New York |

Typically a Woman

by Katie Burke

edited by Michelle Lyn King

I have started talking to the baby. Asking him questions he cannot answer. I say my name to him over and over as he falls asleep against my chest. My arms begin to ache from the weight of him. The mothers have time to commit this weight to muscle, but I never do. I pore over YouTube videos on how to properly fasten a Baby Bjorn to myself, but give up. Depending on who I’m with, the way I say the sentence “I am a nanny” changes. In the presence of men, it comes out wilting like an apology.

Everyone you have ever slept with used to be a baby.


My partner, Lucy, has not left yet but they will.

In bed with Lucy I respond to text messages. In loving them I have often been the one who turned to face the wall. When they ask me what I want I describe the numbness I am feeling toward them in patterns of blinking and licking my lips. Which is to say, not at all. They are asking me for too much this time. I cannot move across the country just to be with them. And this hurts them. My friends tell me it is time to break up.

It has taken me years to admit some things to myself. I will never learn to do a cartwheel. I will never learn to snap my fingers with my left hand, too weak and seldom used. Breaking up with someone has never felt clean to me. So I didn't. I say, why don’t we try nonmonogamy

I remember feeling forgiven.


I don't remember being fed. I have no memory of lullabies or being instructed to open my mouth. Everything I know about eating comes after that.

The baby will spend all day with an empty yogurt cup, gripping it with his hands, flexing his chubby wrists that fold in on themselves. He will put it to his lips and then down again. He will throw it on the ground and wait for me to pick it up; a game he is never tired of. I admire the way babies are so easily distracted as if I’m not. Sometimes I throw cheerios around the playroom and watch as he picks them up.

I always carry the baby with my left arm not on purpose, but out of habit. When he is asleep I will press my shoulders against the corners of walls to ease the tightness. The room he likes most is what his mother calls the sun room and what I call the plant room. Dirt spills onto carpeting and I wonder who will clean it up. There are plants in shallow bowls that I don't know the names of. I want to look them up but never do.


A few days after celebrating Valentine’s Day with Lucy I go and get a drink with someone I have no intention of sleeping with. He squeezes my arm before he leaves and then I think differently. I am terrified of the urge I have to wrap my legs around him. I think about the many years it took to let myself love women. I think, if I do this then was any of it worth it?

I call Isabelle while I walk with the sleeping baby tucked inside a stroller. I say, I am not going to have sex with him.

She pauses and says, Sure.

Have I ever grown at all?

He invites me to a party and I go. I amble through conversations without stopping and I am proud of myself. My task is to carry everything lightly and I am doing it well. This is not a place I would have ever found myself before.

He mentions that I have a lot of weapons on my key chain which makes me think that there are not enough.


My therapist asks leading questions that don't make sense to me. Questions like: What are you afraid is going to happen? What could he do to you? I don't have an answer. I am not scared of him. I am not a fatalist. I am sad.

There are times when doors are open and I don't feel any wind.


My parents are having dinner below my apartment and I am upstairs with Lucy. My legs are wrapped around their shoulders and I grab their head in an effort to make this seem different; better. My back bends like a spoon. With force. They bite the insides of my thighs hard. It doesn’t feel good. But I allow myself the pain.

I think of changing the water in the flowers they bought me. I eye the package of plant food from Whole Foods.

Their hand moves around inside me.


I can't stop thinking about the utter wrongness of the baby's body. Its fragility. The way that things enter the world helpless. Without knowing how to hold their own head up; my arm always serving as a rest. The baby does not know where his mouth is. He is learning to hold the bottle on his own. Taking the nipple out of his lips and jamming it into his nose. I remember a fragment of a bible verse, like a camel through the eye of a needle. I feel myself gritting my teeth as I place it back in his mouth, over and over. Each time cooing with more intensity. No one ever told me that the noises made around babies are mostly out of frustration. Disguising everything in sweetness. A lesson on how to appear remarkably soft. I remember being young and wanting so desperately to hold the babies I was around. The way it felt when their bodies twisted and stiffened and rejected mine. My chest flat like a table. Babies require bodies that have been softened.

And here I am, an edge that has rounded itself.


I think about Lucy in the car, so much that I take a left on red and cry in the lane. I have heard that this is something called growing pains. I have heard that the honeymoon phase ends. I no longer think of mine and Lucy's home together. I am too busy making one of mine. Every time I open a cabinet I am reminded of something new to buy. Olive oil.

I spend days crying and gagging against my pillow and waiting for my hair to grow.


Isabelle asks me why I am being so hard on myself. She says, maybe this is what needs to happen. Maybe this is what I need to do to let Lucy go. My therapist thinks I am trying to ease myself out of feeling abandoned, relates Lucy’s absence to my parents rejection of my queerness.

I think: maybe I am just a bitch.

