She hears Jamie rustle in the bed beside her. He is deep within the throes of peaceful slumber, his breathing deep and regular. Tonight is the first night in months in which the gentle rise and fall of his chest has not lulled her into darkness, into the escape of sleep. She sighs, a quiet sigh that no one else can hear. She burrows deeper under the ivory feather-down comforter, a wedding gift from Jamie’s mother. Jamie’s familiar warmth presses against her back as he sleeps, still blissfully unaware of the insomnia plaguing his young wife. She longs to wake him up, to allow the piercing green of his eyes to swallow her whole, to talk into the wee hours of the morning, to place the burden of her existential sadness upon him. But she knows that this is not right. In only four hours, Jamie, much like her, will have to awake and face another day of classes, papers, and all the responsibilities of being a graduate student at the state university, the same university where they had fallen in love.
She wonders still how the two of them had fallen in love. They’d met when both were applying for their master’s degrees during senior year. He was a six-foot tall, bumbling oaf of a scientist, with huge green eyes and an unusual penchant for reciting Horace. He was bright, goofy, and full to the brim of the joy life had to offer. Sunlight radiated from the top of his slightly-overgrown mess of brown hair, to the absolute tips of his toes, which were always covered by the thick leather of his deceased father’s oxford shoes. He frequently wore a lab coat, the uniform of the chemistry major, which was covered with questionable stains. He was laughter. He was light. He was joy.
And she was the serious, somber, melancholy violinist. To look at her was to glimpse living poetry. Slender hands smoothed honey-gold locks, thick lashes framed serious eyes, which she would call “lifeless gray.” She did not wear clothes—they wore her. Every article of clothing was made a work art by the creamy white of her skin, the gentle arch of her back, the swanlike grace of her neck. She was petite, beautiful, and recently diagnosed with clinical depression. You could usually find her boarded up in a practice room for up to eight hours at a time. She had found a solace in the bow of her violin, forcing her deep existentiality to flow out of her fingers into the strings, to replace thoughts of the fragility and hopelessness of her life with Bach, Beethoven, and Vivaldi. The violin quieted her mind like nothing else could. She was darkness. She was solemnity. She was quiet.
She and Jamie had collided in the cafe located in the basement bowels of the university library. He was carrying the biggest black coffee Celeste had ever seen; she was doctoring a cup of earl grey, her favorite tea. He bumped into her while passing by, a bit of his coffee sloshing out of the cup onto Celeste’s real leather violin case. She turned angrily about, but found herself mesmerized by this tall, fiery young man with eyes the color of spring. She couldn’t find words; she didn’t need to.
From that day, Jamie had filled the space that had once been occupied by the great musicians. He filled Celeste with his light, and he tried to guide her away from the cavernous blackness of a mind that threatened to devour her. He cradled her lifeless heart in his enormous vibrant one, and slowly tried to lift her from the pit. Celeste knew she loved him for this. He was her lighthouse through the storm.
The day Jamie and Celeste were married, they received their acceptance letters from their respective graduate schools. Both were within the same university. The two of them moved into a tiny apartment that was characteristic of student housing—wood-paneled walls, suspicious-looking carpeting, and the overall vibe of a 70s horror flick. They tried to decorate, but the house maintained the look of a graduate student’s apartment. Yet, even though it did, Jamie’s presence in the apartment filled the tiny hole with light and warmth.
It wasn’t enough, though. Within the first year of graduate school, the blackness crept back into Celeste’s heart. Slowly, a cold melancholy chill enveloped her entire being before Jamie had a chance to stop it. Celeste tried to suppress it, once again throwing herself completely into the endless music of her violin. Jamie tried his hardest to guide her out again, but this time, even his endless light could not save her. She knew why. She had nothing to give him. Celeste felt like an injured baby bird in Jamie’s hand, useless and broken. She could give him nothing in return for the healing he promised. So she allowed the sadness to take over again. No peace for Celeste. No peace.
The couple had decided not to have children, at least not in the foreseeable future. Busy schedules coupled with Celeste’s depression and the gentle warnings by other professionals in their fields—have a baby at this point, and your life, your career, everything you worked for, is over— steered them clear of offspring. Yet, sometimes life does not happen the way one plans. And one blustery autumn day, Jamie opened the door of the apartment to find Celeste weeping on the bathroom floor, her hair tangled about her face, her eyes red and puffy. In her hand was clutched the fateful reason for her tears.
