I’ve been attempting to start this essay since last weekend, searching for the words that can describe what it feels like when the earthquake has finally settled, and the ground beneath my feet no longer feels torn asunder. There is damage, and much of it lies invisible, tiny cracks in the foundation that I am scrambling to find and repair, because the notion of falling apart at the seams is unbearable. It is in the hesitation of a given hug, the blink of apprehension in eyes that used to stare at me with adoration, the nervousness as if we haven’t known each other since the beginning of time here on earth.
It is a self-censorship I never knew existed. Speaking everything in my mind before it rolls off my tongue, worrying if something I say could be misinterpreted or misunderstood. I have lost my freedom to just be, as it feels too dangerous to have authenticity. There are moments when my throat closes, and I brace for the possibility that something awful could happen at any given time. There is no longer ease and comfort.
I worry if I can’t be physically present every minute. If I want to do something for the house, like cleaning, or for myself, like writing or exercise, because I don’t want to appear as though I am not sacrificing or paying attention enough. I have been judged for less.
There is a dread I can’t shake, a looking over the shoulder just to make sure nothing is following. It often feels like I am standing on the ocean shore, after the earth-shattering threat has subsided, unable to stop scanning the horizon just in case a tsunami is headed my way.
It’s a new feeling that I am not good enough, despite nearly a decade that says otherwise. The loss of self-confidence, and the bubbles of shame that meander to the surface, trigger insecurity. I haven’t asked what was told regarding my absence, because that question deserves to be answered by the person who said it. And because I am afraid to hear the response, and how it may have tainted any view of me, or put my love and dedication into question.
I long for peace, for the jitters in my heart to be smoothed and reassured that I belong as a fixture in this role. It feels like an unquenchable desire, this wanting to feel as though nothing has changed, and to return to where things were before the disaster struck. Except it happened, and there is nothing I can do to reverse the havoc. I can only pray it is not enough to create permanent ruin, that rebuilding is possible, and one day I will suddenly realize I have returned to exactly who I once was without even feeling the shift. That time really can, and will, mend the injuries we can’t see.
when i saw the cloud, i prayed for fortitude. i stood silent and watched the as lightning blew a temporary hole in its darkness, as it irradiated the black mass in the distance. for 20 minutes, i was mesmerized, following the flashes of brilliance as they bounced across the sky. its girth cloud hung across the horizon, setting the earth below ablaze with its quick and sharp luminescence.
it reminded me of watching my favorite childhood movie, ‘the neverending story’, fearing the nothing as it rolled across the screen, its darkness swallowing everything in its path. i understood its emptiness, felt it inside myself, the dark swath of barren sky that wouldn’t cease devouring everything it touched. it has planted in my heart, steadily growing, choking my happiness from the inside. it feeds on fear, gulping my insecurities and anxieties, steadily growing until the void feels like it touches every corner of my soul.
the waiting is a nothing. it sucks my strength, drains my energy, overwhelms me. it rolls up silently, seamlessly, surging like a wave, then plunging down and over every inch of my being. it leaves me cold, shivering, and mournful, rewinding moments repeatedly in my mind, with the lost hope for a different outcome that isn’t possible. i can’t shake the betrayal, the pure deconstruction of my heart that guarantees that everything has changed, and nothing will be the same.
my only hope are those dazzling flashes, the instantaneous moment when what appears to be lifeless and bleak is penetrated by grace, bursting with luster and warmth. in those instances, i can see beyond the desolate plains of my empty heart, remember its echoing drumbeat when it knew love, lighting up my soul as it if it were in a hurry to burn. it torches tiny fractions of the nothing, slowly fighting back, daring for the tiniest opportunity to find hope. daring for the chance to become radiant once more.
It has been 1,045,320 seconds since I last heard the sounds of your voices. I think about you all the time. Stare at your pictures. Wonder what you are doing, if you are happy, if you still love me. It’s like purgatory, this waiting, not knowing. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so tortured.
A spectacular void has taken residence in my heart. It sits there, empty, unyielding and cold. I have never considered a world where you were not in it. I have never considered a time when our future would be uncertain.
Some days I feel like breaking myself into thousands of shards because the pain feels so unbearable to endure. I thought I knew heartbreak until the notion of you exiting my world became a possibility, and then I discovered suffering that knows no bounds. It takes root, and seizes you slowly. There is nothing swift in its gradual, absolute acquisition of my emotions.
