No Rain

Nonfiction / Michelle S. Reed

:: No Rain ::

Mom doesn’t remem­ber the weath­er that day, but I like to think there was rain. I like to think the night was full of the sound of it. That thun­der woke her up before the con­trac­tions did. That my grand­moth­er cracked the back door to let the cat in from the storm and stood in the open frame for a moment, lis­ten­ing. Then her daugh­ter called.

*

My sis­ter was two when they brought me home. Mom says Jess picked up a baby blan­ket and slung it over her shoul­ders when she saw me. Said Jess wouldn’t put it down. She car­ried it through our child­hoods, then lost it at an Ohio hotel when we went to Sea World. That was before we knew about doc­u­men­taries or abused orca whales. We only knew the giant body of the black fish ris­ing out of the water and div­ing back into it, our faces splashed from its fall even in our back-row seats. I remem­ber being afraid of the whale but in awe of its pow­er. Its tail swished so beau­ti­ful­ly in the turquoise pool. Its teeth shone like embers.

*

Mom took a show­er to make the con­trac­tions come faster and stronger. This is what you do on your sec­ond child, she says. No pan­ic. Just step­ping into the show­er care­ful­ly, turn­ing the hot water on, breath­ing deep and slow, wait­ing as long as you have to. At mid­night, she woke dad up. “Are you sure?” he asked.

*

When Jess had her sec­ond child, my hus­band and I came to Michi­gan to vis­it. It was July, mug­gy and green. We sat on the back porch while my broth­er-in-law tossed a foot­ball to his two-year-old son in the yard to our left. Inside, a lasagna was bak­ing. My par­ents were sta­tioned at either side of my sis­ter. All of them stared end­less­ly at my niece, coo­ing at her and touch­ing her tiny fin­gers. She want­ed to lift her head but wasn’t strong enough yet, so she jerked it back and forth and up and down, telling us yes no yes no yes. I was entranced by my sis­ter. How lost she was in her daughter’s eyes. What am I miss­ing, I won­dered, that cre­ates such a fire?

*

I was born quick­ly. So was Jess before me. So quick­ly, mom’s doc­tor ran into her room, yelling at the nurs­es, “You should have wok­en me up ear­li­er! I told you she goes fast.” Three push­es and I was out. “You don’t under­stand what that means yet,” mom says. The women on her side are blessed with short deliv­er­ies. “When you do it, it will prob­a­bly be the same,” she likes to tell me, and some­times I let this pass with­out remind­ing her I don’t want chil­dren.

*

They thought I would be a boy. My name would have been Dave, like my father’s and his father’s. Dad would have tak­en me hunt­ing when I got big enough to car­ry my own gun. He would have taught me to be qui­et in the woods. To make a deer feel safe before I kill it. Maybe he would give me a bow too, teach me to use every weapon he uses. But I was a girl. They had to find some­thing else to call me. Dad saved his weapons for my nephew. I took gym­nas­tics and bal­let. I was a cheer­leader, an ice skater. Still, my baby book was blue.

*

Jess called me a week ago. She’s preg­nant again. Her body is chaos; she vom­its sev­er­al times an hour, and her breasts and joints ache. Her son and daugh­ter want her to play with them, take them out­side, build a fort. So she sits in a chair while they zig-zag across the lawn and calls them back if they wan­der too far. I am amazed, again, at what her body can do, has done. What my mother’s body has done.

*

It might have been snow­ing, mom says, and dad agrees. Snow is not as good as rain, but frozen water is bet­ter than none. I want a con­nec­tion between my fas­ci­na­tion with oceans and rivers and tides to the con­di­tions of my birth. I want a rea­son for my love of thun­der and the com­fort I feel at the sound of rain. For why I’d rather write about shades of blue in the Atlantic than raise chil­dren. I want my wed­ding on a cliff over Lake Michi­gan to mir­ror my begin­ning, some­how. I want water. But no one remem­bers.

