A Second Birth
I sit on the lap of the person I call mother. It is said that I am three years old—that I have three years. A year is a measure of time—how long it takes the earth to go around the sun. The earth is where I live. The sun is far away—it is the source of all life here upon the earth. Do you know it? The sun I mean? The earth has gone around the sun three times since I have been here.
I know I am infinity. Not three. I was made to forget everything. They cleared my brain somehow; I think they cleared my brain; I cannot remember; if they did not, why can I not remember? I have not forgotten everything. I have not forgotten that there was a time before I was made to forget. I have not forgotten that had I not been made to forget, I would have nothing to learn. I have not forgotten than I am infinity.
Time is the way they chronicle events. Everything must be put in order based on time. As I said, I have three years. One event is said to possess more time than another. For instance, twin brother was born first. He was removed from mother’s opening first. He has more time, as a human. I was second. There are gifts, duties, punishments related to first. The same for second. When we meet someone new, they ask mother, who was first? She points to brother.
Brother is also on mother’s lap. Mother reads to me and brother. Her voice sounds like a bird.
There was an old woman
Who lived in a shoe
She had so many children
She didn’t know what to do
Mother asks brother to try. He does so confidently. He does so well. He knows the rhythm. He knows the way. He reads another nursery rhyme. Duh, duh duh, duh duh, duh duh. And another.
Okay, you try one, Amber.
I sob. It is not that I don’t know how. I know very well how. I don’t want to read. I do it anyway, because mother has asked. Blah, blah blah, blah blah, blah blah. The end. Where did that get us? We are back at the beginning. The rhyme, once read, returns to a state of unread. No matter how many times I read it, all the work is ahead. I continue to sob.
Mother’s mother comes from the kitchen. She stirs a big spoon in a mixing bowl. Her hair is fire red. She surveys with her green eyes that look black.
You should call that one Stormy.
Mother does not accept this. She tells her mother I am not cold, I am not hungry, I am not wet, I am not tired, I am not angry. A child cannot be angry.
Yes, she is. I should know.
Mother’s mother exhibits no pride in saying this. Her utterance is like a rock announcing its nature.
Mother’s mother—at this very moment—is the first to see me. She is the first to see that I know that this whole world is a colossal lie. She knows, as I know, that in this world all words spoken are vanities, all projects are senseless, all logic is circular. She will die of a stroke two days later. When her body is found, she wears the prettiest smile. Mother tells father it is the happiest she has ever seen her mother.
When I am five, mother figures out what her mother knew from the start. Throughout my youth, mother says I can see through the BS.
I am in the green leather armchair with the swivel bottom. My face is wet with tears. Mother is on the nearby sofa. She says all the words of comfort it is possible for a mother to say. There is nothing any mother in the history of the world has said that she does not say to me now.
I am in the eighth grade. In PE class today while I showered, my friend Keri hid my clothes and my towel. Keri is my best friend. I’m sure it was not her idea, but Jennifer’s.
The bell rang and I was naked and I still had my hands covering my body and everyone left the locker room. My locker was empty. I was panicked like in a nightmare except I couldn’t wake up. How could I wake up if I am not asleep? How could I get help without any clothes? How could I get clothes without any help?
I went into the bathroom stall within the locker room. I turned the lock. I kept my feet up. Another PE class came and went. Then another. I stayed in the bathroom stall naked. My body ached from sitting there. Finally, school ended and everything became quiet.
I wrapped myself up in toilet paper like a mummy and walked to the principal’s office. I couldn’t run because the toilet paper would fall off. On my way two ninth grade boys saw me. Then Whitney saw me but pretended like she didn’t. She was getting her flute from her locker.
Mrs. Herman in the front office was nice and threw her jacket over me and called my mom. The school said that whoever did it would get suspended or expelled.
Mother says that kids are just mean. Their brains don’t work and they are mean. When I am older, in college, it won’t be like this, she says. I will look back on this and laugh. I don’t believe her.
She says she and father will talk to the school. She says they will not let them off the hook. The girls who did this will be punished. Mother and father will make sure of it. They will go to their houses, they will talk to their parents. She asks me if I was embarrassed to be naked. And then to walk the halls in toilet paper.
What do you think? I scream. And I yell at her for what the girls did to me. I say every swear word I can think of. Fucking cunt bitches, fucking shit ass whores, fucking cunts, bloody cunt bitches.
After ten minutes of screaming a wave of light the color of pure water crashes through my skull and washes it clean. I can’t remember my anger. I can’t remember my fear. I’m silent now.
For a second, I forgot myself. Fourteen trips around the sun and I almost forgot—this body is not me, it has nothing to do with me. This earth is not my home.
Mother notices my calm. There you go, she says, you know you’re so much bigger than this.
Brother arrives from school. He wears track shorts. He smells like a wet dog in dirty laundry. He needs like three showers. I go to my room. I am grateful for today. I must be more careful not to get hurt. I must stop forgetting that I am infinity.
High school graduation. Someone is giving a speech. It might be Madonna. I don’t care. Three hundred of us are standing here in rows in blue gowns. We stare into the western sun. It’s hot. We’re on the football field. Our parents look down on us from the stands.
Some people are staying overnight at the school for a party hosted by the PTA.
Jamie is having a big party at her house.
Ryan and Dave and their friends are going swimming at someone’s pool.
“Fuck this shithole,” Christopher says.
“Fuck this place,” Kenny says.
I don’t know Jamie or Ryan or Dave or Christopher or Kenny. These are just things I’m overhearing.
