I Am You and You Are We

An Ode to Baby Naomi Kai

 

 

When I touch my lips to your soft cheek I think of how I’m kissing myself.

Those cheeks are mine, girl

They puff out so big in smile or pout

and that nose

That nose is mine too, with tiny nostrils round and perfectly tucked in brown skin

and those eyes, the way they slant, they are mine too.

Although that color comes from daddy

the way it’s brighter in the sun when you turn your face up to mine.

 

When I look down at you I want to kiss those eyelids with their whisper thin skin,

how they reflect me, and tear

and light up when you see me

and that forehead, I can’t lie, It’s all daddy.

It’s wide and big and will one day be called a fivehead and yet, I kiss it too

But when I press my lips to your crown I know that hair is all mine.

The silky smooth brown, the rust red, the blonde at your temples and at the tips of your lashes 

and the blonde at the nape of your neck that’s barely there – slowly turning to night.

And your ears, your ears are mine, the way they hug against your skull to burrow closer to your thoughts.

 

When I touch my lips to your shoulder to smell your sweet breast milk scent

I think of how you’re like my elbow

So close to me and yet so far away

So vital to me, the hinge that pulls love closer, holds love tight

Because you are me, when I kiss you.

You came from me and yeah, your daddy too

And I wonder if it means he pecks against my cheek when he’s kissing you.

 

When I grab your thighs to pinch them for giggles you’re all me

They are thick like mine and taper into strong little legs that are mine too

with defined baby calves.

And those feet, I kiss your toes one at a time because each one is as adorable as the next, 

But, sweet thing, they are your daddy’s feet and I’m just so sorry.

Square and thin, with long nails that curl slightly under, and straight across from big to pinky

How’d you get those toes, girl? All daddy-like and strong.

When I push a finger into your bloated belly you giggle and slap my hands away.

Then grab to pull me closer because you aren’t sure what you want

and that’s all me too

Because of you I have a little belly, too. One daddy used to rub when you were in there

Kicking and punching and asking to come out to play.

So our bellies are the same but, curse the nurses from the day you were born, that belly button is all daddy

It looks like a button, one we shined smooth because we thought a quarter would help with the shape.

And when you walk around poking it in, sticking it out, chattering to yourself,

we laugh to think of all the coins we could’ve saved.

 

When I say ‘kisses’? You lean forward and open your mouth wide

And we dodge, side to side, hoping to not receive slobber for our time

And you catch us every moment with a swipe of the tongue.

Because you are all me and you love love

You want to get closer to me, crawl into me, get beneath my skin,

to hold your arms around my throat and lie your head on my shoulder. 

Which you have of mine too, the stocky build of my body, the lack of feminine curve,

And you press tear streaked cheeks to mine, then you smile and wipe that momma’s nose against my neck.

And I pat your booty, your poor flat booty

Girl, I’m sad to say that’s mine too.

But it’s okay because I love everything about my body.

Which means, my dear girl, that

I also love everything about you.

CNF: 3 Diary Entries from Early COVID-19

My musings from the first three days in Louisiana: when things were shutting down in Florida due to the virus and my guy wanted us to get out of the big city and take refuge in the country. We ended up staying for 6.5 weeks.

 

 

Day One 03/22/2020

 

It’s weird being a guest in someone’s home for an undisclosed amount of time. You open your car door – every space is messily packed with canned goods and spice jars and little girl socks – and step out in unfamiliar territory. 

They ask ‘need help with anything’ as if they are true bellmen. Waiting for you to unleash your bags on them, along with a flurry of ones or fives for their good service. 

You shake your head no and shyly look away because how do you tell someone who is so graciously opening their home to you that you don’t want to stay. You don’t want to unspool your hastily packed belongings because it is the last signifier that you will not be going home – to your safe space – anytime soon. You don’t want to appear ungrateful so you ask ‘meaningful’ questions like “do you mind if I use this space” – despite it being obvious that they cleared it out just for you. 

You don’t want to appear bothersome so you stumble over phrases like “no rush” and “hey, if you don’t mind, can I…” and “I’m going to be doing __insert random activity here __” because you don’t want them to think you’re hiding in your room.

Which you are. You don’t mean to but the pungent smell of wet walls mixed with summer heat and spring rain doesn’t bode with the weed they’ve taken up in the living room. And you have the baby to think about, of course.

They did ask “hey, do you mind if we smoke in here? If the baby is in there?” they point to your jail, I mean room, and with your eyes you follow their finger to the closed door that protects your tiny human. 

You prefer they not. You hate the smell. Despite having done it yourself, you can’t imagine making it a daily, weekly, or even monthly affair if you were back home when life was normal. The smell sticks to you like glue. Permeates your dreadlocks, that are already judged for being what they are – and no matter how many detoxes, oils, or deep conditions you do you can’t get that smell out before an interview.

You say yes, they can smoke, and you move to the protection of the door just to turn the knob, reassuring yourself that it’s all going to be alright. 

Everything will be fine, as always. But everything will not be fine. Or always. 

Day Two 3/23/2020

“Be careful, it’s spicy,” she says as you spoon some veggie soup from your plate onto Baby’s tray. You tell her it’s fine but make sure to cut everything into small pieces to make sure Baby doesn’t get too much heat at once. 

You should’ve known. She’s white. She doesn’t really understand what ‘heat’ is. It’s definitely stereotypical of her but also stereotypical of you to think so. 

When you eat it you blow, there’s some steam coming from each bit of potato, bean, meat, and carrot. The soup is a rusty red and it is clean of food bits or spice or debris. This is the first indicator of the whiteness. 

Anytime you cook anything there’s going to be something to it, you think. Something that shows you’ve put your foot in it. It sounds judgy, you might apologize if you had said the words out loud. It’s not her fault, and not completely true with all white people. But there’s a tug of war going on between you and her. You don’t mean anything by it. No malice. There’s nothing behind this struggle – at least for you.

She is used to being the woman of the house. So are you. She’s used to her way of cleaning, straightening, and vacuuming. She’s surely to be offended if you do something against her ways, because when you’re the woman of the house you rule with an iron fist. And it’s not always with a spatula. But there’s two of ya’ll now. And you are just the guest. So, when you see her kitchen and the way she likes to leave it you try your damndest to keep it that way. 

After you cook your food, chicken thoroughly marinated, cut, skin cripsed, meat juicy, corn on the cob slick with butter and garlic, seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, and rice seasoned with the same, you make sure to tell her ‘I’m going to clean this…I just wanted to let the oil cool first”. 

She smiles and says “ok” as if she had no idea why you were telling her. Basking in the pretense of innocence. But you both know had you left those dirty pots, staining the oven with their orange and black oil sports, she would’ve been angry. 

You might not have seen the consequences. Maybe she would hold that irritation, that small showing of power, close to her chest until one day she explodes with a fire so hot you’d lose your eyebrows. You don’t know because she is a stranger to you, and you to her.  

So, there it is. The power struggle that happens anytime you wake up in a home that is not yours, on a bed you didn’t buy, to the chirping sounds of nature you, and your Midwestern background, are no longer accustomed to due to your 5 year stint in florida. 

But you’ll try. Everyday. You’ll be grateful and gracious. Honest and excited. Content and overwhelmingly sensitive to the needs of others. Because that’s all you can do, to keep from crying. 

 

Day Three 03/24/2020

 

Today has been weird for you. Parts of you wanted to stomp your foot like a child and yell “you aren’t my __. I want to go home!” but you don’t. 

Another part of you wants to be grateful, is grateful, for the time away from the city. You are taking advantage of not having cell-service, the bars that only reach one dot, the smell of fresh air, neon green trees, cloudy (and matter of fact, quite gray) skies and cool nights. 

You appreciate the way Louisiana makes you feel. Big fish, little pond. You think of future days where you might have enough money to contemplate buying that little house next door – white with a coat of green vines and brown sludge. The owners have neglected it. You wouldn’t. You’d take that extra acreage and put together a beautiful herb garden, have a small pond, and windows filled with vining houseplants. And you would take in that stray you found yesterday while getting the stroller out of the car.

You had decided it was time to get out of the house and see nature up close. After packing her into her carseat, you sat the baby on the sidewalk to rest. As you struggle with the mechanics of the compact Hyundai, still packed with all that are important to you, you see a bright tuff of white and brown streak through your vision. 

You didn’t know what it was but it scared you. You sprinted around the car and reached the baby at the same time as a gaunt, swift footed Beagle. It stuck its nose into the baby’s personal space and you screamed out ‘Hey!’ with a voice so hoarse it felt like you never used your throat before. 