“I can’t have a baby,” Celeste said over and over again the weekend after that day. Jamie was at his wit’s end. For once in their relationship, he didn’t have an answer for her. He himself was unsure about the possibility; after all, Celeste could hardly take care of herself. She was depressed beyond anything he had seen: some days she couldn’t get out of bed. Sometimes, she forgot to feed herself for three days. Occasionally, she was put on probation for missing too many days of class in her graduate program. The only consistency in Celeste’s life was her endless devotion to practicing the violin. It was that endless devotion that had kept her in the program at the university; she had a talent beyond what her professors had ever heard. She put her sadness into the music, and it gave a heart to her music that was unbelievable. He feared her losing this one thing that kept her grounded upon the earth. Jamie feared that his wife would float away like a ghost if she had to give up the violin, if she had to become a mother. He struggled within himself. “What to do?” he asked himself. “What to say?”
No decision could be reached, and time passed. Celeste withdrew even deeper into herself, and Jamie was beyond reaching her. At night, while she slept fitfully, crying out and tossing about, he tried to hold her, tried to transfer a piece of himself into her, but she would not be pacified. During the day, he made her all types of tantalizing food, but Celeste barely managed to stomach enough to stay alive. He brought her to endless doctors, but even they were at a loss. “Perhaps it would be better for her to get rid of the fetus,” they said, but at even the mention of that option, Celeste would burst into tears. Nothing improved her mood at this point.
Celeste knew that Jamie was trying his best to make things okay, to find an answer that would satisfy her, but nothing really worked. She was truly being eaten alive by the sadness she had never truly abandoned. Some days, when she returned home from school before Jamie, Celeste would throw herself upon the couch and sob; agonizing sobs that revealed a grief that went beyond healing. One time, her sobs were so disturbing that a neighbor showed up, sure that the pretty, young woman next door was being beaten senseless by her husband.
But if anyone was beating up Celeste, it was herself. “I can’t be a mother,” she shouted when she was alone. “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!” She looked at pictures of her own mother, holding Celeste as an infant, a bright, tired smile lighting up her maternal face. Celeste knew this could not be her. She whispered to her abdomen, “I cannot be your mother. I cannot. I have nothing to give, nothing to say.” At her first ultrasound appointment, Celeste ripped up the pictures the smiling young nurse had given her, the nurse with the fire-engine red lipstick that glowed far too brightly under the fluorescent hospital lights. The doctors often feared Celeste would try something drastic. She saw the way the doctors whispered to Jamie whenever the appointments ended. She saw the fear in Jamie’s eyes whenever he left her alone. At night, Celeste found herself engulfed by her husband, his arms protectively encircling her and this alien growing within her, his deep breathing a lullaby to her ears.
There was the scorn of the other professionals to deal with, as well. At first, Celeste and Jamie told no one of the ever growing problem. But eventually, it was obvious to everyone. “Did you hear?” they said, “Did you see?” “Such a shame, such a shame.” “She’s so talented, and this will ruin everything.” “I heard they’re giving it up for adoption.” “She should just get an abortion.” Celeste was surrounded with peers who judged her, criticized her, and refused to support her. If she was drowning in her depression, these people were the ones pushing her head further under the water. “As if this wasn’t hard enough,” she thought. “As if I don’t know.” Celeste seriously pondered adoption. One time, when Jamie wasn’t home, she contacted a local agency and very nearly set up a secret arrangement for an adoption. Sometimes, she mused over running away just long enough to have the baby and leave it on the steps of a hospital, a church, anywhere. It was the looks Jamie gave her that kept Celeste home. Those green eyes usually so full of joy and light, now teeming with concern, fear, and exhaustion. He kept her there.
And still, she played the violin. Every spare moment, she played. She played the saddest music she could find, and once she ran out of compositions, she began to compose herself. Eight, nine, ten hours of her day were spent holed up, dripping crisis and sadness into the notes. Celeste’s professors, when they weren’t backbiting about her, found themselves floored by her compositions. “How does she do it?” they thought, “How can she put such feeling into her music?” The compositions were fragile and beautiful, frigid and floaty.
Celeste lost herself in the music. If Jamie kept her grounded, the music kept her alive. She played, and then, on the rarest of days, she felt it connected her to the little alien life inside her body. It was a typical day. No classes. Celeste arrived at her studio at 7 a.m. and practiced. She stopped for lunch at noon, a few stale crackers and a sip of water. She chalked her bow. She continued. Around 3 o’clock, after finishing a lengthy sonata, Celeste felt the little alien flutter within her. She stifled a sob, and picked up the bow again. Every time she did, a flutter. A kick. A sign of life. From that day forward, whenever Celeste played, the little alien fluttered and kicked and started to life. Something within Celeste broke. The tears began to decrease; she quieted.
