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.