Listening: A Birth Story

It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop. – Confucius

You’re here, you beautiful thing, you. A sister for Kiri, another daughter for Patrick and me, a person: a tiny, complete, perfect person.

Your journey here was not the one I would have chosen, but I have to believe that it’s the one I needed. The one you needed.

You took over two days to arrive, and your birth was much like your sister’s birth. I know you’ll get tired of being compared, as sisters do, so let me just say that I don’t just see your birth in relation to Kiri’s birth, despite the fact that the similarities are there. That’s part of this story, yes, but it isn’t the whole thing by any means.

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You can’t go home again, they say.

And maybe they’re right.

I just keep thinking: will she ever see Pakistan?

When I was a year old I had already spent months of my life there, half of my first words being spoken in Punjabi, eating daal and channe and being given tastes of milky malai,   being taken down into the street by my grandmother to get my head shaved by a man at the side of the gulley; my baby hair falling in light clumps into the damp earth. My mother had no idea where I had gone to, but took it in stride when I was returned into her arms, bald as could be.

1923608_506341161237_7478_nAnd then, when I was a bit older, spending my days weaving in and out of narrow streets, unsupervised by any adults, jumping from roof to roof and chasing chickens, discovering freedom, and on the third night of my auntie’s wedding, locking myself in the bathroom and eating a rose to discover its taste.

And then, even older than that, visiting by myself. Having distant relatives remark on my appearance, “but she looks so Pakistani!” and my saying, quietly, to no one at all, “but I am Pakistani,” knowing they were expecting a half-white American teenager wearing jeans and a t-shirt, listening to a discman and scowling at them from beneath a baseball cap. I spent that summer almost alone, wandering rice paddies in the countryside, writing stories at daybreak, and attempting – unsuccessfully – to befriend the local 11-year-old shepherd.

196292_503666147187_7567_nEvery time I returned home from traveling to Pakistan, something was different. The old longing returned with a new fire, the ache in my bones deepened, I would wake up in the middle of the night smelling dirt being tamped down by monsoon rains before realizing, with palms sweating, that it was just a dream. The missing, the longing – it never goes away.

And now all I can think is: will my daughter ever see it? Will she ever understand the magic of hundreds of kites flying above her head, or the pleasure of standing on a rooftop as it rains, or the taste of a glass bottle of Coca Cola when it’s 115 degrees and her shalwar is stuck with sweat to the back of her legs?

Will she ever know that there is another home for her?

There is an immeasurable distance to travel between here and there, now. A distance laden with extremists and threats and bombs and blood and bone and more than anything: fear. A distance that was once felt only by my heart has been replaced with a chasm rooted in pragmatism: “it’s just not safe.” And her daddy is white, and her mama is only half-Pakistani, of course. “Well, you can pass, but the rest of your family could be a target,” people tell me.

And yet how I yearn to take that long, long flight back. To travel back to where the missing piece of my heart resides; to see my daughter’s face as she takes it all in, not understanding what it means for me to share it with her; to take her hand and say, quietly, to no one at all, “this, this is not a vacation. This, this is a homecoming.”

Old souls

And then, sometimes I see that not everything in my little borough has changed. The kids at my old middle school still dress for PE in the same shirt and shorts I have squirreled away on a shelf in the closet; still dance for their friends  nonsensically to the music only they can hear; still stand in clumps, arms folded across their chests in all their adolescent awkwardness; still yell mostly unclever epithets at each other, laughing from their guts, not knowing anything other than this, being 13 and not giving a shit, or giving way too many and trying to play it cool. Those shirts and those shorts, how I tugged at them myself only moments ago. The trappings change, constantly and severely, but then in a moment the old soul of Brooklyn is back like a flash of sun on an incredibly grey spring day.unnamed

Take me to the beach.

“Take me to the beach” she says, kicking out her legs like she’s swimming. 

“I want to dive the waves.” 

And I understand the feeling. 

“Go, then,” I say, and want to add, but don’t: 

Go headfirst. Sink down deep. Hold your breath. Be afraid of losing it. Stretch your arms as wide as they will go and push as hard as you can. Try to grab hold of the water even though you know it will run through your hands. Worry that you haven’t gone deep enough. Learn that you have. Come up for air. Experience the moment when the silence becomes the sound of the air and the waves rippling at the shoreline. Lie back for a moment in peace. Do it all again. 

