On a Tuesday morning in the middle of January, I sob loudly inside my car, parked in the school lot. Frost covers the windows. Behind me, the baby sleeps in her car seat, head slung low on her chest. I am four months postpartum with my fourth child, and my body feels like lead, struggling even to turn the key in the ignition. Around me, busy parents enter their cars, alone, and I envy them—all of their children safe in the care of others. Cars exit the lot, turn signals blinking in the brittle light, but I can’t move. It’s not the crying that keeps me inert, but this pressure below my sternum, a lump that feels like a large, hungry animal flung against my chest, plus a feeling that everything I’ve ever loved is waving goodbye from behind a thick, soundproof pane of glass. There is nothing in my life that does not exhaust me. I do not know how I will get home. I fear I will petrify and my other children will find their sister at the end of the day covered in tears and urine, or that I have forgotten how to drive, how to yield at intersections and pull over for emergency vehicles. I know I must not stop atop the railroad tracks, but I worry I might ignore that knowledge when the time comes. I am still crying and the baby still sleeps when I hear Bruce Springsteen sing, You’ve been hurt and you’re all cried out. Suddenly, I feel somehow less original—relieved by the presence of someone else’s pain and depression inside my head. If the achy, angsty voice from within my speakers can make his own unbearableness sublime, surely it can make mine bearable. The lyric escapes my lips quietly, like a secret, or a prayer—after all, I am not so far gone as to have forgotten how vital it is to not wake a sleeping baby. My hands are cold on my hot cheeks when I wipe away my tears, and I hope I will remember to warm them before lifting my daughter from her seat and carrying her inside. I put the car into gear and check my blind spots before pulling away, trusting in Bruce when he promises a thin white line of love, alive at the edge of the dim highway, a beacon I might follow, a way to survive, at least, the drive home.
Francesca Moroney is a mother, writer, teacher, and reader, living and working with her five teenagers and three large dogs in southwestern Illinois. She has been published in the Journal of Light and Dark, Aesthetica Magazine, and fws journal of literature and art. Her prose poem, “The Jane Collective,” was a semi-finalist in the 2019 Stories That Need to Be Told Contest of Tulip Tree Publishing.