It was sort of
watching my mother cleave in two.
It wasn’t nice peaceful–more like eerie peaceful. I can’t explain it; she broke, as if she was a flimsy piece of wood and the surgeon’s blade, a saw. Finally, from inside my mother’s stomach, I caught my first glimpse of the outside. The lacerations the surgeon gifted were the rungs of my ladder–the mangled chunks of flesh I gripped to heave myself out of her stomach. Suddenly, I faced the real world. It was so morbidly devoid of sound…until it wasn’t.
“Do not lie to me right now!!!”
“YOU SAID IT WOULD BE A BOY, YOU LOUSY DOCTOR.”
“What the HELL do you want me to do with a girl?”
The loudness was insatiable. It tore through the room, consuming every trace of warmth and light and joy. I wished it would swallow me, too, so I could become so small a sliver of flesh that they could never see me and lay their angry eyes of venom upon me. I wish I could disappear. No one wanted me, not my dad or uncle or grandpa. I heard their shouting. Their screams strangled me, stealing my air bit by bit until I felt my being disintegrate. But something wouldn’t let me disappear. It was that piece of herself my mother left behind: her blood. It was the red sap that oozed all over my body, clinging to every hair and sinking into every pore. The blood didn’t let go of me. It kept me tethered to this world, unwilling to let me evaporate. Blood was my armor.
“I’m sure you messed another thing up.”
“What the HELL is wrong with you now?”
“You look like you saw a freaking ghost.”
No, I was the ghost. I had to be dead right now. I simply had to be. There was no other possible explanation for the blood between my legs. The first day, it looked like a bit of spittle–the kind of sludge the men spit out after a smoke, except with a red tinge. The second day, the blood disappeared. The third day, the blood returned with a parasitic fervor, forming crusty, lichen-like growths as it dried on my twig-like thighs. It was undeniable; the time for my death had come. But right when the first tear welled in my eyes, my dad trudged in and snatched my arm. He saw me, and he felt my body. I was a tangible being. So, no, I didn’t die, and I wasn’t a ghost. What was the blood then? I thought he’d say something about it, but he didn’t. He didn’t see the blood, and I couldn’t interrupt his stream of instructions. He said the guests arrived. But the blood. He said they wanted tea. But the blood. He said don’t spill the milk. But the blood. Then, he finally saw it, and a flood of relief displaced his usual dullness because he knew I wouldn’t be his burden anymore. Within a week, he found a man for me. Everyone told me he was my husband. He looked more like a dad, though. His white shirt was crisp; it looked like money. He seemed nice, but I didn’t like leaving my dolls because I felt alone without them. He promised he’d buy me more, but he didn’t. He forgot, and I didn’t ask. I realized that dolls wouldn’t change anything. I was utterly alone. Blood was my curse.
“What a WHINER!”
“She is SUCH a drama queen.”
“The cut’s not that bad. KEEP WORKING.”
That’s what my mother-in-law said. And she was right, I think. I mean, she’d been right when she told me how many eggs were there in the fridge this morning, and she’d been right when she told me the time the mailman would come. So, I knew she was right in this case, too. I accidentally sliced my palm cutting one of the slippery gourds, and I thought it looked bad. But she said it looked fine, so I should keep cutting the vegetables and mopping the floors. The pain wasn’t bad at all, she said. I believed her, except for the fleeting moments when I felt like my mind shattered with pain. I wished I could cry. But I didn’t even know whether I should cry or not. Everyone said I shouldn’t. Everything was fine, but was it? Were my wounds not deep enough, not painful enough, not real enough to be worthy of tears? Then, I saw the blood dripping from the cut, glazing my skin molten red. It told me my wounds were real. It was the only thing that recognized my pain. Blood was my witness.
“DON’T BE LAZY, WOMAN.”
“We DO NOT have all freakin’ day.”
Then, the quiet devoured every scream, sucking each sound into an abyss. Stillness swept the room. Suddenly, it was peaceful. This time, it was nice peaceful–not eerie peaceful. I touched my baby girl’s nose and her cheeks and forehead. She was real. She looked nothing like me…and it made me happy. I didn’t want her face or her life or anything about her to be like me. Blood shouldn’t mean to her what it did to me. It meant everything to me–far too much. It shouldn’t have been my only tie to my mother, and it shouldn’t have been the sign that I was ready for marriage, and it shouldn’t have been the only validation of my pain. It should have been meaningless, just a fluid hidden in my veins. But it never was just that for me. I was blood’s pawn, relying completely on it for any hint of relief but weeping over every ounce of pain it awarded me. But my daughter and granddaughter and great-granddaughter–they will not be its pawns.
They cannot be.
Blood is my second chance.
Note: This is written from the perspective of my great-grandmother, Yadlapati Alamelu Mangamma (of course, with creative license taken). Her mother died when she was young, and she was married at the age of eleven. Here, I hope to share just a piece of the pain she experienced during her life.