My brother is an infant. Baby skin. I can’t get enough of that skin. I maul him. I kiss his crown. I carry him from room to room. Tiny limbs dangling. I climb inside his crib.
Let him sleep, Jenny.
My mother peels me off, tiny finger by tiny finger.
But he’s my baby.
We’d waited so long to hold him.
The doctor had taken him too soon. Something about a ski vacation and it would be fine to perform the C-section early. Her first child had been a C-section. They wouldn’t try for a vaginal birth.
My mother’s intuition bucked. I’d come 2 weeks late, unable to fathom leaving the safety of that womb. I pushed my head into a closed cervix for hours until an emergency C-section was performed. I was healthy.
He isn’t cooked.
She knew. He too would be late. He would come in his own time.
At nearly 9 pounds the doctor was certain he was ready. Against my mother’s better judgement, the doctor took him at his convenience.
My brother entered the world with underdeveloped lungs. For weeks we watched him through glass, praying that soon he would not need that machine to help him breathe. We waited, our own breath catching in our throats, hoping, sweaty palmed, that he would catch his own.
In a suit of plastic I sat outside the incubator and put my little palm through a hole and watched as, like a sea anemone, his wrinkled fingers wrapped around my own. How big my hand looked next to his. How big my heart was in my chest.
Hello brother. We are made of the same ingredients. I have waited my whole little life to love you.
Afternoons I was permitted to keep my mother company in her hospital bed. Capsized by sadness, I’d never seen my mother this way. Nine months we’d been three. Now it was just us again.
I’d loved my brother from the outside of my mother’s skin, eager to know his face. Trying to fathom how each of us had grown inside her. How we were a piece of her.
Put your hand here. Feel him kicking?
I’d squeal with joy when an alien heel would press my palm from the inside of her skin. I’d whisper secret notes of love.
Would he know my voice?
I sat in my mother’s hospital bed and opened tiny gifts. Toys my mother had wrapped weeks prior to offset the attention my brother would receive upon delivery. She wanted me to know I was still her girl.
We watched a battery operated baby doll crawl across the sheets. Yellow beams of sun shooting through the window. Tears I’d never seen escaped my mother.
What’s wrong mommy?
I’m just sad, baby.
It would be weeks before she held him. Months before we were certain he would live.
My father held her in the parking lot as we watched the tail lights of the ambulance that moved my brother to a hospital where specialists would save his life.
For months he lay in the crib in my parents bedroom dripping with wires that monitored his breath. How fragile a little life can be.
Breathe, baby. We have so much life to live together.
In night I witness panic when the alarm on the machine goes off. He isn’t breathing. Relief when we discover it is only a wire that has shaken loose. A lazy roll in his sleep.
When the wires come off for good, there is no force which can stop me from touching that baby. I’d waited so patiently to hold this extension of my own life.
Hello breath. Hello tiny lung. There is life in you.
In the department store I scan my mother’s perplexed expression as a stranger peers down at the sleeping baby in the stroller.
Your son is so cute. Is he adopted?
My hair and skin are akin to my mother’s. Dark. But my brother, he is fair. Fair like the photos of my father as a baby. Dutch. My brother’s hair is white. My mother rubs baby oil on him waiting for her Cuban genes to reveal themselves in the sun. But his color doesn’t change.
Chocolate and vanilla cupcakes, my mother chimes as she pulls our bare asses from the bathtub. It is difficult for me to register that my brother is not also a part of me. That our bodies are each our own. That one day we will no longer share a bathtub.
But here. Here, I spend hours running my fingers through that white hair. The two of us sitting cross-legged in a lukewarm tub where I touch his little head, his bare shoulders, and coat him in bubbles.
When my mother was pregnant with my brother, I’d laid in bed with her in the early light of day when morning sickness took hold of her.
Sleep baby, she’d say, willing me to lay in the safety beside her. Willing me to give her moments to rest her spinning head.
But I’m not sleepy mama.
Then just rest.
I learned to braid hair on those mornings. I sat in a pile of hair ties, pulling gently on my mother’s scalp, gathering that beautiful black hair into a sea of tiny braids. How peaceful she looked as she slept. One day I would know how to replicate this on my own head on school mornings when my mother was no longer present in our home.
How tenderly she laughed when she would awaken to a nest of braids atop her head. Varying shapes and sizes reaching up toward the ceiling and the wall behind. Medusa, she’d laugh, and humor me by keeping them in while she toasted bread.
My parents shared a car for the first few years after I was born. My father took the car to work. My mother and I ran errands on her bicycle. I loved the feel of the wind on my face. I sat in the seat behind her with my helmet tied to the seat with ribbon so that when I fell asleep my head wouldn’t bobble as we flew over bumps. My toys were also tied so they wouldn’t be lost in a gutter when sleep found me and sent my hands limp. Nothing but the strength of my mother’s legs propelling us forward. Afternoon sun splitting leaves of trees overhead and the soft lull of the wheels grinding against pavement. My mother’s breath.
Soon there would be three. Three little birds. And we would travel by car and by foot. My father a fourth. An entirely different creature. Soon. Soon. Soon. I would know myself in the mirror of my brother. Soon I would be a witness to the outrageous perplexity of the female body’s ability to adapt, to morph, to give life. I would become enraptured by the concept of being a mother.
Hello body. Hello Womb. Hello brother.