I have moments where I feel the toll of insecurity in every facet of my life. I rewind every decision, the words I’ve chosen, how I’ve handled x, y, and z. Its shaken my confidence in my ability to navigate in this world and feel assured of my decisions. When I stop moving, my mind takes over every aspect, and I can’t escape its scrutiny. I have always been my own worst critic, and that voice that I permanently carry, the damaged one who has no faith in happiness, has been the loudest. Its drowns out everything else I hear or think. As much as I can stay mobile, it eases the barrage of my own thoughts as they bombard me from every front.
I wish that I could put words to this agony, but there is no way to describe what it feels like when the heart is beaten and ripped open. How the ache never ceases. Or when I lay down to rest, I see you as soon as I shut my eyes, sleep only coming in spurts and fits. The relentless fatigue from missing you, and missing parts of myself that I fear may never return. A persistent fear that a form of trust has been broken between us, and a constant worry that it may never be rebuilt to the same place. The parts of my mind that want to run into insanity, just so the burden of this hurt can be lessened, or forgotten.
1,047,360 seconds (and counting).
Cried (26 times, including one two hour stretch on a Sunday starting at 3:00pm)
Boiled 13 eggs
Washed two loads of laundry
Ran the dishwasher 5 times
Lay in my hammock 3 times, once with the dog
Looked at photos of you 58 times
Hung fairy lights in the living and dining rooms
Stayed up past 1:00am 4 times
Listened to the rain beating against my window without mercy
Rearranged the art in the living room 3 times
Vacuumed 3 times
Bought 2 bunches of bananas, 15 avocados, and 13 small containers of yogurt
Steam cleaned the stairs 2x
Cleaned the car
Slept more than 5 hours twice
Replayed the last voicemail you left me 15 times
Let the rain wash over my shoulders
My kettlebell workout, 7 times, alternating the background music between The Best of Aerosmith and Timberlake’s Futuresex/Lovesounds
Watched Heartburn twice
Yoga, 3 times
Watched the tree in the backyard sway for an hour
Saw a heavy metal, mariachi band
Binge watched House of Cards (Season 4) and Gypsy
Felt my heart shatter, then picked up the remnants
Finished reading Backwards and Forwards
Listened to Abbey Road, 1999, and Songs in the Life of Key vinyls 2x each
Paid 7 bills
Worked, worked, worked
Talked, messaged, and hung out with more people than I can recall
Gazed at the stars
Mentally reviewed our last day together 8 times
Forgot to eat 4 times
Considered taking up running
Slept outside for 40 minutes
Found nuggets of hope
Put on the High Fidelity vinyl twice, except for side 1-B, where I listened to Love and Bob Dylan 9 times each
Changed the dining room tablecloth once
Wondered if you missed me
Put garbage in the dumpster 5 times
Wrote notes to 9 friends
Loved you from afar
I am grateful for the cloudburst
as if the Earth knew
I could not sacrifice one more tear
she opened her heavens
and shared my agony
I want (no, I need) to talk about what it feels like to be a survivor of sexual abuse, alleged to have committed same.
It’s like taking the scar that you have carefully wrapped, stitched, and mended (as much as these things can mend) over the past 36 years and tearing it open with sharpened fingernails, watching the blood seep out, feeling the excruciating sting of everything you worked so hard to heal.
It’s reliving that nauseating feeling that you did something to deserve this horrific, awful event, because there is no answer to why these things happen. I mean, we can throw out justifications: mental illness, abusers who were abused, alcohol, etc. But the truth is, it is often just a moment in time that presents opportunity, and someone decides to take advantage of that perfect storm, sometimes once, or repeatedly, even for years.
I was five years old when I was abused, only a year younger than my daughter. It took me sixteen years to say a word to anyone, to let anyone in on the horrendous secret I hauled within me. It sat inside, and festered until I just couldn’t stand to live with it on my own anymore. I tried to eat it away, numb myself, pretend it wasn’t significant. I didn’t really begin to restore and piece together those damaged parts of myself until I became a mother. It was when I had these beautiful, tender, vulnerable souls to protect and care for that I knew, above anything else in the world, I never wanted them to experience the kind of suffering I felt at the hands of another human.