Jamie noticed the change with a sense of unease. On the day the alien started to life with her music, Celeste came home in silence. She ate her dinner, she slept restfully. A few times through the night, Jamie checked to make sure she was still breathing. He was worried; at the next doctor’s appointment, he told them that Celeste had suddenly seemed resolved, almost at peace. They shook their heads and told him to watch her carefully. Resolved, they said, could be the early signs of suicide. Watch her.
Jamie did watch her, but for the rest of the pregnancy, the strange peacefulness continues. Jamie noticed that it seemed to fluctuate with music, but he thought nothing of it. Music had always, after all, been a kind of solace for Celeste. He waited, he protected, he hovered. Celeste did not change. She hardly talked to him, but at night, he noticed that she slowly began to allow him to hold her. She moved deeper into his embrace every night. He felt an unstable calm settle over him.
Then, the day came when Cadence was born. It was a day filled with rain. The thunder roared, the lightning flashed. The whole earth shook, as if something was stirring, the winds were changing. Celeste looked lost as she labored through the night, sweat beading on her brow, her honey hair damp about the temples. Her eyes, Jamie thought, were different. The dull gray interchangeably brightened and darkened. At one point, Jamie was sure he nearly lost his wife. The thunder boomed so long and loud, it threatened to tear open the hospital windows. Jamie swore the ground was shaking. Celeste’s eyes grew lighter and duller, her hair soaked, her hand loosening its grasp on Jamie’s. Her heartbeat began to slow. The doctors, suddenly concerned, began to call her name. A nurse said, “We’re losing her…”
At that moment, Celeste found herself suspended. She looked around the room at the frightened faces of the doctors and nurses. She saw the familiar green eyes of her husband, ringed with dusky purple, absolutely full of terror. She felt herself nearly slipping away. “Give up,” her brain told her. “Give up. Let go. You don’t have to face this. Let go.” She felt despondent sadness well up within her again, threatening to tear her away. Everything within her longed to give in to the voices. She didn’t have to face life; she didn’t have to face motherhood. She could give in to the quiet darkness of an eternal rest. Yet, just as she began to allow her eyes to close, she swore she heard a stanza of music. One that was not filled with sadness, but with the promise of new life. It was like music she had never heard before. And suddenly, she snapped open her eyes.
At the same moment Celeste snapped open her eyes, Cadence arrived in the world with the roar of a little lion. He cried, and as he did, Jamie saw the color return into his wife’s cheek. He saw a different kind of calm flood into her gray eyes, a color he hadn’t seen. She looked at Jamie, then at the pink and screaming little boy who had just been born. “Cadence,” she said, and Jamie understood.
Now, here Celeste was, in bed next to her beloved husband, who slept the sleep of the dead. They had just returned from the hospital. Earlier that evening, as the two of them slid into bed, Jamie had cupped his wife’s chin into his hand, ran a gentle finger over her smooth coral lips, and said, “I love you. I love him.” She had smiled for the first time in years, a genuine smile that engulfed her whole face. Now Jamie is asleep and she is not. The clock ticks by, 2, 3, 4, 5 o’clock. Jamie sleeps. Cadence sleeps, strangely enough. Celeste does not. Then, suddenly, Celeste hears a tiny whimper from the bassinet beside the bed. Jamie stirs, but does not awaken. Quietly, Celeste slips from beneath the covers, but instead of heading to the bassinet, she grabs her violin from its case. Cadence begins to cry. Celeste raises her bow, and begins to play from memory the stanza that had lifted her from what she knew would have been her grave. As she does, Cadence’s whimpering stops. “I can’t give you everything,” Celeste whispers, as her heart begins to melt at long last. She lifts her son from his bed, and holds him close. She continues to hum the tune she played on her violin. Cadence snuggles himself against her. She feels her heart swell, with love for this little life, for her husband who will soon awaken to kiss her and love her, and to love his son. She feels love. And she feels peace. “I cannot give you everything,” she says, “But I can give you music. And love.” Cadence turned up his head, and opened his eyes, eyes that were the same color as her own. The sun began to rise, filling her son’s gray eyes with light. She feels herself begin to reawaken.