Soon after Pepin came home from the hospital, I descended to the basement, as if by instinct, seeking cover.
The basement was supposed to be my man-cave, at least that's how I thought of it when we moved in, but that was never officially the case. I'd simply homesteaded. I'd set up a TV, a stereo, my stacks of records and guitars — really, everything that had come from my apartment and wasn't needed upstairs, which was everything.
It never really took. When it was just Lucy and I, it felt strange to hide out among the silverfish. And once Pepin was in the plans, the guest room moved into the basement and my stuff melted into corners and closets and — the last refuge of bachelor goods — the garage. The man-cave had caved in.
And yet, when Pepin was ensconced upstairs and I had to return to work, to the basement I went. I slept down there for three weeks; at the time, in the fright of sleeplessness, before four hours of sleep simply became the new eight, it seemed to make sense, and it was the best sleep I'd had in years. But since our first guest came to stay, I haven't returned. It seemed parentally unpatriotic, and it was. Every parent, mother or father, is going to need an outlet, but nighttime isn't the right time.
A recent study found that babies' cries immediately awaken women while men sleep undisturbed, a biological tug on the parent with food known to be at hand, and in our case this is true. But nowadays the food is also right in the fridge, and I'll stay up until 1 or 2 a.m., heat up a bottle, feed Pepin, and put her down for her second long stretch of sleep, until Lucy wakes up at 6 or so for feeding and work. I'll sleep a little longer, with earplugs, and the ships that were passing in the fog of night go their separate ways.
We each have our escapes, out the door or in our minds. It isn't space we necessarily need, after all, it's psychic space. Seasonal allergies plugged my ears weeks ago and part of the reason I haven't gotten them cleaned, I suspect, is that I appreciate the dampening effect. Last week, I went canoeing twice, during my lunch break from work, to break away from my orbit even though Pepin wasn't in it. Not because I don't love her but because I do. Because to be completely consumed by her would be to vanish, a disappeared dad.
In the past there was bowling or boxing or the bottle, and now there's climbing walls and trivia and home-brewing. But for me, it's solitary. It's the lake or the libary, where I hadn't regularly been in years and now I'm there every week looking through books I'll never read and CDs I'll never hear, just long enough for the silence to soak in, as though refilling a reservoir.
It isn't the crying of Pepin, or even her demands, that push us out the door to recharge. It's the uncertainty, the unpredictability, the open-endedness of the arrangement. At any time, she could blow. Perhaps you learn to live with that, like people who enjoy reptiles or fault lines. But for me, for now, I leave to restore my concentration, which after all is simply a confidence in continuity, an assurance that I can keep going without breaking.