By Gary Percesepe

It’s the first of October and it’s raining here in New York. I’ve spent most the day in bed, reading Spring, the third of four seasonal volumes by Karl Ove Knaussgaard written for his youngest daughter, as he awaited her birth. I didn’t sleep well last night. I’ve been worried about my grandson, who managed to get himself in some trouble with the law down south. I checked prices for round trip plane tickets, did a little writing in my journal, then tossed around in bed. The Knausgaard book may have been the best part of my day. The book’s ending was emotionally satisfying. I went into a slight swoon, not just because of the writing, but at the world it evokes. Impossibly beautiful, and terrifying. Just like real life. Maybe more so. I was exhilarated when my two kids were born. My daughter was born in Colorado when I was in grad school. Her first memory was the sound of me, typing. My son was born in a Catholic hospital in southern Illinois, near the banks of the Mississippi River. Still in graduate school, but I was getting closer, working on my dissertation. But jobs were scarce in my field (philosophy) and I was beginning to doubt that things would work out, that I would be able to forge a career. I was frankly terrified when both of my children were born. I worried that something would go wrong, that my wife would die in childbirth, that they wouldn’t be able to stop the bleeding, that I’d bolt the delivery room and some doctor or nurse would hunt me down and by the look on their face I would know. I lay in bed today with the book in my hands, and looked out the window, remembering. Night fell like a gray panic. My kids were born long ago. They’re both adults, but I still feel afraid for them. It’s a different kind of fear, maybe, not the sudden terror of a child ripped from your arms but the sluggish dread that their lives are unraveling, that a string has been pulled and the stitching has come loose. When they were born, I didn’t know as much. Let’s face it, I didn’t know anything. A graduate student with my head stuck in books. How would I support this growing family? What if something happened to me? Or them? My days were banal, the early morning feedings, gassing up the car, the laundry, the drive to and from the university. Writing long papers by day, feeding them by night in the rocking chair.  Peeking in to watch them sleep. Paying the bills. Dreaming of a future tenure track position in philosophy; the unlikeliness of same. Until it happened. And later, the slow collapse of everything from that world. But always the children, their cheerful company. Bending over to kiss them in the cradle, their tiny puzzlement at my tears. They didn’t know what tears were. But they would.

Gary Percesepe is the author of eleven books, including Moratorium: Collected Stories, named by Kirkus Review one of the top 100 Indie books of 2022. Excerpts from his memoir-in-progress have been featured recently in The Sun Magazine. He teaches philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx.

Art by Lesley C. Weston (Direct Digital Pastel Drawing)

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