Before I started watching the baby I read articles about how to care for them. In one of them it cautions parents to not shake their baby awake. But instead to tickle their feet or blow gently on their cheek.

I think, how could anyone ever shake a baby?


It is not supposed to feel this way and I know it. Lucy’s hand is in my face, a way to quiet me.

I keep forgetting that rehearsed conversations can only go as planned if they are one sided. I do not expect for Lucy to fight me on this. For them to cry. For myself to cry. But I do.

They ask me what’s on my mind and I don't say.

I am thinking that I don't remember my mother ever braiding my hair. Or ever learning how and how this hurts me. I am thinking that there are times when doors are open and I don't feel any wind.


He texts me and all the lights on the highway go off at once. I want him the way I want cement in my mouth. I drive to his house and when I get there he won't let me put my hands on him. He brings them up over my head and tells me not to move. I lean my head back and smile because this is exactly what I want.

My head begins to rub against the wall and I could easily move but don't. I feel the grain of paint against my scalp and let it get even.

I wake up on a comforter stained by my own period and hear breakfast being made. The soft maneuvering of a pan in the air and when it hits the stove again. The sound of fabric against tile. A sneeze. Another.

After all the terrible things I do, it is good to know that a morning continues.


I don't have to choose between Lucy or him, but I still do. Hanging questions on my windowsill and touching them every night before sleep. My hands aching in the morning as I crack my wrists in bed. I am selfish. I know that wind is painful without a house on both sides.

Lucy's face is narrowing and I can't get it to stop. I hold both my hands out to them and it is like bottling a puddle. They ask me questions I don't have the answer to and suddenly my throat is rusted over. I look at them as if to say: don't act like you didn't know.

I am what my mother would call full of piss and vinegar. Too sour to touch.

I am a bad person but I try hard to tell as many people on the street that look sad that I love them. I say this in my car with all the windows rolled up. I rely on the hope that they can feel it. And that is all I do.

There isn't a way I can make myself feel better so I watch TV and wait for it to pass. If you hold your breath nothing happens. I wish I had the willpower to make myself pass out. I wish I still had the wrapping paper from every gift I have ever gotten. Almost everything I love lasts ten to twenty minutes. Why can't I come over and over until I die?

I take the hottest shower I can and open every window in my apartment to feel my skin come alive. I pinch my inner thighs and try to stop thinking about him. It does nothing for me to replay moments of sleep over and over but I do it often. His breath coming in and out and the way it felt to pushed onto a kitchen counter. My sweater balled up on linoleum flooring and a condom stuck to my jeans in the morning. I couldn't find my underwear the next day so I took a pair of his socks and still wear them sometimes to move my car in the snow. I let them stick out of my boots to show everyone how beautiful I can be and have been.

When I am in his house I let my mouth dry from not wanting to get out of bed. I will hold a wad of toilet paper to my groin while I pee. I will try to not make any noise at all.

There are ways to feel good but I haven't found any of them yet.

My hands tingle every time I have sex with someone new like my body trying to remember. And it does. It always has.


We pass the baby around the table and touch his soft belly in circles with our hands, lulling him into a gentle sleep, one that he will wake from within seconds. When you are small people hand you off to others so easily and I wonder what stops us from doing that as we age. Is it simply our heaviness? Or the fact that we have become aware of ourselves. Where does size meet agency? My father places a crumb of cake on the baby's tongue and we watch as his face changes from confusion to joy; his eyes squinting and then opening again.


There is no ocean here

But I feel the taste of it brimming inside me. Like when I hold shower water in the base of my mouth. Too warm to drink, but I like the weight of it.

Lucy takes my chin in both of their hands and says, sometimes these things don’t work out. In that moment I am selfish enough to forget that I am the one breaking up with them.

They leave my apartment and I get high and walk to the Thai place alone. I sit in a corner booth and cry so hard noodles fall out of my mouth.


I was ten pounds when I was born. A mistake in size from my beginning. An umbilical cord wrapped around my neck so tightly I had to be rushed out of the womb. Something that happens quite often, but it was a story I loved to tell as a child.

I was just barely born.

He tries to fuck me standing up and gives into my weight quickly. We revert to something simpler. I remember again how it is sometimes easier to be queer.

A hand can fuck in any position.


I am at a party and there are two levels to this house. Three if you count the basement, but I don't. A man with a haircut that reminds me of Dawson's Creek steps to the side and then in front of me. I am wearing a shirt that could also be a bathing suit, or maybe it was the other way around. I notice him eyeing the sweat that's doing zig zags between my breasts and stick a finger inside to catch it. My bangs are flat and stuck to my forehead from hours in the sun. He asks me canned questions while I lick the condensation from the rim of a diet coke.

What do you do for work.

I'm a nanny

Sweet. How sweet of you.