“Emme up,” she grumbles and sighs, “Emme up, Emme up.”
She grunts and rolls her face against the tiny mattress until finally she reveals a crumpled nose. She smashes the back of her hand against it.
“Emme up,” she grumbles again.
She stretches out her wrinkled, chubby arms, and I lift her from the crib. Her hands crawl behind my neck and squeeze. Her cheeks, as hot as stars, burn against my neck.
It’s late afternoon and we sit in her darkened room, the rest of the world blocked out by heavy window shades. I watch for a moment as she rubs her nose and then her eyes and yawns so wide it’s as if she is inhaling the universe.
We read for a bit, flipping through some now-forgotten text about hippos who enjoy raves and mathematics.
“Another?” I ask.
She yawns again. Rubs the back of her hand against her mouth.
“Emme knew daddy would be back.”
“I’ll always come back.”
The lock clacks into a housing and the door swings open.
I immediately hear footsteps.
Later I would hear breathless tales of daring, how she rode a new horse and how she made it jump. Later I would hear about staying at school until her mother could pick her up and how she was scared at first but wound up begging to stay even longer.
Later I would tell my tales of travel and she would unwrap a few trinkets and offer me the cake she and Dana baked for the Super Bowl, and even later all three of us would sit on the couch and have to pause the game because a beer/horse commercial sent us all into an extended crying jag.
“Can we get a clydesdale?”
Later we would slip into her bed and I would read her a book and she would follow along and rightly say I skipped a word and that I should stop “improvising.”
“Just read it, OK?” she would insist.
Later I would lay in my own bed and ponder the impossible changes that come in such a short twinkle of time in the cosmos and wonder what the next three will bring and the three after that and the three after that. In the scale of the universe, it’s a wink, a cruel joke, a fate meted out and taken again by blind luck and dying stars and whispers of inevitability. In the impossible scale of growth, it’s a miracle to behold, these sweeping changes that are somehow as wide as chasms and yet familiar.
At one point not so long ago, I never could have imagined short, wrinkled, chubby arms gently holding reins or stopping me to correct a misread word, or how this child who couldn’t escape a crib could suddenly come skipping along on long, muscled legs and leap into my arms. Where are the constants, I wonder, amid this sweep and evolution? Amid the everyday, momentary nightmares, the new skills, the new friends, the abilities and shifts and shades that emerge so suddenly out of effort or time that it’s all at once surprising and as if they were always there.
Later, of course, later — all of this would come, after her hands slipped around my neck and she pulled herself up and kissed my cheek and said, “You’re back!”