“The Shape of the Laugh in Your Throat” by Edie Meade

From downstairs I hear you playfully yell “panties!” with the tantrum-bound toddler who is disemboweling my underwear drawer. By the shape of the laugh in your throat I can tell you’re looking at all the skimpy ones I never wear anymore and thinking about the times you pulled them off of me.

What good is a house when all this space is compressed into an emotional postage stamp. I’m trying to work, you’re trying to work, the kids give us hell in shifts. Neither one of us believes in god but I’m beginning to believe in tests. This is bedlam.

Your gently raucous “panties” escalates against our son’s meltdown, chases after every laugh you can get until you sound like you’re on the edge of a meltdown yourself. Until it’s not funny anymore because it never was. Until the word “panties” is as hollow a mold as everything else in this house we have poured the content of parenthood into.

How does parenthood, a state of being brought into existence through raw-dogging intercourse, become so neutered. Mom jeans, dad jokes.

A funny thing about bedlam: I always imagined the bedlam of family life contained more joy. And there is some joy, there is. We find it or we make it up. I hear you, with your grungy invocation of “panties,” trying so hard to inject joy into this stubborn situation.

How do people work from home with small human animals. Is this crisis systemic, endemic, permanent. Is this normal two-year-old stuff like smug idiots warn about or should we ask the doctor. Have we messed up this planet. When will this end.

Raising children is worse than working at a zoo because you’re living inside the enclosure. I suppose that’s why my mother always said it was a circus.

Circuses try for joy, but I suppose everyone including toddlers can see the truth and that’s really why circuses are dead.

When patience is tested, repeat like breathing: This is a phase. Society will surely get its shit together soon. Calamities don’t last forever. A toddler cannot die from holding his breath. Babies don’t stay little forever.

That’s how people cope with hell, right.

We’ll get on with our lives, add to the bad-old-days memories we laugh about. This is temporary, for better or worse – and nothing is as intoxicating as temporary.

“The days are long but the years are short,” the cross-stitch in my mother’s kitchen either promises, or looks backward and laments. Mothers get so good at weathering shit they forget there are other ways to be.

The baby is nearly a year old and I’m still wearing the stretched-out cotton briefs and nursing bras from the sexless netherworld of post-partum motherhood. It’s a phase from which, as far as I know, my mother and grandmother never returned. That’s how aging goes; you reach a certain point and the end of a phase is the end of your life. Maybe they reserved lingerie for stolen moments of hand-wash-only sensuality, I don’t know. I never saw anything but dishwater bras, support hose, bloomers pious enough to hang on the clothesline beside chronologically-ordered children’s pajamas.

My mind runs backwards across town through old apartments, before our kids were born. Before we had to steal each second of our concentration or intimacy or meditative silence. Before our marriage. Back to my serially unserious relationships. Before we got together.

Back to when, if I’m honest, even without kids I had no concentration or intimacy or meditative silence. It’s not the kids. It’s not the end of the world. It’s me, isn’t it.

Bedlam is an old word for an insane asylum. I guess there’s no joy in that unless it’s delusional. Maybe not so much difference between a zoo and a circus after all.

In the privacy of the car on my way to work, away from my stupid boyfriend, I would steal my calls to you, wake you up. You in bed with me on the phone between your bare shoulder and your ear, forearm over your head, sculptural. Then I’d tell you about my panties, confess the most scandalous things just to hear the shape of the laugh in your throat.

“What color.” Hot pink lace – a laugh with a serrated edge the way you sounded when you first woke up after a bar gig, smoking the cigarettes you only smoked when you were drunk.

You never play guitar anymore.

Your two questions: What color, and when was I leaving him for you. The yellow pair with tiny flowers – your throat a lemon squeeze. Oh, how I miss our faraway closeness. Our intimacy over the expanse. Pinned between your shoulder and your stubbled face, where I can listen to your loneliness, test your patience. All my lingerie is piled onto the floor and stamped on by a two-year-old, and now the baby is awake, too. The baby, who was even bigger than his brother, who really blew me out. It’s not one kid that kills the mood. No wonder my mother stopped at “only five.” No wonder my grandmother with her eleven children became a stone bovine in a gale. When the baby starts, the toddler stops. His cry is a timer set for five years from now, so I know when to try those panties on again. I know when try myself on again, who I used to be, and we’ll see if you’re still into it.


Edie Meade is a writer, visual artist, and mother of four boys in Huntington, West Virginia. She is passionate about literacy and collects books like they’re going out of style. She has published two collections of poetry, Every Day Is A Love Letter, and Birth & Other Stages of Death. Say hi on Twitter @ediemeade.

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One comment

  1. This is an amazing piece of writing. It rings true to me and possibly every woman with children during this pandemic who have been trapped in a house with their invisible partners who they don’t even see any more. The imagery is fantastic, from the bovine stone mothers to the blown-out vagina. Bravo!

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