Published on November 7th, 2017 | by Charlotte O'Brien


Morning in the New Apartment

Before my oldest daughter is awake my alarm sounds. The dog is still asleep which means she hasn’t walked him. I take this as a sign and hit snooze.

I am always on the lookout for signs. I press snooze four times in ten minute increments, half-worrying that I will wake my youngest who is sleeping next to me. We’ve both been up most of the night—her moaning and sobbing in her sleep, and me, trying to comfort her, worrying about my nineteen-year-old who wasn’t home yet and could’ve been abducted, or lying on the highway somewhere bleeding out. She showed up around two. I did the mom thing and she did the teen thing and then we all managed to sleep for a while.

Eventually, my oldest gets up and puts the leash on the dog. I take this as a sign and get up too. I can get ready lightning-fast when I need to. I have always made it a habit to wait until the last minute before I leave.

At seven-twenty I peer down the walkway of the interior courtyard looking out for my ex. We’ve agreed on seven-thirty, but he isn’t there.

Oakland is different to anywhere I’ve lived in America. Something about the air—already warm before the sun has begun to drown the concrete, and the morning glory overrun along the back fence—irreverent and feral. I can’t help but feel irrationally bonded to its vista and how those deep-purple flowers are weeds, but they bloom anyway. Shamelessly.

That heat-before-the-day, makes me think of Australia, but I was young then and every morning was charged with ideas about my life in the throes of becoming—when, being young, I was unafraid to make a break for every new thing that turned my head.

This morning, looking out for my ex, I glimpse this feeling. A flash of memory, but not exactly memory. I am reeled back towards a moment and place in time. Catching onto the past like this—like the dart of a cat across my periphery—the feeling burns inside my body for a second and is gone except for its residue.

Some things in the past seem to be happening in the present, and conversely, sometimes you notice yourself in the middle of something mundane—such as sticking your head out of the front door of your new apartment in the early morning light—and understand its relevance to the context of your life, which is a feeling inside your body as opposed to a thought. You understand, too, that you won’t fully know what it means until later.

At seven-thirty my alarm sounds again, and I grow suspicious, wondering if he’s secretly set it to remind me. Convinced, as he is, that I cannot live without him. If I could explain myself, I might say, Consider the Morning Glory. How pointless it is to water them. How they will grow where they go, finding their path in their own becoming.

My youngest stirs, “Why am I here?” She asks, meaning, the mattress on the floor where we’ve slept all night, with me turning and turning. Patting her gently, whispering, “Shhhh, shhhh, I’m here. You’re O.K.”

But she doesn’t remember being afraid or upset, or me asking if she wanted to see her father, or, that she shook her small head, No.

In the bathroom mirror, I stare my reflection and worry about why she doesn’t want to see him. He’d once been an uncomplicated fact. Unloaded as he was then, with me as the buffer. Children are resilient, and it’s this that I’ve been holding on to, but now I’m reminded that even the slightest rupture in their routine can unravel all the seams.

I think of my eldest. How, back when she was five I’d worried whether she really wanted to see her dad. How, he was always such a loose cannon. Charming and funny or unintelligible and raging—without any precursor.

How, I would ask, “Do you want to see your dad today, Baby?”

And how she would shake her small head and say, “Don’t make me choose.”

Feature photo by Alessandro Di Credico on Unsplash

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About the Author

Charlotte O’Brien is a San Francisco Bay Area writer with essays and interviews most recently published in The Rumpus, Mutha Magazine, and The Manifest-Station. She graduated from Pacific University’s MFA program in 2013. Charlotte lives with her teenager, her five year old, and a scruffy dog. She is currently writing a memoir about living in America as an undocumented immigrant. You can find out more about her at www.charlotteobrien.org.

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