Becoming a mother finally allowed me to open those dark pockets, and begin to sweep them clean to let in the light. It has taken so much work to be at home in my skin, and it is only in the past year (and a few in my 20s until I was sexually assaulted again at 24), that I have truly hit my goal of self-love. I just want to let that sink in: out of forty-one years, I have had about ten where I have felt good about myself. That’s thirty-one years of anguish, self-loathing, and physically feeling so uncomfortable with my body that it has permeated my life and relationships. It has also cost me people who cared deeply for me, and who loved me even when I couldn’t love myself, because I never felt worthy.
I have been so protective of my children over the years. Anytime anything has come up that might even resemble anything suspicious, I have always asked questions and reassured them that they could always come to me. I taught them at a young age that their bodies are theirs, and theirs alone. I talk with my teenagers now about how important it is to practice consent, and how to care for themselves and others in physical situations. With all of them, I talk frankly using the proper terminology, because I feel it is important to know the body inside and out for one’s health. I work in a field where I see women all the time who have no idea how their bodies function. It has always felt essential to me to make sure that my children are well educated in this area.
So, when I became accused of abuse, I almost vomited. Suddenly, I felt as helpless and powerless as my five-year-old self, the one who would run into the bathroom to lock out her abuser if she could get away. The one who never felt there was a way to escape the nightmare that she lived over and over. I felt the waves of shame and guilt I have worked so hard to subdue rise-up from their black depth (because it never truly goes away), and they crashed all over my soul.
Shame and guilt go hand in hand, by the way. They co-exist beautifully in these situations. I feel horrible shame that my children are going through this agonizing process, and that I am being blamed as the root cause. And I feel guilt that there is nothing I can do to stop the train of accusations that are already in motion, and that I can’t protect any of my children in a way that I want. All our relationships will change after this, and it is going to take so much time for the broken, invisible trust that we didn’t even know we had threaded through each other to be rebuilt.
And then comes the self-questioning: have I said anything that could be misinterpreted? Am I going to have to live under a microscope for the rest of life and parcel out every word or action? Will I really survive being accused of something that has torn my own spirit apart? Do I have the strength to endure this kind of trauma? How do I fucking get through this for the next week?
The questions feel endless, as does the pain of feeling that something so unjust could happen to me, despite the love and tenderness I have poured into my children. It is a sorrow and suffering I would never wish on anyone. Even with the support of my family, friends, and community, I have never felt more isolated than I do on this journey.
I can’t stem the crying. Tears just come out of nowhere, and I feel relentlessly vulnerable. I keep thinking: what if I can’t mend that gaping wound that sits inside, slowly bleeding my strength? I keep fearing: what if I lose my children, and this torment never ends?
I don't believe people when they tell me
I am strong
Because I know at any minute
My heart could fold like an origami
bird and fly away
It feels thin and tearable,
Wrinkled from the uncountable times
when someone took it in hands
and crumpled it to nothing
My body, a bag
of bones and tendons,
Could collapse if you breathe close enough
It is so hollow, heavy, used
Everything is tender, and if my spirit isn't
There's still time
My Dearest Loves,
This morning, you would have been delivered to my arms. You would be dragging in your belongings: backpacks, water bottles, maybe a doll. You would have slipped off your shoes in the living room, and left them where I might trip. I probably would have reminded you for the 100th time to place them in your room or the hall.
You would have been hungry, because you are growing so fast. Even the days we spend apart, you come back a little bit taller, your hair a touch longer, a little bit smarter. We might have gone shopping, as we usually do on Sundays, and you would have complained the entire time, and bombarded me with requests for things you know I would say no to. Sometimes I think you coordinate exactly how to ask for things, just so you can wear me down to say yes. I would give anything in the world to hear your voices right now, even if only begging.
We would have come home, and you would have helped me put things away, because you love to help. I would have fixed you something to eat, and you might have taken over the living room with Legos, or put The Office on television, or played Wii. Maybe you go upstairs and pretend you are soldiers, or investigators, or knights. Your voices echo through the hallways, your footsteps gently thump, and it is when it becomes quiet that I always wonder what you have gotten into. The silence that envelopes me today feels unbearable.
Maybe we would go to the park, or watch a movie, or you would help with dinner. The day would quickly begin to wane, and you would pack your lunches for the next morning. You would stumble upstairs to brush your teeth, and pick out your clothes. Then you would call for me to come up and say goodnight. I would give you each a kiss and hug, and make sure you felt comfortable. I would shut off your lights to allow you to drift off to dreamtime.
