Sue Repko
How I Give Birth to My Mother

I make sure to put the Xanax on the Formica next to the empty mug next to the Mr. Coffee that's going glub-glub. It's the sound of morning in our double-wide womb, next to the other malnourished, leaking double-wides, each with its own faint heartbeat and poor prognosis.

As soon as her alarm goes off, I grab my backpack and close the door quietly behind me.

In health class we've been studying birth defects, and it occurs to me that maybe my mom's got one — a problem with her vision, something she can't really help. I raise my hand and say that she's constantly losing sight of the big picture, always getting lost in the minutiae. Like the whole thing with my dad. In the end it didn't really matter who he'd been with, what he'd done, when he'd done it. The big picture: he wasn't happy. He wanted out. It was time to let him go. She does it to me too, the latching on, the probing, like I'm one of her lab animals to be monitored constantly and caged.

When the class is done laughing, the teacher, Mrs. Dunn, who's used to my outbursts, is fighting a smile herself when she tells me to save it for the school shrink, only she uses his actual name.

Thanks to Mrs. Dunn, I now understand the natural order of things, the kicking in of hormones, the contractions, the contortions that result in a loss and a gift at the exact same moment. I also know that some bodies don't give in so easily to Mother Nature. And that's where intervention is called for, in the form of drugs, forceps, the splitting open, reaching in and pulling out. It can get messy. I imagine it's almost always messy.

A few minutes before the clock strikes five, I uncork the merlot and fill a scratched green goblet, whose twin broke into little pieces a long time ago. Then I move to the freezer, the microwave, my room.

The tires on the gravel signal the transition, and pretty soon she's banging on my door. She wants me to eat with her, so she can continue her microscopic examination of an organism she cannot begin to fathom — me — but I know she will not force me, will not break down the door, will not yank me out.

I gave birth to you and this is the thanks I get?!

That first part may have been true, once, seventeen years ago, but it's been the other way around — I have been giving birth to her — ever since.

She will walk away now. She will drink the wine. Parents aren't perfect. They suffer from a range of disabilities. They need their medication.

Later, when the TV goes off, and I come out for a snack, the real diatribe will begin, and I will set about making chamomile tea for both of us. She will take what I set in front of her without missing a beat, but before too long, the silences between her sentences and mine will lengthen into a welcome night, a closing of the shutters, a drawing of the curtains. This is how I give birth to my mother, how I nurse her with liquid lullabies, then push her away, cut the cord, three times a day, every day, for my own survival.