Sunday, January 23, 2011

Where to Start? First Draft of First Chapter submitted to The Lighthouse Crowd

“Pathology comes from a story untold.” Carl Jung

I should have seen the postpartum thing coming, at least a mile away. I’m a social worker and it was a roiling storm front on the horizon, spiked with auditory and skin-prickling warnings of lightning to come. But I didn't see it, not because I hadn't considered the possibility, but exactly because I had. Ego said, “Considered it. Covered it”. As though mothering can be boiled down to a series of checklists.

The busyness of work and the excitement of checking doll-sized items off my arm-lengthed list entirely absorbed me. Pick up gently used crib from a stranger’s front porch. Check. Assemble crib. Check. And then it happened, labor. Slow starting really, on a Sunday morning. I had used a double electric breast pump to stimulate my nipples, because Dr. Jensen was threatening induction, and within hours of pumping, contractions eased their way into my consciousness. I went shopping at Whole Foods for the casserole ingredients, pausing with contractions, my hand on the zucchinis, pausing again beside the eggs. I baked my casserole through contractions, but then it was 2am, and they were coming two and three minutes apart, and nothing soothed me anymore. No bouncing ball, no tub of warm water, no back massages or stretching on the bed.

Outside, the early afternoon drizzle had turned into a world blanketed in white. The white showed no signs of stopping and we had half an hour of driving, on a good day, up two-lane Highway 93 to Boulder Community Hospital. Thank God for all-wheel drive. I begged my baby boy every 2 to 3 minutes, to please wait, just a little bit longer. Hans kept his eyes glued to what he thought was the road, wipers tracking back and forth across the windshield. From the back seat, Rigpa soothed, as best she could, with her voice and touch during contractions. “Run the red lights,” I said. My cervix was 8 centimeters dilated when we arrived and hour later it was at 10.

Through the first two hours of pushing I refused pain medication. Purist bullshit in some ways, but still I wanted to try. After five hours of pushing, in every humiliating position possible, vagina big as Texas, I had nothing left, I just wanted my baby out. During the C-section, tears trickling out of my eyes, Hans stroking my face, I joked with Dr. Jensen about monkey blood, a Texas term for iodine. Strange pressures in my nether regions, seven layers of cutting I’m told, and cone-headed Max came into the world. A railroad of staples one ker-krak at a time, closed the last layers of me. And then shivering in post-op recovery, buried under heated blankets, memories of my foster father began moving insistently out of my mouth and into the successive exhausted faces and ears of my doula, husband and friend. "He pulled me down on top of him", I kept saying, "and would've kissed me, if I hadn't jerked my face to the side." Then the trailing thought, as they brought my swaddled son to me, both of us dazed and squinting in florescent light, 'Why is this coming up for me now?'

If you believe that place makes a person, Hippy Hollow and Vernon, Texas might best begin to describe the dichotomy of my early childhood. It was 1976, and I was three going on four years old, insistently barefoot and following my mom on a pebbly-dirt path, noting the brief shade of scrubby trees that opened up to flat stretches of rock. We picked our way past a lounging walrus-man, a fist-full of newspaper shielding his eyes from the sun, his penis mercifully buried between belly and fur, then a woman leaning back on her elbows, with glaring-white triangular patches centered around the darkness of her nipples. Hippy Hollow smelled like baby oil and crackled with heat and conversation. Occasional shrieks, splashes and laughter pierced the lapping rhythm of the water. I remember thinking that Hippy Hollow wasn't really a place for kids. Not so much because of the nakedness spread out and sunning everywhere or my new Granny-induced aversion to resting my eyes on private parts, but because there was no beach. Adults could stand, one ledge down, chest high in the water. But chest-high for them was too high for me. Given the choice of frying on the rocks or freezing in the water and with much cajoling and promises of safety, I adjusted both of my yellow arm floaties and jumped in.

The first good parts I remember leaving out were in Kindergarten at Chillicothe Elementary. Any school paper that contained an A+ or 100 was hidden in the bottom drawer of my baby-blue desk or trashed. Somehow I had it my head that A pluses and hundreds were bad. Which means that really, I was trying to leave out bad parts, when in fact those bad parts were good.

Chillicothe, Texas is about as far north in North Texas as you can live, without bumping into Oklahoma or the Texas Panhandle. Though we lived in Vernon, sixteen miles west, where my grandfather worked as a doctor, I commuted with Granny to her teaching job in Chillicothe, a commute whose highlight was the gas station, which contained a tiny rat in an equally tiny aquarium. I don't remember the faces of the nice white family who ran the place, just the rat. It impressed my five year old self greatly that they would wipe the rats tiny-little rat ass with a cotton ball. I remember the smear of shit contrasting with the pristine white, and wondered how else they spent their time.

In Austin, it never snowed, but in Vernon I made my first snow angel in the front yard of the unassuming house that accompanied my grandparent’s unassuming life. Except maybe, Granny was making a few assumptions. She had no idea, for example, that when Grandpa died of cirrhosis, she would be worse off than a pauper, she would be a debtor; up to her eyeballs in debt, she would say.

I made that snow angel in a blue parka with red furry edging around the hood and a red bow tied beneath my chin. Granny called it a parka and not a winter coat because she had lived in Alaska with Grandpa along with Daddy, Uncle Allen and Uncle Bill and Alaska was home to some real cold, requiring the purchase of real coats, called parkas.

Granny was a teacher, through and through. In the eight hour drive between Austin and Vernon, I learned how to count to 10 in Spanish. I learned about Disco Duck and John Denver, with his rocky mountain high. I learned that the smell of skunk meant immediate teasing that somebody had cut the cheese, and I learned to see noses and horses and make stories out of the clouds. Stories that would drift together, and inevitably drift apart.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
Foster Princess Blog by Leigh Ecke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.