Without you here, the day languishes, and I feel every minute of our separation. My heart carries a hole that aches relentlessly. Just when I think I have cried every tear my body can muster, more flow, and my eyes burn. I feel so empty. I find things for myself to do, just so I can stay in motion, because to sit still means I am flooded with grief.
I remember the last time I saw you. How your hairs glistened in the sunlight on the morning I dropped you off. How sleepy your eyes looked first thing when you woke in the morning. Your scent when I leaned in to hug and kiss you goodbye. If I had known you would be torn from my life, I would have never let go.
I have never missed anything in my life the way I miss the two of you right now. The loneliness is insufferable. I keep finding traces of you everywhere I look: a sock, shoes, a princess bow. I cannot breathe without inhaling your spirit, because you permeate my world.
When I see you again, I am going to wrap my arms around your small bodies and hold you until my arms shake. I’m going to hear the tinkle of your voices in my ears, and my heart will begin to sew itself back together. I’ll kiss your cheeks over and over and over.
Until then, know how much I think of you. You are an integral part of the fabric of my universe, and I miss you beyond space and time. There are no words for how much I love you.
It was 1992, and I remember the summer heat hung over my father’s trailer park like a blanket of fire. There was no way to get cool and escape its burden. Even leaving the shower induced immediate sweat from the humidity woven over the county.
Fourth of July. The ultimate national holiday for white trailer America. I always felt a stranger in their company. A relative of my father’s girlfriend had invited us to a barbecue. When we got there in the afternoon, most of the party goers were buzzed from the cheap cans of Bud that now lay littered across the lawn. Immediately, my dad found the beer and cracked one open.
There was food haphazardly tossed onto a cheap plastic tablecloth, the usual holiday salads and meats piled high. My father’s girlfriend had spent hours the day before creating ten pounds of potato salad, which she heaved onto the table, its wood bowing slightly under the enormous bowl. Flies buzzed and attempted to land underneath the plastic wrap, whirling through the air in figure eights and kamikaze dives.
Music poured into the air, mostly country with a smidgen of hip hop and pop thrown in for good measure. The host’s daughters, just slightly older than my sixteen, stood on the lawn, showing off provocative dance moves as their family members cheered them on.
Slowly, the party wound into evening, the drinking increasing, with handheld fireworks being set off in different corners of the back yard. By about 9:00pm, my father was piss drunk, beginning to slur, weaving as he walked. He matched the other guests in his tipsy stride. The food now lay mostly uncovered, bowls empty and scraped, crumbs scattered amidst the grass below.
At one point, my father began a heated discussion with his girlfriend’s younger brother, Randy, that devolved into a full-blown argument. When he called Randy’s girlfriend a slut, the situation took a violent turn, with both men drunkenly holding up their fists and trying to aim for the other. In a burst of anger, Randy finally connected with my father’s jaw, forcing him to step behind and trip, rolling backward over a bench seat. By some miracle, he landed from his backward somersault on his feet, standing shakily, unfazed.
The incident spawned a squabble with my dad’s girlfriend, who elected to spend the night at her cousin’s, and he was asked to leave. They both attempted in vain to get my father to lie down and sleep it off. Instead, he brandished his car keys with gusto and insisted on leaving. I begged to stay, and they begged on my behalf. He insisted that I come with him, and refused to allow me to spend the night. I was terrified.
We got into his Chrysler, and he could barely locate where to put the key, scratching the hole multiple times, and dropping the keys twice before succeeding in getting them into the car. He turned over the engine and began backing out of the dark driveway, forgetting to put on his headlights until we reached the rock covered road, turning in a broad curve, almost overreaching into the shoulder. Down the back road we weaved, slowly, my father leaning forward, as if it might increase his focus and ability. We reached the main highway, and he sloppily turned right.
The asphalt rose to meet us in the pitch black of night, nothing else visible but what lie ten feet in front of us. I could see the yellow line down the median, and watched as the car wove across it in a dance: left tire, right tire, left tire, right tire. A constant zigzag that began to make me nauseous from the motion.
We had knocked off about five of the ten miles we had to go, when I peered out to the horizon and saw a pair of matching lights in the distance to the left, steadily moving closer. I yelled at my dad in vain, certain he could hear nothing at this point but his own drunk imaginings. The lights grew in circumference, and brilliance, and I began to scream, positive that we were going to collide head on, and that I was going to die. I wasn’t ready. I was a virgin. I hadn’t been kissed. I had concerts to attend. I had poems to write. I had my whole life spread before me, and I couldn’t stand to watch in slow motion as it all came to a crashing halt.
