Throughout this process, auditioning for the show, going through rounds of interviews with the producers, providing background for the viewers, we've been asked over and over again to "tell our story." The story I've told them goes something like this: I raised Cassie mostly on my own; it hasn't always been easy. She'll be leaving for college next year, and I wanted a chance to travel the world with her before she's gone. Cassie's version is considerably terser. We tell the story like that's all there is, like we're any old mother and daughter doing our little dance of separation and reconciliation. Oldest story in the world.
The story that doesn't get told begins like this: Four months ago, on a warm and airless night, I woke up to find Cassie standing over my bed. I couldn't see her very well in the dark, and for a moment it was like all the other nights, scattered through her childhood, when she'd come to get me because she was sick or scared. I'm a sound sleeper - I guess it's important to say that - and it took her a few minutes to wake me.
"Mom," she was saying. "Mom." "What is it?" I said. "What time is it?" "Mom, could you come to my room for a minute?" "What's the matter? Are you sick?" "Could you just come to my room?"
"Okay," I said. I got out of bed and followed her down the hall. She'd moved her bedroom into the attic the previous year, and as we climbed the stairs, I could see that the light was on and the bedclothes were rumpled. I noticed a funny smell, an odor of heat and sweat and something like blood. There were towels everywhere - it seemed like every towel we owned was piled on the floor or the bed. Most of them were wet, and some of them were stained with something dark.
"Is that blood?" I said. "Mom, look," she said. "On the bed." I looked at the tangle of linens, and it took me a minute before I saw it. Saw her, I should say. There, in the center of the bed, lay a baby wrapped in a yellow beach towel.
"What . . ." I said, but I didn't know how to finish the sentence. "Cassie . . ."
"It's a girl," Cassie said. "I don't understand," I said. My mind seemed to have stopped working. The baby looked very still. "Is she . . . okay?" "I think so," Cassie said. "She was awake at first, and then she went to sleep."
"But . . ." I said, and then I didn't say any more. I reached out and unwrapped the baby. She lay naked and sleeping, her body smudged with creamy smears of vernix. Several inches of umbilical cord, tied at the end with a shoelace, grew out of her belly like a vine.
I looked her over, this child, my granddaughter. Tiny. Tiny. There is no new way to say it. If you could have seen her. The translucent eyelids, the little fingers curled into fists. The knees bent like she hadn't learned how to stretch them yet. The feet wrinkled from their long soak. You forget how small they can be. Tiny. I picked her up, and she stirred. She opened her eyes and looked up at me. A lurch inside me, and I loved her, just like that. It didn't even happen that way with my own daughter, not quite. I held her close to my chest and wrapped the towel around her again.
"I didn't know how to tell you," Cassie said. "I don't understand," I said again. "You had this baby?" "Yeah. About half an hour ago, I guess." "But you weren't pregnant."
She gave me a look. "Well, obviously, I was," she said. "And you didn't tell me? For nine whole months you didn't tell me? Who's the father? Dan? Does he know?"
"Can we talk about this later?" she said. "I think maybe I should see a doctor." She lowered her voice and looked downward. "I'm bleeding," she said, her voice like a little girl's.
I wish I had said, "My poor baby." I wish I had said, "I'm so sorry you had to go through this alone." But I was tired and bewildered, and I was beginning to get angry. What I said was, "Yeah, that'll happen when you give birth." And I didn't say it very nicely.
Copyright © 2006 by Carolyn Parkhurst. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of the publisher.
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