Inside my Chest, Under my Ribcage by foxpamela
Inside my chest, under my ribcage, is this thing. It’s big and gnarled and looks like a root. It pushes down on my lungs and displaces my heart. Cancers are killed with chemicals and radiation. But these things grow from seeds that are planted by the people who love us. They will not let you kill it. They will fight you to the death to protect it.
Inside my chest, under my ribcage, squashing my ability to love freely, to take in and let go freely, are lodged the beliefs that have grown into my drab attire, my dirty nails, my one-night stands, my nappy hair, my poverty, my isolation, my self-deprivation.
But you can’t believe something about everything. Like foreign spices, foreign languages, foreign rhythms, some things escape opinion. They escape criticism through ignorance. For a moment, they are nameless. If you get to them quickly, before the opinions set in, they can tell you things. They will say things for you that you could never say on your own. The flavors and the phonics and the pulse will remind you of how it was before the things that look like roots took hold.
Inside my chest, under my ribcage, one of us will grow and one of us will whither. One of us will starve. And one of us will survive.
I am six. I put my baby doll into the makeshift cardboard crib. I’ve brushed her hair and dressed her up and fed her a heavy bottle. I don’t know it then, but I live a life of privilege compared to my own children’s. I have toys, food, heat, my own bed. I have food that I cannot afford to buy my own children. Things with lots of sugar and Yellow No. 6 and cartoons on the front of boxes that contain coupons to go amusement parks that I can’t afford to take my children even with the coupons.
I put my baby doll in the crib and tell her, I’ll be back. You be good. I’m gonna go find Gramma. Mom is sleeping in her den. Everything in here is white. The walls, the carpet, the bedspread. The bureau is maple veneer. On the lip of the drawer is etched Pam was here. I wasn’t sure if anybody would notice and if they did what they would say? Who’s this Pam character? Does anybody here know who this Pam character is? It was noticed and nobody asked who put it there and I got yelled at but that was all. Which made it worth it because now I knew that I was known.
She is snoring. I try to wake her but she tells me to go away. There is nowhere in particular for me to go so I go outside and dig. The backyard has pock marks from all my digging. I dig for things. I think I’ll find relics. I think I’ll find something that will come up on the evening news with Tom Brokaw, something that has been missing and is precious. The president has asked that the nation stop what they’re doing and start searching immediately because nothing is more important than finding this thing and I’ll be sitting there on the floor in the dark holding it in my hand wondering how I’m going to get it to Tom and if I will be on the news for having found it. I will be feeling very proud of myself for having the foresight to have saved this precious piece of scrap metal or deteriorating linen.
She wakes up and calls me in to wash my hands for dinner. I grab my plate and go downstairs to watch TV until 6:00 when Tom Brokaw comes on.
On my grown-up kitchen table in a metal basket that resembles a cage, I display the thing that looks like a root. It’s drying. Sometimes I walk by and affectionately touch it. I don’t hate it. I sympathize with it. I am proud of it. I have given birth to two children and a root, I think. I can’t eat it. I can’t burn it. I can’t sleep on it. I can’t kill it and I can’t love it.
But I can breathe.
The phone is ringing. It’s my mother.
Yes. Yes, we’re fine. Yes, we have plenty to eat. No, he’s not been giving me any trouble lately. I think he’s been drinking less. I don’t know, Mom. I don’t know that, either. All I can do is take care of us. I can’t control what he does. The kids are great. Janey is all smiles and Alex has shown a lot of maturity lately. I don’t know. I don’t know when we are coming down next. Work’s been really busy. Yes. I’m sure we’re fine. I know.
“You’ve got to let your family support you,” she says. I make an expression that no one will see. It shows my offense. I remember how she didn’t talk to me for six months after I left him. I remember that she asked me if I was going to abandon my children as well.
No I don’t, I think.
“Yeah, I know,” I say.
The root on the table is seeping. I have to go before it gets too wet.
“I have to go, Mom. I have to get the kids to bed. I’ll talk to you soon. Love you, too. Bye.”
I return to my children. They are sounding a little congested so I pull them up next to me on the double bed that we all share and I pat their backs to loosen them up. We pull all the blankets around us and I imagine we are a little Inuit family. One holds a book and the other turns the pages. The story is one we’ve been reading since I left their father last winter. It’s in a language that I don’t know so the three of us sound it out together, one word at a time. And after we sound it out, we decide what it means. All the words with all their windy sounds end up meaning the same precious thing. We will call Tom Brokaw ourselves and whisper to him what we have.
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