Family and Relationships
It is 2 A.M. on a Sunday when my husband, Brian, and I arrive at the emergency room. The waiting area is strangely quiet, almost peaceful. The TV overhead drones, and a Latina mother and her young daughter sit in adjoining chairs, looking calm and wide awake. I take a deep breath and step up to the admitting window in my slower-than-usual, wide-legged fashion. The man behind the glass looks down at my belly and asks, “How far along?”
You cannot remember winter. You cannot remember the way the weeks of gray stitched themselves together into a patchwork of cold, the sky the color of a galvanized bucket, and the mud frozen at the lip of the pond.
Our failing family farm had two trailer homes sitting vacant. To make ends meet, my parents rented one to Valerie, a pregnant, unwed twenty-three-year-old with tomato red hair who worked at the Kroger deli, where my mother was the manager.
It began with a hiccup as one cell tried to transfer its data to another. It began long before I, your mother, was born. A gene mutation, carried invisibly by women and passed to sons, snakes through our family tree. It is a fragment of history we can trace, a tiny bundle of stories floating in our blood.
Haiden’s morning sickness was bad, and she told me to get the boy out of the house, take him anywhere. She stood in the doorway of our downstairs bathroom, just off the kitchen, her frizzy black hair bound into a ponytail that pointed toward the ceiling like a squat exclamation point. “Please,” she said.
I no longer felt I had to “let go” of my first family, as some had counseled. I had two daughters, one I held in my arms and one I held in my memory, but both were equally real. In this new present I could remember and cherish Doria without pain. Feeding Laura in her highchair, I told her that Doria had opened her mouth the same way, like a baby bird.
I was raised in a family of four girls. When my sisters and I are together, we speak a private language composed largely of different pitches of laughter that causes our exasperated father to demand to know what’s so funny. I am most at home when I am sharing clothes, secrets, and a bathroom with other women.