The first time I met her, it was only a day or two after she was born.
As I was going to meet Eulalie in person, I sat in my car before going inside so I could confirm my suspicions about proper newborn etiquette by googling whether or not it was uncool to ask to hold the baby. (I knew I shouldn’t, but I needed to confirm it so I wouldn’t let excitement get the better of me. (For anyone who needs to be reassured, it’s like the vampire rule: you need to be invited.))
For almost the entirety of my initial meeting with them, Eula was asleep. Her fresh, pink skin flaked sparsely in places, a byproduct of introducing her flesh to the air of the world outside her amniotic home. Her upper lip had a small blister on the vermillion below the dip in her cupid’s bow. She was delicate and beautiful. Everything was raw, vulnerable, and altricial. She had no other recourse than to be at the total mercy of the hands that held her.
When I first saw her open her eyes, she began to kick her feet inside her swaddle. Her mouth puckered, lips curling and contorting to form a spectrum of expressions that had no real meaning other than to test the bounds of her newfound muscular exploration. Her eyelid skin lacked the slack and wrinkle accrued by tens of thousands of open-and-shutterings per day. Her eyes were deep black, as was her head of hair. They called her their little Native American baby.
I left shortly after she woke, knowing they all needed to resume their privacy as their little growing family. I marveled at the way my friend had taken to motherhood so naturally, and I felt thankful for the residual glow that rubbed off on me.
Later that night, I showed my younger brother photos I had taken of Eula.
Speaking from a place of little to no connection to the infant I was showing him, he nodded appeasingly, took a pull from his beer and said, "Yes, that is a baby."
The Second Great Awakening™
The next time I saw her, she was being carried downstairs by her father, having recently come awake and still crowned in a tousled wreath of sleepy-headed hair. I played with her and her toys, though she remained mostly interested in a small tin box for tea and a peeled carrot to gnaw on.
She loves small containers more than all her other toys. When I brought over a box of a half-dozen packaged fairy lights, she was less dazzled by the one unwrapped, unraveled glow of copper wire and diode bulbs than she was the small plastic packets of the other five, still coiled, wrapped, and unlit.
She needed to feel the cellophane slip against her lips and gums, where her teeth will be, where two tiny hints of white incisors are already peeking through gingival pink.
She dances in bobs and nods to nursery rhymes sung by Dave and Ava, CGI characters in dog and cat hooded and footed pajamas.
She likes things percussive. As I helped put away dishes in the kitchen while she scooted around on the floor, I picked up metal bowls and knocked against them with a knuckle to let them ring a bit. Her eyes lit up and a smile spread across her face. It would take serious effort to stifle the reflex to mirror her enjoyment.
She took a keen interest in my watch’s blue elastomer band, its glowing glass face, and the jangling set of keys that hung from my hip. When I saw she was putting my car key in her mouth, I tried to dissuade her and trade her with something else, but when I gently tried to move it out of her hand, she began to cry. My heart broke as I saw her still gripping my keys, wailing, and wondering why I would betray her by trying to deny her the thing she wanted.
I asked myself the same thing. Beth and Matt had grown accustomed to these whims of emotion, but being new to the experience of causing an innocent little baby to cry, I felt bad for days.
When I've been given the opportunity to care for her while her parents worked in other parts of the house, she'd sometimes cry as they left. She’s already begun to associate aspirations and articulations with her father and mother, the coronal 'da' and bilabial 'ma,' respectively.
As Matt put her in my arms to go back to the other room, she would cry out as he walked away with a succession of sounds, dadadada… stopping only once her breath ran out, and only to begin again once her tiny lungs found more air to call out for him.
The same is true for when she’d see her mother through the doorless doorways between rooms, or when Beth came inside from a trip to the store, arms full of groceries and headed to the kitchen. Eula smiled, giggled, and narrowly missed the mark as she tried to clap her hands. Beth cooed to Eula, having to rush past to the kitchen and set down her forage yield from Whole Foods. Feeling invisible or ignored, Eula’s joy turned to horror, her smile contorted with despair, and her singsong of welcome hollowed out to a howl, then rattled to a cry as she outstretched her arms and begged, mamamama…
As just some dude she barely recognizes and might not ever remember, I’m hardly any solace as substitute for her parents’ attention.
When she’s inconsolable, to the point when her cries can be quieted neither by the dulcet songs of her CGI friends Dave and Ava, nor the loving touch and attention of her parents Matt and Beth, she is only placated by being taken to the front porch, where there is a hanging rope with half a dozen rusty, tetanus-threatening, wind chime bells. She shakes the rope to ring them, sometimes picking up the smallest at the bottom to investigate the hollow of it, teasing the frayed-wood uvula as it claps against the inner edges, metal dulled by the grip of her fingers.
I see her testing the boundaries of her expression, pulling her tiny fists and arms taut and screaming with glee, seemingly for no other reason than she is happy, she knows it, and she really wants to show it.
Next I might see her, she will have found her footing and begun to trust her weight as it pushes against the ground, taking handfuls of steps at a time as she learns to maneuver through the world. She's already almost standing on her own.
She'll have discovered her voice beyond how well she knows it now, having learned to pare down a spectrum of vocalizations through audition and reinforcement, sewing her seeds of language and setting trellises to guide their growth toward a network of neural architecture, a structure for learning, cognition, and communication.
I only had a handful of days to spend with her out of a handful of weeks in the nine months since she's been born, but she's left an indelible mark on me.
Just as the footprints on the moon can't be touched or covered by dust through movement of winds or waters, barring threat of being obliterated by meteoric impacts, it's safe to say these impressions will last. (The moon might survive a blast crater or two, but I'm not sure I can weather becoming flattened or concave.)
Eula, Matt, and Beth have moved to Europe, and I can't be sure when I'll see her again. Who knows if we'll ever set foot on the moon again either. But we can look at the moon as it changes night by night, and we can remember the time we alit on its surface as it continues to glow on, far off and thousands of miles away. And I can watch Eula through the eyes of her mother and father as they share her life and light with with world from some other part of the planet.
I have no idea if she'll remember me, but she is unforgettable. And whether she knows it or not, now or ever, she is and always will be my little friend.