It’s been fourteen years since I pushed a baby out of body, swearing like a sailor. Fourteen years since I swallowed that fistful of tears and said yes, she is yours. Ten days after she was born, I loaded down my plastic Saturn and hit I-90, never to return home.
At the beginning, there was a big hole inside of me; like a bullet in my brain. I got a job at the Olive Garden here in West Omaha where I earned an average of $80/day between lunch and dinner. There, I met a guy my age who had also just graduated from college and hadn’t started the next part of life. He hadn’t given away a child but he was the someone I felt comfortable telling I had. It was as if I had known him before or felt that I should have.
After dinner shifts, he would invite me over to his place or I’d invite him to mine where he would make us late meals. He could actually cook, but most nights we ate Velveeta shells and cheese because it comforted us. He had a girlfriend at med school in Minnesota and I suppose we related to each other that way: each of us having said goodbye to our someone who mattered most.
I found poems around him. He made me feel safe and most importantly, not alone. We never had a sexual friendship but sometimes when it got late enough he’d stay over at my place or I’d stay over at his and I’d fall asleep in the curl of his body. I remember a moment before I had furniture when he slept on the floor of my living room. Quietly, careful not to wake him, I placed my hand into his open palm to see how it felt to be held all the way. His fingers curled around mine, but maybe I forced them to.
I thought I loved him.
I didn’t know then that the brain produces oxytocin when pregnant and post-partum. I didn’t know that a new mother’s brain looks like the brain of someone falling in love. Without my baby to cradle, being held was the only way beyond booze I felt comforted.
I never saw him after I walked out of the Olive Garden on homecoming night. But I know he went on to become a police officer, his girlfriend to become a doctor and then his wife.
And I went on too, in a different way. I didn’t become a public servant or make a career for myself that received any accolades but I found how to make sense, at least, of that bullet in my brain. I put the time into my writing I had always meant to. I made something of myself, with myself. And tonight, on my daughter’s fourteenth birthday, I made myself Velveeta shells and cheese. I ate a cupcake in her honor. My son wrapped his arms around me when he saw me crying and said, you’re the best mom in the world and although I don’t believe it, I want to. Maybe that’s enough.