Las Vegas in November is never as pretty as in the summer, although you can ramble around without feeling like you're walking through a gas chamber. Still, she regretted that they did not come at Labor Day as they'd initially planned. Unfortunately, though, their relationship had been so brand new so volatile it would have been like going on a trip with a hive of killer bees. And although she wished they'd had a chance to savor the mountains as they descended from the Nevada desert, they had wound up traveling by bus at night and missed the sights. Even so, she decided that she'd make the best of things. At least this afternoon, which did not flaunt its cerulean sky, or its marquise-diamond midday sun, was still a perfect late fall day. Crisp. Clear.
No sign of rain.
Now as she drove towards the Strip in a rental car, Natalie thought of how Las Vegas always reminded her of her trip to Paris. Did they call Paris "The City of Light?"
"Sin City" was what her mother used to call Las Vegas. But for her, it was not the glitz and glamour, so much as Vegas has the throb, the hum, and the vibration she wanted both of them to experience together.
"You could have had my food cooked when I got to LA." Danielle's voice swooped down into her thoughts. "After all, I am your daughter..." Danielle's remarks, tossed as irreverently as an icy snowball at a passing windshield, landed between Natalie's eyes and she saw red.
Natalie had spent the past three days trying to please and appease this selfish girl no, this grown woman to no avail, and now she had pushed the last button in Natalie's patience.
This was the adult child who, after being given a free plane ticket, told Natalie when she met at LAX that the next time she wanted to be seated by the window. When Natalie paid her admission into a movie theater, it didn't even rate a "Thank you, cat, dog." No matter what Natalie did for her, there was always an underlying resentment that beat as loud and clear as an African war dance, "You owe me."
"Look," Natalie said with an edge of irritation in her voice, "I don't have to do jack. You are a stranger to me. I am trying to find ways to bond to you. I thought if you and I cooked together, we will begin bonding."
"Well, I think you should have already had the groceries picked up when I got there and my food cooked."
"What difference did it make to you, when you were perming your hair while I was at the grocery store? And as far as having your food cooked, I wanted everything to be fresh for Thanksgiving."
"Well, see, I was raised by an organized woman."
"As far as organized, what screenplays or movies did your mother ever create while she was working two jobs?" Natalie knew she was getting petty and hitting way below the belt something she has tried not to do since this reunion. After all, she knows the adoptive mother, Corinne, had given her child a home when her own family refused to do it. Sometimes she becomes jealous of this "other mother" in their adoptive triad.
"You aren't the first black woman to have worked. My mother worked thirty years. Look at Waiting to Exhale. You don't have a movie that big. And besides, it's not my fault you gave me away."
"You know what? We don't even have to talk at all." She wanted to add, "I might not have been who you would have picked as a birth mother, but, baby, you're no walk on the beach, either."
In any case, maybe it was too much to ask of her traveling companion to feel as loving as she, Natalie, automatically felt. Or maybe she has gone about the whole thing the wrong way. Now here they are, like two prisoners, totally mis-aligned almost similar to that movie where the two escaped convicts, one black and the other white were shackled together against their will, yet needed each other for their very survival. Had Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis played in the original movie? She couldn't recall. Anyhow, it was a crucible of the flesh. Here she was, of the sweats-and-jeans variety and this newly found stranger was of the designer, Halston and Tommy Hilfiger, X-generation. How was this thing ever going to work?
* * *
Danielle knew it wasn't going to work. Did Natalie think their little trip together would make up for everything that she missed? Natalie's response stunned Danielle. She was used to people placating her moods, hanging on to her words, and in general making her feel "chosen." Here was the woman who had the nerve to give birth to her, literally abandon her, then not act as if she were "special." Did this woman think this little trip alone to Vegas will make up for what she'd missed? Danielle thought, as they rode toward a hotel on the strip. She was so upset she couldn't enjoy the marquees.
The lights reminded her of Christmas in Columbus, Ohio, where she'd flown from a few days earlier.
Most of all, she abhorred this laissez-faire type mother, this "love- it-or- leave it" style of parenting. This "Comme-ci, comme ca" type mothering. Didn't this woman see her pain? Her abandonment? Doesn't she know she will never forgive her? That everyone owes her for her thirty missing years?