The other car blared its horn, and by some miracle of grace, my father finally snapped out of his stupor in time to swerve the car hard to the right. We just missed the approaching vehicle, the car’s warning bellowing and fading in a crescendo as we narrowly avoided scraping its side.
As we continued down the road, my father crisscrossing slightly less, I felt my heart attempting to escape my chest, the furious pounding unwillingness to ease. It wasn’t until the car was parked in the driveway that it finally began to settle, and I realized how little I had breathed in the past twenty minutes.
My father stumbled up the concrete block stairs, barely making it inside the trailer. I followed slowly, taking in the night sky and issuing mental, humble thanks to whatever it was in the universe that had spared me. I climbed into the trailer, immediately moving to my temporary bed on the leather couch, not even noticing how the hide clung to my skin from the steam emanating from my body, the adrenaline slowly burning off. As if I were a firework that had risen, unwilling to shatter, landing intact, only mildly broken.
She gently broke the embrace, wiping her lip with her finger, and took a light step backwards. Her hand glided down his chest until her fingertips found his hand, and she placed them in his palm, grazing his skin with delicate nails, sending pulses up his arms. Her hand planted in his, she softly pulled him with her, deftly pulling out a key from her small purse and planting it in the front door deadbolt, twisting it to release the door.
From the second her heel crossed the threshold into the apartment, Berber carpet instantly muting her footfalls, she could detect a slight waver. The pinky finger of his right hand quivered against her fingers as if to say, “I am just this and nothing more. I might not be enough.” An invisible field of jittery energy hung in the air surrounding them. She released his hand to turn on a muted light, and then ushered him with a motion to enter. He inhaled and took a few tepid steps across the room as she hung up her shawl.
He sat on the broad, modern couch and glanced at her the way a young boy might glance at the mature teacher that he desires, and she caught it in her body, feeling the longing pang in her loin. She walked over to the couch and gracefully dropped her clutch onto a nearby side table, and then with delicate ease she widened her stance in front of him, lowering herself to her knees as she straddled his lap. She placed his right hand on a fleshy thigh, then grabbed his left to do the same. She met his clear blue eyes with her own hazel, and felt her body start to buzz from anticipation.
Her lips moved toward his, brushing them with an almost invisible touch, the urgency and force increasing ever so slightly as he reciprocated. At once, he dived into her mouth, and she felt the familiar knot in her belly that only arises from a realized physical connection. His hands began to run across the flesh of her legs, the pressure gradually increasing as they fell further into their kiss. She could feel his desire for her, and his wanting her made her want him more.
His hands tiptoed from her thighs to her waist, then wrapped around her back, one hand landing on her mid-back, the other immersed in her hair. As their kiss exploded with lust, tongues searching and mapping the mouth of the other, he gradually tightened the grip on the strands of her hair, pulling it enough to create tension and exhilaration. Her hands, resting on his shoulders, dug into his flesh, one hand slipping up to grasp his hair in the same fashion. They sat entwined, pulling each other away, yet inching closer and closer, their bodies almost completely grazing each other.
He broke the intersection, tugging her hair backward to release their mouths, and he took the next ten seconds to drink her in as she hovered above his lap. The hand grasping her back slowly slid around to the front, grazing her breast and lightly brushing her nipple, watching it rise beneath her shirt from the contact. It continued to move southward, landing on the top of her thigh, where he rubbed the flesh just to drink in the feel of her skin, a combination of butter and silk against his palm.
Emboldened, he moved his fingers closer to the hemline of her dress. He searched her eyes, and asked, “May I?” as the tips inched ever closer to the fabric border. Her lips turned up ever so gently at the corners of her mouth before answering with a nod of her head.
His hand pushed upward, under the dress, committing to memory the road map of her thigh, where the muscle curved up and then fell, where it felt tense and soft. His hand ran along her flesh, soaking the softness into his own. He pushed further, his fingers skimming against the lace of her panties, its coiled knit brushing his knuckles gingerly. His index finger hooked itself into the band, curling under the material, rubbing against the flesh of her belly. He ran his finger back and forth across the horizon of her panty line, occasionally brushing the soft tendrils beneath her thighs. She moaned slightly, the small hairs reverberating from his sliding finger generating electricity and desire. Her hand snaked its way up to his hair, and coiled her fingers into his soft, pale strands, pulling them away with fervor, then releasing and pushing him toward her, until they found each other’s mouth, lips greeting, then opening, exchanging moist heat. She felt as though she could smolder in his mouth, wanting him to swallow her whole, turning her to flame, charcoal, then dust.
