23 July 2009

David was born five days after my grandpap died, and for the rest of her speaking life, my mother would declare, "You know, I nearly bled to death on that delivery table, and those doctors told me: no more babies".

As stubborn as she was, she deliberately defied the doctors' recommendations, and ended up pregnant again just three months post-funeral, with Tommy. I think pregnancy hormones helped her cope with the grief and desperation - she preferred the progesterone fog to the everyday reality of baby bottles, and funeral "prayer" cards.

When I was older, I heard about "suicide by cop", and wondered if she had hoped for a passive "suicide by childbirth", with that fifth baby.

So, she celebrated her twenty-seventh birthday, paused to weep at her father's sudden and unexpected death, and delivered a newborn, all within the space of a week, a tragically efficient week.

She managed to get through David's first year, and Tommy's birth. My father was assigned to a base in New Mexico, and we headed west just after I turned five. Grandpap had lived with us in South Carolina, and I think my mother welcomed the opportunity to put many miles between those memories, and a new life.

Albuquerque offered blue skies and little rain, and we moved into a small house off Candeleria. In the tiny backyard a neglected rose garden and weather-worn concrete table hinted at a happier past. The heavy, unstable table was shaded by one mature tree, and it had been shoved against the tall block wall that protected us from the busy thoroughfare. My mother was pregnant again, stuck in this miniature house with five kids. My parents busied themselves with house plans and Formica choices - this was only a rental, as they waited for their dream house to be completed.

In this oddly dark house, little David wandered, much in the same way Brent wandered through another house many years later. Children need affection and conversation, and David never thought to demand it. He didn't appear to need much feedback, and took it as his lot in life to be ignored, or bullied. My mother's soul was still tethered to her father's ghost, and her touch was not maternal, but impersonal and perfunctory. Her withdrawal did not mean she did not love us - I think she just wrapped her own skin tighter around her bones and belly, in an attempt to self-comfort. Every square inch of her flesh was needed to keep her soul from drowning, or escaping.

One sunny and cloudless day, David apparently snuck out the back door, undetected, and escaped into the forbidden backyard. That strategically placed concrete table allowed him to escape over the wall, but what he could not have known, or planned for in his two year old mind, was the six foot drop to an unyielding sidewalk.

I don't know how long it was before my mother counted heads, but she panicked as she did a quick recount. All I knew was that David was missing, and the front door had not been been heard to open. I don't remember who discovered him lying unconscious near the busy street, but it took a few minutes for that possibility to sink into my mother's frantic and disjointed thoughts. A limp David was scooped up, a call to my father was placed on a neighbor's phone, and my dad raced home, where he left the car running in the driveway as he ran into the house. He summoned me, I clambered onto the front seat, and he placed David between us. I kept David from rolling off the seat as my father sped to the base hospital. This was pre-seat belt, pre-baby seat era, and I was a solemn and responsible five year old who took her assignment seriously. Daddy screeched into the semi-circular ER drive, carefully but quickly lifted David from the seat, and yelled back at me, "Turn off the ignition and grab the keys". I had no idea how to obey his orders, but a nearby grown-up rescued me.

David survived, and doesn't remember the incident at all - the house would have remained a phantom memory except that I found a photograph which had captured the house numbers. This, aided by the street name and a GoogleMap search, made it real.

That July, we picked up my mother and a new sister at the same hospital where I thought we were bringing David to die. The tiny baby girl was wrapped in a striped flannel blanket, and her face was as soft as the fabric. She didn't cry, and my mother looked happy and rested. In those days, new mothers stayed in the hospital for nearly a week, and fathers made do the best they could.

We had finally moved into the newly built house that sat across from the sand-filled vacant lot, later known as "where the helicopter landed". It was the desert, sand found its way into the sliding glass door tracks, and grass was nearly impossible to grow. We had a new baby in the house, and she made my mother temporarily forget her longing for green trees, real dirt and Pennsylvania snowdrifts. Less than a year later, she would give birth to another daughter, and with her birth, I would be known as the oldest of seven - and I was only six.

Back then, my mother would sing along with the radio tunes, and I remember her favorites, but she never sang to her babies until Gigi came along...not before, and never after.

Gigi turns fifty on Saturday,
and this is the song
her mother sang to her
more than eighteen thousand days ago:

"Gigi baby, don't you know-oh, that I love you, love you so-oh".


Tab Calhoun said...



You are a beautiful writer.

virginia said...

thank you.

this is something new...scary, but almost compulsive.

Tab Calhoun said...

Give into the compulsion. Keep it up. Seriously.

Bix said...

Happy Birthday, #SIX!

virginia said...

thanks, both.

i "flat-out stole" the number names from another blogger who is the eleventh of twelve (see below). in real life, there are names.


i'm going to need a lot of "paper".

corine said...

Beautifully written and haunting. Thank you for your tip on France. I'm not sure we'll leave paris except to go to switzerland to visit my sister. No plans to se my mom. Yikes.

"Before you can blame an individual for their choices, you have to make sure they have the same choices as everyone else."

Bix , the fanatic cook.