(Previously published in “LUMINA” vol. XVIII)
You don’t know who you are, really. The name you were born with, the names of your parents, or grandparents. You don’t know if you have siblings, or the name of the city you come from. There’s a story about how you got to where you are today, some fairy tale of how you got to be part of the family you now call your own. You don’t know if you believe it.
You know that babies come from a woman’s body. You know that a man has something to do with the woman’s body that makes the baby. You have ideas about how all this works, but you might be wrong. How the baby gets into the woman’s body and how it gets out seems a little bit like a story. Sometimes people call it a miracle.
People call thisa miracle too. Miracle sounds like mirror. You wish that you could look in the mirror and see a face that looks like the other faces in your family. Where does your face come from?
Sometimes people have everything. The dream house, car, job, wardrobe, life — but they don’t have bodies that will make babies. Or sometimes they’re good at making the babies, but the babies don’t make it to be actual babies. Just half-formed little creatures with lungs the size of butterfly wings, who give up and stop breathing long before there’s real air to take in. Sometimes there are people who don’t mean to make babies but they do. Oops. Darn. Now what?
I’ll tell you what, someone behind a desk says. Let’s make a loving plan, let’s engage with the miracle of this. Let us take care of you. Rest. Relax. Then before you know it, her body is split in two; that’s the real miracle. You get that now. Her body is split in two and only half of if it goes home with her. She has one leg, one arm, half a heart: half of everything. But somehow the people who took her baby have the whole baby. You. She doesn’t get half of you.
This is how things work in this world. Some people get the perfect house, car, job wardrobe, life, baby — and some people help make these things for the people who get them. There are makers and getters. Do you get that? You do. You’re a maker, descended from a maker, and makers get it. Getters get everything thing else, but not that. They get that they are blessed. They get that they’ve worked hard for everything they’ve got. Even the baby. They worked for that baby. They wrote you into being onto paper. They conjured you with their mouths when they smiled into the camera. Their whole lives have led them to this baby. It was meant to be. They knew you were theirs, out there in the universe, waiting just for them. That’s how it works if you’re a getter. Babies wait for you. And you get them.
It’s the secrecy that’s hardest. Harder than the ceremony where they slice out that sliver of your tongue. A sliver sliced out from everyone in the new family, the blood mingled, then only ice water for the rest of the day. Blood ties, after all. We built this family with blood. This is how they confuse you, by saying what isn’t, is. And they make you sing after the blood. This is a joyful way to make a family. And if you ask for more ice water, they’ll pour it in your little glass and smile. This is what love is. Cold. Ice cold.
It’s the secrecy that binds us. Like the feet of girls were bound once upon a time far away. Like the wrists of a hostage are bound behind their backs. We are in this together. Bound. Bound for the future not the past. But those who don’t remember the past are bound to — -what? You heard that once, but you forget how it goes. You heard her heartbeat once; you forget how it goes. Her voice. Her cries. You forget.
It’s the secrecy that’s the hardest; harder than the ceremony of the name; harder than the re-printing. They used to scrape them or burn them. It was too painful and everyone cried. They just do the fingers of one hand now. There’s a special paper with a mild acid on it. You drag your fingers over it, pretending to write your new name. Over and over you write your new name. If you can’t remember, or if you don’t yet know how to write, the adults help you, moving your hand with their own. It doesn’t hurt at all. Just a strange smell from the acid. Like celery or something herbal. Your fingerprints come back they say, unless you pray, unless you pray hard for those marks of your past to be taken from you. It’s just a symbol, the removal of the swirls and whorls on your flesh. Just a symbol.
Everything else is not a symbol. It’s real. Un-real real. The new real. Real because a person with a mean sharp-cornered briefcase said so. A judge said so. A piece of paper says so, and that piece of paper replaces another piece of paper. That other piece of paper is secret. Sealed. Secret-sealed. We are silenced with the seal. We are living under the seal. Don’t ask me what I know. I only un-know. Un-knowing is how I stay alive.