The three make an unlikely group. The couple, two men who have lived together as lovers for over 20 years, and the child.
The trendy reservation – only restaurant and eclectic menu suit the couple well as they playfully debate which wine will accent the meal so carefully negotiated and ordered. The child doesn’t know if she can eat at all. She’s quiet, softly petting the tablecloth, the silky lines in the linen, as she listens to their conversation. Not contributing to the festive occasion. She is, as they say, expecting. Pregnant. A bad girl. A shame, and tonight she will have her baby.
Young parents proudly show off their progeny while trying to keep the toast pieces confined to the trays of the high chairs. Ladies with blue hair wear carnations pinned to the breast of their cardigans at this brunch to honor reproduction. Uncomfortable teenage boys try to keep the horseplay at a minimum so the matriarch can bask in public adoration on this, her day of days, Mother’s Day.
A half a continent away is the distance it was supposed to take to save, not sacrifice a child. He arrives on the doorstep one August evening uninvited, unannounced, unwanted.” Of course, he will stay,” they say “look how far he has come”. The need for hospitable acclaim so much greater than the need to protect the child.
By the time September comes, he’s gone back, and a birthday has been celebrated with a black diamond necklace and earring set. A very grown up gift to be kept forever, but never worn. The end-of-childhood ghosts encased in the satin lined jewel box appear each time it’s opened for the next forty years.
Fall brings a new school, new classes, new friends that might have been had the child returned a glance, or a smile. Wanting to be left alone, she was left alone. Left alone to quietly throw up in the bathroom stall farthest away, so the girls sharing lipstick and giggles at the mirror never knew she existed. She learned to quietly slide down a wall to faint, to feel it coming at her like a black tsunami, knowing she can’t outrun the waves of darkness, having to surf through them. Then to pick herself up and go on to the next class.
Walking to school each day she was teased with opportunities to step in front of vehicles, and opportunities to step off the bridge into the waiting river below. Opportunities to keep stored away like a security blanket to drag out of the closet when you need it most.
Only 7 weeks in their reality. Such a short time. 49 days is the length of a pregnancy when it is confronted. “How could you have done this to us?” When unspoken shame and disappointment bleed from their pores like the after smell of garlic. 49 days to live with it, make the doctor appointments, tell only the closest of friends and family who endure with them the humiliation of the fall from grace of oldest daughter. 49 days to make arrangements to have the social worker interview (” how many times did you have sex?” She asks. “Only once is the answer and she laughs and she laughs and says “they all say that” 49 days to prepare the papers for signing after the birth. The other 7 months; 210 days, belong to the child alone.
You’re welcome to stay home when Dave and Sally and the kids come for the weekend, but we know that you will be so much more comfortable staying away from home and they love your company. You will be their guest. They look forward to it. It’s up to you, though.
She travels light. Her pajamas, toothbrush, the one other outfit that still fits and her book to read to chase away the cobwebs so she can sleep at night. If it’s a good night. A bad night, which is every second or third, brings little sleep for fear of falling into the dark and not being able to climb out. No one will help. No one knows the dark is there. They are so absorbed in their clouds of shame that they can’t see beyond their own private storms.
Her host’s home is filled with fine art, fine music and fine food in celebration and confirmation of their status of same-sex marriage long before it was fashionable. His fine collection of this, and his fine collection of that. All to be shown and played and eaten with their guest who wants to be anywhere else but there. It hurts her back to sit in the low-slung leather designer chairs. The music makes her sad for lost times when music was alive and sang in her soul. The food is too rich and too much for someone used to starving herself to stay unknown.
The next morning, we must go out for public brunch, fine dining overlooking the bay. It’s what is done, what is expected, and the chivalrous friends insist on no less for their Madonna like guest.
Evening comes very gently this time of year, and it’s at this time that the child may be taken home. All very quietly accomplished without any shocking revelations to friends to live with in years to come with talk about “did you know that” and “what a shame” conversations. The weekend is two more days gone out of the sentence each party is serving in their own way.
That night, the body that is not hers to control tells her that she must go now and do this thing that she has wished away. She is escorted by a martyr in the middle of the night, in a house so quiet, no one says good luck, or break a leg or whatever the proper cliché is to be spoken when sending a child off to have a child.
She is taken in alone, discussed like she was deaf, her pain not noticed by those supposed to be helping her. The righteous decide how much pain is appropriate to the circumstances, and she is told that she will remember this experience and learn from it, how this pain will teach her.
The words blend and melt and swirl, and finally, the blackness is welcome. The surface is such an unhappy place, better to stay under, but slaps to her face force her to break through to agonizing light and silence. She wonders why it is so quiet, why no eyes meet hers. She is alone with the doctor and nurses and does not ask why. She has no words in her.
Body torn open, soul torn out, bled out. There are no transfusions for this. She is told by the young doctor that there will be no anesthetic as he sews her body up, stitch by stitch, that enduring the pain will remind her that transgression is not without penalty. The penalty shall be this pain. If she could have laughed, she would have had the last laugh at his expense. There can be no pain when you are beyond feeling.
Alone in the room. She is told that he is beautiful, asked has she seen him? A bouquet of red roses is delivered, conspicuous with the absence of a single celebratory card or cute stuffed animal with floating balloons and curled blue ribbons. “Red roses for a blue lady” says the card mimicking the popular top ten songs at the moment.
The child cannot go to see what she has done. She cannot make herself walk around the corner and look through the window. Her feet will not take her there. Her mind will not let them. She never sees him.
Seven days of receiving her meal trays, being quickly checked and left alone. Leaning against the rain streaked window late afternoon watching every car turn into the parking lot, waiting for her father, who’s professed love covered the shame like translucent plastic. The one who brought her into the world and held her when she was his little one would not come, and he was supposed to love her forever.
They made the child choose the name that day for the registration record. To whisper a name that will land only on paper. The name that would never be sung to him in lullabies, or written in crayon pictures on the refrigerator. Her only tears to fall in the year of the shame, the year of the drought of tears. The tears fell in sync with the rain outside falling on the window, quietly, slowly, and all night long.
Discharged with no fanfare of parade out to the curb in a wheelchair, no waves from nurses and doctors. Quietly pack up and follow behind, carrying the suitcase out to the car herself. Transported home again on the same highways, with the same traffic lights, the same pan handlers at the same corners. All the same, and nothing the same.
Climb the stairs very slowly because the body is hurt, stumble and slide against the wall of the house. She looks at her arm, cut and scratched from the glass pieces embedded in the stucco. The child wonders who the glass shards in the walls of the sanctuary of home are meant to keep out. Once the gates are breached, there is no welcoming contingent of family here. There is no word spoken to acknowledge the journey she has returned from. In a house, so full of people, no eyes meet hers; no arms reach out to hold her in a hug.
“You take her” the stepmother tells the father, “she is your child”. The unspoken words to follow, that her part was done in getting to this point where the trip to the lawyer’s office would culminate the whole business.
So, he takes his child to give away her child. Her signature (press hard, we are making three copies) on the legal papers spread out on the big oak desk ends the ten-day grace period where redemption might have been.