(9)-The-Moment_bNo sound from the kids, not for fifteen minutes. I trust they’re asleep. I get my tiger-striped chenille robe off the back of the bathroom door and put it on over my jeans and flannel shirt. I am that cold. Lately I stand sometimes for a whole half-hour over the floor furnace. Other times I read curled up along the wall with my feet out over the heat that drifts upward of its own accord, no blower to send it around the house. There are advantages to this kind of heat. There’s always a place to go, to get to it, a center in the house.

It’s an old house that my husband agreed, in desperation, to buy two years ago, borrowing money from his mother to do it. I had been depressed, aimless, and vacant: a mother-machine, with a new baby, and Kelly, who would soon be five. Maybe I shouldn’t have stayed at home with the kids. I wanted to feed them carrot sticks and read them Dr. Seuss. But the truth is, having a job would have only delayed the inevitable.

I would go to the drug store and stare at the bright bottles of hair spray, plastic travel kits, and see them, not as things to buy, but as permanent art objects, attached to the walls. I would stand in the aisle, confused about where the exit was. I would pick Kelly up, trying to push Scott’s stroller and carry him at the same time, as if I were a beast of burden, dumb and thoughtless. I would start longing for something I couldn’t afford, like the brass colonial lamp I saw in the window of Miller’s. My life would be at a standstill, without the lamp. I would sell my body to get it. I scarcely remembered having a body.

On this evening I watch my husband walk into the living room and sit down on the sofa, his skinny legs barely touching his khaki pants. He is rigid with fear, as he’s been for almost a year, waiting for this to happen. I’ve taken a Valium in preparation. I took it an hour ago, so it would be working by now. Normally, I’m not a drug user of any kind if I can help it, not even aspirin, but there will never be another moment like this one. I take a breath.

The couple opening the door to Ed McMahon with the huge check—it’s usually only a couple of years before the money’s gone. No matter what, people tend to shift with circumstances, but come back to the set-point of who they are. There’s no great pivot of before and after. The before has been climbing uphill for a long time, our breathlessness, like Keats upon a peak in Darien, only stored-up anticipation. Where are we but where we knew we would be ?

What I have to say to him is a turmoil of particles of the past, squeezed into a few words. The moment, like all moments, empty and full, on the verge and passing. This one firing deep in the limbic system, the hippocampus, driving waves of amnesia through the body. What was it like? I can’t say, anymore, and I couldn’t have said then, but I will call it holy, that precise moment, because it is set apart in my mind, elevated like an offering to the gods—a moment when the heart is reamed out deeper than one imagined, and all these years later deserves its own kind of honor, for the sake of the simple, unresolved human life we all share.

Fleda Brown has a collection of memoir essays, Driving With Dvorak, from the University of Nebraska Press. Her sixth collection of poems, Reunion, won the Felix Pollak Prize and was published in 2008 by University of Wisconsin Press. She is professor emerita of the University of Delaware. She now lives in Traverse City, Michigan, and teaches in the Rainier Writing Program in Tacoma, Washington.

Photo by Ryan Rodgers