An eerie silence fell over the pitch-black room. I clutched his tiny, warm body to my chest. The tiny gasps of his uneven breaths did little to soothe the anxiety rising inside of me. I strained my ears in a feeble attempt to dig through the silence in search of the familiar sounds of rain, wind, and thunder. Those were the sounds I needed to hear. Instead, the roaring stillness embraced us.
The absence of sound meant one thing. Well, at least on nights like these. Nights when the starry night sky gave way to clouds dark and blank and filled to the brim with angry droplets of rain and electricity. Nights when the wind howled so loud the sirens didn’t bother to blare. Or, if they did, they were muted by the elements.
I rested my cheek atop his head and brushed my skin back and forth over the tiny baby hairs that only I could see. To the world, my little blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby boy was as bald as a polished stone, but to me, he had a head full of hair as pale as his father’s. The same shade I spent hundreds of dollars perfecting. Those tiny, invisible hairs brought the solace I’d been seeking. Each one caressed my face and calmed me in a way I’d never have imagined possible. Three months ago, he hadn’t existed outside of me. A year ago, he didn’t exist at all. Now, his entire life rested on my shoulders and in my arms. His sustenance swelled inside my breast, aching for him to wake and relieve the pressure.
But he didn’t stir. He was blissfully unaware of the storm raging outside his home or the one raging silently inside it. The very man that had given him the blonde hair that brought me a simple kind of joy was the one behind the internal storm. His anger and disappointment whirled inside these four-walls until the rage became too much for concrete and brick to hold. The nights it bubbled over, much like this night, I retreated with our son into the darkness of his nursery. When the words and the fists battled to see which could be the cruelest and inflict the most damage, I let the walls and doors shield and hide us from the wrath. Inside this room we were safe. He wouldn’t dare enter the sacred space that housed his son. Even if that one tiny heartbeat had sealed his father’s fate and life-sentence. His arms and legs shackled in their place beside me. He’d wrongly assumed I’d held the key. As though I’d had any control over his decision to intrude into my life. After all, it had been him who’d shown up night after night until I acquiesced to his desires. It has also been him who’d provided the assurance that the very child I was holding was an impossibility.
Tiny fingers grasped at the neck of my nightshirt. The unexpected touch startled me, pulling my mind back into my body. He tugged as he sensed the time for his nightly feeding had long passed. I stepped back and leaned against the wall and let my body slide down it. I landed softly on the carpet. The tiny thud my body made barely penetrated the air. He curled against me and positioned himself.
How long had we been holed up in this closet? Five minutes? An hour? I couldn’t remember. It didn’t matter. The silence of the storm hung over us as the clouds hooked and rooked into the unmistakable, angry shape I’d been raised to fear.
A gust of wind rattled the window in the nursery. I pulled him tighter to my chest and leaned over him; protecting him as I always did. And, always would.
A second, third and fourth gust shook the entire house. I closed my eyes and pulled my son closer. We were already connected but still, I pulled him tighter. If I could have, I’d have pulled him back inside me and tucked him into my womb where I knew he’d always be safe. There, he’d forever remain innocent and unharmed. The angry voice of his father would be muffled into a low murmur by the layers of muscle, fat, tissue, and skin that stood between him and the outside world.
“Shh,” I shushed him over the rumbling sounds of the storm as it grunted and moaned as it pulled debris and air into a rotating cyclone. My heart raced inside my chest as the pounding inside my ears competed with the loudness of the storm. Both sounds were deafening. Yet, he seemed unbothered as he suckled and clung to me. Every ounce of him trusted in me. He knew without a shred of doubt that inside my arms he was secure.
With my eyes squeezed tight, I couldn’t see the walls crumble or the roof lift but I felt it all the same. Raindrops dripped onto my bare legs. I shivered against the chill of the midnight air. He stirred and squirmed away from me. His body tensed for a moment. When he didn’t move, my eyes flew open and I pressed my hand against his back, searching for the telltale sign of breath. When his back pressed against my hand, I sighed with relief but kept my hand firmly in place. I didn’t dare move until I counted six full breaths. I glanced down at him and our eyes met. I lifted him closer to my face so he could see me better through the newborn haze. His lips pursed for a second, then curved into a tiny smile.
I didn’t bother to survey the missing walls or debris. There was nothing left here for us. Sirens blared and neighbors shouted, their voices carried by the gentle breeze the storm left in its wake. As I stood, I braced myself against the two walls that remained; the one behind us and the one beside us. The house—it had never been a home—lay in ruins around us.
“Are you safe?” a worried voice asked. A hand grabbed my shoulder from behind. I jumped forward and pulled myself free. “Is your husband home?”
I nodded toward what had once been our bedroom at the back of the house. “He wouldn’t get out of bed.” My voice trembled and betrayed the calm lie I clung to.
When I’d heard the sirens that his snoring threatened to drown out, I didn’t bother waking or alerting him. I’d been certain it was just another false alarm. Or, maybe I’d known the truth and let the storm do what his temper had always threatened to do.
Someone draped a blanket over my shoulders and led me away from the chaos. With my gaze fixed on my son’s curious face, I didn’t look back.