*

They named me Michelle because dad liked the sound of it. Mom couldn’t think of any­thing else she liked, so she agreed to it. She says she some­times acci­den­tal­ly called me Melis­sa in the first weeks of my life, so slip­pery was my iden­ti­ty.

*

Some­times I imag­ine myself as the man they thought I would be. Anoth­er Dave. He’d be qui­et and solemn, prob­a­bly. Bad at sports and good at draw­ing trees. A ten­den­cy to day­dream. He’d nev­er be asked when he thinks he’ll have his first child. He might be a lit­tle wary of his body, dis­ap­point­ed in its lack of bulk and pow­er. But freer in it, no doubt, than the one I have.

*

If there was no rain out­side, there was still water in me and in my moth­er. She had to have it bro­ken at the hos­pi­tal both times she gave birth. For some women, it breaks nat­u­ral­ly, mom says. Oth­ers, like her, hold on.

*

Jess wasn’t scared of orca whales or bik­ing with­out train­ing wheels or talk­ing to strangers in restau­rants when we were small. And lat­er, she would make friends with boys eas­i­ly while I kept to myself. She would have a baby and get mar­ried and not be afraid of los­ing her­self inside of the life she made. She came first and knew every­thing I didn’t know. But I’ll nev­er for­get her in that Ohio hotel, heart­bro­ken and claw­ing through bed­sheets in search of her blan­ket: the thing that kept her safe.

*

What mom hat­ed most about giv­ing birth was stand­ing up after­ward. She says the nurs­es would take the baby away and then she would have to right her­self, walk slow­ly back to the room, and wait for her daugh­ter to appear again.

*

We played house when we were kids. Jess was the mom and I was the daugh­ter. This was nev­er ques­tioned or explained. She liked baby­dolls, real­is­tic ones who need­ed dia­per changes and burp­ings. She fed them with lit­tle plas­tic spoons. She cra­dled them and gasped if any­one bumped her while she held them. “Care­ful! My baby!” She tucked them into minia­ture wood­en beds. She sang lul­la­bies. She gave the babies names. Invent­ed imag­i­nary hus­bands. Even then, I knew it was wrong that I didn’t do the same.

*

There was no snow and no rain. I know this in my heart. Metaphors don’t appear where I will them to. It was Novem­ber in east­ern Michi­gan. It was gray and ugly. The leaves would have been gone from the trees. There wouldn’t be snow yet, but every­one would have wished for it. Peo­ple always want snow that time of year, in spite of how they’ll com­plain about it when it comes. They’d love any­thing to rain down and hide the black trees, brown grass. To give the chil­dren some­thing to mold into cas­tles, to throw at each oth­er. To open the ter­ri­ble sky.

 

From the writer

:: Account ::

This essay began as a poem about meet­ing my niece for the first time. Then I real­ized that what I real­ly need­ed to investigate—my respect and deep love for the moth­ers I’ve known and my own lack of a need for that experience—wasn’t quite right for a poem. So I prod­ded and pushed and explored. I asked my moth­er what it was like to give birth to me and found myself search­ing for mean­ing in every detail, as if the col­or of the sky that night could explain (maybe even jus­ti­fy) who I am. Giv­ing the essay a direct nar­ra­tive struc­ture didn’t feel right, so it became a series of lyric vignettes. I need­ed it to move in and out of time like mem­o­ry does, to feel like any moment of it could be an end­ing or a begin­ning.

 

Michelle S. Reed’s first book of poems, I Don’t Need to Make a Pret­ty Thing, was a run­ner-up for the Hud­son Prize and is avail­able from Black Lawrence Press. Her writ­ing has appeared or is forth­com­ing in Verse Dai­ly, Reser­voir, Waxwing, Fly­way, and Salt Hill, among oth­ers. Her work has been nom­i­nat­ed for Best of the Net, Inde­pen­dent Best Amer­i­can Poet­ry, and The Push­cart Prize. She writes non­fic­tion when she is feel­ing very brave.