I text Alicia that I’m outside and when she responds, I’m already ringing the doorbell. the text was just a courtesy. whether she’s ready for this interview or not is of no concern to me. I need to see this for myself. I’ll break through the windows if I have to.
“ain’t it open? come in.”
her voice is exactly what I thought it would be. in a choir, she’d be sandwich in between the men, erupting a melody between tenor and bass. I can feel the depth in her voice better than I can hear it.
the door isn’t open, but it’s just a bar door – no screen. I reach my hand through and unlock it for myself, wincing as it screeches open. three steps forward and one step to the left and I’m in the living room. I pause for a minute to take mental pictures – a technique I’ve learned to do when photographs aren’t allowed.
a canvas of a maple tree
a painting of Footprints in the Sand, with a Black Jesus
no family photos
an empty birdcage
a very large rug, spotless
a fireplace, no ashes
a postdoctoral degree, African studies
no television, nothing electric
the room is a blend of offbeat colors: dark burgundies and light blues, diarrhea greens and vomit oranges but somehow, they seem to match.
I sit in the chair closest to the fireplace, tilting my head back towards the ceiling – stucco. I remember when mama made us scrape it off of our ceiling when we were younger, chunks of it cascading into our eyes and hair. she loved putting my brother and I to work – her little laborers.
I need some water. did she forget I was in here?
her name leaves my mouth and distant footsteps emerge from the silence. she didn’t sound this far away when she told me to come in. I want to follow the sound of her steps, pick her up and carry her into the living room so we can get this interview started but I fight the urge – that’s not couture. I have manners. I have patience.
I lift my head from resting on the back of the chair just in time to watch a butterfly glide through the window. its’ umber wings flutter inside and then, out the way it came with a graceful U-turn. I read somewhere that butterflies can only fly in one direction – only moving forward, never rewinding.
does making a U-turn count? it’s still going back to where it came from.
I’m surprised the butterfly had any wind to glide on. there aren’t any curtains and I didn’t see any awnings from the outside and yet, not one ray of sunlight or one breeze of air is gracing this living room. it’s like the walls of this home forbids any elements from the outside to enter and for some reason, the elements obey.
the wind and the sun bowing down to wood and paint.
I’ve never been in a place that made me crave sunlight and air. I stand up to step outside, hoping to get a quick blessing of nature’s coolness and warmth, but I hear Alicia mumble something. I can’t tell if she was talking to me or not.
“I’m sorry ma’am, can you repeat that? I didn’t hear you.”
the steps are inching closer now, still slow but not as distant. I sit on the edge of the chair – every part of me now on edge.
“oh no, me and my daughter were talking and girl, don’t call me ma’am.
you southern or something?”
she’s at the door now to what I’m assuming to be the kitchen. the lack of light makes it hard to accurately see what’s behind her. a large, loose, black maxi dress drapes her body. a wallet, holding her phone, rests on a gold chain around her neck. she’s leaning against the door frame, but it looks like she’s holding the frame up and not the other way around.
I don’t want her to move, in case the house somehow falls apart. I stand to greet her.
“no, not southern. I’m sorry. I’m just trying to be respectful.
it’s so nice to finally meet you. I’m Karie.”
my hand is floating in the absent air for a little too long before she finally grabs it. she pushes her body from the door frame and to my surprise the house still stands. both of her hands clasp around my hand.
“Karie, it’s my pleasure.”
she smiles and we lock eyes. a literal lock. I can hear it, a faint locking noise. my instinct is to turn around and see if someone is at the door, but I can’t look away. there’s something in her pupils communicating with mine. it draws water from my tear ducts and now I’m crying. Alicia blinks and our eyes unlock. I let out a loud sigh. I didn’t notice I wasn’t breathing.
“have a seat. I know, this is an overwhelming sight.”
she grabs my hand and guides me to the sofa. when she lets go, my hand begins to shiver, mourning her touch. I take my left hand and coax it into stability. Alicia takes a seat across from me, points to a carafe of water on the table in front of her and hands me some tissue. I didn’t even notice she grabbed these items. were they here the whole time?
I pat my eyes, pour myself a glass of water and take a deep breath. for anyone else, this would be embarrassing – crying at the meeting of a stranger but not me. I live for moments like these. I feel so alive.
“wow. what a way to start an interview.”
Alicia chuckles, twice. the first chuckle is a small laugh, the second one is even smaller. both of them makes me smile.