The Beagle, Doggy as you will call him, slinks away possibly afraid of you and what you might do to him. You don’t lash out, he seems nice, but you stand like a sentry in front of the tiny human tucked into her carseat. 

Two, three, four times he tries to nose in to see the tiny human. She giggles at his attempts and you can’t help but stare down at her with love in your eyes (because while the world is ending it feels great to see she is none the wiser and happy). Then, when he realizes it’s a pipe dream, he slinks away to the back of the car. You follow him and grab this and that before returning to unleash the stroller from the front seat. 

Doggy follows you on your walk. It’s trying, yelling at him to keep out of the road, but you love it. You love every bend in the road, the smell of air unpolluted, the chirp of birds, the loud barks quickly followed by the cackling irritation of chickens. You love the tiny yellow flowers, growing along the road, that you zoom into with your camera and shoot at different exposures to get the color quite right. 

So you’ll take in that dog for the time you’re stuck in Louisiana, due to the virus. And you’ll let him roam with the freedom he always has, but he’ll stick close. Chomping your scraps thrown out the back door, and barking at intruders, or birds, or squirrels, or anything really.

But you don’t mind. You love this space outside the city. It’s only taken a few days to change your mind about this place. You still don’t want to be here but you aren’t afraid to be here. And you wonder about the significance of this. 

That’s what you think when pondering the house next door to your temporary stay. How you want to go home but one day, you’d think you’d actually want to stay. 

 

***

When your guy arrives on that third day -shortly after you because he had been stubborn and stayed in the city despite the frantic shopping and the terrified winding lines of traffic – you read him the entries from Day One and Day Two. He doesn’t get it. 

He brought you out here, knowing you didn’t want to come – despite the dangers of a city during an outbreak. He made you drive 20+ hours across three states, after having only 2 hours of sleep the night before. Struggling to drive and keep an eye on the sleeping baby, and you’re crying on the floor of Walmart because everything is closed and you can’t find any place to pump breastmilk and dammit, your breasts hurt and there’s no relief and you’re the only one on the road, and you don’t want to be driving here anyway.

He told you – after your hosts were nowhere to be found – to just find any place to sleep. With the baby. He said “I’m sorry baby, I feel so bad,” so many times you wanted to wring his neck. He also told you to go into the major city, when all other places were closed down. The place is so empty it feels like an intrusion just to drive on the streets. It’s sickening, you feel, to see a place so normally filled with verve and pulse to be so still. 

Dead.

That’s what it feels like. Like that scene in the movies and shows when everyone has either been killed by Zombies or forced out into the country. That moment when the hero, or anti-hero, wakes up from his coma, or breaks out of jail cell, or finds a way out of the pine box and stumbles onto a desolate place. He looks in all the corners for answers. Searching for friends, family, and hell, even food. He jumps at a sound, or two, from a nearby alley and discovers it’s just his shadow moving, fighting, pulling him back, silently screaming “get out of here” or “danger ahead”. 

Then the Zombies unleash. And he’s running. Sprinting. His legs moving faster and pushing harder and covering more ground than ever before. 

And then there is no ground. And he’s jumping, climbing, clamoring really. Praying anyone will save him or fight for him or offer their services in exchange for a boon, predetermined or foreshadowed by someone else earlier in the show or movie.

And then he’s free, but not free. He’s out of danger but now there’s another danger. And this isn’t from the Zombies or other mutated beings. This is from those that look like him. Those who would kill you over toilet paper in the grocery store. He must be strong and alert and sharp at every turn. Lest he die. 

You think of all this while getting the baby out of the car at an overpriced hotel and creeping to the door. Watching every shadow as you move. You think ‘I’m alert. I’m awake’ even though it’s been days since you’ve seen a full night’s sleep. You look left and right, although you can clearly see there are no Zombies in suits, holding briefcases here. 

But you do wonder ‘where the hell is my hatchet?” because you’re you and of course you bought one to bring to this place you’ve never been before. 

*** 

Anyway, so you read these entries to him, from the previous two days, and all he – who made you feel all that – can only say in response “I don’t get it. Why is it in 2nd person? It really just sounds like you’re complaining about not wanting to be here” – quoted directly from his perfectly pouting mouth that you sometimes want to slap him in. Because of times like this.

You feel upset, on the cusp of anger, because he knows you don’t want to be here. Why is that a surprise? No offense to your hosts – they are actually very nice. He also knew that you actually meant ‘what did you think’ in a literary sense. Does it flow? Am I crazy? Are my thoughts cohesive? Am I a good writer? Can you tell me something that is real? Are we going to be okay? Will the baby have a future? Will I get to publish anything or will I die before I get the chance? What do you really think? What do you honestly think?

As a writer, there are so many layers to ‘what did you think’ and these layers go even deeper depending on the tone and cadence of the voice when asking. So, you are upset. You try to explain in a deep monotone voice. You tell him what it ‘means’ even though you didn’t want to have to explain. You just wanted him to get it. Fucking get it. 

So, then you wonder if there are only two possibilities. Either: “I am a shitty writer” or “he’s just not my audience”. Which is it? Which one is it? 

Although in this place, stuck in a world that is not ours, during an unexpected time, fearing for our lives and that of our daughter, wondering if this will be The Stand or Pandemic or Station Eleven or The Strain and unsure if we’ll ever be able to go home, I know one thing. Those are not the questions I really want to ask. There’s only one. I really want to know if, in the midst of all this, we will survive. 

 

CNF: Revision of Child-Like Dreams

Note: I decided to revise the Child-Like Dreams essay from my reflection assignment for University. I felt that due to the overwhelming reaction from my peer reviews – how everyone seemed confused and stated it was all over the place – that this would be the best course for growth and revision. I’ve completely reworked the idea of the piece so that it focuses on one topic and one reason for change. I changed the tone and wrote from the heart. I hope you all can understand this one better than Child-Like Dreams. 

 

New Title: Gratitude

In 2018, I almost died during childbirth. My waters had broken at 15 weeks pregnant and I had been told by every doctor that the baby would die. They told me there was nothing I could do. I took to research, as I do with my novels, and I discovered support groups tooting the slogan ‘Where There’s A Heartbeat, There’s Hope’. I decided to try and see if I could make it further along with the pregnancy. When I was 19 weeks my water broke again and I went into labor. I’ve written about those moments on my blog, on Youtube, on Facebook, on Twitter, everywhere that I think could help other women who have gone through the same experiences: sharing my tale of pain, fear, terror, and eventually anger, regret, distrust in god, and self pity and how it translated to healing, trust, optimism, honesty, and more. What I never wrote about is gratitude. 

Sometimes, there are small moments that truly change our lives. When thinking of an event, that was the catalyst for change, I thought of so many that I piled them all into one essay. As peer reviews were correct in saying, it felt disjointed, much like life itself, and I knew that further reflection was needed. Through introspection, I was reminded of gratitude and what it does for your soul, how it heals your heart, and how it can change your life.

After my near death experience (the placenta had been stuck because I didn’t fully dilate; I began to bleed out on the table, and had to be rushed to the OR for surgery) I sunk into a deep depression. My adoptive mother, who had always been a killer of hopes and dreams, had abandoned me in my time of need. Saying ‘you expect too much out of me as a mother’ when I simply wanted a phone call after losing another baby. My guy was dealing with his own grief, and being filled with shame, I didn’t want to hurt him with my pain. My friends were all having healthy babies, even the ones who hated children. My coworkers pelted me with “I’m sorry”s and “you’re still a mom”s and “at least you can have more children”s. There was no happiness, no baby, and nowhere to turn. 

Then my guy said the same thing he had told me after our first pregnancy loss. “You need to find something that you love and just do it, I’ll help you do anything you want but you’ve got to get out of bed.” At first, I was angry and I lashed out at him. “You don’t understand. She was healthy! She was healthy and my body killed her, failed her.”

I remembered my child-like dreams. I remembered what I always wanted to be. A Writer. Not just a writer but a professor. As a child, I would daydream about standing in the front of the room, at University, with a messenger bag, students with open minds about creative writing, and a notebook filled with ideas and inspirations from all walks of life. I dreamed of having a cabin where I could escape the world, and its tragic intricacies, and write novels. I also wanted an apartment in the city where I could live when doing readings and signings at bookstores for all my bestselling works. Boy, wasn’t I ambitious.

