Evidence of Things Unseen
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen.
Morphine makes me weightless, airborne. Like a spider. I rest in
a corner of the high ceiling, look down on my body on the white
hospital bed. It is just one shot, one needle through my skin. But
even nine months pregnant, my frame is small—the weight all
baby. So the effect of the drug is a flood in my veins. I'd like to
walk down the street feeling this light. I'd like to be a passenger
in a dusty car on a dirt road, and see a veil of trees, the clearing
inside. Graveyard of cars arranged in a kind of circle. All the
engines lifted out, windows dull with dirt. In that clearing I know
I could find evidence of things unseen. Me on the bed waiting for
my cervix to be effaced. Waiting to open like a door, ten centimeters.
Then I can push.
"I can't believe you did this twice," I say to my mother after I
come down from the ceiling, and a truck stuck in the sand guns
it below my belly button. Digs in, stalls, digs. My mother laughs.
"You forget," she says. Pulls her chair closer. We're both mothers
now. In the circle that the bed makes for us, she's not mad at
me for not marrying, not appalled by my sexuality, my basic biology,
my lack of restraint. She's helping me count contractions, her
knees a few inches away from me in her beige pantsuit. One of
the outfits she wears to teach first grade. At school, the children
all sit in a circle around her. Once, her school gave her an award;
they took her picture as she leaned against a tree, smiling. Now
it's 1981. Despite the pain, I'm happy to be here with her. There's
an easiness, as if we're on a brief vacation together, like friends.
She's younger than I am now, about to hold her first grandchild,
about to let me give him away. My mom will never touch him
again. She'll blow up the snapshot of my son that my aunt and
uncle will mail to us, frame it, place it on the dresser in her bedroom.
The enlarging process increasing the light in the photo, so
that he's surrounded by glowing circles, like snow is falling on
him at night.
My son has his eyes closed now. He's close to leaving my nineteen-
year-old body. Ripples wash over his skin that no one has
ever touched, except me. We're still together. My darkness keeps
him safe, fed. My body does everything right: carrying, feeding,
singing a water song. My heart counted on like a lullaby. In the
outside world, my practical skills are limited—I don't know how
to keep house or manage money, sometimes I can barely speak.
But in my son's world, my body has everything he needs. I belong
I'd had an overwhelming need to push for what felt like a long
time, but the nurses kept saying it was too early, "Don't push."
When a nurse looks between my legs, she's surprised. "The baby's
coming," she says. "Push." Her tone is controlled but urgent. They
need to move fast. The medical people still have to get me into the
delivery room. They scoot me onto a rolling bed, push me down
the hall into another room. My mother goes to sit with my dad in
the waiting room. I don't know who decides I'm going to do this
alone. Even my own doctor isn't on duty. The hands that lift me
are speedy, rushed. My bare feet are put into cold metal stirrups,
which feels frightening. As if something is about to happen that I
will not be able to stand unless I am restrained. A lamp is floodlight
bright. I'm glad to push. A couple of minutes go by. I scream
once. It's a surprise—no planning, no slow intake of breath. The
pain is surprising; my skin about to rip open from my baby's head
pushing out. The threshold keeps being raised. I scream again
when I tear. And my son is in the world. I thought he would be
red with blood or white or wrinkled. Maybe they washed him
before I saw him? His skin looks like the skin on apricots. It might
have been all the carrot juice I drank. He looks as if he's had a lifetime
of good meals.
Then, they take him away. It's probably strange to him too,
the first time we've parted since he was an unseen spiral twirling
inside. A doctor takes a needle and thread and sews me up.
I've been given a numbing shot, but I can still feel the tug of each
stitch. The way he makes it tight.
Nurses lift me onto a rolling bed again, take me into a ward
of the Navy hospital. One side of the hall is maternity; the other
side for women with gynecological problems. Our side is lit up,
shining. I fall asleep. But in a few hours, a nurse wakes me up.
"Your baby's hungry." My body weeps as if a horse had kicked me
between my legs, or bitten me with its huge horse teeth. I am sure
that no one in my state should stand up. "You need to stand up,"
the nurse repeats. "Your baby needs to eat. It's been four hours."
My hospital gown is a bloom around my body. I sit up. My feet
hang off the bed, and the nurse gives me her arm. She doesn't
smile. She's a Navy nurse, a member of the military. I can feel a
pool inside my body, a slosh of blood. My breasts leak through
my gown. I clutch the nurse's arm. My feet cold on the floor. She
I follow her down the middle of the hall to a room of glass,
where we turn right, until we come to a room without glass, a
door. I stand inside, teetering beside a sink. Rocking chairs
behind me against the wall. "Wait here." She leaves. She comes
back with my baby. He is wrapped in a white blanket, that material
that feels as if it has clouds in it, hilly and airy at the same
time. Someone has wrapped my baby's hands in white gauze, so
he won't scratch his face with his fingernails. The nurse points to
the sink, the pHisoderm. I soap myself, rinse. Pat my hands dry
with a brown paper towel.
