I have been blessed with lots of wondrous gifts life has to offer. I embody a laid-back carefree spirit. After I graduated twelfth grade I had one aim in life and that was to be a mother. I never imagined working, and was content trying new recipes, learning to stitch my own clothes, and other qualities of people like me – “the home scientists”! That is one reason when the first respectable marriage proposal came my way I accepted it with glee in my heart, and purpose in my soul. My journey had just begun.
Within the first year of my new life as a married woman, before heartfelt reflection on who we were as married adults, before we had our first passionate fight and before any anger or resentment ever seeped in, I was blessed with my first daughter. We named her Miriam. Being a mother completely uprooted me, lifting me into another world, not one akin to my dreams, more mind-wrenchingly intense and devastatingly beautiful. I wept when she bawled and I sobbed harder when she split into her first smile.
And, soon after finding out I was pregnant again I embraced that reality with open arms as did my husband who was now spending longer and longer hours at the shop he started not too long ago. He was still learning the tricks of the trade and learning how to stand on his two feet. After delivering my baby with pious grace my mother taught me, without a scream, I welcomed another baby girl. We hadn’t yet picked a name when we brought her home. She was not even a week old, while we were weathering a sleepless life passage, when I heard the quietest of whispers coming from the living room from the darkness of our tiny bedroom.
Miriam lay asleep as I rocked my newest bundle of emotions in my arms and peered through the transparent white drapes. Our neighbors were talking to my husband who was nodding back in what appeared to be an agreement. Soon the men rose and hugged each other in a strong embrace, one reserved for very near and dear ones. I hurriedly turned as my husband, who had never raised his voice at me, locked the door behind him and marched towards me.
“You may want to sit down,” he said turning the light of the bedroom on. I did as asked, holding my newborn and stroking Miriam’s hair, wishing not to break the peaceful spell of her sleep.
“Those were our neighbors…” he started his ramble. In the mangled monologue that followed, he explained to me like a tutor how unfortunate the Patels were to not be able to conceive and before we got too attached to the littlest baby girl, we could gift it to them. She would be in the neighborhood and would grow right under our noses. We could visit, and they would gain an offspring and we had nothing to lose. And, they had promised us a large amount of money, one that he could invest in his shop, he explained.
I wish I could say I revolted, or was mildly repugnant. I cannot explain if the reality of things hadn’t registered yet or I was trained for years the art of saying yes, but I simply yielded.
Next morning, at the first streak of dawn, we bundled our nameless girl in her best clothes, packed all her essential items like diapers, wipes, milk bottles, clothes, blankets, wash cloths carefully folded and hand pressed which was similar to a sendoff of a girl at the time of marriage. I watched the tearful Patels shower their affection on her and then cradling her, recede around the bend of our old dilapidated street, too narrow for a car to fit in, with menacing odor from the open drains whose stench hadn’t reached my nostrils until that morning. With those walls of homes closing in on me, I embarked on my own private battle between the passive submissiveness on the outside and an angry witch inside my heart.
Because I had given my daughter away.
That night in my sleep my hands kept reaching to my left feeling for my newborn as though it hadn’t yet registered with them, that she was not there, and never coming back. The next morning I was so restless that only one thought comforted my agitated spirit. So, when I heard my husband’s approaching footsteps back from the shop, I ran outside to greet him and beg him to bring my daughter back, and that I had changed my mind. His hands were full of bags. He unloaded a flurry of gifts he had got for me and Miriam and told me how the money was already helping him kick start his shop that hadn’t done so well up until then. He could pay off his debt. He was elated. Me? I didn’t utter a word. I held my head low, rose like a slow-motion picture plot, moped to the kitchen and made him his cup of evening tea.
I made dinner next. Next morning, I and Miriam walked along the street to get groceries. I clutched on to Miriam tightly, stressed if the passersby would dare ask me for her and I would not say no. I toddled along with my toddler meekly with breasts soar with unwanted milk, like a brace broken from a torn-away hug too soon.
I transformed as though from a butterfly to a caterpillar miraculously backtracking in my life in haste. I washed the utensils in kitchen with fury, slamming the steel against steel, letting droplets of water spring further and further away like a fountain creating an orchestra of utensil banging music.
And, I and my husband of two and half years continued our fight-less journey with unspoken grievances that I now lugged around buried inside my heart.
A year later I found myself in the cold embrace of the hospital yet another time waiting impatiently for a boy, except it was another girl. He came, he saw, and he turned around without touching the little girl and disappeared into the night – my husband, this time not hiding his disappointment. Or I wondered if he too had tasted his share of the guilt pie I was savoring all by myself.
I waited a painstakingly long time for each day to rise and fall, behind fluttering curtains, meandering corners of streets for takers of another of my girls, but I welcomed the days that turned into weeks, months and years without occurrence.
After 4 years, we tried yet another time for a baby. And, in the span of all these years, living so close to the Patels, not once did we pay them a visit or invite them over. So much so, I never walked in the direction of their home street, avoiding it like a hypochondriac avoided germs. But after the fourth baby turned out to be a girl yet another time, and I walked into our living room finding Mr. Ravi Patel, the same Patel from that wretched evening when I unfriended my own soul, I lost it. My husband invited me to a seat at the table. Instead I stood there petrified like a stone.
He wore an expensive suit and spoke politely in a polished accent and in front of him laid a stack of pictures of a little girl I did not need to see. I stared away listening to the bargain of yet another informal adoption this time on the premise of uniting two of the sisters.
I leapt forward, springing the table with herculean force and toppling it over. My husband, taken aback, screamed without inching forward towards me as fresh flow of warm tears sprang down my face.
I was having my first passionate fight of my marriage, seven years in the making, in the presence of a stranger, the very villain that initiated my miraculous downfall as a mother, as a human being. I uttered no words and left the men standing in shock certain that they knew my answer. I packed all of our bags, girls and mine in mad fury and instead of bolting out I lay down on the bed waiting for my husband to finish apologizing for my behavior to Mr. Patel. I planned to leave openly. When he came back in, he parked himself on his side of the bed with a heavy thud.
“I turned him away,” was all he said not demanding justification for my sudden outburst and lack of control.
I wish I could say the words comforted me and that it could reverse the years of rift it created in my marriage but it did keep me from walking away that night. And, I couldn’t hold the grudge against my husband much longer. It was me I had to forgive, because no matter what I did or didn’t do, I would always be that mother who gave her daughter away.