I laughed when I told my guy about this dream I had since I was seven and how it had been derailed by all of those who told me ‘writing isn’t a profession’ or ‘writer’s don’t make any money’. I laughed when I said “How funny would it be if I actually went back to school. Enrolled at University over ten years later. Got my degree, went to graduate school, became a professor, published articles, books, and went to signings and writer’s conferences…”. I laughed. It was incredulous because I was a broken, motherless woman who couldn’t get out of bed. Who still hugged her empty belly at night and smiled during the phantom kicks. Who had no money and hadn’t written in a year. 

“Do it, then,” my guy said. A slogan for the man, if he ever had one. He’d always been supportive of my hopes and dreams. Always pushing me to be better than I am. Always right there when I’m too afraid to just jump in. 

“Ok,” I remember saying. Not in agreeance, but in a snarky way that accompanies an eye-roll and a long sigh that says ‘you aren’t even listening’. Later, I took to research, as I always do, and discovered that with grants, light loans, and a structured schedule I could afford to go back to college and finish what I started. I could enroll: get my degree, go to graduate school, become a professor, publish articles and books, and go to signings and writer’s conferences and, and, and… Then I got out of bed. I took a shower. I made myself, and my guy, a huge breakfast – which I hadn’t done in a long while. I cleaned my apartment and took the pain medicine that helped my body recover. Then, after fighting myself over the decision, my resolve won. I enrolled.

That time, when I almost lost my life, was one of the hardest I’d ever endured. I wanted to keep that inside me, that anger and pain and shame, but I couldn’t. I was grateful for the change. How it woke me up inside and gave me renewed passion about writing, literature, and all things “words”. Gratitude let me know that I am much stronger than I thought. I didn’t need a toxic family to remind me of what I’m not. I didn’t need coworkers to feel sorry for me. I didn’t need to hide my pain from my guy, he was healing too and that was something we needed to get through together, again. I didn’t need to feel ashamed for what my body failed to do. I needed to make myself happy and do whatever would help me achieve that.

I was grateful for what came out of a hard time. I was grateful that I was finally back on track with my childhood dreams. That my soul was no longer crushed. Now, years later, I write this essay for an University course assignment with a smile on my face, with journals piled around me filled with writings from the last few years, and my healthy, sleeping baby in my arms and I feel gratitude. 

CNF: The Times I’ve Lied

I lied when I told my guy I wouldn’t buy any more plants. I knew that I would. That plants make me so happy when they are growing, when they are dying, when they are in my apartment. I lied when I said I would empty the porch and remove the plants that were dying and not replace them with more. I lied when I told him that it was just a phase, before it became a ‘fad’ for everyone else. In reality, I had always wanted them, it just made me nervous to kill yet another plant. Turns out, I was just lazy before and I didn’t admit to myself that I needed to study this subject like any other hobby or skill.

 

I lied to my mother on the phone the last time I talked to her. And the time before that. And the time before that. She didn’t ask me any questions, not really, but I lied all the same. I didn’t tell her how she hurt me, how she made me angry, how I forgave her, how I couldn’t forget, how I often spent time wishing she would treat me better. I lied because I didn’t want to start an argument. I lied because I was afraid to not have a mother anymore. I lied because a motherless world is a scary place and here, I’ve had two chances and they both were a flop and maybe I’m the problem, anyway. Turns out, a motherless world is less scary when a toxic relationship is gone.

 

I lied to the cashier at Joann’s when she asked me if I had coupons. I didn’t, though I said I did, and then I stood there pretending to pull them up on my phone while I was busily googling “Joann’s + Coupons” and hoping I could catch something on accident. I was told “Never go into Joann’s without a coupon” by some rando on Twitter and it saved me $30 last time. Well, nothing worked. Turns out, the coupons only work if you have the app downloaded. 

 

I lied to my guy when I told him that I was worried that I am not a good mother. I love my daughter, and give her as much light, love, and all the kisses I can every single day. I would protect her with everything that I am, with my life if I have to. I make sure she is fed and have sacrificed much to have her. Nearly my life. I lied because I am not as worried about being a good mother as I am at simply being a horrible and useless human being. Can I be both at the same time? Turns out, there are many layers to life and I am not my mother. 

 

I lied to my writing group on Twitter when I said I was working on something good. It’s all trash. Half the time I bang out 10,000 words in one sitting and stumble over the keys because the words flow from me like a luminescent river of god’s tears. The other half I sit clicking my fingertips on the keys, switching back and forth between social media accounts and my empty google docs, hoping that one day I’ll get rich from this gig so that I can provide for my family, so I can achieve my dreams, so I’m not completely wasting my life away. Turns out, most writers do this but that little fact doesn’t make me feel any better.

 

I lied to the insurance company when they asked me if I could pay the $280 to pay for my bill by July 27th. I said no. I do have the money. What they didn’t ask me is if I could “afford” to pay the $280 to pay for my bill by July 27th because honestly, no. As my guy is still waiting on his job to reopen, maybe not for months, and our savings are dwindling and death awaits us outside the doors, and there’s no telling when we’ll be making steady money again: I will continue to lie. I’d rather spend that money on food so we don’t starve, or rent so we aren’t evicted, or utilities so we aren’t in the dark, or hygiene products so we remain healthy, than to spend it on a car I can’t drive to places I can’t go. Turns out, gas is cheap when one tank lasts you over a month.

 

I lied when I told Naomi I was going to bed. Even though she can’t understand me with her baby ears, I try to be honest with her as much as I can. I wanted time to myself, in my own space, lying naked on the bed in spread eagle while watching shows I’ve already seen because I’m happiest in that comfort zone. When my guy went up to play his game, I told him and the baby that I was going to take a nap and I went and basked in some me time that wasn’t Mommy or Honey time. Turns out, it feels good to just lie on the bed and air dry after a long rejuvenating shower.

 

I lied anytime that I’ve ever told anyone that I’m a good listener. I’m not. I’m trying very hard to be and I spend time practicing listening while I’m supposed to be listening and what if they ask me a question and I’m not sure what they’ve said because I spent the entire time thinking of what I can say back. When people are talking, especially about themselves, there is usually a montague of times when I’ve said the wrong thing flying through my head and I begin to create a list of “hmmhmmm”s or “yes, I know you feel like that but what if”s that would suffice. Also, I’m guilty of being the person who thinks of what I’m going to say when you take a breath to let me speak and then when I do I never take a breath to let you speak. I wonder if it has something to do with continuously being told to be quiet as a kid, that nothing I ever had to say matters because I wasn’t an adult, or feeling like my voice was never heard and so I try to get every thought out that I can before the topic moves on and whew….a breath should be taken there. Turns out, therein lies the point. 

 

I lied when I told a writing friend group I’m in that I removed myself on accident. It wasn’t true. I left because they are amazing. They are doing big things and they are banging out words on laptops that turn into deals that become books you can hold in your hands. I lied because although I have some essays published I feel like I am nothing in comparison. That my writing is so far beneath theirs that when they ask for advice or a writing buddy I wonder ‘what in the hell could they learn from me’? I lied because sometimes I’m embarrassed in the glow of their light but I also wanted back so bad because I knew I just wanted to be a part of the crew even if I didn’t measure up. Even now, I write this wondering if any of them will take the time to read this and call me out for the phony that I am and kick me out for good because that’s the luck that I have. But…I have to be truthful about the times that I lied. Turns out, I might just be going somewhere with this lies thing.

 

I lied when I said the truth will set you free. Turns out, nothing sets you free more than revealing your lies. 

 

 

CNF: Child Like Dreams

Title: Child-Like Dreams

I’ve always had big dreams. When I was a child, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I often tell people that the years in between were lost years when I let others tell me what’s best and that I’m finally back on track. It’s true. I wrote my first story when I was seven years old and I knew I wanted to become an author. In high school, I let my parents convince me to change my mind. My mother always knew I loved to write but told me those were child-like dreams. Childish dreams. She said I needed to do something that made money and that “writer’s don’t make money, they struggle, and they can barely pay their bills” and with my soul beaten down, The Great Change happened: I went to school for architecture.

After steps taken backward, and some forward, I found myself 10 years later without a degree, in a new state, fortunately estranged from my family, and unsure of my future and the goals therein. I thought, “why not?” Then there I was, enrolling in school to pick up with the child in me left off: Back at University to become a writer.

Recently, I wrote a piece for an University magazine titled “10 Years Late to University: I don’t Belong Here But I Belong Here” about my experience with being a new mother as well as being a student again, after years in the workforce. It mostly covered my emotions after I enrolled, I had completely overlooked the rest of the story. The Beginning.

When I was seven years old I was already reading the classics, adult books, and fantasy chapter stories. They allowed me to escape the constant barrage of memories circling abuse, neglect, and abandonment dealt to me. I filled my soul with Melusine, The Westing Game, Summer of my German Soldier and The Golden Compass.