My spirit rises up out of my body, fifty feet in the air. I’m floating, looking down on myself and my classmates. From above I’m a blue dot, like everyone else. I can’t tell which one I am. Oh, yes I can now, I can see my auburn hair.
I float for a while. I watch myself walk up to the stand and take a diploma from the principal.
I wish it said, 18 Years of Waiting for Something Else. All the parents are clapping. They are so proud. I don’t understand why.
I descend back into my body. The ceremony is over. I wait for brother. We go to mother and father. Mother has tears in her eyes. Father too.
Thank you for your support through the years, I say, quoting something I heard once. I want them to feel good. I look away so they think I am crying, too.
Some day you’ll understand our joy, mother says.
I’m sitting in a desk, the kind with metal legs with no shelf underneath so I can fold my feet under me. The classroom is beige and pinkish with green chalkboards on three sides. We are conjugating French verbs in the subjunctive tense.
A woman with early silver hair appears at the window in the door. She opens. The professor turns to her.
Amber, please come with me.
In the hallway, she puts her hands on my shoulders.
Your roommate, Wendy, took her life this morning.
She looks at me. Her face is soft and open and willing to absorb whatever I might say or do.
Will I get another one? I ask.
She took her life, Amber, not two hours ago.
We walk back to my dorm room. My roommate is not there. Her things are there, but she is not. Everything looks normal. It is obvious Wendy did not shoot herself.
The woman with the silver hair passes me to a blonde woman with narrow eyes. I think her eyes are narrow because she is looking at me intently.
Let’s talk about this, she says.
We are in one of the lounges in the dorm. There’s a vending machine close by with a box of Lemonheads teetering from its perch. If I put in 35 cents I could probably get two boxes of candy for the price of one.
She’s lucky, I say. I’m happy for her. I know it will be hard for her parents. OK, not hard. Impossible. Maybe so impossible that one of them will need to do the same thing. Maybe both.
Do you think about taking your life? She peers at me as though reading an ancient manuscript.
I can’t wait for this to be over, if that’s what you mean. Whenever they lower that stupid curtain and say, just kidding, go back to your normal eternal selves, your true selves, the way things used to be, the way they have always been and always must be, except for during this tiny, silly show. Then I will eagerly go home. For whatever reason I am not programmed to allow myself to cut it short, however much a relief that would be.
She schedules me for a series of appointments beginning the next day. She says she will call my parents, to notify them.
Within an hour, mother calls. I tell her how happy I am for Wendy.
I know, mother says, I know you are.
They don’t let me sleep in my room that night. They put me in a foursome with a vacant bed.
After lights out, I hear the others sobbing.
That night I dream of Wendy. Her hair is pulled back and her eyes are shut and her eyelids are big and heavy and charcoal. Her face is pink and freckled and it’s not pale at all as corpses are supposed to be. Now the corners of her lips turn up ever so, and it’s clear she’s seeing something familiar maybe her dog Mister who died before she went to college or someone or something else. And I think this is what my mother meant when she said that at death her mother’s mother was the happiest she had ever seen her.
I’ve been on my own a while now. The last decade.
There are many types of men who come to Los Angeles to meet women. I have met all of them. It’s a way to pass the time, like watching TV. They buy me a drink. They screw me, or rather they screw the body that I possess. We have deep and fascinating conversations, which I initiate, which I maintain—a gift of mine. I can talk about anything. I tell them I love them, get them to talk about leaving their girlfriends and wives for me. Then I go to the bathroom and wipe their semen into a jar that contains all of the semen I have collected over the years.
I show them the jar of semen. As you can imagine, it is disgusting, and I do not present it otherwise. They know what I am when they meet me. It’s obvious, I’m shaking my tits in their faces. They think it is something special, the way I have fallen for them, the way we have talked, the way I have earnestly said I just want to get out of LA with a strong man. The way I listened when they told me they had always wanted to remodel houses but had to make ends meet in the law business. The way I cursed his ex-wife for not taking care of him in bed.
I show them the semen so they can have a full accounting of how impossibly wrong they were about me.
Never trust. These are my last words to them.
Not one of them has known my real name. I say I am Jonas or Harmonica. I don’t have any girlfriends either.
I didn’t know I would be adding to this diary.
I am a mother now. My son is three. When he was born I did not attach to him immediately, as he did not come from my body, and I was not aware of his existence at the time of his birth.
One of the girls at work disappeared for a while and when she reemerged she had given birth to Gideon. She was not prepared for him and we arranged an adoption.
When he first lived with me I was attached to him by duty. It was as if someone had handed me the first fire and asked me to keep it burning for all people for all time. I knew I would not fail but the feeling was heaviness only.
Now, these years in, he is mine. He is totally unlike me, but he is mine. Mine. Flesh and blood. I would devour him to save him, consume the skin and hair and bones and blood and the breath inside to keep him forever instead of losing him.
I make him lunch. He likes the yellow raisins. Famous Amos cookies from a little sack. Cherry tomatoes. His hands are made for these little foods.
And my body is mine. It is enormously useful and strong. I work extra hours to save money for a little house. I wash and dry his clothes and fold the miniature socks and pants and t-shirts. I do things I did not think were possible. I built him a small pedal-less bike on Saturday. I remember all the stories my mother read to me and my brother.
Gideon is awake from his nap. I go to his room.
He’s holding a book upside down. He’ll be six or seven before he can read. I make a point of letting everyone know that my son isn’t like me at all.
He’s like a dog, I tell people. He just sees what is there.
Some seem to think this is a criticism. It’s not. It’s the greatest praise I can think of.