But then the phone rang one morning and the conversation ripped me into the present: Your sister is pregnant. She's decided not to keep the baby. He'll be born in two weeks, but she didn't want any of us to know. What are we going to do?
I promised to think about it and disconnected the call, letting the phone drop as I rolled over and went back to my life.
Quickly, every conversation turns to the baby. The baby she's not keeping. The baby she doesn't want.
I know from the edge in my mother's voice as she calls again and again that I'm supposed to fix this, to make it right -- for her, for my sister, for that unborn child who they say will be a girl. But I can't quite figure out how. I turn it over and over, run through theories with my roommate who is closer to me than family.
I am afraid to say aloud the only solution that seems right for everyone. Everyone except me, and possibly my sister.
Finally, I call my sister for the first time in more than a year. I cry and press against her resolve with lies and guilt: I cannot bear my own children. I've always wanted a child. If you do this for me, all the other stuff won't matter.
She tries to put up a wall. She talks about the family she's chosen for the child and that she never wants to see the baby again once its born, or she'll never be able to follow through. But I am a gale-force wind battering against her defenses. Please. Please give me this gift, I say through tears.
I don't know whether my sobs are from joy or sadness as I feel her giving in. An hour later I am booked on a flight home, knowing that there's no turning back.
My sister picks me up from the airport. I try to make small talk with her, but we are like skittish birds, flying close and then soaring away, never coming close enough for a real conversation.
The car ride to my mother's house is tense and music-filled. We move in wide circles for the next two weeks as her due date marches past us and I begin to believe the baby will never come.
The southern December air is both crisp and mild, yet my chest is always tight as I struggle for deep, cleansing breaths.
The call comes in the middle of the day. She's in labor and headed for the hospital. She says you can be in the delivery room if you want. She'll call you when the baby's born if you aren't there.
One hand holds her leg up and out, the other holds her hand. She stops breathing and the nurses call out for oxygen. She fades in and out as pain washes over her. Hours pass. A new doctor comes in, reaches inside of her while saying something about sunny side up. I am focused on my pale sister, who is too weak to push.
Suddenly the baby is crowning. An eternity passes in a flash and they are whisking the baby to a heater. I hesitate, unsure of where I belong. The doctor exclaims, You have a boy! Disoriented, I look to my sister for guidance.
She yells out the name I'd chosen if the baby happened to be born a boy. I move slowly away from her and toward my son.
She leaves the hospital as soon as she's able. I build a nest in the waiting room so that I can stay with my baby boy for the two days he must remain in the hospital.
The daytime labor and delivery staff treat me like trash and make a point of making it uncomfortable for me to feed and care for my son. The nighttime staff reminds me that I am strong and that it's going to be okay. I take visitors, lighting up with pride each time someone exclaims over my boy's perfect body and smooshed face.
I feel something pure growing inside of me.
When we are discharged, my sister is there to drive us home.
She doesn't look at my son, the rage rolls off her in waves. I am afraid so I ride in the back with the car seat. She whips around curves and brakes too hard. She watches me from the rear view mirror.
In a too-quiet voice, she lets me know that if she drove off the road, she'd kill us all.
I mentally count down the days until our flight away from her.
She disappears for days at a time as I struggle to get my son to sleep and eat. I wonder why she's mad at me when she's the one who decided to give away her child.
When I leave, I make no contact with her. Six months later, I am back in the South -- this time for good.
The half-year's time has allowed the rage to mellow into a quiet seething. My sister tap dances around us, trying to never be alone with us. I need her help and finally ask for it. She comes to us slowly and I have the urge to hide.
She takes my sweet chunky boy into her arms. Nuzzles his cheek. Coos down at him as he reaches for her face. I am forgotten as she turns away and finds a quiet spot to sit with him. Fear bubbles up in me as I watch her bond with him, but I stamp it down and leave them alone.
The days turn into months and years. She becomes Nahnee instead of Auntie. She spends time alone with him, introduces him to her oldest son. We are with her when she delivers a third child only 14 months from the second. We give her cards and flowers on Mother's day, thank her for being brave and strong and selfless.
He is nine years old and knows that his Nahnee carried him in her tummy. He loves that he has two brothers, feels special to have so many families when most only have one.
But then it happens. She drags him into her destructive patterns. Looks him in the eyes and says You can never tell. This is our secret. Your parents will be mad at us if you tell. My son inevitably spills the secret he should never have been asked to keep.
My tiny family closes to her.
Mother's day comes and I have to resist the urge to reach out to her. My heart is heavy as I explain to the son she gave me that we will not be seeing her or talking to her today.
His eyes are large and sad. I think back to her anger and hurt in the days after his birth and wonder how much time we'll need to heal this wound. I say a silent prayer of gratitude for her gift so many years ago and turn to comfort my son. I let the memory of her holding him for the first time wash over me.
I imagine I am holding him with both his mothers' hands as we sit quietly together, letting the time pass.
**This post is part of Five for Ten, where we're giving each other five minutes a day for ten days. Won't you join us?**