In these stories, I thought I had the answer to the rest of my life. I was overwhelmed with the idea of being a writer and wrote my first story. I’ll never forget the joy that filled me when my main characters came to life on the page. A cat and a dog, who were best friends, go on an adventure. It was the simplest plot. The dog died, having been injured, and the cat was unbelievably sad. She spent her days and nights moping over her dead friend, afraid to go on any future adventures. Then, the dog came back to life and the cat was rejuvenated.

As silly as this feels, it was a pivotal moment for me. I didn’t realize, until I became an adult, that this was my way to interpret my own feelings of loss after our family dog, Pepper, died horrifically. After watching my biological brother, and my adoptive nephew, jump the fence many times Pepper jumped while we were at church – not realizing that she still had the chained collar around her neck. A man who had been driving by spotted the dog, knocked on the door, and told my father what he had found. Although they tried to be secret, my brother and I were in hiding and watched as our dog was lifted from where she hung and buried in the backyard.

In this story, I was the cat who couldn’t deal with the loss of the only person who loved her unconditionally. The cat dealt with the same issues with abandonment that I struggled with, that I still struggle with, and wasn’t able to recover on her own. I knew that in the real world animals, and people, couldn’t come back to life but when it came to my writing anything could happen.

Anything. As an adult this felt like a way for me to be ok with the memories of someone after they’ve gone, whether unwilling through death or wiling through my growth. I didn’t realize that in an odd way, I was writing nonfiction.

Ironically, the person who crushed my dreams of becoming a writer, and made me change my mind about my prospective college major when I was in high school, was the same person who tried to crush my writing spirit. My adoptive mother. I let her read this five page story and she destroyed it. She told me animals couldn’t talk, that they didn’t go on adventures, that cats and dogs would never be best friends, and that – most importantly – no one, absolutely no one, ever came back to life.

I was angry and told her that I could write whatever I wanted because it was my book. My writing. I told her I never wanted her to read anything I wrote, ever again. I vowed, that day, to become a writer. I was more determined than ever to create worlds where impossible things could happen. I wanted to write books where the dead would rise, unlikely pairs would come together, and adventures would abound.

Over those years, I would daydream about becoming a professor with a messenger bag and a notebook filled with ideas and inspirations. I dreamed of having a cabin where I could escape the world, and its tragic intricacies, and write novels. I also wanted an apartment in the city where I could live when doing readings and signings at bookstores for all my bestselling works. Boy, wasn’t I ambitious.

Now, ten years after The Great Change, after the shit show that was my first time in college, after I let others push me down and trample my dreams, and destroy my spirit, I am back here. I enrolled at the University and now I’m close to graduation. I will be going to grad school next year. I will publish in both nonfiction and fiction. I will become a professor and I will finally fulfill my child-like dreams.

CNF: The Boy Who Loved Me

 

 

A boy who never grew up told me he loved me. He held my hand in his, touched the back of my head to bring me into a deep hug and kissed my forehead whenever I felt sad. I didn’t get to know him, not in the way he was when he died, as it had been months since we last spoke but I’ll never forget how he tilted toward me when he said the words and I toward him, my hand on his knee, waiting for him to look into my eyes and see the truth. I told him I didn’t feel the same, when he said he loved me, and he understood. We were too young and I hadn’t learned what it meant to be loved yet or how to give it back. 

He brought me flowers, this one time before the end, and I took them warily. I was honest, as much as a teen who knew nothing about the world could be, and I didn’t want him to think that I was changing my mind about my feelings but he shook his head at me, laughed and said I shouldn’t feel ashamed. That it’s ok to not love someone. It’s ok. It’s alright. It doesn’t mean we still can’t be friends.

I was in my room in the house where I had been adopted when I heard. Because I had outgrown the other foster kids, the new ones that came and went on a revolving door, I had been moved down to the den. The bed was large, it filled the small room almost completely, it’s sides nearly touching walls, touching the window, touching the dresser and stopping the drawers. It secluded me there, and it would hold my grief.

 My adopted dad, always the one with the soft heart and a softer voice, knocked on the door just as soft. I told him to come in and I should’ve known from the way his eyes looked down and his mouth drooped at the corners and his cheeks were swiped sideways with wetness, dashed away tears recently spent. I sat up and crossed my legs with the flexibility of an athletic teen. He said my name three times and then was silent. I didn’t know who but I knew what. 

He said the boy who loved me was dead. Murdered. They had found him chopped up and stuffed into a large garbage bag. The suspect had been pushing him in a grocery cart, blood seeping from the side, dripping down onto the ground, onto the street, where others could see and call to the cops ‘Someone is dead!’ I listened but I didn’t reply, didn’t react.

I sat there, my eyes on my father and his eyes on me. His wet eyes for a young boy who’d lost his life, treated like waste. Human waste thrown out with the soda cans and the banana peels and the plastic straws that will ruin the environment and the teeth bitten sunflower seed shells and the other things. Then my dad closed his eyes and I knew he wasn’t through. I knew he had more to say and that whatever it was it hurt him more than it hurt me. But he didn’t say it. So, I tilted my head back and let myself drop.

My head hit the soft comforter and the tears rolled sideways. They dropped into my ears and pooled there and I wished they would fill and fill. My chest shook and then my stomach and then I was rolling sideways. I drew up like a fetus and grabbed at my wrists, my biceps, my shoulders. It wrecked me, what he said, and I sucked in air as fast as I could. Then I coughed. I coughed and I squeezed until my arms hurt and then there he was. My dad. Wrapping his big arms around me, his protruding belly pushing into my back, his tears on my shoulder. 

He spoke about god’s plan but I didn’t want to hear it. I knew he didn’t believe it either. He said a lot of things he didn’t believe, I knew.

Later the real pain came. The words he didn’t want to say were said by my adoptive mother. It was a week later, if I remember correctly but to be honest those days blended together and it could’ve been weeks or months or maybe a summer. She said that the person who had killed him was related to one of the foster girls who would come stay with us – and to one who already had. Their brother. She wanted to know if it was ok. She asked me if it was ok. If I would be ok with that. If I was ok. 

No. I wasn’t ok and I was never ok with that. But I was alone. Everyone else said yes. The other foster kids. No one knew him like I did. They didn’t know that he loved me. That he told me it was ok that I didn’t love him in return. They didn’t know that I had taken it as an out because it meant I didn’t hurt him and he couldn’t hurt me. So, she came to stay. 

And it was my fault, the way I treated her from that moment on. She had her problems, she was dangerous, she fought and scratched and attacked like the other foster kids who came and went and more. But a murderer shared her face and I couldn’t look at her without looking at him and it ate me inside. For the time she was with us it festered in me for the boy it was ok not to love. I couldn’t hate, as it wasn’t my way, but I tried. I wanted to hate her just as much as I wanted to love him.      

CNF: The Birth, and Death, of Iris Giana

 

The Birth, and Death, of Iris Giana

(Also titled The Questions We Ask)

 

 

5:30am I wake up with a deep searing pain that spread from my pelvis up over my rounded belly and nestled just under my ribs. Rocking to my side (as somehow during the long night – or perhaps after the fourth trip to the bathroom – I’d ended up on my back), I take one, two, three deep breaths in. Trying to send the pain away. Tony, who is sleeping next to me, grunts questioningly and I pat his arm to tell him I’m ok. I roll out of bed, half bent at the waist from the pain, and get ready for work. 

 

6:45 am  I pull open the door to my compact car and swing my left foot out. Gingerly, I move my belly to follow, place my right foot on the ground and struggle to pull myself from the small space. At 19 weeks, my low slung belly is just big enough to make moving difficult and the pain is making it nearly impossible for me to be as nimble as I usually am.


Lately, I’ve been careful to step as lightly as possible because my water broke very early, at 15 weeks. They already warned that I would most likely have the baby early. Too early for her to survive. That I must be careful and drink enough water so that I’m continuously replenishing the sac. I hear them and I get it but I’m optimistic. I won’t terminate her little life, as they pressure me to do. I must endure. I reach in the car to grab my water bottle and purse and happily tiptoe toward my office. Everything was fine. Everything is fine. Baby Iris Giana is fine. 

 

7:30 am I can’t take the pain. Everything is not fine. I’m useless at work. I can’t answer messages, decipher data, or pick up the phone. Over and over, the searing pain stabs me from front to back. I lean forward to breathe through it and immediately lean back to hold my breath.


