The Bends

Erika Eckart


My girl chopped off all her hair. Before she did this, I was tethered to the nightly ritual of detangling and braiding the thickets, which appeared each night at the base of her neck, sailor’s knots, made out of the wind and sweat and motion of her day. It was my job to find an entry point in each and as gentle as possible restore order.  Now, there will be no more dimly-lit nights wedged between my thighs of stay still and beauty is pain, no more of the tug, the chunks gripped, the tension of my pull and hers, her still warm from the bath and the room too hot really for sitting next to anyone. No more How could you do this to me? when my comb caught a difficult tangle. No more complaining about what I could do with this time, and would she just stop wiggling, it would be so much easier if you could just be still. So you would think I would be relieved it is over, but I just sit next to her anyway, stroke what is left of her hair until she is irritated, amble about picking up small things, bereft, unmoored. This is another way she doesn’t need me anymore. These burdens, sloughing off a little at a time, are slowly shifting from me to her, the transition stair-stepped like methadone which is a kindness because if one day I awoke and this creature who so dearly depended on me and ate only from my body and clutched my fingers to fall asleep, whose cries were the tides that controlled my day all at once didn’t need me anymore, I might float away from the sudden shock, an anchor cut from below. There’s danger in letting go too quickly. Like how scuba divers cannot emerge from the pressure of great depths too fast, otherwise they will get the bends, pockets of air that bloom in their chests and explode. Instead, to surface safely they gradually reach little milestones, pulling back the compressing fingers of the water one at a time.


Erika Eckart is a mom, writer and high school English teacher, who lives and works just outside Chicago. Her poems/stories (there is some debate) have appeared in Double Room, Ghost Ocean, Quarter After Eight, Quick Fiction, Nano Fiction and Quiditty, among many others. Her chapbook of prose poems, the tyranny of heirlooms, was released by Sundress Publications in 2018.