My baby's eyes are still closed, and they're big. The arc of his
eyelids are little beds where I rest my eyes. He's the most peaceful
baby I have ever seen. It's Mom, I want him to know without
my saying so. The nurse doesn't know he's being adopted. She
doesn't know the mistake she's making. The doctor will come to
me later and say I can't hold my baby again, can't feed him. "It
could cause you permanent emotional damage," he says. I'm in
the TV room when he walks in to tell me this. It's night. The doctor's
day is done, but he wants to let me know this now, so I won't
expect to feed my son again. The Greatest American Hero is on
the TV screen. The actor has the curly yellow hair of an angel,
flying around to help people out. "Can I still look at him through
the glass?" I ask. The doctor acquiesces. "But just once a day," he
says. I'm in the hospital for three days. And it's only this day, this
morning, that the nurse will say, "Hold your arms like this," as
she holds my son close to her chest. And then she holds him out
Her arms are like bridges, transporting my son to me in this
breathing world. I feel as though my vision could fill with white
clouds at any moment, that I could fall to the floor. I feel that
someone should be steadying me. But then the weight of him is
in my hands. And it is like carrying him inside my body—some-
thing I already know how to do. There is no thought of letting
go. The bones in my arms use all their hardness, my blood, my
skin itself, all the force in my body holds him, will keep him safe
against any harm. My legs are metal. "You can sit in the rocking
chair," the nurse says. I relax against the cushion beneath me, the
chair's wooden bars supporting my back like little trees. "Hold
his head up," she says, and hands me a bottle. The nurse leaves.
We're quiet. My son and I like it, not rushing. I introduce myself
for real: "It's Mom." He likes me. I place the bottle on his little rose
mouth, let him take the nipple in his mouth. But he's not hungry
yet. A little milk comes out on his lips. I don't know how much
time I have. I say, his name, "Tommy." I'm the first one to call
him by his name. I say, "I love you." I want to take my time, tell
him everything. But he's so content. We rock a little. Hang out.
We would have been so good together with silences. The nurse
I never feed him again. No matter how many Kleenexes I put
in my bra cups, despite the pills I take to dry up my milk, it leaks
through all my clothes. My small breasts become so heavy and
hard they are like mini basketballs. I could feed ten babies with
this milk. During the day, a nurse brings a heat machine, a bright
electric sun, and shines it between my legs to dry my stitches.
The curtains are drawn. I can hear my aunt and uncle outside the
cloth, the joking about my suntanning machine. They are kind,
jubilant to become my baby's parents. His eyes are still closed.
During the day, I break the doctor's rule and stand at the glass for
every feeding. I dismiss the doctor's warning about causing damage
to myself. I need to see my son. It's like the need to push when
he was being born. There's no choice. Watch a nurse hold my boy
in her arms. Sometimes she stands while she feeds him, sometimes
she sits. When she's standing, she holds him up high, as if
showing him to someone—a king. Here he is. The nurses scowl at
me. But what can they do? One nurse comes to me at night, opens
my curtain. She sits on my bed as if she is my friend. "Would you
like to talk?" she asks. "No," I say. Maybe she was doing something
extra, trying to be nice, helpful. But I am in no mood for pity. At
the glass, I watch the nurse give my son a bottle, my breasts leaking
dark quarters through my bra, my gown. I stand there, and
watch him held in her hard arms and think, I can do that. I can
On the fourth day, I am discharged. The air is tense when
my family arrives—my mother and father, my aunt and uncle—
because they are afraid. They are afraid that I will take him in my
arms and not let go. That we will hitch a ride out of town, and I
will bleed all over the front seat, massaging my uterus with one
hand. Trying to bring it back to size. Calm the blood down. My
breasts have all the food my son needs. And finally he'll be able to
latch on, to relieve this pressure, this store of milk I've been saving
for him. The nurse shows my aunt and uncle my son's belly
button, she explains how to care for it, where we connected. She
opens his blanket to do this, my naked boy. My aunt has clothes
for him. She has a baby snowsuit. It envelops him in cushy plastic.
Like an Eskimo baby. My mom is motioning me out of the
way. But the nurse who never smiled, she says, "No matter who is
adopting the baby, the mother takes him out of the hospital." The
mother, the mother. That's me. I'm visible again. It's a rule, so no
one can disagree. I make my arms into the shape of a cradle. The
nurse places my son in my arms. His snowsuit is soft and puffy.
He looks comfortable nestled in there, eyes closed. I'm not yet
afraid of doing anything wrong, of holding on to him. I know this
is just for a few moments, and it's not private, but I'm so grateful
to have him back. Light and space around us, despite the others
crowding. I walk down the white hallway. They are all around me,
anxious. But we are calm. Then the front door is open, and the air
blows cold on us. I'm at the threshold, stepping onto the hospital
porch, and my mom commands, "Hand Julia the baby." And I do.
But it is as if I am an orange, an apple, some fruit with skin that a
knife has been taken to, cutting. The watered air around me is the
seen world. The porch has a few wide steps, as if the hospital was
just a house. My aunt is smiling so wide, her smile is all I can see
of her face, except her eyes locked down on him. In the world, he
belongs to her now.