Ever since she had found out she was adopted, Danielle has known she was alone in this world. A party of one. An angry one at that. She had learned to act all of her life. Acted like she is a biological child when she isn't. Acted like her adoptive cousins or aunts were her blood family when they aren't. Perhaps that was why she always wanted to act. Pretend to be someone she wasn't. Isn't that what her whole life had been about? Acting? Maybe that was why the eating of a roll from her true mother's hand had angered her.
Yesterday, on Thanksgiving, when she bit down into the dinner roll, all she could think of was murdering her younger brother and sister. It was something about the roll which made her stop right there in the roof of her mouth. As she began to chew, letting the saliva run like a brook encircling the dough, she tasted the textures of all the colors in a rainbow. The roll was golden on the outside, iridescent on the inside and delicate as a snowflake to her tongue.
Chewing slowly, Danielle had cast sidelong glances over at her newly acquired brother, Malik, and sister, Zaire, as they buttered their rolls, preparing to dive into the sumptuous Thanksgiving feast. This was food that Malik and Zaire took for granted and seemed to be oblivious to. Danielle hated them all, including her newly discovered birth mother, Natalie. Or maybe she just hated what Malik and Zaire took for granted. They were savoring soul food which they were so used to, that she has to stifle an impulse to take their butter knives out of their thoughtless hands and dive them into their selfish hearts. She could see the headlines.
Sister Wields Butter Knife on Siblings for Relishing Thanksgiving Dinner. Malik and Zaire had probably never given it a thought what it was like not to have known the privilege yes, that was exactly it, the privilege that she missed. No one seemed to understand her anger. As Zaire and Malik "threw down on their food," Danielle thought of a nest of baby birds, with their scrawny necks outstretched, throats wide opened, eagerly awaiting the worms that the mother bird would feed them. These were probably worms which (she imagined) the mother bird had assiduously scratched up out of the hard earth and dropped into their throat. They reminded her of their family's dog, Queenie. Queenie would not eat unless her puppies were fed first. So if all of Mother Nature knew that the mother took care of their young, how did she fit into that equation? How was she supposed to have been whole, being separated from her mother at birth?
Moreover, if the dressing garnishing the turkey hadn't melted in her mouth, or if the turnip greens had not been just the right amount of bittersweetness, she in a perverse way would have been happier. But as it was, the food had been delicious, very different from her own mother's yet still just as good and she could hardly swallow, she was so miserable.
There Danielle sat obliquely observing Malik and Zaire, who had come home from different points in the compass (Malik lived in Dallas, and Zaire lived in Oakland,) to a resting place, a sanctuary. Both had polished off a meal cooked by the same hand which she imagined once tenderly smoothed their brow when they were sick, bandaged their knees when they fell, and brushed the kinks out of their hair in the morning. Danielle, herself, only has the remembrance of the brusque hand of her adoptive mother.
"There is a difference," she realizes, as she watched the playful interchanges between Malik, Zaire, and Natalie.
Another reason Danielle had concentrated on the roll because it had reminded her of herself. She had been the leaven in her mother's earlier life when she became pregnant at fifteen. She was the dirty little secret. The one who had to be given away to maintain the facade that there had been no pregnancy without marriage. That was thirty years ago, before girls began to openly give birth to babies sans benefit of marriage. That is, Danielle noted (from what the TV news reported), before in a swinging of the social pendulum, girls once again had been made to feel so ashamed and so desperate by a punitive political era that they were stuffing their newborns into garbage cans. But, anyhow, was she any better off?
The lightness inside of the roll reminded her of the void she's known all of her life. Wondering about the unsolved mystery. Who was her real mother? A prostitute? A drug addict? Why? Where? What happened? Then to find her, living out a fairly normal life in Los Angeles, a divorced mother with two other adult children, (children Danielle secretly wished she'd never had,) but most of all, being one of the few African American paid screenwriters in Hollywood, well it was just too much. Her brother and sister have had all that she did not have. The natural acceptance of their birthright. Blood relatives. Ancestral heritage. For her, their lives represented the life unlived. What could have been. What might have been. What if? Not that she hasn't had a good life with her adopted parents, but now that she knew this 'other mother,' she was angry, bereft. After dinner, when Malik and Zaire complimented Natalie's cooking, Danielle was silent. All she could think was, "Ain't this a trip? This is the first time I've tasted my mother's cooking and I'm thirty years old."
