As I’m singing him to sleep

Her songs seem to go well with my surprisingly deep singing voice. Maybe that’s what (usually) calms my son and makes him drift off. But it’s rarely fast. Like me, he fights sleep. And though I understand it, putting him to bed is arduous. One of the many paradoxes of motherhood.

Tonight, I’m singing most of the first part of Fiona Apple’s album, Tidal, lying on the bed next to him, my eyes closed, my voice sometimes cracking from fatigue and thirst.

As I sing, I am a thirty-two-year-old mother doing the responsible thing, trying to get my son to sleep at a reasonable time.

And I am a twenty-one-year-old woman, taking a train to see a man she loves. I am a twenty-one-year-old woman with big plans and dreams. I am cradled by improbable books I read and stories I write. I am buoyed by purpose and passion. I know my chances are almost nil — but I take that train again to visit him in his family’s home, a place I’ll find surprisingly cold, a place, fittingly, where I’ll learn what it is to sleep in absolute darkness. On the night of my twenty-first birthday, I’ll look in his bathroom mirror and think, “What’s so wrong with me? What can’t he get past, to see how beautifully my heart beats?”

I am a thirty-two-year-old mother, singing songs from a long time ago. I am doing the responsible thing, trying to get my son to sleep at a reasonable time. Singing with Fiona there in my head, climbing her vocal ups and downs, I am a thirty-two-year-old woman going through some things that are as bad as unrequited love, maybe far worse — and defying them with these unpredictable notes, these tumbling words. I ride on waves, up and down. I listen to my voice.

The final song I usually sing to him is “Pale September”, whose refrain has some of the sweetest sounds I’ve ever heard:

All my armor falling down in a pile at my feet

and my winter giving way to warm, as I’m singing him to sleep.

I let it roll over us like silk trailed across skin. Over and over I intone it, playing with the lines. Always sweet. This is how we should all fall asleep, every night. This is how we should all discover love and open ourselves to it…even if it’s not returned. That unrequited love changed me, in good ways and bad. There I was, armor off…but the man I loved then never let me sing him to sleep, and my singing voice isn’t really that good anyway. Only the song inside me counts for anything, and he never heard it. Others have. My little son, his eyelids finally falling over his bright but somnolent eyes, does, I think. When I hit a false note, he knows. But when I sing true, he finds the beauty in that, too.

Singing Fiona Apple in a bedroom in Paris, I am a twenty-one-year-old woman in unrequited love, on a train to Alsace, listening to Tidal on a loop and realizing that it’s my story. I am a thirty-two-year-old mother there in the dark, reaching out to my child and diving into the depths of myself.

All my armor falling down in a pile at my feet

and my winter giving way to warm, as I’m singing him to sleep.

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