Jasper pushed a kid at the park today. I stood far enough away to watch the kid stumble back, tangle himself in his own feet, and then fall to the ground. Nothing about the push surprised me and I have no reason to tell you except that this was a moment we anticipated together and now it’s over.

I can’t give you any other details because I stared too long at the kids swinging from the new metal climbing web. The web is our excitement and what we’ve waited for. Thousands were raised to hire one of Seattle’s premier architects, who then charged a couple thousand more to draft our dream dome of multi-colored bars and unsteady drawbridges and one twisty slide that drops straight down the middle. If you’re trying to picture this, don’t. It’s nothing short of a masterpiece I’ll never understand, but the web will leave the kids worn and hungry and ready for bed. And what more can we want? If you were still here, you’d deliver the long list of what I once wanted, so for just this moment I’m glad you’re gone.

“No push,” I screamed, as soon as I could. I did. “Jasper, we don’t push.”

The other kid stayed face down in the dirt; his kid fists pounded the grass. Jasper stood over the kid and then tilted his head and clapped.

“He’s yours isn’t he?” a woman next to me asked.

“Not the crying one.”

“No,” she said. “The crying one’s mine.”

“Sorry,” I said. “He didn’t mean it.”

“How old is he?” she asked.

“Almost two.”

“He’s big for almost two. Is he verbal?”

“Of course,” I say. “Sort of.”

“They say the best thing to do in this situation is to help the children talk it out.”

“Right,” I say.

The other mother told me her name was Amy and her crying, now dirty, son was Paul.

“Dana,” I said. “And I’ve got Jasper.”

“Love that name,” she said. “I thought I’d never get pregnant, so we named our cat Jasper.”

I appreciated her honesty. I sensed she was open. I wanted a friend.

“We’re going to get them to talk it out,” Amy said and for a second I forgot what had brought us together. Amy pointed down at Jasper. “They’re going to learn to coexist.”

Paul had taken a stick and drawn a line that he refused to let anyone cross over. He held up his hand and we stopped. Amy bent down, but she was nowhere close to Paul’s eyes.

“Paul,” she said. “Can you tell us what happened?”

“Jasper.” I took her lead. “Jasper,” I said again.

“Mama,” he said.

“Jasper,” I said. “Did you push Paul?”

“No.”

“We’ll have to move it along for them,” Amy said. “Paul, why did Jasper push you?”

“He didn’t push me.”

“He’s embarrassed,” Amy whispered. “Wouldn’t you be?”

“Yes,” I said, then realized I was expected to lie. “Probably.”

Last month, one of our friends (I won’t say who) told me she thought I didn’t have the makings to be a mother. She’s recently upped her intake of a pill I can’t pronounce and she’s always been a bitch, but how could I not take this personally? How could I not count my missteps?

In the early months of pregnancy, you saw me strong; you saw me transform. Together we watched my body grow, more naturally than either of us could’ve imagined. Often I relive the minutes we’d spend in front of the mirror each day, you leading my fingers to outline new curves.

“You look great,” you had to remind me. “I’d dare to say the best.”

So I still like to pretend motherhood looks different on me.

I lie to Jasper too. When I share the story of his birth, I say you and I held him for hours and then I think of new dramatic words to describe how the three of us became one. But now that I’m being honest, I’ll say that when you took him in your arms for the first time I’d never felt a quicker exchange. He was gone from me and onto you. You pushed him into your skin and kissed his cheek and for a second he was yours. I mean really yours.

“You made the perfect baby,” you said. “I’d never compete with that.”

You winked. It stung me behind the knees. And I might’ve shown you some tears.

But that’s when I started counting our days.

That’s when the photographer the hospital hires to take pictures of all the new babies stopped by our room. When she saw you holding Jasper she put down her camera and scribbled the name of her website on a stained napkin and offered to do her duty by including us in her three-page spread of local queer families. Something like “We’re here and queer and we’re just like you except we’re still quite different too.” It was then that you reached across to so tenderly tighten Jasper’s swaddle without waking him; from the beginning you thought he was too cold.