But there is time for all that, yet. 

So I just say, “go, then,” and let that be enough.

 

take me to the beach

A love letter.

You are my love letter to life.

I wrote each strand of your DNA inside me, my heart singing: this is for the smell of pavement wet from fire hydrants in August, this is for the way the light comes through the windows in the late afternoon, turning everything gold, this is for the tiny buds of grape hyacinth and how they hang like little bells chiming forth spring, this is for the very first snow and the second and the third when everything is quiet quiet quiet all around and so light and so soft.

That is how I wrote your body into this world.

You are my ode to this existence. The meter of your arms and legs, the syntax of your spine – each vertebra another stanza in all that is beautiful and all that is true, connecting one to the next, one to the next, everything that makes us human.

If I didn’t love the way that my father cries when he watches sappy movies, or the way my sisters’ laughs create a harmony, or the feel of my mother’s hands and the way they look when they do their work, or the way your father stands with his arms akimbo when he pauses, mid-chore in the garden, and takes a quiet breath and looks all around him; if I didn’t love the feeling of sand under my feet or how when the tide runs over them it slips away like silk, or the way rain can make you feel new again, or the way wrinkles on old people make their eyes smile at you when their mouths do, or the way birds roll in clouds of dust and look like they’re dancing – if I didn’t love all this, I couldn’t have made you as I did.

I believe in the power of the moon and the beauty of the stars and the shine from the sun and the ground underfoot and the grass as it grows and the wind as it blows, but more than anything else, I believe in people: in the way they help each other, doing something for nothing, giving something when needed; in the way they love each other and how visible it is in their eyes; in the way they grieve and celebrate and succeed and survive.

Sometimes it is ugly. Sometimes it is hate and not love that makes itself known. Sometimes the pain is unimaginable and the sorrow seems unsurmountable. But then we imagine it and we surmount it and night comes and another day after that. And on, and on, until we are revived.

And that is why I wrote you like a love letter to the world.

You have the stars in your hair and the sun in your eyes and love in your bones and the planet is wild and spinning its circles around and around and you will dance on its spinning and make music with your feet and my life will be bigger, bigger, boundless in the space between your toes and the ground.

I already loved this life when I made you; I prayed while the sweet air washed over my body; thanked the world for existing; but something in me was born when I bore you. A love bigger than I knew before.

I wrote you like a love letter, but then you were received.

And your bearing was the universe’s response.

Your growing is the world singing back to me: I love you, too, I love you, too.

So sweetly, so tenderly, your being: proof that this grand and glorious world loves me back.

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Sad-eyed lady of the green couch.

I came across a series of photos of myself during the third-trimester of my pregnancy tonight and found myself crying hard. It was hard in the moment to fully articulate what it was that I was crying about, but I think I stammered to P. something about the look in my eyes and the loneliness I could see there.

I think just looking back at myself, this collection of photos taken while I sat on my green couch, the one I was on for basically four months straight, brought back a lot of difficult feelings that I don’t think I’ve fully reckoned with. The isolation, the deep depression, the fog I sat in for so long – and those things a byproduct of extreme physical pain that I’m, even now, not recovered from – it’s all so heavy.

So finding those photos tonight, those fragments of a reality I was trapped in and am still trying to find ways to fully escape from, was overwhelming.

There is a peace about those photos, too, though, and I recognize that. A quietness and meditation, just me and baby K. before I even knew who she was, really. And so maybe some of the crying was because of that, too. Missing when she was growing inside me, missing when I didn’t know her face, but knew her heart because it was beating inside me so steady, so sure. She kept me alive during those months.

I don’t know why my body gave out the way it did, and I probably will never know, since the score of doctors and body workers I’ve seen still haven’t been able to give me so much as a good guess as to what happened to me, but I do know that if it had given out like that at any other time but when I was working so hard to grow my baby, I would not have had the strength to make it through.

Photo on 2014-05-05 at 19.28 #2