We were born during the first summer storms to hit Banderas Bay, when lighting crackled and finally broke the spell of humidity woven over the town. As they wheeled me back to my ‘suite’, my abdomen screaming in agony where they parted my flesh to remove your bodies, I caught glances of the storm through other patients’ windows. Finally, in my room, I focused on the clouds rumbling through the black night, lighting showing their path.
Your father, Marcos, was worried about the dog, hastily put out on the balcony as we departed for the hospital. Likely she was cowering from the flashing noise, so he left me, and my now deconstructed womb, alone while he traveled to our home. ”I’ll be back in an hour or so,” he promised, but he didn’t return until the sun lifted above the ocean in the salty morning air.
It was my first storm during monsoon season when you entered the world, both gray and miniature. As they whisked you to the unknown, I only remember fleeting, fuzzy, whirls of pale flesh crossing my vision after they tugged you from my body. The doctor and staff refused to let me wear my glasses, and I was a prisoner on the operating table, my arms pinned mercilessly by wrist straps. From the waist down, my skin and muscle was numb, due to the anesthesia pumped into my back from the needle piercing my spine.
I was surprised we had not lost power as we would frequently over the next few months, when bolts would rage from the sky and tap dance on the shoddy electric poles. Sometimes, I wonder if I might have died if the lights went out. They almost killed me when my blood pressure bottomed and the world went black. I woke in the elevator, bandages tightly slung across my belly, wondering where my babies were.
As the fierce battle of the ocean storm continued to rage across Puerto Vallarta, I lay alone in my big bed, in my huge room, bigger than the two room apartment Marcos and I first had when I moved to Mexico. Occasionally, a nurse would come in, and I would try in vain to communicate with her, wanting to know where and how my twins were doing; I assumed the silence meant you were breathing. I cursed my dependence on your father, whom I needed to translate. Sleep eluded me, and I watched empty television until they finally give me pills powerful enough to ease my aching body, and I relaxed enough to surrender to rest.
In the morning I woke, and the sky was a soft, gentle blur across the Bay with a gleaming sun tickling the rooftops. Marcos finally arrived: “I fell asleep, I was so tired,” he attempted to justify his absence. But the seed of doubt about our relationship, already planted, nestled further in the earth as tiny water drops seeped toward its growth. He just as quickly ran off to call family and friends, after translating my concerns to the nurse. I learned that my tiny hearts were in the NICU. The nurse sternly admonished that if I wanted to see you, I must get up and walk the endless hallway to where you were being kept.
It did not matter which side I leaned into as I squirmed my way into a sitting position, my belly burned. I could feel the fibers of my abdominal muscles sloppily held together by invisible stitches, the tug emanating out to the stapled scar above my usually covered bikini line. My stomach was now an empty pouch of skin, listless and past purpose. Much slower than I hoped, I eventually rose to my feet, gathering my gown in my hand behind me and took my first step. I suddenly, and excruciatingly, discovered how interconnected the pieces of my body were to its whole. A second step, as jolting as the first: twenty minutes later, I reached the door.
In the bright hallway, I cursed the slick marble floors that forced my brown, institution grade slipper socks to grapple with their grip. Every tweak of the foot, every overshoot or slide, meant shooting pain. The walls were immaculate, with a new hospital smell that managed to disinfect the sultry salt of the sea from its air. Everything was silent, and I could hear every footfall in the hour-long journey it took me to traverse the seventy feet to reach the door.
When I finally crossed the threshold into the small room, I quickly spotted the two incubators to the right whirring softly as they kept you warm and breathing. With tenderness, I walked as fast as I could toward your temporary wombs, and my eyes fell upon two of the most graceful and lovely creatures I had ever laid eyes on. In the first machine lay Kudra, a tiny Kewpie doll with bubbly cheeks and soft brown hair. Just under five pounds, with a quiet resonance of strength in your dark eyes, you lay still and quiet, watching the world around you as it beeped and hummed in a blurred concoction of sights and sounds. Your hands pressed together, grasping your own fingers, as if meditating over the experience of your journey to this life.