* * *
It seemed nothing had turned out like she had planned. Here this child had returned home on a long, invisible umbilical cord as it were, even if it was thirty years later but she was still home and everything had disintegrated into a disaster. As many dinner parties as she'd successfully hosted, the turkey was dry, the cheesecake hadn't gelled as it should, everything was a big mess. It didn't help matters that the source of her nervousness Danielle remained sullen throughout the meal. Scorn riveted every movement in the landscape of her face. Natalie watched as loathing bracketed every chew Danielle made. Whereas her other children warmly complimented her on food they had eaten a million times before, there was no response from Danielle. What could she do to please her? Was there any absolution for thirty years?
Danielle's hate was as palpable as the filling in the cheesecake. That much, Natalie did know. Just as she had learned to intuitively read the children she raised, she could read Danielle already.
"Have some more, Danielle."
"I'm full." After dinner, Zaire, Natalie and Danielle decided to take in a movie. It was a new Black film which Natalie had already seen the week before. Seemingly out of no where, Danielle said accusingly, "I thought you said you would wait and see that movie with me when I got here?"
"Did I?" Really, Natalie didn't remember telling Danielle that she would see the movie with her. Danielle was always testing, always challenging. But one thing, Natalie noted that, among their many similarities, they were both movie buffs.
Natalie paused. She was not used to explaining every little thing to her other children. Somehow, they have learned her quirky ways through osmosis as they grew up. "Look, I watch movies twice, so that I can see how they are put together from a writer's point of view. Okay?" Natalie was feeling her patience erode like a sand pebble being washed down by the ocean. Afterwards, when Zaire, Danielle and Natalie were discussing the merits of the movie, Danielle commented, "At the end of the movie, you can't say for sure whether or not the father molested the daughter."
Natalie said to Danielle, "That's very insightful about the ending. I didn't pick up on that." Natalie had stopped mid-sentence when she saw the hate, the "Don't-patronize-me-look," glaring like detonators in Danielle's eyes. Natalie was not trying to patronize her. She really meant it as a compliment. Tired of it all, Natalie had gone to bed early. She was sick of this battleground. This girl was a piece of work! Why had she gone looking for this child, who had never bothered to look for her? Mother and daughter or not, they were intimate strangers, caught in a dance of their DNA. There seemed to be no connecting ground, no common axis.
The sad thing was, now that Natalie had watched Danielle chew and witnessed her swallow her food even examined the life lines in her right palm, which mirrored the same long lines in her own she felt like she was drowning in an avalanche of pain. Now she really understood what she had lost with Danielle from not seeing the first step, the first lost tooth, or the first day off to school. Had she not had other children, she probably would not even know the depth of what she'd traded off. In exchange for Natalie's extended girlhood, she did not get the privilege of putting her fingerprints on and molding this human being. Now it was like she was giving birth to a grown woman, sort of like Eve, who came to the world fully realized, after she was taken out of Adam's rib. And whereas Adam had the pleasure of a companion, his soulmate, all she got was grief. The grief of an angry adult child.
Anna, the mediator, who had brought them back together as birth mother and adoptee, and who also happened to be an adoptive parent, said that the grief Natalie was experiencing was normal.
"This is the grief of thirty years," Anna had explained. She added, "In fact, something would be wrong with you if you weren't experiencing grief." Thinking of it, Natalie could sympathize with the parents of missing children whose innocent faces appeared on milk cartons in the grocery store. Not knowing whether their child was alive or dead. The only difference in her situation and that of those bereaved parents had been that, before her reunion with Danielle six months earlier, she could not have vouched for the last face shape of her child. Except for a foggy memory of a newborn, she had no idea what Danielle would look like. After years of fantasizing when she passed by baby carriages, or children who were the same age as her daughter would have been, she still had no idea. So it was like she was always haunted by a phantom.
And the irony of it all was that when she finally did met Danielle at LAX, this adult woman/child was strangely familiar. She looked like all of the ancestors rolled into one. Now, even with the elapse of the past six months of post-reunion, Natalie was still tormented by Danielle. Only this time she was in the flesh. Natalie remained in the bowels of a volcano more than she did on "Cloud-nine," as she'd called "The honeymoon period." To think that their reunion had started out like a dream come true. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. A find after a twelve-year search. A miracle!