“so, where’s your notebook? I know you got questions and I got answers.”
“oh, I don’t use notebooks when I interview. they take you out of the moment.
I will record this though, if that’s okay with you?”
“that’s fine with me. I’m just glad there aren’t any cameras.
if you would’ve walked in here with one, you’d be out the door.”
she’s huge, beautifully gigantic. she moves her mahogany dreads behind her ears and lies across the sofa. I don’t blame her. all that weight, I would be tired too. I watch her eyes fixate on her stucco ceiling. it’s ugly huh? that’s what I want to ask her, but I don’t. I compliment her instead.
“your dreads are gorgeous.”
“locs baby, call them locs. my daughter hates that word.
she said ain’t nothing dreadful about them.”
“you know what, she’s right. your locs are magnificent.”
“thank you, sweetie.”
“your daughter sounds like a smart woman.”
“oh, she most definitely is. that’s her degree over there.”
she chuckles again, but this time it’s just one chuckle: the smallest one.
“are you ready to get started?”
enough of the chit-chat. as soon as the hospital tweeted the story last week, I had to know more. Alicia rejected every request for an interview, except mine. I was probably the only one to ask with the right tone.
she takes a deep breath before she responds.
“yeah, we’re ready. let’s do it.”
she emits a relaxing energy. just by sitting in front of me, all prior lack of comfort I felt has disappeared. I give her my regular spiel, a short description of my interview style:
I am not here to question you
this isn’t really going to be much like an interview at all
my goal is to speak as little as possible
just tell me your experience
this is less about what I want to know and more about what you feel the need to tell
Alicia nods in agreement.
“okay. I can do that.”
I take the voice recorder out of my pocket. before I press the red button, to start, I ask Alicia how long it’s been since her daughter has returned to her original home. she smiles.
“original home. I like that. chronometrically, it’s been 339 hours, and 12 minutes.”
chronometrically? now that’s a word I haven’t heard anyone use before. I repeat the word and then gently nudge her to explain.
“I mean 14 days – wow it’s been 2 weeks. it’s hard to keep track of time by the calendar. the clock ticks slower these days.”
she pulls her phone from the case around her neck and shows me a timer: 339 hours, and 14 minutes.
“I have to keep track by the minutes or else I’d lose all concept of time. I don’t know, having my daughter back in here, so close to me, does something to my biological clock. it kinda warps it, folds it into nonexistence. I see the sun rise and set, the streetlights turn off and on, the dates change on my phone, on the television, on the computer. my mind knows that the days are passing but my body, my spirit operates on a completely different calendar now.”
she bends her knees so that her feet are flat on the couch. this must help remove pressure from her back.
“I look in the mirror and I’m my younger self – permed hair, no wrinkles. I look again and my locs are long gray ropes. I look at a different time and I’m a little girl – sometimes my daughter, sometimes myself. they told me this would happen though. when a child goes back inside the womb – or back to their original home, as you called it – after being away for so long, things happen on a molecular level. it’s not gonna be how it was before.”
she pauses and I don’t interrupt the break. her eyes are closed, eyelids fluttering. she’s trying to give something words but there aren’t any words for this. her experience is one of a kind. I wish I could just feel what she’s feeling, that’s the only way I’d get the true experience.
“there is just – there has just been so many changes – changes that are honestly too small to place labels on, but I’ll try. that’s what you’re here for right? to hear me explain what they did, where exactly my daughter is, why I would do some shit like this?”
I just chuckle and nod. of course, that’s what I’m here for.
“in the pamphlet, they said it all had to do with the scent. the original home has a scent but so does the child. it’s a give and take, a symbiotic relationship. the scent is searching for a very specific receptor and once it is received by the child something happens. that’s what it said in the pamphlet.”
“there was a pamphlet?”
“underneath this sofa, there’s a box. do you mind? all the medical procedure notes and documents are in there.”
I don’t mind at all. this is what I was hoping to get my hands on. on my knees, I reach underneath Alicia, moving my hands around until I feel a cold, metal compartment. I pull it out and take it with me back to my seat. there’s a lock.
“oh, the lock doesn’t work. just pull it open.”
