A Creak In The Night
My body makes noises, but like living next to train tracks, I’ve grown accustomed to them over time. You, however, have not.
Most of my noises are my body reminding me of how poorly I’ve taken care of it. My knee cracks. Not all the time, but when I’m carrying a baby in my arms, it cracks with every step. It cracks because I tore my ACL in high school pursuing my delusional goal of being a fleet-footed golden-boy on the football field. But I was short, cautious, uncoordinated, and not quick enough to compensate for all those other shortcomings. I cracked it under a pile of bodies, tried to walk it off, and blew it out while cutting towards the endzone a few plays later. A young referee ran up next to the coaches while they unstrapped my helmet as I lay on the ground. “I seen it buckle!” he exclaimed to me. His voice was filled with disbelief that he had just witnessed a knee bow laterally in a way it could only do without the constraints of a ligament.
In the locker room, our trainer told me to relax my leg while he jerked my tender knee around. Without the aid of unconsciousness, I could not unclench the leg muscles compensating for my injury. His tests thus suggested that nothing was wrong. It would be a month later before I asked my parents to take me to a doctor. A month of practices spent running on a screaming knee with a handful of Tylenol taken before each practice and an extra few stuffed in my pants to swallow dry before wind sprints began. After the doctor informed me I had torn my ACL, I knew that I’d never dress in football pads again. I’d played since seventh grade, and it was over that quick. To be honest, though, that was fine with me. I had been the largest player on the lightweight team in seventh grade, and for one season, I felt like a god amongst mortals. But by eighth grade, we were no longer separated by weight, and I went from the largest fullback on the field the year before to the smallest cornerback in the next. The trend continued, and by the time I was an upperclassman, I had no business being near the football field in one of the largest high schools in Iowa.
Nonetheless, the head coach had the courtesy to tell the rest of the team that playing on a torn ACL was impossible, and in so doing, he gave me more respect amongst my teammates than anything I could have contributed on a Friday night. He was exaggerating, of course, but he wouldn’t allow a heroic effort to go unheralded, and I appreciated him forever for that.
So my knee cracks, but at least it’s a rhythmic clicking. I’d try to cover your ears when I carry you while sleeping, but I can’t do that either because if I position my elbows too far from my body, my shoulders are liable to roll out of their sockets. That’s thanks to another football injury that left both my shoulders repeatedly dislocated while trying to block an eighth-grade manchild on kickoff returns. He had flunked eighth grade twice and become the most sought after football player in our junior high school. He was dumb as a brick, and he hit like one too.
Speaking of elbows, the real noise that causes problems is my left elbow. It cracks occasionally, but when it does, it sounds like a lightning strike on a tree branch. When I gently lay you down in your crib, I pray that my elbow doesn’t explode as I straighten it. Sometimes it does, and when it does, your eyes spring open in bloodshot confusion, you find my horrified face, and you call the authorities.
When you call the authorities, it’s a whining desperate cry that your mother, and any mother for that matter, cannot ignore. It’s not that they can’t choose to ignore it, it’s deeper. Physiologically, they cannot ignore it. When you call the authorities, your mother arrives, and I have yet another person to apologize to.
Of all these known sounds, however, there are other more spontaneous tunes my body plays. After carefully transferring you to your crib during one naptime, I stared at your sleeping face in supreme satisfaction. It was one of the few easy victories for me, and I was gloating in my success. Suddenly, an uncontrollable urge to sneeze came upon me. I spun around the room in terror, knew I would never make it to the door, and knelt down in an approximation of a nuclear bomb drill. I constricted every orifice in my body to stifle that sneeze, and it still wasn’t enough. Instead of stifling it, I pressurized it. The sneeze traveled out of my tight throat like propellent evacuating the nozzle of a rocket booster.
What came out was no longer a sneeze. My efforts had transformed it into a shrill, screaming, dry-heave that erupted from my face, hit mach one, and then roared through the walls to terrorize one neighbor’s dogs and ruin another’s hearing aids.
I looked up at you and thought, “glory be to God, she’s still asleep.”
But you were not. Instead, the raw, supernatural nature of the sound I made had entirely overwhelmed your nervous system. You were paralyzed by shock. With eyes wide open, you stared at the ceiling and wondered if the world had just ended. You looked at me, saw the apology etched in my face, and were in utter disbelief that I could be so rude, selfish, and inconsiderate. You called the authorities, and I take an allergy pill every day now.
Other things, too, have brought you back from the twilight of near sleep. On one occasion, my stomach would not stop growling. You not only awoke, but awoke hungry, as our tummies colluded for food. And beyond the many defects of my own body, our house has its own retinue of eccentricities. The pipes bang when the antique boiler desperately pumps water into our upper story. The floor creaks, the walls groan, and the haphazardly sealed storm windows make the wind whistle a tune. Every once in a while, nature itself conspires against your sleep and sends one of the many daft robins in our yard hurtling into your nursery window. It never kills them, and for this we’re both thankful. But in my darker moments, in the interlude between the thump at the window and the flicker of your eyelids, I wonder if the problem wouldn’t reach a quicker solution if all the stupid birds died. I don’t dwell on such thoughts, though, because if I were a robin, I would be the type that lacked the common sense to avoid windows. Windows are, after all, either too shiny to ignore or too invisible to see, and I am too reckless to navigate either of their dangerous facets.