Monday, March 20, 2006

little man

sometimes i look at him and the pain is so great i want to cry. i want to cry even though he's not mine. he's not my child, and yet he is.

he is what she could have been.
on the day he was born i wasn't there. i was too busy grieving the loss of my own child and my decision to terminate her physical existence in my life. i had named her brianna, even though i had no idea if the image from the ultrasound was that of a boy or a girl. it had been too early to tell.

i was
barely old enough to be a single mother
barely old enough to be a single adult
barely old enough to be

or so i had convinced myself.

she was
never born to be an infant
never born to be my saving grace
never born

she never resided outside of my body, but she was birthed within my mind.

i knew she was a girl. i just felt it, like placing my hand upon my chest, feeling the drumming from my heart and knowing the next beat would come after the the one i just missed and another one soon after that. i knew she was a girl, and so i named her brianna. brianna danielle. her name was longer than her living existence had been within my womb, my multi-syllabic tribute to an embryonic spirit whose life had been monosyllabic in length.

so when he was born (about a year and a half after she would have made her entrance into the world), i was still writing brianna danielle in my diary over and over again, trying to conjure up her form in the letters shaping her name. i fooled myself into believing i had actually found her brown eyes in the 'e's, rounded and drooping after drinking from my breast. i envisioned her smiles in the 'b' and 'd', fully curved and toothless and wide, her sound was animated exclamations of developing delight found in the punctuated 'i's, her fetal position within my arms bowed softly like the 'n's. the 'r' was her little nose (most likely gotten from her father) protruding minutely from her face, her unusually long legs bulging with baby fat were the 'l's (also from her father no doubt).

when his mother brought him over to my parents' house for the first time, i initially stayed in my room. it was just too hard for me to go downstairs to see her baby, to acknowledge the fact that she'd had the courage to do something i couldn't a single mother. she'd had even less support in her life than i'd had. her baby's father (my first cousin) was already living with another girl who was set to have a baby right around that same time. her mom and dad and sisters and brother were hard on her about her letting such a 'dead-beat nigga' knock her up. she didn't care. she was gonna have that baby anyway.

and then there was me, twenty to her twenty-seven, girl to her woman, coward to her courageous, collegiate to her cashier, can't to her can...i was so much better than her because i didn't have a baby to hold me back from getting my college degree. it was such a smart move for me to choose college over a child. i mean, there weren't that many single mothers who were able to go to college and get their degrees, right? no matter that i almost flunked out of school when i returned from cancelling my child like a check, proof of my unwillingness to pay for her life with my collegiate career. no matter that i would leave famu before finishing. i ended up being neither a mother nor a college graduate.

i was curled up on the bed in my room with my pillow over my head so i didn't have to hear the faint cries of her newborn son wafting through the hallway before slipping underneath my bedroom door. it wasn't even a cry, so much as a series of little mewlings, like he knew he didn't have to make much noise for me to hear him. i heard his little sounds despite the pillow and the closed door and the distance of a hallway, a stairway, and a couple of rooms separating us. how could i not? i was supposed to be haunted. it was my punishment.

"nikki!," mom yelled from the family room downstairs, "come down here and meet your new cousin!"

NO! i'm not ready, mommy. i'm not ready!

i tightened the ball i was folded into, clutching the pillow even more closely around my ears.

a couple of moments passed before there was a soft knock on my door.

"nikki?" i heard my mom's muffled voice right before the door opened and she walked into the room. she hesitated before speaking to me, my back facing her, the pillow covering my head.

"i know why you're up here," she said, "but you can't keep running away."

i sighed, my eyes squeezed shut as i felt the tears burning my eye lids. taking a deep breath to keep the tears at bay, i tried to gather a semblance of control before i spoke.

"i'm not running away."

i felt the bed dip as she sat down at my feet. she placed her hand on my leg and started rubbing it slowly.

"yes you are, baby."

no i'm not damnit! well...just a little bit...

"i'm not ready for this, mom." my voice was a cracked cloud captured within the pillow before shattering, the shards gouging the skin on my face.

mom sighed and continued stroking my leg. "i know this is hard for you, but you have to get past this."

then the silence flooded the room. neither of us spoke as we both tried to frantically chase after the dissapating sense of calm that had descended upon the house only minutes before. my mom was even more stubborn tha i was, so she just sat there rubbing my leg, waiting for me to make a move. i didn't want to move. i wanted to stay there with brianna. i wanted to read her name and see her face and hear her laughter and feel her lips suckle from my breast, feel her fingers curl around my pinky as i fed her my strength, feel the warm weight of her in my arms. i wasn't ready to see someone else's child. there was only her.

there was only her.

and then there was him. he must have sensed my determination not to acknowledge his presence because he suddenly let out a wail that seemed to shake the foundation of the house.

he kept wailing, screaming at the top of lungs which evidently were the size of a grown man because no newborn child had the capacity to make a sound carrying that much weight behind it.

