The Architecture Of Water

The birth of their child was supposed to happen like this:

Eleanor leaning against Jeremy outside the birthing center, leaning into him because she had contractions since early morning and they were getting closer and closer and already she was tired tired tired. But she was only getting started, hang on. She was exhausted from all the energy each contraction took, from all the walking Jeremy kept having her do to get her water to break. Eleanor leaning against Jeremy, and him rubbing her back, kissing the top of her head. In her mind: hurry up I’m already tired and come on baby come out so I can meet you I just want...

Her body seized as another contraction rolled through her muscles and she started to squat, nothing worked to relieve the pressure, the spasm and then it passed. One minute thirty seconds until the next one came because she could only think in intervals of one minute thirty seconds. That was all that mattered. Her mind resting inside the belly curves of the number three, leaping into the fullness of zero and then seize squat pulse. Over and over.

Inside the room, Jeremy spoke to her but she couldn’t answer, it was too much effort to lace words together to give him an answer, too much effort even to nod her head. She had to save her energy, she was about to give birth, couldn’t he tell? The midwife said, “yes, dear, you are dilated enough, go ahead and get in the tub. Go ahead, we’ve got it all filled up for you, it’s warm enough. It’s at womb temperature, haha get it, that’s my little joke I like to tell all the ladies.”

Eleanor in the tub with her full belly and Jeremy behind her, rubbing her back, her shoulders and him telling her, “yes you can do this, your body can handle this and look, see, you’re in water, your favorite place to be and you’re bringing the child inside of you, out.”

And the Doula stepping over and saying, “you’re doing great Eleanor. Keep doing this” and she humm hummms animal cries and can she? Reallllly?

Jeremy behind her still, hands rubbing her, “I’m here I’m here, yes, keep going El,” and her head hanging and hair wet from sweat and birthtub water.

“Keep going Eleanor, keep going, listen to your body, wait to push until you feel the contraction. There it is,” look up at the ceiling, push. “Great job Eleanor your baby’s almost here.” Contraction push. “One more.” Contraction push. “Here he is!” Out of the water, hear his cries and eyes opening and “her face is beautiful, this feels nice, our outside skin touching. I’m okay, I like this feeling. I’m just going to rest now against her warmth and this heartbeat is familiar, I must still be home.”

The birth of their child was supposed to end with the midwife congratulating them, “What a beautiful baby boy!” and asking if they knew what they were going to name him. Eleanor would answer her, still staring at her son’s head resting on her chest, yes, they were going to name him for her father, this boy that emerged from water, a return of the man who left with the river.           


As her father fell deeper into the cancer, he could not visit the water as often. Jeremy only ever knew him as a sick man.  He had watched Eleanor’s father shrink through cycles of chemotherapy for two years before it took all of him away. It was ironic, Eleanor said, that as the aquifers were emptied, so too were her father’s cells. First the ones near the surface, but then, deeper down, into the reserves everyone thought would always be there. Each day, less and less. The land sank along with his body, compressing under the weight of gravity and no fluid to support the life that was slowly evaporating and moving to an invisible place. Where, exactly, does water come from? No one knows. Where, exactly, do the dead go? Maybe the same place.


Her father was able to die thinking Eleanor would have Jeremy. He said Jeremy was a man who understood that women are like water. “You can’t own water,” her father said to them. “Women need to flow without restraint. They need to be able to flood and break the levees if they have to.” He said, “If you build a dam around a woman and call her yours, if you try to possess her, she can’t become her grown self. Too many women had their souls broken.” Her father warned, “Let her follow the river as far as it will take her. You can’t own water and you can’t own women.”

He etched the cliff sides along the coast of her memory. In the last days, she sat with him and wove dreams of the shoreline for them, said, this is where you are, this is the place you love. When he was gone, she became compulsive in going to the beach, searching for seashells he may have sent back to her. To return and to forget.

Jeremy struggled with understanding what went wrong. He did not believe in souls or spirits or fate. Humans were nothing more than an evolutionary phenomenon to him. Stardust particles from 13.7 billion years ago held together by gravity. Humans: seven octillion atoms. Even with that many atoms composing an entire adult, the body is mostly filled with empty space. Because the atoms never touch each other. Electromagnetic repulsion: the closer the atoms get to each other, the further they are pushed away by electrical charges propelling them. The same way, Eleanor tried to explain, people’s souls try to bind and cannot sometimes. That explained why they felt their bodies resisting themselves. Down to the atomic level of composition, the body cannot touch itself. That is why we need a soul, she tried to tell him. Because we are more than seven octillion atoms magnetically resisting each other.

He told Eleanor, when she began to talk about the baby’s soul and that maybe they weren’t the right parents for it, that she was already thin and she did not eat enough and she must have been anemic and not said anything, she should have eaten more, she should have paid more attention. And besides, it was her own father who told him you don’t get to choose your family, you simply inherit them and so you love them because otherwise those strangers would never be part of your life. Jeremy did not understand her mourning. Did not understand her feelings of inadequacy or that she could not trust her body. He was young. He filled his mind with all the stages that should happen during pregnancy, but neglected all the wrongs that could happen. He was not there that night to hear Eleanor. He was not there that night to see, like she saw, their broken child. Jeremy would go his whole life never hearing the sound of a woman keening.

So, he did not look at her when he said, “The baby died because something was not forming correctly. It had nothing to do with a soul.”