"It's a girl!" Anna the mediator, had said, when she called Natalie at her civil service job. Natalie had screamed out loud sitting there at her desk, while her coworkers looked on, puzzled. She had to go into her absent supervisor's office and call Danielle back at the mediator's office. They both had cried and talked for an hour. Later, that night when Natalie made it home, they talked another four hours on the phone, with little concern for the long distance bill.
They made arrangements for Danielle to fly to Los Angeles within 3 weeks from their reunion. However, within a month following Danielle's first visit to Los Angeles, Natalie felt like she was dealing with an acting-out adolescent, hell-bent on getting even. Danielle called everyone in the birth family on both sides and began a campaign to destroy Natalie, or so it seemed. When she was with Natalie or even talked to her, she was taunting, vicious, and hateful.
"How dare you give me away? You should have went and lived in the streets with your baby."
Once Danielle even said, "You should have had an abortion."
"Then, you wouldn't be here," was Natalie's retort.
"Oh, yeah. Well, you still should have kept me." Then, Danielle would come back at her.
"What if I had died before you found me?"
"But you didn't."
"What if I had married one of my relatives and had a baby?"
"Well, you haven't married or had a baby yet."
By the third month, when their reunion had escalated into a virtual bloodbath, Natalie's older sister, Samantha, called her long distance. Samantha's words still prickled under her skin like an allergic reaction "Think of this as you and her going through a re-birthing. She is reliving all the stages of development that she didn't get to have with you. That was the two-year old talking last month. She sounds like she's getting up to about fifteen now." At the time, Samantha's words were little consolation. Although Danielle referred to their reunion in one of her letters, as "an ordeal," it had become an endless labor pain for Natalie. She wondered if she should write a screenplay called, "What they don't tell you about the aftermath of these Reunions you see on talk shows."
Unfortunately, Natalie, who needed to make her living as a writer, hadn't been able to write a word that made a megabyte of sense following this reunion.
There were days when Natalie wanted to say, "Forget it. Let's quit." But paradoxically, Natalie and Danielle were like the old marathon dancers during the depression, inextricably caught up in this macabre dance of desperation. Couldn't leave, couldn't let go of each other. Their relationship was as visceral as Natalie's pregnancy with Danielle had been.
Danielle's presence, which had always been a shadow in her memory, now loomed larger than life, demanding all that their thirty year separation had wrought in her. This was the mouth that did not get to nurse on Natalie's unsucked breasts, whose body left its tracks in the form of her many stretchmarks, and whose ghost had haunted all of her dreams.
Because Natalie was mother and Danielle was child, Natalie felt like Danielle was now sucking her phantom nipples for thirty years worth of sustenance, leaving her more battered, bruised, and bloody than when she had nursed Malik and Zaire. Oh could Danielle come at her with a gaping need! One which nearly floored her. Moreover, Danielle seemed hell-bent on destroying all Natalie's relationships, so that in a coup, she would get what she wanted in the first place. To have Natalie all to herself.
With each heartbeat, Natalie sometimes heard the mocking words, "Too little, too late, too little, too late." How many years would she remain hostage to the past? If she had served a jail sentence and paid her debt to society, wouldn't she be free? Well, when would she ever be free from her own past? Danielle seemed to need so much emotionally, Natalie wondered how could she fill the empty spaces without crippling her. She didn't want to spoil her anymore than she had obviously already been. The two women had a common DNA, a genetic affinity towards each other, yet they were strangers, which made everything so difficult.
Just before they checked into their hotel, after about a half-hour of silence, Natalie heard a low voice interrupting her musing.
"Your dressing was good. That's the first dressing I ever had as good as my Mama's."
For a moment, there was a truce.
Somehow, later that afternoon, Natalie and Danielle became separated in The Mirage casino. After a hearty lunch (which Danielle, in a moment of affection, treated Natalie to,) they both went off in different directions in order to play the slot machines. It never occurred to Natalie to ask Danielle to meet her at a specific point at a specific time. As many times as Natalie had gone to Vegas with her girlfriends, she had never had a problem finding her friends after they would disperse. But for some reason, she cannot find Danielle when she begins to want to check in with her two hours later. For the next four hours, Natalie searched inside and out the casino, but Danielle was no where to be found.
