the baby was born, we did this, too. We talked about her. We conjured her up. Looking into our plates, scrying, we saw from a distance what we couldn’t see when she was right there. Eventually, over the course of the evening, we looked into each other’s eyes. For the first time in weeks, months. And saw what we did not want to see after such time apart. We had grown distant. There was anger, and a lot of fatigue, and some disappointment. But mostly, there was difference. I was breastfeeding; he was not. I was the baby’s world; he was not. I thought of nothing else; he did not.
During her third month, we went to see our therapist. Half way through the session, she turned to me. “You’re not getting it,” she said. “You’re not getting it.” I was ten years old again, a nun was chastising me, her anger was rising, and I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. Was there supposed to be a test today? Did I forget my homework? Why is everyone looking at me?
“He misses you.” She looked away from me, finally, looked to my husband. “Look at him. Look at him.”
I did. His eyes were full of tears.
Later that day we sat at our favorite outdoor café, the baby in a yellow dress and sun hat, and took turns holding her while the other ate lunch. People came by, saying what a cute baby, what a good baby, and I looked at my husband and thought, will you ever forgive me, will we ever be close again?
That day is almost a year ago now, and as I sit on the sand, slightly chilling as the winter sun sets in the south at the end of my first day away, I see now that our closeness can be measured by my distance.
We started having regular date nights after that. Once a week, rhythmically. We gradually learned to talk to each other again, the anger receded, I stopped breastfeeding, his love for the baby grew. For a while we went out every other week, because money was tight. Then we skipped about six weeks. The presence of his mother, the holidays. And now we’re back to once a week again. The rhythm is comforting. Like the tide.
I look out over the sea and think I see an island. Morgan le Fay, the Celtic death goddess, lives in the Isle of Apples, called Avalon. Maybe it is this I am seeing. There is something about the ocean that allows one to see what isn’t always there.
“Mor” means sea in Celtic, and her name in Latin, Fata Morgana, is the name for a mirage seen in the Strait of Messina, said to be an apparition of her palace under the sea. Her name is also synonymous with death—the fate that awaits us all.
What island, fate, death, mirage am I seeing here, away from the ties that bind me like the tide is bound by the moon?
My cycle, my bleeding, reminds me that I am fertile again, that our lovemaking could result in another baby.
And out there, in the waves, I see a dark haired baby boy, moody and playful, waiting for me.
But what death would his birth entail?
Morgan le Fay is not the best role model for a mother. She tricked her own half-brother, Arthur, into sleeping with her, and then later enticed their son, Mordred, into killing his father. At the last minute, she intervened, held Arthur back from the brink of death, healed him into a sound sleep and whisked him off to Avalon where he sleeps still, waiting to be awakened one day.
And I fear, too, that the birth of a son would mean the death of my husband. Not literally, although there is that possibility, as he approaches the age his father was when he died. No, I fear more the death of him as my husband. I worry about the expense—the financial, emotional, even spatial expense-- of another child. I wonder precisely where we would put him in our lives. What we would have to give up.
People tell you that having another child is easier. See how they keep each other company, they say. It is a lie.
As someone who had her first baby when she was already a stepmother, I know that reality is more difficult. An older woman friend who tells the truth once told me that another baby does not double the trouble, it multiplies it. “There is the relationship between Baby A and the mother,” she tells me over a Thai dinner, “Then there’s the relationship between baby B and the mother, Baby A and the father, baby B and the father, Baby A and Baby B, the mother and A and B, the father and A and B, the mother and father….” It begins to spin out of control like the word problems on standardized tests that I used to just take a guess at.
I don’t want to just take a guess at my life.
And so, I conclude, as I stand up on the sand, causing a rush of blood to fall out as I do, and start walking, the sun having set, to head back into the hotel, I suppose I am choosing death over birth. The death goddess Morgan le Fay nods her head in the distance as I turn to look back at the sea one more time.
And I remember that, contrary to our culture’s demonization of death, there is wisdom and strength in knowing your limit, in admitting that it is time for the end. The pentacle, that five-pointed star representing balance, the points on the human body, the equality of earth, air, fire, water and spirit, was sacred to Morgan le Fay. It was carried in her honor on a blood red shield.
I carry it, too, on my body, the balance of head and arms and legs, and the blood red shield at my center. The remembrance that I am finite. That creation and destruction exist together. That her name, Morgan, is another name for muse.
I close the door to my room, alone. And I begin to write.
Cassie Premo Steele, Ph.D.
author of Moon Days, Creative Writings About Menstruation
published by Ash
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