“Oh my god,” I huff and the heads of my coworkers swivel toward me. “Something isn’t right, something isn’t right, something…” I pause to pant as the pain returns. I close my eyes as if that might help. 

“Honey,” the older woman, that sits across from me, says as she wipes at the spilled coffee on her desk. “I’m really sorry but I think you need to go to the hospital. Right now.” I turn away from her, away from the pity in her eyes. My own are wet with unspent tears. ‘I must be strong. I’m stronger than this’, I chant it in my head.

“I’m ok, I’ve been in a lot of pain lately. It comes and goes. It’ll pass, it’ll pass, it’ll pass.” I’m chanting again and I have no idea why.

“No,” she pauses to get up from her chair. Her thick body swaying to remove itself from the plastic arms. “I’ve had 6 children, Jade. I have even more grandchildren. I’m sorry but it sounds like you’re in labor. You need to go to the hospital, right now.”

I shake my head at her but I know she’s right. Everyone told me I wouldn’t make it. That Iris Giana wouldn’t make it. But I had to try, didn’t they see? I couldn’t just give up on her. I shake my head again, this time the tears fall hot and fast. I suck air in through clenched teeth as another wave of pain passed through me. I shoot out of my chair and brace my hands on the desktop. My manager immediately grabs up my purse. She searches for my phone and hands it to me. We aren’t supposed to have our phones at our desks but everyone does it. I keep my eyes averted, a rule breaker I am not. Usually. 

“Here, call Tony. Tell him to meet you at the hospital. I’ll take you,” she says as she pats my arm then turns to look for her own purse and phone. Also out on the office floor.

“No, I’m ok. I promise.” One breath in, long exhale out. I thumb over the phone and call my guy. Once, Twice, then a text message. Please, meet me at Winnie. Baby coming now. Too much pain. Coworker says possible labor. The rings must have woken him because immediately he messages back: Damn. If you can’t drive, call an ambulance. I’m on my way. How silly. Of course I can drive myself. I am a strong, black woman. I am a strong black woman who can take care of herself. 

 

8:45 am I could not drive myself.

I’m waiting at a red light but I gotta get out. I wipe a hand across my forehead and it comes away wet with sweat. I’m too hot and I can’t sit down for even one more minute. Stepping on the gas, I swing into the parking lot just at the edge of the street and I whip the door open so fast I nearly fall out of the car. Was I wearing a seatbelt? 

I make sure to snatch up my phone and, as I walk my first pass around the car, I call my mother. No answer. I hang up and call again. No answer.

“Mom, please. I need you,” I say out loud. Or I try to. I’m crying too hard to get words out. Another wave of pain hits and I double over the hood and do one, two, three squats. I think to call Tony but stop myself. He’s already on his way. So, I muster up all the strength I have left, round the car another three times, and do my squats. The whirring sound of traffic speeds past me and slows at each the turn of the light. No one stops. Life goes on. Does no one care that I’m losing my baby over here? Does she matter to no one but me?

 

9:30 am – 2:00pm I arrive at the hospital and am admitted into triage. Within the next few days I will be a completely different person. I will no longer be pregnant. Iris Giana will no longer be alive. I will, once again, no longer be a mother. 

Tony holds me as I weep. He holds me as I take the medicine to slow down the contractions. They are much too strong and I’m not dilated yet. We must be careful, the doctor said but I don’t know why. I’m already losing the baby, what else can I lose? Tony helps me to the restroom. There’s blood. He helps me back to the bed. We do this two more times. I’m crying all the while. The doctor comes back. It’s time to move me to my hospital room.

They tell me when I get to my room I’ll need to take a pill for the abortion. I feel attacked. I don’t want an abortion. I want my baby, I cry and say. Please let me keep her. I turn away from their long faces, their looks of pity. They tell me I can’t.

“There’s nothing we can do,” they say. I hate them. Despite all that has happened in my life, everything I’ve been through: the attacks, the abuse, the searing cigarettes against my skin and scalp, I have never hated in my life. It’s filled with too much evil and eats you up. It poisons your soul. But, in that, moment I hate them. I turn my face away because I can’t bear to look at them. I am ashamed, because of this, and I can’t look at Tony. He might see the hatred behind my eyes and think less of me. He loves my light, how it shines from the inside. Hatred dims your light, I know it. 

“It’s just the scientific term for it,” my nurse soothes me. “We know that you aren’t having an abortion,” she says softer and touches my hand. “It’ll help you dilate and the contractions will start back up. It takes almost 4 hours for the first pill to start. Then, if you haven’t dilated further, we’ll give you another.” I don’t want to meet her eyes so I keep mine trained on her manicured fingers. The nails are rounded and clean. EMPLOYEES MUST WASH HANDS BEFORE RETURNING TO WORK and I can tell she’s a rule follower. Like me.

Her fingers are small but they cover most of the words on the paper. I want to snatch the paper from her fingers and tear it to pieces. I don’t want to sign it. Yes, fine. I take it from her, softly. With shaking fingers I sign on the line saying they can give me medicine to abort my baby. I want to ask questions. I always thought, should the occasion come, that I would ask questions and advocate for more myself but I am deflated. 

There is nothing I can do. I have done it all. There’s no way to save Iris. We’ve done all that we could and it didn’t work. 

 

2:25pm I’m transferred to a new hospital room and I’m crying again. “I’m not supposed to be here. This is a delivery room.” I can’t hold my head up. I’m ashamed. I’m letting Iris down and I can’t be here in this room.


“It’s ok,” Tony pats my hand and I’m wheeled in. I can feel the wave of pain passing through again but it’s muted by the loudness of the room. It calls to me. You’ve failed, the big delivery bed says. You couldn’t hack it, the floor to ceiling windows scream. You did this, sounds the closed door to a hotel grade bathroom.  

After settling me into the bed, Tony says that he will be back. He needs to run back to the house to get something that needs a signature. Why is he leaving me? Why would you leave me alone? But I understand, I guess. Maybe he needed a break from all of this. Maybe he would go and cry in the car, because he’s a strong black man and he needs that strength for me.

 

2:45pm The pain is back. My room is set up, I’ve taken my horridly named abortion pill, and I’m wrapped in a new hospital gown, one designed for birthing. I take a quick trip down to the terrace area, some semblance of normalcy. A place that is supposed to fill mothers-in-labor with tranquility. It pushed me over the edge. I’m not supposed to be on this terrace until I’m 9 months. I blubber into my tissues and lean my head back and my soul cries out. The terrace is empty, ironically, and I don’t try to hide my grief.

The walk also pushed my body over the edge and the contractions speed up with an intensity I can’t take and nausea rolls through me. I have to stop in the hallway to take deep breaths. I nearly fall when I step toward my room and I’m angry.

I’m angry at god, for putting me here. How dare he? I gave him my wishes, I put my soul – and Iris Giana’s soul – in his hands and he destroyed them. I’m angry that I came out to this stupid terrace, pretending like I was one of these girls with their healthy babies and their family members that love them enough to answer their phones. I’m angry that the contractions are back and I can’t walk to my room without help and I’ve been walking on my own for 23 years and now I’ve reverted back to infancy and, and, and, and. I’m filled with hate and anger and I can’t stand it because this isn’t me. 

 

3:00pm The nurse has led me, like a sheep, back to my room and is getting the line started. I need the pain medication because I’m not a strong black woman. Not anymore. I’ve dissolved and devolved. My old tears have dried on my cheeks and new ones are threatening to fall. I can barely stand, barely sit, barely breathe. 

“It’s been less than an hour but I think the baby might be coming soon,” the nurse says to me like I don’t know what’s fucking going on. I know what’s happening to my body, I’m not a fucking child, I scream in my head but I hold my tongue. I nod and attempt a smile when she looks at me, waiting for a response. Resentment for her swirls in my belly, around the tiny baby waiting to come out.  

I text my sister, telling her the baby is coming. Asking her if she’s spoken to mom. She replies immediately, yes, she’s spoken to mom, and ‘oh my gosh, I’m just so so sorry’. So it’s settled then. My mom has time to talk to my siblings, and whoever else, but she can’t pick up the phone to speak to me. Her only daughter that’s going through a traumatic experience at the moment. She can’t even send a text. Hatred and hurt vie for space in my heart. One will eventually take over. 

 

3:05pm I call out to the nurse. It’s no guessing game now. The baby is definitely coming. I tried to sit on the bed but the pain is so bad I can’t sit my bum against the soft mattress. I turn toward the back of the bed, my knees digging into the pillows, and hold the handrails along the sides. I scream through my closed mouth as another contraction tightens my belly. Stab, stab, stab at the button to call the nurses. Stab, stab, stab to my uterus. 