"see," mom said mischievously, "lamont is summoning you. might as well go down there. he won't stop until you do."

eventually i turned onto my back and pulled the pillow from my head. the screaming continued. i became worried. don't babies have to breathe eventually? will the little guy end up crying himself to death? what the fuck is phyllis doing down there anyway???

i got up and rushed past mom, ran down the stairs and around the corner to the family room. phyllis was holding her swaddled son in her arms, trying to calm him down in the wake of his crying. she looked up when she heard me making my way towards them slowly. i had to force my legs to move one in front of the other.

"hey nikki!" phyllis said smilingly, "come meet your little cousin lamont!"

i'm not ready. i'm not ready. i'm not ready. i'm not ready. i'm not ready.

and then i was standing there in front of them, my eyes on the ceiling as i tried one last ditch attempt to not see him. but i could still smell him though, an enthralling mixture of baby formula and baby lotion and new human untouched by the world. i held my breath. and i could still hear him, his crying down to the little mewling sounds of before. i fisted my hands, forcing myself not to cover my ears.

"say hello to nikki, lamont," phyllis whispered into his ear.

what a ridiculous thing to say to a child! he's a fucking newborn for god's sake. he can't say hello yet!

and then he farted.

hello, nikki!

did he just...

i stand corrected.

my eyes crawled from the ceiling to the fireplace, down the mantle before landing on the moving form within the blue blanket in phyllis' arms.

he farted again.

i said HELLO, nikki!

and then something started bubbling within me. it felt both foreign and familiar, like a new coat made up of old blankets. it was...

a giggle gathered in my stomach, tickled its way up my throat and summersaulted past my lips.


then another giggle followed, more forceful this time as other giggles unfurled within me before merging to form a full out, body shaking guffaw that exploded from my lips with the elation borne from being set free.



and i couldn't stop it. i laughed and laughed, tears streaming down my face in rivulets of relief, as i stood there looking at lamont squirm and let out little hiccups of gas from his ass. all i could think about was my own gas issues and how he was already walking in his big cousin's footsteps. poor little thing.

i didn't even think about it before the words were already out of my mouth.

"can i hold him?"

phyllis had sat there staring at me while i laughing, at first puzzled by the fact that i was laughing so hard at something i guess was inconsequential to her. she glanced past me and i looked over my shoulder to see my mom standing behind me. something passed in the look exchanged between phyllis and my mom. then phyllis looked up at me.

"of course you can hold him."

i leaned over and carefully took him into my arms. it was then i saw his face for the first time. he was a little chocolate chip, smooth dark skin, bright white oval eyes centered by midnight pupils. his eyelashes were long and thick to match the thick and curly hair on his head. his mouth was small and puckered, like they had already taken on the permanent shape of lips sucking on a bottle. he was still squirming in my arms, even as his eyes locked with mine. i fell in love with him at first sight (actually, i think i fell in love with him at first fart).

"hey there little man," i whispered as i leaned in close to his ear.

he belched.

i smiled.

and kissed him on the cheek.

i stayed down there in the family room for the rest of the day, holding little man in my arms, feeding him and talking to him and listening to phyllis tell us about how difficult her labor was. it was still hard for me to be there, but i knew how important it was that i stayed. it wasn't about punishing myself. i knew he was gonna need me in his life. i had to make sure i was around.

that was over ten years ago. in that time, i've watched little man grow from infant to toddler to adolescent. it hasn't always been smooth sailing for us but he knows no matter what his big cousin has his back, even if i sometimes want to spank it because he tries to cut the fool. he has turned farting and belching into an artform, sometimes manipulating the sounds like he's trying to make music or something. i wonder if the kid doesn't make a point of farting and benching MORESO around me, like he remembers the first way he communicated with me.

brianna's spirit is never far from me, though. there are times when i look at him and i think i see her standing next to him, seeking out my attention. no doubt she's got the 'look at me' trait from her mom.

i wonder if she would have got the fart trait to?