Desiree McCullough

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Slick and Safe

I wouldn’t drop my baby.

Intentionally, right?

The vacuum hums in and out. Back and forth. Back and forth. My husband vacuums our tiny living room. My firstborn child is knit within my stickiness as I gaze from the balcony of our third-floor apartment.

Our dog’s hair formed a mesh-like layer on the carpet that has now become intolerable. We’re still in survival mode. Training our baby to sleep with background noise is not a priority. That’s for later. Today, I yearn for his continued slumber because, well, I’m petrified for his waking.

This cleaning session will be over soon. He’ll be safe in his crib soon.

I look down to catalog the cargo in my custody.

This ball of sweet squish
This demanding screecher
This nuzzle magnet
This sustenance drainer
is enchanting and terrifying and mine for safe keeping.

His presence emits continual sweat from every pore and boiling anxiety down to my core on this humid October afternoon in suburban Savannah. A hot dog cooked in the microwave for those extra 10 seconds you later regret. At the beep, pock-marked and deflated.

At what point will this child release me from his spell, so I can turn into a real, functioning mother? A caretaker who doesn’t surrender to panic when faced with travel to exotic locales with him.

Like the grocery store.

The wooden plank edge of the balcony appears closer.

I ignore the fact that my baby is slick in my arms, and I pray for a beautiful distraction.

▪ ▪ ▪

Remember zoning out in school? Present only in hormones and teenage daydreams?

Drowning in the sea of themes from The Count of Monte Cristo.
Random taps on the buttons of a graphing calculator.
Drawn to the warmth emanating from the paper fresh off a laser jet printer.
Concocting a plan to skip the afternoon pep rally.

One day when I was far gone, my subconscious interrupted my mind palace with an odd thought:

What would happen if I stood on my desk and shouted or said something stupid?

A nanosecond after that prospect, my torso rose and my devious digits buzzed.

STOP! DON’T MOVE! You are so close! For the sake of your reputation, STAY STILL!!!

Frozen, holding my breath, yet internally, I’m in high-alert hysteria. I’m surprised that my body has the audacity to go rogue.

Steady, girl.

I willed my mind and limbs into forced sedation and powerwashed the image that invaded my happy little life just moments ago: interrupting class and making myself look like an unhinged delinquent.

My marionette form sizzled under harsh classroom lighting. I coached myself through cautious, deep breaths and demanded both feet to adhere to the ground. Catching my teacher’s eye, my contorted face displayed attentiveness yet not enough to provide a sufficient answer.

At the sweet decibel level of maybe 40, my self-soothing hum turned on and eased me. This coping mechanism hid under the combative whizz of the air-conditioner. The duration of the cooling cycle was all I would give myself to ready myself.

My evaporated body softened into submission.

Lord, just give me ten more seconds,
and then I promise, I promise, I promise
to cut the weird crap out.

▪ ▪ ▪

“They overcharged me five dollars. I’m going back to the store,” I announced with both the price tag and receipt held up toward my husband.

“Okay. Take your time. Browse. The kids and I will be fine here,” he replied.

We were in Boise for a few days back in June and stopped at a nearby Target earlier.

After getting my five dollars back from customer service, I hit the clearance end caps and made my way to the book section. I relished in browsing without companions in tow.

Beautiful book jacket palettes.
Flipping pages to analyze format and pacing.
Inspecting authors’ headshots and their attached bios.


I reach for another book, “Oh, is this her sequel?”

But my hand relents, and my world quickly changes.

My stomach bubbled, my hearing clogged, my peripheral vision fuzzed in one breath.

No, not here.

I knew this feeling.

I was about to faint.

Seek refuge somewhere and prop up your feet NOW!

The countdown ticked, and I only knew zero would lead to blacking out.


Begging for more time, I shuffled my semi-coherent carcass toward the store’s entrance. My mind dulled and blood pressure dropped. One reminder forced its way to the surface: If I must be prone to syncopes in this fallen world, I am blessed to receive a warning before I’m gone.

This gives no assurance. It just comes off as a lame superpower.

Perspiration on my forehead chilled as I attempted to test the feasibility of getting to the car in my current situation. As stars exploded in my head, I quelled the urgency to notify passing shoppers I didn’t have COVID.

Get me back to the hotel.
Get me back to the hotel.
Get me back to the hotel.

▪ ▪ ▪

This balcony, my baby, and me.


My little one, in the hammock of his mom’s salty, wet arms, soaks up the humid air through his milia-spotted nose and heaves out the vapor of baby dreams. His right arm flops away from his body. In a delicate yet swift motion, I tuck it back in with my left hand, pressing it with checked pressure.

I attempt to air out my swampy underarms.
I demand rigidity in my buckling knees.
I force my arch to disappear in my itchy feet.
I press my back firmly against the sliding glass door.
I feel the reverberations coming from that damn vacuum.

I cannot break. It’s not an option.

And then, all I have left:

God, make me a statue.
Hold this child when I can’t.

Or just hold me together
as this child trusts
his mother’s

Desiree McCullough is an occasional seminary student when she’s able to balance working as a special education paraeducator, challenging her three kids in chess and backyard races, and being a weird pastor’s wife. She and her family live in the Walla Walla Valley of southeastern Washington state. Find out more about her at

Photo by Pixabay on

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