“We’re coming, we’re coming,” I hear frantic voices call out through the intercom. I try to reply but only a jumble of moans and screams come out. I can’t think. I need help. Please. I try to say, again, but I can’t form the words. The pain medicine never worked. 

Two new nurses come charging into the room and take in the scene. Me, on all fours facing the back of the bed, pillows kicked to the foot, the hospital gown pulled up around my thighs. “Oh honey, if you can’t sit down that baby is definitely coming.” The nurse says, this time I don’t feel anger for her. I feel relieved. Thank you, thank you, thank you, I whisper as I turn around. She helps me ease onto my back and holds my hands in hers as the other nurse opens my legs. I look into her eyes, her only job to keep me steady. The tears come again as another contraction tightens my belly. 

“I can see the sac here,” pushing against my vagina, it hurts but not as bad as the contractions so I breathe through it. “Ok, I’m messaging the doctor. We’re having the baby now, ok?”

My hatred is gone. The first time I’ve truly felt it and I’m happy to see it go. Gratitude fills me and I thank her and I thank the nurse holding my hands. The two nod to me and rush about the room getting things ready. I watch them, in between breaths.

Where’s Tony? Am I going to have to do this alone? Oh, there he is. Coming in just as my legs are being spread wide. He’s seen this before, not during my first loss, but when he was the one opening them. This is different than that, I think with a bit of humor despite the pain. His eyes are wide open and I want to laugh but I can’t. I wonder if he sees the baby though. Can he see her coming out?

 

3:10pm Push! Push! The nurse’s soft voice calls out and I bear down, “like you’re going poo, and a one, two, three…” My legs are pulled back, five nurses – one doctor. The pain meds don’t work, something is wrong with the line and I ask for it. I ask for it again and again. I’m not a strong black woman. ‘I’m not. I’m not. I’m not,’ I chant in my head. 

The doctor looks up at me with beautiful blue eyes, staring straight into my soul and, as if she can read my mind, says “You can do this”. I can’t do this. I’m so sorry. I don’t want to lose my baby. I’m shaking my head at her. The smell of copper fills the room. Have you ever smelled copper before? Does Copper smell like blood or does blood smell like copper? Why am I thinking of this when I’m having a baby? I’m only 19 weeks! Why am I having a baby?

 

3:15pm Iris comes out at the end of a long chin to the sky, eyes open wide, breathe into the pelvis push. 3:15pm will forever be on her birth card. It’ll forever be in my mind. There’s an instant feeling of relief. I look up at Tony and he looks down into my face. I can’t read him, his eyes are red, slight widening at the corners. I wonder if he’s afraid to look anywhere else.

They put Iris on my chest and although it hurts when they push on my belly, I try to lean forward to see her. I want to sit. Can I sit? Can I see her? No, they tell me to stay where I am. Everyone is rushing about, sponge after sponge goes between my legs but at the time I don’t know what’s happening. I catch the Dr. (or was it a nurse) saying “it’s stuck’ but Iris is in my face and I’m overtaken and weeping. Her small translucent fingers wrap around mine. Her chest goes in and out as she struggles to breathe. One, two, three, four.

“I love you, I love you, I love you, Mommy’s so sorry. I love you,” I chant. I want her to know. I want her to understand.

I ask Tony if he wants to hold her and I see the fear in his eyes. I wonder if it’s because she’s just too small, only 8 ounces. Later, I wonder if it’s because he knew I was dying, that something was going wrong. He looked me in the eyes, a smile twitching his lips, his palm against my forehead, fingers stroking my hair back.

If I could ever name that one moment when I truly felt someone loved me it’s this. The way his eyes wet with tears, the way they didn’t move from my face, my hair, Iris Giana’s tiny body, my lips. I want to bask in that love. I close my eyes to it and I breathe into the moment. I think this is the last time he’ll love me. When it settles in that Iris is gone, he’ll remember that it was my body that failed us for a second time (and will again for a third time a year later) and he’ll hate me. He’ll detest me and not be able to look at me. So I bask in the love and I send it right back at him. I send it to Iris. I package it tight and keep it for later, when the love will be gone. 

 

3:….something “What’s happening with my OR?” the doctor yells out and brings me out of the safety of love.

I open my eyes, feeling as though I had been sleeping. I look down, beyond Iris’s tiny moving body and see my legs. Somehow I hadn’t noticed but they’re shaking. I see the bed beneath them, blood is everywhere. Wet and thick like rich molasses. My mouth falls open and I look up at Tony who is still staring down at me with that slight smile. He gives me a soft nod and I don’t know what to say, or do. I can feel the blood coming out now, in gushes as each of the – still continuing – contractions tightens and releases my body. 

That’s something they don’t tell you. Just because the baby is out, it doesn’t mean you stop having contractions right away. Almost as if a switch was flipped, I feel the pain spear through my belly. It’s deep enough to feel in my soul. I say ‘I can’t stop shaking’ and my doctor, bent to work between my thighs, shakes her head and tells me it’s alright. It’s alright, the shaking will stop soon.

 

3:35pm Maybe? I can’t remember how much time has passed since Iris was born. It feels like the minutes are ticking by and I’m counting each breath Iris takes in rounds of four. One, Two, Three, Four. One, Two, Three. One, Two. One…I don’t notice I’m doing it and, to this day, I can’t figure out the reasoning behind it. 

My legs are still shaking and at this point the nurse has pushed Tony out of the way. They’ve lifted the bed and I’m unable to keep the whimpers of pain from escaping. I’m trying to be strong. Everyone told me I must be strong and hold on. I have to be strong.

All my life, strong, strong, strong was pounded into me by everyone who didn’t matter. In this single moment I give into the pressure. I want Iris to know I’m a strong woman. I am a strong black woman. I feel no pain. I endure it all. But she doesn’t seem to notice, her tiny mouth gaps open and closed with each inhalation. Somehow her lips are thick and her nose stretches in the shape of her father’s. Her tiny face boasted fat cheeks like mine. As fat as they could be on such a little person. One, two, three…

My head begins to swim and I pull it through mud to lean forward. The smell clogs my nostrils and I turn my face away to try to get a clean breath. I see black spots behind my eyelids and I try to blink them away. Where’s Tony? Did he leave? Where’s Iris? Oh yeah, on my chest, one, two, three, four. I hear them calling my name as my head falls back and hits the pillow. This hospital really is like a hotel, I think as I unwillingly stare up at the ceiling. A hard push to my belly reminds me of the pain, I gain a surge of adrenaline and my head is back up again. Or did they just sit the bed up? I’m not sure.

I try to find Tony and oh, there he is. Standing behind a faceless nurse. His head is bouncing around the room: to me, to Iris, to the doctors and to the nurses at work between my legs trying their best to mop up the blood. I make eye contact with the doctor and notice she’s talking to me. She waves a hand in front of my face and I see a light. A pen light? 

“Listen, we are going to surgery. Ok? The placenta is stuck. See, what happens when you deliver too early and you’re not fully dilated is that the baby is big enough to come out but the placenta might not fully detach. And whomp, whomp, whomp, whooo,” I shake my head, my ears are filled with cotton. I shake my head harder, almost as hard as the uncontrollable movement of my legs.

“Did you hear me? I must say this, legally. The risk of this surgery is that I could puncture the side of your uterus. This could cause an issue with future pregnancies leading to…I could puncture…” the tears are falling, I don’t want to listen, I can’t fully understand anyway, and I turn my face away. I turn down to Iris on my chest. I can barely look at her either. I’m shaking my head.

“I won’t be able to have any babies? If you puncture my wall I won’t be able to have any babies?” I repeat this several more times although I can see she is trying to comfort me. She tells me it’s rare. That it’s something they have to warn me of before we go to surgery, but that we really must go. We can not wait even a second longer, and I feel the bed already moving toward the door. We can not wait even a second longer and none of it will matter if I bleed out. All I can think about is that I’ll never be a mom. She asks me if I consent to a blood transfusion. It doesn’t matter. I’ll never be a mom. Who cares if I get blood or not. Who cares? Does anyone care?

 

Time is moving. Later, I ask Tony if he knew what time we went down to surgery but he doesn’t know. He didn’t stop to clock the time. All he knew was that I was being rushed to surgery and he had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. I wonder if he thought maybe he wouldn’t see me again but I’m too afraid to ask. Even now, as I’m writing this, I’m too afraid to ask. I don’t want to open all of this up for him again. 