At first, Natalie didn't panic. After all, Danielle was a big girl. Then, as two more hours inched by, Natalie began to feel the edges of worry creeping around her ears. She got the same falling feeling in her stomach that she'd felt over the years when one of her other children were in danger. Call it intuition or mother's instinct, but she felt like something was wrong. For one, she knew that Danielle didn't know her way around Vegas. Second, Natalie remembered jokingly telling Samantha that if Danielle started a fight in Vegas, she'd might leave her daughter up there. Now, Natalie felt guilty for having called that into her world.
What if some stranger has kidnapped Danielle? What would her adoptive mother say? Natalie could just hear Corinne's voice in her mind.
"Sent my child out to Vegas with this woman and she lost her. As if it wasn't bad enough that she left her when she was a baby, now she's lost my child." Natalie's mind began to race and play tricks with her. She didn't see Danielle as a thirty year old anymore, but she saw her as about three years old. This separation triggered the same response she'd felt that time she'd lost three-year-old Zaire when they were at a convention. Or even worse, it reminded her of being separated from Danielle at birth. Natalie tasted the same panic, the same helplessness and loss in the pit of her stomach.
"Oh, my poor baby is going to feel abandoned again."
Natalie used the hotel's intercom system to page Danielle at least five times. There was so much clamoring, clanging, and ding-a-linga-linging in the casino that she couldn't even hear her voice over the intercom herself, so she knew that this was useless.
In desperation, Natalie walked over to the hotel across the street where they were checked in, and no one has seen Danielle. She left a message to have Danielle get the key and go in the room, as their rooms had not been cleaned when they checked in.
Dusk falls. She called long distance to Los Angeles to see if Zaire or Malik, who were staying at her house over the Thanksgiving holiday, had heard from Danielle. Natalie only got the answering machine.
At a loss for what to do, Natalie began to pray. "Let her be safe. I didn't mean it when I told her, we don't have to talk at all." She re-traces her steps and goes back to several of the stores where the two had shopped before going to the slot machines, but there is no sign of Danielle. Finally, in a moment of desperation, Natalie called the hotel again.
It felt strange when the hotel clerk says, "Yes, your daughter is here looking for you."
Natalie felt her body being bathed over in a tidal wave of relief. She loved the sounds of those words. "Your daughter." They are a symphony to her ears.
"Where have you been, Danielle? I've been looking all over for you."
"I've been playing the slot machines. I wasn't lost."
"Well, you stay right there. I'll be there in five minutes."
By the time Natalie made it to the hotel, she couldn't help but grab Danielle and hug and squeeze her to her chest. "I'm sorry, Boo."
Danielle looked puzzled. "I had hit for $200, but I spent it back, " she said excitedly. "Mama told me don't put my winnings back in the slot machine."
The next day, just before they leave Las Vegas, the two went to see a dolphin show. The baby dolphins were already three months old, but there was a film in one underground corridor which showed how the dolphins gave birth to their young. Shortly after the baby dolphin emerged from the mother dolphin's womb, even with the placenta still attached to it, the new life began to suckle on the mother. Instinctively, the baby dolphin followed the mother dolphin wherever she went underwater. It was like watching a ballet in the animal kingdom. So this is what we missed, Natalie mused to herself.
Six Months Later
Danielle picked up the phone and hung it up. She had not spoken to Natalie in three months, since that last blow up. She dialed the phone number out, punching each number like it was a bull's eye on a dartboard. Natalie finally answered on the other end.
"Natalie, don't you hang up on me." Danielle knew that Natalie had a bad habit of keeping the phone unplugged or not talking to her just when she really wants to tell her off. She hated her.
Finally, she hears a human voice, the one she's wanted to hear for the past month. "Look, Danielle, what makes you think that the world revolves around you?"
Although she was satisfied to have a human voice respond to her, particularly that of her birth mother, Danielle had to raise her voice and give a smart repartee.
"What do you mean? The world does not revolve around you either. And I think you think your other kids are better than me."
"I never said that."
"I wished you had never come looking for me."
"Then why are you calling me hanging up?"
"Look, you don't have anything and you have come and jeopardized my standing with my adoptive family."
"So are you saying they own you?"
"Well, they might disown me now. Here you come looking for me, as if you had your self-together, and then you have dropped me. You just wanted to see baby pictures of me."
"Your baby pictures are fine. But the pictures of us doing things together now mean more to me. Those are our new memories."