In the morning, her body felt liquid. Loose and flexible when it had felt so stiff and empty. First, the quiet of leaving a dream, then the humming of memory. When she made her way to the living room, Nina told her it was Tuesday. Eleanor tried to count backwards, the days from when her mother arrived. But what did it matter? Tuesday was the same as Monday and would be the same as Wednesday, they all flowed together. They were numbered, she could try that. Tuesday the fifth, Monday the fourth, Sunday the third, Saturday…

Nina interrupted her, said that Eleanor had been like this for a month now, she should keep trying to get out, to move around, to speak. How could Nina know all the speaking that happened in Eleanor’s brain, all the time? Inside the walls of her chest cavity, all the thoughts that tickertaped their way through her veins?

She convinced Eleanor to go on a walk, they had to leave the room, the dark spaces that were crowding in from the corners. As they moved down the street, Nina tried getting Eleanor to speak, avoided the subject, moved closer to it. Nothing until, in front of a neighbor’s garden full of lilies and iris’, Eleanor asked,  “What do I do now?” Nina was mid stride. She kept her eyes focused on a leaf dangling from an oak tree before she stopped, turned to Eleanor and said, “I don’t know. Go on living I suppose.”


The silence rooted itself in disappointment. Hadn’t her mother gone through all the stages of being a woman she had? Hadn’t Nina’s body experienced the same growths and ruptures that Eleanor would? Isn’t that what parents were for? To help lessen the blows of life because they could say, “I’ve been there too, you’ll be okay.” Losing a child was one of the few experiences Nina hadn’t endured before her daughter. Death was not new to Nina, her parents had passed years ago, her husband was gone. Each of those losses excavated a space inside Nina’s body, along different sinews and muscle fibers holding her together. Each time, she found out one death does not prepare you for the next one. Death is death, but it is never the same and the holes that gape inside your flesh and your bones become sporadic. There are days when you might look at yourself in the mirror and find a new wound and wonder how you could never have known that person used to live also inside your femur, but you always felt them somewhere near your ribs. The disappearance of someone, suddenly, from your life burrows quickly at first, but then slows down so daily life can resume and the absence begins to go unnoticed in the routine, until without warning, the excavation hits a nerve you thought was numb and there you are, in front of the mirror, full of holes. 

Nina could only say to her daughter, after all of this, “I’m here. You have to go on.”

She hugged her, stroked her hair. For the first time in a month, Eleanor felt a prick of happiness. Hugs from her Nina sent her into a childish joy, driven into the arms of her mother from all the sadness of life, searching for all the warmth only Nina could give. For all the silence and being only Nina could offer. No matter how old a woman grows, she will always have an ache in her body for her mother.

Eleanor and Jeremy pushed against each other. They wanted out, but failed at finding the language outside their bodies. They held to each other, wrapping each others’ memories around their finger tips until they were knotted up and impossible to unfold. Their tongues knotted up around each other so that no words were understood between them. Their hands tangled, interwoven. Their arms wrapped around each other. They sat on the floor of their room, holding each other. Her desire to be in him, his desire to be in her, cocooned itself around their bodies. They clung to their skin. In the day, Nina saw inside their eyes the sadness resting at the bottom of the river of their life.

She thought to the sound of his breathing. Over the years, each sound wave had imprinted itself onto her breath. Each breath in, each breath out, a ripple; a scar. She tried breathing to the same rhythm as him, remembered what that felt like when she could. Eleanor thought of the days she’d look at him, wish toward him he’d be able to hear her longing. Wished he’d be able to hear her eyes telling him to love her. To hear him say, “I have too much love in me and I have to put it somewhere.” But he wouldn’t see her. Not anymore. He’d just keep breathing. Loud, in her head, and she put her ear to his chest, gripped his shoulder, thought of how it would feel if he had too much love in him now. If he rubbed the skin there, in the secret of her, if they could smell her love for him still. He could know, then, that she had too much love for him and it needed to come out of her. And how good it would feel to let it come out, he had to know keeping all that love in and not having a place to put it out of themself, that will drive a person crazy. Jeremy had to know all that love was in Eleanor’s bones and she didn’t know how to get it out and his breathing was loud in her head and she always heard rushing water somewhere.

His fingers against her skin, the braided movement of their bodies.


The days spent with Jeremy filled themselves with a desire for understanding distance. When they were apart, she imagined them coming together again. She leaving work early to surprise him. He in his car returning to her, closing the distance between them, filling her. She imagined him deep inside her and still there was a space left unattained, she could not bring him close enough to her for he barrier of space to open so they could see each other. The humming after orgasm turned dull and silent because she couldn’t make herself love or see those things that didn’t speak to the spirit. Endorphins could only take a person so far.

It was those moments of returning. Those were the times distance reversed itself on Eleanor. It pulsed between her body and Jeremy’s, a heat that simultaneously drew her in and repelled her. Her craving could not be satisfied. More distance: not enough separation. Demand it. It had to grow, that distance. Didn’t he have somewhere to be? All those days, he traveled home, left his shoes in the middle of the hall where she always tripped over them and then what? Maybe they’d cook a meal together. But why did he have to sit on the couch like that? Slouched and taking up all the space. And times when they’d lie next to each other after trying their best to be close again, she couldn’t stand his skin touching hers or the sound of his breathing. Why didn’t he exercise more, his heart rate always seemed a little high. She couldn’t bear the rigidness of his naked body, or the knowledge that he was wondering what happened to them.

Maybe they could have been in love for most of their lives, but that bubble of distance placed itself between their bodies. It rested inside their spirits and pushed and pulled them apart. Together, apart, together, apart. If they wanted to see each other, maybe they should stay away; they could take joy in the longing for a while. Whose idea was it, anyway, to place a child in that bubble, hoping somehow they would merge again?

They should have known, but the young do stupid things.