God hates me. He really does. The one thing I’ve always wanted. The one thing I know I was biologically made to do and he took it from me, repeatedly. Take and take and take and take and take. “We really must go.” The doctor says something to a nurse about the OR. “Can we…” I nod to her.

They transfer me to a new bed ‘hold on to her tight’ they say and I pull my arms in so Iris is safe. Her tiny chest still struggling to breathe. One, two, three, four. I feel like I can sense her energy waning. Or was it mine? I try to hold her as we get moving but I can’t.

My arms slacken and I look at one of the nurses in fear. Save Iris, I want to demand but I know she can’t. Can you save Iris? I want to ask but I know it’s not fair for me to expect her to answer. Noticing my distress she gathers Iris into her arms, tiny square of a swaddle blanket and all, and then she’s gone. That tiny body held all the warmth I needed and I begin to panic as I am cool. Or at least I feel cold on the inside, or is that from the saline drip? I’m shaking.

I don’t want to go. I don’t want to leave her. Please, let me stay until she’s passed. I try to ask but my mouth is dry. It’s loud in the hall. They wouldn’t be able to hear me anyway over that sound. Wait, is that me? That keening sound filled with pain? I try to close my mouth in embarrassment but I can’t. It’s too great, my pelvis is on fire and then my head is falling again and I can’t pick it up. I try to keep up with the nurse holding Iris but I can’t. 

“Status on my OR?” the doctor practically yells into a small phone held by the nurse. Somehow she’s on the bed with her feet up on the wheels, or something. We’re moving and she’s up off the wheels and leaning in front of me. Both knees pressing into the white of the soft bedding. The white quickly dampening with blood. Hands on my chest.

I try to look for Iris again, try bowing my back to get a glimpse of the nurse walking behind us. But my body doesn’t move. ‘You’ll have her with you when you come out of surgery’ says the nurse at my side. Her small hands grip the bar as she pushes quickly. What she doesn’t say is that Iris won’t be alive the next time I see her. 

Later, I will be broken. My daughter took her last breaths and I wasn’t there. Because of this stupid, worthless body, one, two, three, four. The thoughts overlap as exhaustion fills every fiber of my being. I didn’t realize how tired I’d become. One, two, three. I just want to sleep. I don’t want to sleep. One, two. But I’m so tired. One.

‘But you were losing too much blood’ my guy will later defend me to myself. ‘You had to get surgery,’ but I don’t care. I’m a bad mom. I worked so hard to keep her healthy, and she was. It was me, my body, that failed her. First, when my water broke at 15 weeks, and then again when she spent those last moments of her life without us. Alone. Unaware. Sterile. Unloved. 

There are so many questions we ask. So many things we want to know. I ask myself many of these knowing I’ll most likely never get the answer:

Does she even know how much I loved her?
How much I still love her?
How much I still think about her even years later?
Does she know I still love her despite healing and finding happiness after?

That losing a child and nearly dying didn’t keep me depressed, and angry, and frustrated at life, forever? Does she know I still loved her even though the pain of her passing got just a little better every day? That when I finally gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Naomi Kai, I thought of how much I loved her?

Does Iris find it unfair? That Naomi Kai is here and she isn’t? (Do any of my angels find it unfair?) Am I a bad mom for being happy with Naomi? Does she know that – even though I love Naomi – I still love her? Is she anywhere thinking of me? Is she anywhere thinking? Is Iris Giana anywhere at all?

At the time, I didn’t know the outcome. I didn’t know things would turn around. I was lost in that moment, in that pain, and I thought it would never end. And as I disappeared into the darkness, just moments after they rolled me into the OR, I thought one last question:

Iris, how can I live without you? 

 

 

 

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CNF: I’m Toxic…No, I Won’t Change.

Prompt:

Write what you really needed to hear a specific person say to you… but they never did. Contribute it as a note to you, from them.

Dear Nearly Estranged Daughter,

I’m sorry that you feel that I’ve offended you somehow. You can tell, through my language, that I will never take responsibility for my own actions.

I’m sorry that I can’t be what you need me to be. I said you expect too much out of me as a mother but, really, I meant I will never take the steps needed to strengthen our relationship.

I’m sorry that I’ve left you waiting, and waiting, and waiting for my call. I know that I don’t care enough about you to value your time or your want for a mother.

I’m sorry that for years I’ve let you believe we could work this out. What I really should’ve done is shown you my truth: you are not what I wanted in an adopted daughter. You are not my blood. This will never get better unless I give up my stubborn ways.

Now that you know all this, please do the right thing. Stop waiting on me to stop being me.

I won’t. So, I set you free.

Sincerely,
Always Me

CNF: Cleanliness…

In fact, I think, from the twisted look on her face that she tries so desperately to hide that she is disgusted by me, in this moment, and by this.

 

Cleanliness is next to godliness. Or so they say. I loved taking showers, and I’m sure, had I been given the opportunity, I would’ve loved taking baths. My brother, however, did not.

It was as if dirt was his best friend, letting it stick to him like glue, hanging out on his clothes, clinging with every step. You might even say I grew more and more diligent about being clean solely because he wasn’t. 

Standing in the shower, letting the water run over my skin, cleaning me of doubt, fear, and shame. Cleaning me of the stink of expectations, of pressure, of stress. Cleaning me of abandonment, neglect, and what that child therapist said: anger. 

At first, there was nothing to stop me from staying in and taking all the time in the world. However, as you’ve seen, that’s now how my life works. Due to situations I’ll tell you about later, I still rush through showers, even now, as an adult.

***

I stood there, knees shaking no matter how tight I tried to hold them together. I didn’t want her to smell me. I did my job. I went under the water. I took my allotted time and made sure the liquid was so hot that it melted any bacteria away. It was like lava, burning my skin until I was sure I’d only be boiled bones.

She stood before me, waiting for me to drop my towel. I fidget, clutching the towel around my bony body. “I promise, I took a shower. I did,” I reassure her but she doesn’t believe me.

My adoptive mom has told her all these stories. Stories about dirty bodies, “fonk” so strong it stinks up the car, underarms caked in sweat. I want to say ‘it’s not me, it’s him,’ but I know I can’t tattle on my brother. Despite his continuous attempts to break my will, to remind me that I wasn’t ‘really’ his biological sister – that I was a dumpster baby no one wanted and no one could love – I stuck by him always. That’s what you do, when blood is thicker than adoption papers.

 I try to appear innocent although the mischievous look (that, now, I often see in my own baby daughter) is a permanent fixture on my face. I hope to buy a few more moments. I squeeze my eyes shut and pray someone will need her somewhere else in the house and she’ll have to go deal with it right away. It had never happened before but a young girl could dream.

“Let me smell,” with one long fingered hand she pulls up my right arm and inhales deeply. I imagine Yzma, with her bug eyes and stick-like lashes, scouring down at me. Repeating the same on the other side, she seems satisfied. This, I’m used to. This, I don’t mind. But then out comes two fingers that she uses to swipe between my little girl legs. 

Not in a sexual way, there’s nothing gratifying about this. With my lack of pubic hair, my ugly face – too out of proportion to be found beautiful, with my scarred knee and ankle from a rebellious bike ride, with my scarred head from cigarette burns; no, there’s nothing appealing about me. In fact, I think, from the twisted look on her face, that she tries so desperately to hide that she is disgusted by me, in this moment, and by this. Maybe even a little disgusted by herself. She brings her hand up to her nose and sniffs. “Good,” she says, dismissing me with a single wave.

All of this was pointless. Every single time she smelled me, swiping with stiff fingers, I’ve come up clean. No back alley, dirty water, soiled diaper smell coming from me. But I’m shaken, every time. I wonder ‘is this foreshadowing?’ Although, with my young-girl mind, I don’t know what foreshadowing is yet, or how important it is to the rest of my story; I mean, my life.

*** 

I teeter back to my room on nervous legs. My brother had been standing outside the room and we avoid each other’s eyes because I know what comes next. It’s his turn and I know he’ll fail. He’s the one who started this.

First, what with terrifying me so badly that I couldn’t wash my hair in the shower, and second my adverse reaction to unlocked doors. Back home, there were two doors going into the upstairs bathroom. Both doors locked but one always opened regardless. My brother thought it was the funniest thing ever, sneaking into the restroom, throwing back the curtain and screaming at the top of his lungs, poking and prodding at my body. He couldn’t hold back his laughter, giggling at my gangly legs. Legs that would never be long enough to make me a model.

I’d scream until I cried, then cry until I was numb. He didn’t understand but here I am, yet again, making excuses for him. I’m sure he wasn’t aware of all that had happened to me. All that had been done. I would never tell him. He already blamed me for all that had gone wrong, for us being in foster care in the first place – although I’d only been two or three when we were taken – and I’d never give him another reason to think me less than. So, what started as a playful game, became a terrifying world.

