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Caledonia

May 26, 2017

IMG_0427When the car hit a slick spot and spun around in the middle of the highway, I recorded the metaphor to share with her one day—this image of a little white car in white-out conditions on a snow-covered Minnesota highway facing backward. So much white, like the blank of a new page. While I managed to get the car turned around and moving, I am, twenty years later, still facing backward. She already knows that we were driving in a blizzard because her mother later told her the way mothers tell their children when they are old enough to ask. But what she may not know—and I am here to tell it because I was there—is that I had both hands on the steering wheel in a terrified but determined grip. Her father was somewhere else, so I was responsible for her mother, who was in the seat beside me, breathing hard and wincing from a pain I was too young to understand.

Months before at the bar on Grand Avenue, her dad and I were drinking Leineys while her mom nursed her water, the three of us tossing around baby names. Caledonia was on the table, and so was Dakota, but she would become Caledonia Rose. In the weeks before her birth, her dad played Dougie MacLean’s “Caledonia” over and over in the dining room in their house in Minneapolis where I spent so many evenings escaping the broken-heart loneliness of my own life while waiting for hers to begin. I’ve been telling old stories, singing songs/That make me think about where I came from/And that’s the reason why I seem/So far away today.

Long after I moved away, leaving the three of them behind but taking with me all that I had witnessed, “caledonia” was the password to all of the accounts of my life. Our lives forever after separated, I knew no one would ever guess that she was the first child to open my heart to love. I would not feel that kind of love again until I pulled my children into the world with my own hands, vowing to hang onto their slippery bodies and to every last detail.

There are no reliable narrators in the story of my own birth, and so I bore witness to Caledonia Rose’s beginning with a determination sprung from my own sense of loss. But the thing is, Caledonia never needed anything I had saved. She hasn’t spent years of her life trying to track down eye-witness accounts of life before she knew it, has never once asked me for mine—or maybe even considered that I might have one.

But I saved it for her anyway: I woke in the half-second space before your mother knocked on the door of the room where I was sleeping, somehow sensing what she was about to say: Her water had broken, and we needed to get to the hospital. I jumped from your sister’s bed, my heart racing, and ran to shovel the walk, brush the snow from the car, throw your mother’s bag in the car. I took hold of your mother’s thin arm the way I knew to walk my grandmothers, simultaneously guiding and praying. We spun out on the way to the hospital, at one point facing backward on the highway. The hospital is a blur of images that I’ve tucked away to protect your mother’s privacy. She put on a gown. Sat on the toilet. Flipped off a nurse. Held her belly in agony. Made phone calls. Later in the afternoon, the mood changed from celebratory to desperate, and your father arrived. I remember being at the end of a hallway, leaning against a heater, my back to a window. The walls were the same green as the walls of the hospital where I was born, so I need to tell you that I am not sure if they were green at all, but only because, waiting for you to born, I could not stop thinking of my own birth story—and that story is all dreams and no truth. Your father told me to go home in a tired voice that was neither kind nor mean, and I drove myself back to my apartment in the snow. I had no money then, but I splurged and bought myself a carton of curry mock duck from a Vietnamese place that is no longer there, down the street from the tavern where we picked your name, which is.

This is no longer your story, but I will tell you that I walked to get the food instead of driving because of the snow, and when I got back to my apartment, I realized it wasn’t mock anything but real duck. I cried when I figured that out because I was too tired and hungry to trudge back to the restaurant in the deep snow, and I’d spent all this money on food that wasn’t for me. Instead, I tossed the meat in the trash and went to bed. By the time I woke, the doctor had split your mother open, just as the doctor had done to mine. As your mother hobbled up and down the stairs in the long weeks of recovery after your birth, I was there, helping to care for you, helping to care for her. I was there because I wanted to be but also because I had nowhere else to go. The point is, I was truly there, squeezing light from the darkness with my very own eyes.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Judy Stoltenberg permalink
    May 28, 2017 2:17 am

    Just, wow Jenny. How the story of your adoption has affected so many parts of your life! I think it has added to the sensitivity of your spirit (present with or without the adoption), and given you a life out look which is a gift to all who know you. I am blessed to be one of those people, even though it is from afar. Bless you!

    Sent from my iPhone

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