Next door, Jacob lay in great agitation. A bit above five pounds, with shocking black hair like your father, you shook and squirmed and cried. It was very clear to me that you wanted to be held, and that you missed the security of my body in this new world. Your tiny cries barely pierced the air, as you moaned and hissed without stopping. One of the NICU nurses entered, and I asked her if I could take you out. I was met with a frigid glare and a firm shaking of the head: “No.”. When your father finally found me, sitting in the rocking chair, overwhelmed by a body torn in half and my heart stomped on the floor, he learned from the staff that only the nurses would be tending to you until you were strong enough to go home. I was not allowed to feed, bathe, hold or even touch you until you were ‘out of the woods’. Sullenly, after watching you for an hour, I shuffled my way back to my room at a slightly swifter pace, just in time for my postpartum nurse to begin to tick off all the bodily functions that needed to occur over the next few days for my surgery to be considered a success: I had to eat, drink, piss, shit, fart, and try not to vomit as I ate pain killers every 4-6 hours. And I had to walk several times a day: the one thing I knew I would accomplish because it meant I could see you.
The next morning, on your third day of life, Marcos’s family descended from Mexico City and Zacatecas. His mother, sister, brother-in-law, grandfather and aunt all arrived with great fanfare, bearing trinkets and small mementos for you, my favorite being the delicate silver rattles painted like the night sky with tiny stars glistening. They reminded me of the night your father took me to the beach to look at the sky bursting with stars above the ocean; he surprised me when he got down on his knees and asked to marry me, offering a temporary skull ring for my engagement. When you shook them, it was like hearing magical rain. They raved over your beauty, and your father beamed with distinct pride and joy at having created something substantial.
All day, the nurses checked items off my list of ‘things my body must do if I want to go home”. Truthfully, I did not want to leave the air conditioned space to go home to my sweat box apartment where the only company I kept were the books I traded at the local coffee house. We had no television, phone, radio, or microwave: no modern convenience. Our dirty clothes were sent weekly to the laundry service down the road for about $7, and as soon as I thought about laundry I worried about money, since I had stopped working the week before your birth. Out of the two of us, I had the steady income: $1.00 per hour, roughly $30 a week, managing the desk at the hotel across the street from our apartment. I only went on bed rest when my OB insisted that I could no longer make the trek up and down the seventy degree staircase two or three times daily without potentially going into early labor. Unfortunately for me, I still went into labor a week after being on bed rest, and still a week in advance of my expected due date, at 35.5 weeks gestation.
Later in the afternoon, the nurses determined that I was healthy enough to go, but you were required to stay until the end of the week. Leaving my hearts behind, I boarded the taxi gently and cried as Marcos and I rode to the other side of town to home. As we drove, every cobble stone street sent shock waves through my incision, and I was in agony by the time we made the twenty-minute trek from the Marina to Playa de Los Muertos. Finally, we arrived and Santo, our faithful, grey, mountain pup, greeted us enthusiastically from her view on the second-floor balcony with happy cries. I ambled to the staircase, and positioned myself for the first upward step, something I was supposed to be avoiding for the next few weeks. Bracing the wooden, worn rail, I pulled myself the thirteen steps at a snail’s pace, vastly relieved when we reached the top and could enter our apartment.
Inside, the air felt still, as if it last took a breath the day I went into labor. Already a storm was gathering outside, sweeping away the soft blue sky in favor of miserable, rolling clouds that gathered from the mountainous jungle behind us and invaded the ocean air, announcing its presence with mild booms that echoed through the narrow streets around us. I moved into the bedroom, the sheets tangled and falling off the bed, to open the balcony door and bring in Santo. Immediately, her medium frame lunged at me with love and longing, and I cried from the ache she created as her paws hit my abdomen. Lowering myself to the bed, I forced her to sit on the floor in front of me, as I showered her with affection. She hastily sniffed every inch of me, cataloguing the smells of the hospital and your birth.
I rested for a bit, until Marcos’ s family came by to see how we were managing. Thankfully, his mother took over the house, and dived into preparing food. Earlier that day, she had hand washed the babies’ new clothes, which Marcos brought in from our outdoor laundry line before the oval drops of rain began pounding down. Her sister now sat at the table, folding each piece, admiring them with adoration as she went along. After a quick meal, his family left, and we were alone for the first time in several days. I was so exhausted that I could barely put myself to bed; every inch of my body ached and hurt, and the only thing I wanted more than sleep was to hold you in my arms, which I dreamt of after drifting off.