I open it and remove all of its glory. I mean, my God. there’s dozens of doctor letters and notes, most of it filled with medical jargon. I take mental pictures of what I can comprehend.
an ultrasound of Alicia’s daughter in fetal position
doctor’s note for work
prescription: 400 mg of Morphine, 600mg Oxycontin
a document detailing risks of womb expansion: nausea, hallucinations, comatose
another ultrasound of Alicia’s daughter stretched out, hands behind her
head—is she holding a book?
a pamphlet, with a heading: BIRTH REVERSAL.
“it’s all there, really. anything you want to know. the part I was talking about is on the third page of the pamphlet.”
I turn to the third page: WHAT TO EXPECT.
it calls it an ethereal experience. there’s a photo of a cartoon mother and child, embraced in a hug, their bodies traced by a glowing light. I run my fingertips across the photo, following the outline of the mother’s glow. images of my mother flood my mind. I smell her scent, feel her body wrapped around mine. I hear her voice in my ear.
I drop the pamphlet on my lap.
“yeah, they coat it with something to evoke your maternal memories. pretty neat, huh?”
I nod my head.
“listen, I know how weird this seems to you, to the world but I love having my daughter back. she feeds me in indescribable ways. I mean, I never feel low or in absence of anything. I am full.”
it doesn’t seem weird to me, though. I completely understand the want to return back to the safety of the womb. this world is a shit-show. who says life had to be lived on the outside? I can’t tell Alicia this though. I want her to assume that this is strange for me. she’ll spend more time explaining.
“it was my daughter who told me about it. she called me one day and asked if I’d ever consider pregnancy again. I told her, if my body allowed it, of course I would. being the bearer of life was when I was my happiest. I’ve never felt closer to God than when I was pregnant with Jade. then, she told me about this procedure, and we made an appointment that day. didn’t take much convincing at all.”
Alicia reaches her hand out, and I grab it. she uses my arm to lift herself upright. this movement seems to have knocked the breath out of her. I pour her a glass of water.
“thank you. so yeah, it’s been two weeks now. she could drop any minute.”
“she could drop…you mean?”
“yeah, today’s her return date. I’ve been having contractions since yesterday. my water broke last night. I thought this would be something you want to see. I made sure to schedule this interview for today, for this reason.”
“you’re giving birth to her today??”
Alicia chuckles. this time it’s both chuckles, hers and her daughter’s.
“you didn’t think she would stay in there forever did you?”
“wait, you don’t need doctors? or a hospital?”
“she can be her own doula. she’s twenty-seven years old. she’ll find her way out.”
Alicia is sweating now, her breathing growing faster and faster. she takes the carafe of water and pours it on her head. she then pulls her locs into a ponytail.
“Karie, baby, there’s a towel underneath the couch. move that table out of the way and lay the towel down. it’s time.”
I don’t move. I can’t move. is she fucking kidding me? this woman could die right here, right now. her blood would be on my hands. this can’t be real. I should call someone. the police. my mom. what the fu—is this a dream. okay, this is a dream. I’m dreaming. wake up Kay, wake up, wake up, wake up, wa—
“KARIE, GET THE TOWEL.”
I hop onto my knees, grab the towel, and move the table all in one quick motion. I don’t know whose voice that was. it’s impossible for Alicia’s tenor-like voice to reach that high.
“my daughter is ready. okay, grab my hand and help me to the couch.”
I do as I’m told.
“you don’t have to do anything, okay? don’t try to pull her out. don’t cut the umbilical cord. only call the police if we’re both unconscious. you got it?”
“yes, yes ma’am.”
“okay. I’m gonna start pushing now.”
I’m sitting next to Alicia’s head. watching as she screams in a language I’ve never heard, at a volume that would most likely leave me deaf after this. the journalist in me wants to sit on the other end and watch a grown woman come out of her mother’s womb. the mental pictures will be hard to capture, but they’ll be worth it. before I know it, I’m on the other end of Alicia:
Alicia’s feet digging into my knee
another voice, cursing
the head of a young woman emerges, braids slicked in crimson
Jade wiggles her way out, her body wrapped in a muslin-like cloth. she takes her hand and rubs goop from her eyes.
Alicia is no longer screaming. I crawl to her, placing my fingers on her pulse. her heart is still beating.
“don’t worry about mama. it’ll take some time for her body to heal.”
in a living room of a woman I just met, I meet a young woman she just birthed. her grown daughter is sitting on the once spotless rug, legs crossed. in her hand, her umbilical cord.
“what’s up. Karie, right? I’m Jade.
heard a lot about you.
can you grab me a knife from the kitchen?”
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