I was twenty-five the night Cameron proposed, and within hours, the sheer velocity with which the world had rushed to weigh in on the event left me depleted. It felt as if the front doors of our carefully crafted inner lives had been flung open. News travels faster than I’d imagined, and friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers inserted themselves in our story to pore over every detail and offer unsolicited opinions. Some reached out to share well-wishes; others wondered why they’d had to learn about it through the grapevine.
I haven’t always been a combatant. I’m a cis, white chick, and I drank external validation Kool-Aid straight into my twenties. I was taught to desire desirability. I was groomed to be likeable. My life has primed me to find self-worth in acceptability.
By the time I’d scheduled a consultation with a fertility clinic, I’d been trying to get pregnant for over five years. Normally a generalized aura, my worry had morphed into a hot, sweaty, magnetic force field. It drew in all of my fears so I could study them up close: I worried about the expense and my age; the tests, the results; and the side effects of the hormones I would have to inject into my stomach and thighs. I worried it wouldn’t work and I’d never have a family.
I see the old me. Her hands tremble whenever she’s nervous, and just about everything makes her nervous. It feels like ghosts are slithering underneath her skin; they never give her body enough room to know what it feels like not to be anxious.
I thought moving back home would resolve my indecision. But as I continue to run, no matter where my feet land, I’m still here. For the first time in my life things aren’t happening in planned succession; the next thing doesn’t feel proximate. As a child I hurried into being a grown-up. Now I feel less like the adult I’ve always been and more like the child I never was.
I know what I really want to ask her, but I know she doesn’t have the answer. I want to say: I don’t think I’m supposed to be here. I’ve lived a healthy life. I’ve followed all the rules. Why am I being tested for Multiple Sclerosis?
They say practice makes perfect. I used to take that approach to my relationship with my dad, thinking that if I kept showing up, over and over again, eventually it would get better and that time would heal all things. It didn’t work. It bred more of the same. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent.
My body tightened. I was exhausted. We’d wasted all his sperm over the past week. Why didn’t I wait for the stick to say I was ovulating? My mucus told me I was fertile four days ago. My body doesn’t work.
“Babe, we need to have sex,” I called from the bathroom.
I was so far removed from blackness that I couldn’t recognize it on myself and when I saw it on others, I really didn’t know what to make of it. My peers told me I wasn’t really black; I “didn’t count.” And the more they told me I didn’t “count” as black, the more I began to believe them.
A house of two alcoholics and not much social interaction had brought me here. What was normal in our home, the slurred words, was exposed to the outside world for the first time.
Two weeks later I experienced what I can only describe as a nervous collapse. My body shook uncontrollably; I was trembling and cold and terrified. I had no idea what was happening to me. I recalled waking up alone in an empty apartment as a two year old, crying uncontrollably and searching for my mother in the building’s hallways. Something was terribly wrong with me. I was sure I was dying.
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“What took her so long? Why didn’t she just leave? She had it coming for being so stupid.”
Stepping into womanhood meant no longer acting like a little girl. Assuming full responsibility meant no longer acting like a victim.