I go to my garden to grieve.
When they first took her, the first night we were away from one another, I lay on my bedroom floor and screamed, the sort of panicked horror-cry a coyote might feel in a trap, razor-sharpness around fur and bone. And I had, indeed, been entrapped, the scope of which I would come to fully realize over the next months, and years even. I did not know what to do with with this kind of child-grief, or with any sort of grief that even came near the kind of white-hot electric loss that streamed through my veins–I was in pieces, scattered soil on a concrete floor.
I managed to stand in the coming days—there is no other choice, really, anyone who has experienced profound loss will tell you the same. But the realization of the depth of betrayal of the only people I had only ever known as family lay like a sack of stones on my back. I was broken and bent over in such a way that I knew my spine would never fully straighten again. Not only did my family abandon me, no matter their own narrative, but they took my ex-husband’s side. They do not know this man, they never have, they only see the schmoozing face he puts on for the world. He is Caucasian, handsome, short-cut red hair, country boy raised to run cows, completely indifferent to his privilege in the world, nearly in a way that makes you feel sorry for him. He is not a good man, though, and I have confirmation of that assertion in what it is he is now doing. No good man would ever do this to a woman he loved, much less the mother of his child. I don’t care where you’re from, men should not do this to the women who carried and birthed their children.
I stopped respecting my husband shortly after we were married, when his temper filled the corners and crevices of our home. But it was never my house, really. He constructed all the brick arches and wood floors and neutral colors on the walls on purpose. It was part of a subdivision he was attempting to sell houses in. None of it was my style. I thrift-store decorated it within an inch of its life, but it never really felt like home. It was too new, and already filled with too many bad memories.
My parents helped me buy the little house I live in now. My Asah-baby was in the car seat and I was in the back-seat with her, and my parents drove us around “Old Madison”, the only part of Madison, Mississippi even remotely affordable to me. We ended up in the exact same neighborhood that my parents’ bought their first house in, where I lived until I was seven years old. This subdivision is only four or five miles down the road from the house my father spent his growing-up years in.
I remember him telling me that his father stood guard at the front of their lawn with a shotgun, at what I know realize must have been the Freedom March of 1966. And now, so many decades removed, I realize, but still, I wonder: What exactly was he guarding? This man who terrorized his own children, who fractured his own wife’s face? What exactly was he afraid would happen? Something worse than him? The all-encompassing net of “Negro rage”? He stood guard at the edge of his lawn with a shotgun.
He is old now, irrelevant. The community still stands around the dusty stories, though.
I chose the white house with the lime green shutters mostly because it was the only bright spot in the neighborhood, but also because it looked like shit. Everything was overgrown in every corner of the yard, grass grown up, holly bushes higher than the roof, garbage barrels piled alongside a faded concrete basketball goal….all of it, I wanted it. I saw what it could be. I wanted to make it beautiful.
And I did.
When they took my baby from me, when enough money and masculine voice echoed against as many walls as they needed to, I was lost.
Not: I got lost. But: I was lost.
All of a sudden, with no warning.
I had no idea what to do with my 7:00pm baby-bathing-hands. I did not know how to fall asleep without the buzz and hum of the baby monitor at my ear. I did not know the rocking-chair motion that my baby and I rhythmed sleep to. I was lost.
They took her from her mother.
And her mother was paralyzed with grief.
So after several sleepless nights, bordering on the deepest grief humans are able to cognitively understand, I went to Home Depot and bought all the Rose bushes I could afford.
I came home and tilled up a plot by hand, with a flat-bladed shovel someone had left at my house, rusted at the corners. That’s all I had. That and the rage. I sliced and grunted and cut up every last inch of soil for a bed I meant to plant in a circular pattern. Sweat and tears ran down my body until it was impossible to tell which was which. Until it didn’t matter. And it didn’t matter. It never mattered.
I planted Rose bushes in the plot I dug up, six of them, and now, nearly two and half years later, I go to my rose garden to grieve.
The bushes are outrageous. There is no way they should be as high and reaching as they are in only two years.
I tend to them lovingly, though, their bed an altar, like a candle in a church, praying my baby back home.
I snip at the withered pink, believing next week will be brighter.
Look for my new six month column, Madgirl Elegies, in Lidia Yuknavitch’s Corporeal Clamor, to start this week. Peace.