The photographer blew into her steaming coffee and said we screamed “perfect family” and better yet, “family with edge, family for the era.” We never called her and now I’m grateful that we don’t have a recording of what we were then, because we must’ve been magnificent.

***

I should’ve recognized the signs—the many nights Jasper served as a buffer in the middle of our bed, how we learned to inch farther away from each other and fall asleep before a goodnight kiss. Neither of us could’ve known how quickly vomit and crusted breast milk and unwashed skin would’ve made us withdraw. Now I think we should’ve just closed our eyes and pushed forward, but we elicited the great sex of our youth instead, all the bodies we had before we had each other.

“Did you see how unhappy they looked tonight?” you’d often say after a night spent with other couples. “At least it’s not just us.”

During one of our last dinners, right after Jasper learned to love music, I put our favorite playlist on repeat and you ripped Jasper from under his mountain of stuffed animals and blocks to spin him a few times. Then you extended your arm and his to step like a couple in full swing. Still singing, I joined you from behind and the three of us moved together in a scene we’d seen before, in other people’s images, until you said you couldn’t fake it and we stopped.

I’d slept in that morning and you’d made me pay by taking Jasper without telling me. You silenced three of my calls. And when you came through the front door an hour later with four bags of groceries in your hands and a grinning, red-cheeked baby strapped to your chest you said, “See, your family always comes back to you,” as if to say, “I’m really fucking trying.”

If you were here, you’d say I sculpted these memories from loneliness; you’d say these aren’t the thoughts for someone you hate. But this is all I have to describe what happened to us: we thought we were immune when we weren’t. We thought our clocked hours would stand for something more than time spent and that we’d be . . . okay.

During our family dance, you must’ve felt my breath hit the side of your face and then my hand brush against yours. It was not something I meant to do. I pulled away before you noticed that I couldn’t even hold your hand.

***

Jasper doesn’t know apologies yet. So this morning when he took off running, away from me and Amy and Paul, I didn’t stop him. Soon he had a few other kids chasing him. They made it look easy for Amy, this being a kid: they all cheered and stopped and cheered and ran. Paul pushed the dirt into small mounds and then collapsed them with his feet.

“Maybe we can try to get them to just play together first,” I offered to Amy. She was in the dirt too, making mounds of her own.

“That’s a good idea,” she said. She stared into her cupped hands. “What’s a safe space?”

“Safe space” is the phrase of the month at the park. “Safe space” is what we’re now supposed to shout when we see bullying in action. We have yet to find out what, exactly, constitutes the bullying and when we need to yell twice as loud, but most of the mothers agreed we’d know when we saw it because we wouldn’t be able to help ourselves – we’d feel it from below.

When Jasper pushed Paul I didn’t yell “safe space.” I didn’t feel anything. I wanted to leave right then. We’ve left the park twice before and stayed away for weeks.

The first time was right after the crash. You must’ve heard about the crash. That day, with the numbers rising and the sun far from setting, we were all too afraid to leave the park. One by one we reached for our phones until we all learned the bus carrying two classes of children had overturned on the way to the Science Center. By the time we heard the news, I refused to picture dead children. I thought about the chaperones, the teachers, the driver, the random guys who cursed themselves for getting on the bus with a bunch of screaming kids. And what I thought right after this was not about the obliterated parents who would have to go on living, but of you, and that if anything could bring you back it would be this.

Another mother who had never spoken before suggested we drink. When nobody could muster up a response, she went across the street to the gas station and returned with a case of beer. We pulled our sleeves over our hands so we couldn’t fully feel the cold of the can and we shared with the transients who were always kind and usually kept their distance.

“Thank you,” one said when I popped open the beer for him.

He looked at me and I looked at him and we held this silent exchange as we took down our beers, one that stated neither of us had ever tasted anything quite as good.

“You’re here a lot,” I said when I could no longer take the quiet. “Tell me your name.”

“No,” he said.

“Please,” I said.

“You don’t really want to know me.”

***

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