There I was teetering into my tiny room while he was behind closed doors, being checked for smells. I didn’t think there was more being done, if there was, he never acted as such and wouldn’t tell me even if I asked. But I feared for him and his fragile mind. (I was sure he was stronger than I thought but I couldn’t run the risk of telling him everything).

When I reached my weekend bed, I slid under the covers and I thought of flowers, big black flowers that could be painted on a yellow wall in rebellion. I thought of tiny boxes filled with secrets and heartfelt memories. I thought of times when my body was my own. When was that? I try hard to remember.

And not just in this, I lie in bed and wish my body was my own-  away from the Hims with friends that want to take me for ice cream (if that ever actually happened, or if it was a culmination of abuse that my young mind strung together like a movie), from foster sisters with things they want to stick in soft places, from eyes that wonder because I’m too young to really understand but old enough to know they’re looking, and from fingers looking for nonexistent smells.

So I’m sullied and clean. Washed and seared. My skin is pristine but crawls. I knew she meant well, at least that’s what I told myself, but I couldn’t help but wonder if she would do what she did if she knows what’d been done: to me.     

 

CNF: Dancing For the Lord

Tears streamed down my cheeks as I danced naked around the dining room table. I wanted to stop. I wanted to grab my clothes and run up the stairs. I wanted to be a ghost, floating up the wood case without making a sound, to be invisible. Invincible. 

 

My apparently lewd dancing during Youth Church that morning had gotten back to my foster mother. I knew I would be in trouble the moment I saw her. That hard look in her eyes, lips set in a thin line. She had shaken her head so hard I thought her wig would fall off. Hair piece, that’s what she told me to call it. A wig was a full thing with slick hair that had a net and an elastic band. A hair piece, hers at least, had two combs: one in the front and one in the back. Still, it shook so violently I could see the nest of natural curls at the nape of her neck.

In the parking lot catercorner to church grounds, I had come to a full stop and looked around. I didn’t want to be embarrassed here, in front of my church friends. I didn’t want them to see her snatch me up, nails digging in to the point where my skin breaks and slides up in small paper thin flaps exposing a fresh layer beneath. I didn’t want them to see how I’d fold in on myself, becoming as small as a mouse, still like an opossum.

I also didn’t want them to see me after. How I would keep my head staring straight, zoning out so I wouldn’t meet anyone’s gaze. I didn’t want to hear their snickers, as I’m sure they would laugh and pretend I was the only one bumping and grinding to the secular music. I didn’t want that one boy, that I let touch my vagina in the sanctuary, to see. He had crawled under the pews, reached under my skirt and touched my hairless flesh with curiosity and I didn’t stop him. I liked him, or I thought I did, but I didn’t want him to know the real me. The me that no one could love.

But all of that happened anyway. She marched me back to the car so fast I couldn’t keep up in my thin flats. They had no traction and whenever she dragged me about I slipped like a gazelle on a frozen lake. I tried to keep my gaze averted but I didn’t have to worry. The churchgoers were already moving away, not wanting, or caring, to see how The Foster Kids are treated. At least that’s what I presume. 

 

 

***

 

Once in the car no one spoke to me. Not mom – whose face was still angry. Not dad – who was clueless to what happened, per usual. And definitely not my other siblings – who hadn’t stopped me from making the mistake in the first place and had down right egged me on. They joked with each other and talked about which donut they wanted from Krispy Creme – our after Sunday service tradition.

I knew I wouldn’t be getting a donut or at least she’d get my favorite kind, glazed with sprinkles, and then let someone else eat it. We also stopped by Church’s Chicken, another Sunday tradition, and I impatiently sat cramped in my corner of the SUV, my stomach growled but I wondered if I would get to eat the juicy fried chicken with everyone else. If not, I’d be relegated to the kitchen table with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a longer sentence of the silent treatment.

When we arrived home she still said nothing. Everyone went their separate ways: the foster kids to do their many chores, my dad to his favorite leather chair that he slept in with feet raised, mom to her couch in the sunroom that she stretched out on from sun up to sun down, and then me – to the kitchen to clean up before dinner. 

 After dinner had been eaten, the dishes cleared, the table reset, the chairs moved back in place (as there were too many of us and extra chairs were always needed), and the food was put away, I was in agony. She was still yet to tell me what my punishment would be but I knew something was coming.

Would it be 12 licks with daddy’s thick leather belt? Mom saying “this hurts me more than it hurt you” followed by “as soon as you stay still I can finish”?

Would it be hours sitting in front of the fireplace? A punishment tailor made for me because I had books in my room and “Go to your room” wasn’t a punishment but a vacation and one I relished.

Would it be one thousand sentences where I’d write out my crime and promise to do better? Hands cramping with every “I’ll never gyrate to secular music in church again. I apologize. I apologize. I apologize.”

Would I be banned from the library for 2 months? The worst one of all, because the house of books was my only safe space, the only place I truly felt happy. 

 More punishments went through my mind as I made myself scarce. I even thought “maybe I should run upstairs and read as many pages as I can in case I have to empty my bookshelves into bags and leave my books before her door to be taken for an undisclosed amount of time.”

 On my way to do just that I heard her call me. She didn’t seem angry and hope bloomed in my chest. When I arrived at the dining room the other foster kids were there, but only the girls. It didn’t seem important at the time.

“Strip,” she said with a little smirk on her face. The others started chanting “strip, strip, strip, strip”. I fought it and the smirk slipped from her face.

“Take. All. Your. Clothes. Off.” She barely got the words out through lights pulled tight across her teeth. “You want to be exposed and be fast?” Being ‘fast’ was something all girls (regardless of race) were who had ‘sexual tendencies’ at a young age, switching, making sex eyes, showing too much skin, going through puberty early to where their bodies developed faster than their age and more. 

 “Go ahead and be like David. You remember him? He danced so hard his clothes fell off. Dance for the Lord,” she said. I stared at her and, in that moment, I wanted to hit her. I wanted to hit her so hard she’d never smirk again. I wanted to drive my fist into her face and pound until all my frustration peeled off like wet clothes. But I knew I couldn’t. 

 So, I stripped. I stood there with my hands blocking the soft folds between my legs. Despite my early puberty I hadn’t grown hair there yet, even though I knew I one day would, and felt they could see into me. See inside me. 

 “Move your hands and dance. Just like you were doing at church this morning. I want to see.” I dropped my hands to my sides and moved my hips like I had seen girls do in music videos. My knees knocked together as I bent and straightened and swayed from side to side. I tried to blink quick enough to keep the tears in but I could feel a wetness in my eyes welling up. Could hear the cries welling up inside me though my mouth felt glued shut. 

 “No, around the table. And move your arms more. Just like you were this morning. Don’t play games with me” she said. 

 I stepped around the table bouncing and popping my butt back and forth, shaking my chest that was just budding with breasts. Through the third, and fourth, and fifth lap around the table I danced harder. I closed my eyes and put my hands above my head, giving myself over as I’d seen the girls in the movies do.

“She has good rhythm” I heard someone say merrily, as if it were all a joke, and I kept dancing.

***

My cheeks are wet now. I stopped trying to fight the tears a few laps back and continue to let them flow freely. I’m sorry god. I’m not a good girl. If i was, I wouldn’t have danced like that in your house today. I don’t deserve your love. I never did. I promise not to do it again. I think as I continue to dance. I can’t lift my hands because my arms are so tired. My feet drug across the smooth wood floors, catching on the area rug everytime I passed by the frayed corners, and I could barely lift them.

There was no more laughter, no whispering heard from the table. The foster girls watched in morbid silence. My punishment didn’t seem funny to them anymore. I could see their faces, trying to avert their eyes. Shame was shown to me and I wondered if it was mine or theirs.

“Enough,” someone said. It wasn’t mom, though, and so I kept dancing.

When I was finally released from my punishment I grabbed up my clothes and darted up the stairs, struggling to take them two at a time. My room door was open and once in I closed it as silently as I could in fear of further punishment. I didn’t stop to pull my clothes on but climbed the ladder to my top bunk.

Beneath the thin cover I was safe, hidden, but all modesty left me that day. My body wasn’t just mine anymore. It didn’t only belong to me. Everyone had feasted on it with their eyes and their hysterical laughter. They’d stripped it of it’s purity via their sanctity. They looked into my void and I couldn’t stop them. I can never stop them because I bared my soul and, like my body, I’ll never be able to hide it again.