Inara is asleep right now.
Earlier this evening, as usual, I fed her a warm dinner then handed her over to her grandmother, who bathed her in the sink. We wrapped her in a soft white towel and laid her out on the bed in the guest room (my bed at the moment). We dressed her in terrycloth pajamas with horizontal stripes of pink, brown and white (and little feet that look like ladybugs). Then I took her in my arms and carried her into the family room which has been made over into a nursery/playroom; I fed her a bottle and watched her eyes eventually flutter and close as she drifted off to sleep.
I continued holding her for a little while, then placed her gently in the fold-away crib -- the one that, like my own temporary bed, has been her nightly resting place for the past month or so.
This is the last night she'll sleep in it for -- well, I'm not sure for how long really.
Tomorrow, my mother and I spend the night with my aunt and uncle; they happen to live close to the airport, which will put me in a better position to board a plane with Inara early Friday morning -- a plane that will take us back to New York City. Two days after our arrival there, one of us will get on another plane and return to Miami alone.
I'm not angry about having to bring my baby girl back to New York for the summer. Jayne is Inara's mother and under no circumstances would I ever want to keep the two of them apart. Jayne and I may have the weight of the adult world on our shoulders right now -- what feels like a million-and-one daily crises borne from desperately trying to keep a sinking ship from taking the both of us down with it -- but our mutual love for Inara is constant and unwavering. We love her. Each of us wants her to have a father and a mother. On this we can agree. It may, in fact, be the only thing we can agree on anymore.
But while my head understands and collates this information -- that Inara needs to spend time with her mother, whether I'm physically present or not -- my heart aches at the daunting notion of what's about to happen: For the first time in her life, my child will be separated from her father. From me. For the first time, I won't be with my baby.
I've always been there with her. Circumstances are such that she's been in my care almost every day since Jayne went back to work months ago. This isn't meant to imply that my wife has been a bad or inattentive mother, since that's not the case at all. It simply means that I don't know what it's like to wake up without my daughter's smile. To not feed her. To not play with her and laugh with her and hold her when she cries and stare in wide-eyed awe when she does something completely new. I've never lived in a place that isn't warmed and brightened simply by her being in it.
I've never felt the agonizing emptiness of not having her near.
And I'm so scared to have to now.
In the middle of the night, I sometimes hear her crying -- but when I get out of bed and rush to the side of her crib, I realize that it's my imagination. That she's still quietly, soundly asleep. I've tried to fight back the implications of this phenomenon but I realize that as the time of our departure for New York approaches, I can't lie to myself anymore: When she's gone, I'm going to still hear her in this home. It will be like phantom limb pain. I'll hear her crying and run out to the family room and not only will she not be crying, she won't be there at all.
And I won't be able to stop myself from crying.
This place isn't really my home; neither is it Inara's (although we've both been welcomed as if it were). But during our time here, she's imbued it with so much life -- through her laughter and joy, her mere presence -- that I can't imagine what it's going to be like to return here and feel the void left behind by her absence. Some of her clothes will still be here. The food I used to feed her and some of the toys she used to play with. But she'll be gone.
Every afternoon, I strap Inara into her stroller and walk her up the street to a tiny nearby park that's completely shaded by a canopy of giant trees. We play on the jungle gym. I hold her on my end of a little spring see-saw and bounce her up and down. I put her into one of two kiddie swings, pull her back and let her go -- and watch the smile immediately appear on her face. I even hop on the big kid swings next to her once in a while.
Tomorrow, I'll do this one last time before we leave.
I know I'll be with her again someday soon. I know that I'll visit her while she's in New York. But right now none of this provides much consolation.
No amount of telling myself that everything's going to be okay will fill the deafening quiet that's to come.