Salt Curls

Salt Curls

March 10, 2015

I’m dreaming of her in her mint green polka dotted swimsuit and her summer curls. Of the way the humid air brings such definition, such bounce. She has perfect Shirley Temple ringlets in the summer, they don’t wilt when the dry wind blows like they do in the cold months.

I won’t say we almost named her Cary, but the thought crossed my mind. That was, after all, where Evelyn was conceived—just outside of Raleigh, in the little town of Cary, in a dark apartment with a tiny galley way kitchen where our roommate once put plantains on the top of the fridge and I thought they were rotten bananas so I threw them out. In the still and warm days after I cried in the bathroom and rushed out to my nanny job after watching two lines appear, I started a list of possible names, and Evelyn was one of the first I wrote down. Of course, at that point I had no idea she was a she. But I just knew Evelyn was her name.

That was the summer I broke all the rules. I moved in with my boyfriend two states away from home, and then got pregnant. I told my parents in an email. I couldn’t bear to do it over the phone, knowing the disappointed silence I’d be met with. The response I got was this: come home or get married. I ended up doing both. I went home to finish my senior year at the University of Maryland, and then 6 months after graduating and 7 months after becoming a mother, I became a wife.

I spent a lot of those months feeling ashamed. I was ashamed of my growing belly and lack of a husband. I was embarrassed that I didn’t have any money or insurance and had to be on medicaid to get the care I needed. I would always sit on the white crinkly paper at my doctor’s appointments, socked feet dangling over the side, wondering if my doctor would be judging me for taking a hand out. But she was always very kind. I guess I just felt like a hypocrite. I had been raised in a conservative home where discipline and hard work were encouraged. Why should someone else have to pay for my care when it was my lack of responsibility that got me there in the first place? I still don’t know fully how to reconcile my feelings on that whole issue—because there are those who genuinely and desperately need help and then there are those who take advantage on purpose and then there are a lot of people in between. If nothing else, I walked away from that situation with gratitude and empathy and the realization that not everything is as black and white as it may seem.

Besides the doctor’s office, I also felt completely out of place at school with my waddle and round belly. While most students would attend class then head back to their dorms or grab lunch in groups, I stacked my classes back to back on Tuesdays and Thursdays and then promptly left campus. I was often alone, and felt naked. To be fair, I brought that on myself. No one was rude, I just lacked the courage to make friends. I sometimes wonder how I even graduated, I barely remember anything at all from those classes. I do remember bits and pieces, like loving Heart of Darkness and Bartleby, the Scrivener, but I probably couldn’t give you a detailed synopsis. I have a few professors who I remember as being smart and warm and open, lifesaving qualities to someone feeling so vulnerable. I remember telling one of them, a woman and a mother, that I planned on being back in class a few days or maybe a week after I gave birth to finish up the semester. She just smiled, knowingly. She was also very kind. I didn’t attend one class after April 13, but instead wrote all my papers from home in between nursing and eating jalapeño burgers with pepper jack cheese. And then one afternoon in May I wrote the last paragraph to the last paper, walked downstairs and told my mom that I was finished. It felt strange and unbelievable and exhilarating, but also somehow anticlimactic. I loaded Evelyn up in her car seat and took a trip down to College Park to turn all those words in, and that was it. I was done college. It was over.

I remember this one day. This one day, before it was over, sticks out in my head. It must’ve been September or October because the air was light and smelled smoky yet fresh and the sun coming in my bedroom reminds me of what I picture autumn light to be in my memory—bright and direct yet somehow like it’s waning even in the morning hours. I woke up, sick and sad and couldn’t get out of bed. I skipped classes that day and just laid in the mounds of white blankets as I tried to let the warmth of the sun comfort me, but all I could do was cry and all I could feel was bloated and nauseas and ashamed and unsure of what I was supposed to be doing. I confessed to my mom something pretty horrible—that sometimes I almost wished for a miscarriage because this is not how my life was supposed to be happening. I imagine to a woman who’s experienced the loss of a child that is the worst thing I could ever write. I quickly backpedaled and said I didn’t really really mean it, what mother says or thinks things like that? I sit here and think about me in that moment that should feel so very long ago but is somehow so vivid and bright in my mind that I can almost reach through my bedroom window and join my weepy, terrified, younger self. I was scared out of my 23 year old mind and worried that I’d end up a single mom and my hormones were crazy and I seriously was so constipated. I had no idea that all that iron in pre-natal pills can really clog your pipes. If I could reach through that window, I would tell myself to breathe. I would tell myself that I’d reach 29 and still be just as unsure about where I’m going and who I am and but that I was going to have two more beautiful babies and so just breathe, just be. Still, at times I am gripped with fear  and my throat catches in my stomach. I feel uneasy and fidgety and afraid that because I was ungrateful, that maybe one day I will get what I once wished for in that fleeting, desperate moment. The salt from my tears would fill an ocean and burn my cheeks raw and red. I would’ve missed out on her salty curls, amongst so much more. But she is here, a room away, sleeping with a nagging cough and her locks spilling onto her pillow as I sit here, writing. I have learned, I am learning, that nothing good ever comes from listening to all that fear.

And so, here I am. Still a wife, still a mother. Thank God. The big kids’ rain boots and Sophie’s purple suede booties are lined up by the door. I used to look at families with multiple kids and wonder how we would ever pay for backpacks and rain boots and bananas and birthday gifts. But somehow you do it, bit by bit. One month it’s the boots and the next the backpacks until one month, you look around and realize you have come to a place of first hand couches and the expensive types of cheeses that once seemed so far off and extravagant, but then, there’s still a long way to go. I guess there always will be, in one way or another. And that is where learning and living the art of gratitude becomes necessary, crucial even.

Parenting and the past and marriage can all feel very weighty. I feel the weight of trying to be who I once was, for him, for us, while also looking at myself in the mirror and realizing that I’m not fully her anymore. I feel the weight of helping them learn to make their beds and put their socks on and teaching them how to be wise with their money and their hearts. It all feels like too much sometimes, like I bit off way more than I can chew and everybody told me so, so long ago, long before I knew her skin, her hands, her curls.

I never knew that it could all be so heavy and hard at times, but I also never knew that newborns smell like fresh sheets and that the day she turned five seemed to come quicker than bedtime some days. I never knew that this is what I want and wanted all along, even when I don’t, and even though it’s not the only thing I want—although I think it must be the most precious of all the things. I never knew that I’d be simultaneously split wide open and shared amongst my people while also craving and searching out an identity of my own. I never knew that curls had weight. But oh, what a good weight that is, what a good weight it all is. Somehow the saltiest things are also the sweetest.

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