The next morning, my breasts were rock hard and swollen, and I wasn’t sure what to do. There were no childbirth classes, and the only book I read in preparation was ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’, which I would never recommend now. It barely covered breastfeeding, and I had no idea how to remove the milk my body was producing for you to live. I puttered around in the morning as Marcos attempted to work and earn some quick cash, waiting in discomfort until he returned in the afternoon so we could journey back to the hospital for an hour, where I sat and watched you grow through your temporary plastic homes. At the hospital, with embarrassment, I tried to ask the nurse about removing the milk from my breasts, but she only managed to reply that I should massage it out; she did not seem to be an authority on the subject. There were no pumps or instructions or lactation consultants, but I knew that I wanted to breastfeed. I instantly missed your grandmother, who was counting down the days when she would arrive on my original due date to see you both and aid me.
After a few days of back and forth, my pain slowly diminishing, you were finally given the go-ahead to be released from the hospital. You had gained enough weight and were breathing well, and they felt confident you were thriving. I was ecstatic; it had been five days since you entered the world, and I had yet to lay a finger to your soft, downy hair and pale, sweet skin. That morning, I paced the apartment, waiting anxiously until your dad returned home an hour later than expected. I joyfully hopped into the cab, tugging at my insides, and ignored the achy pain as we bounced our way to San Javier Hospital through the streets of old town. As we passed the Malecon, I realized it was sweltering, watching the tourists as they struggled in the afternoon sun to collect knickknacks, ceramics, and street food, fanning themselves every few steps. I no longer distinctly noticed the power of the sun or its humid powers as I had when I first arrived.
Finally, our cab pulled up to the hospital, and we exited swiftly, my pace a tad too fast for my muscles to keep up the speed. My bikini scar began to twitch and shiver, and I slowed my steps enough to avoid tearing open a still healing wound. It felt like we were moving in slow motion while my mind was in the speed lane. I wanted to run, but I had to pace myself to get to you. The elevator finally opened its inner sanctuary and we rode upstairs, carefully striding the long hallway I had once battled to walk. At the end, we arrived at the NICU, and found Marcos’s family had already arrived. Swiftly, the nurses went to gather you, and we sat in rocking chairs, where we gently glided as they carried your tiny, swaddled bodies to our open arms.
Kudra was handed to me, and Jacob went to Marcos and his grandmother. I immediately broke into sobs, and felt my milk trickling through my shirt from my heavy breasts. At last, there was no plastic between us, no nurse telling me that I wasn’t allowed to cuddle you; it was a perfect moment of bliss as your miniature figure squirmed in my hands; as your large, brown pools gazed up and searched my face with what seemed like relief and bliss. Your tense frame instantly slackened, and it felt like you molded against me as if you were back inside my body. Instantaneously, my heart ballooned and burst into something new, an entity that was larger than anything I knew in the world; it became an endless, timeless and boundless space of love for your entire being. I transformed into vulnerability and strength in the same, swift moment, and I instantly wanted nothing more than to keep you safe, warm and loved for all eternity.
When Jacob was eventually placed in my arms, I felt the same starburst of emotion run across my body, and I sat in awe of your huge, sparkling eyes and soft, sweet nature. The doughy, flower petal silk of your skin and hair soothed me right away, and I felt this unbelievable surge of familiarity, as if we had always known each other in spirit, but were meeting in the flesh for the first time. It felt like grace swooped down into my lap, and I surrendered to its magic.
After we were instructed on how to feed you, we daintily placed you in car seats, gathering your small bags of already collected belongings and necessities, and made our way to the entrance of the hospital to catch a cab home. The staff followed us out to the parking loop, clearly enamored by you, and I felt both grateful for their loving care, and a deep resentment that I had to wait so long to be given the keys of motherhood, when I clearly had the scar to prove that I had earned the right. As the early evening light began to fall across the ocean, glimmering in a molten blur of orange, pink and yellow, we made our way home as a family for the first time. The sun slowly slipped into the Bay, its daily exit a part of the rhythm of its existence. And with my soul blown open and our hearts sewn together, I fell into motherhood with pure instinct: as if the exact moment you entered my world, I too, was delivered into a boundless love.
Reflections of a woman spawned in a cement cocoon...