"No, they don't. You are always stepping out of your bounds. That's why I can't stand you."
"Good. Because you know what? Kicking my ass and being in my life are no longer congruent." To Danielle's satisfaction, Natalie's voice had raised, just before she slammed the phone down in Danielle's ear.
Danielle paused before she pushed re-dial. No, she didn't want to wait another month to call. She didn't want to call and breathe in the phone. She decided to call right back. Something inside of her made her realize she would have to humble herself if she wanted to get back in Natalie's good graces. She had apologized about a month ago for calling Natalie "bitch," and Natalie had begun to talk to her. That is, until her last time she called and "went off" on her about 2 weeks ago.
"I'm sorry, Natalie. But I feel like you are putting Zaire over me." There, she had apologized again. Even if she didn't mean it, it felt good.
"That's the same thing Zaire says about you. That you called me 'bitch' on my answering machine is something she can't get away with and she's grown but I still sent you a gift at Easter time. I told her that you had apologized before we made up. Look, neither one of you have ever had a sister, and I'm tired of each one of you trying to pit me against the other one." And somehow, Danielle noticed, they were beginning to talk again, for the first time since her holiday visit. They were almost cooing at each other, like they did in the honeymoon period of the reunion. There is peace, at least for now.
As twilight zone as it sometimes felt to deal with Natalie, Danielle now knew the void she felt in her birth mother's absence when they were not communing. Because of this, sometimes Danielle wished Natalie had never found her. Because when they fell out now, it was like double rejection. But Natalie had explained over and over to Danielle, "I am not rejecting you, I'm rejecting your behavior. It's unacceptable. Don't mistake me with the powerless fifteen- year old I was when I had you."
For the moment, Danielle decided she would even learn to tolerate Natalie's aggravating way of telling anecdotes and digressing from the point so much until you wanted to say, "Com'on already. I don't want to know all about the wallpaper in the story, and ring around the rosy, get to the point." But it was all worth it to hear the way Natalie could affectionately call her, "Boo."
* * *
In her dream, Natalie hears a crying, inconsolable baby, and she knows it is Danielle. She creeps stealthily to the crib, knowing she plans to steal the baby when she gets there, but when she does, she finds the bed empty. Yes, this is the baby I left, her subconscious tells her in her dream. I am trying to steal her back.
The next day Natalie discussed the dream with her sister, Samantha.
"That's your new baby, that screenplay you're not getting written. Your time is being stolen."
"I can't help it."
Natalie hung up the phone with Samantha. No one seemed to understand what she and Danielle were going through. Even Zaire, who, since their first sisterly fight, refused to communicate with Danielle for the past four months, had said, "Danielle is so fraudulent. A real drama queen."
But how could she not help but be that way, Natalie wondered? Danielle's birth certificate, which had been sealed, changed her whole genetic identity. How could Danielle be whom she was, when she had never really known her own family tree?
Thinking of it, Natalie was surprised at how insensitive all of her family and friends were to her plight. "Oh, get over it," they all said. "You two have now. You can't get back the past."
All of that was true, but those feelings that went with all that loss and betrayal had to be played out. It was the same with her work. Natalie had a case of writer's block so bad, she felt creatively constipated. Didn't Samantha know that Natalie would gladly sit and pop out a new screenplay if she could? But right now, she and Danielle had to go through this bloodletting, this catharsis, until they were finally healed. Only Natalie seemed to see the scar maternal deprivation had left on Danielle's soul, in spite of all the flowery adoption language about "the best interest of the child." But how could Natalie change the past? In spite of her own pain, Natalie felt at the time, the decision to relinquish Danielle had been in both of their best interests. There were no schools for unwed mothers, no day cares for high school girls like there were in the 80's and 90's. Natalie had been given a chance to complete her education and Danielle had been given a chance to be a "chosen child," instead of an unwanted one. A bastard, as people clearly called a child born to an unmarried mother back then.
And over all, Natalie was glad Danielle had been loved. She could tell from how spoiled Danielle was, she'd had a family who, if anything, catered to her. But it was Danielle's lack of concern for others and her sense of entitlement which astounded Natalie. Was this the result of being separated from her mother at birth? She'd never even held Danielle in her arms. Was there a primordial memory of loss for the infant, for not being touched by the one whose voice she'd heard for nine months from the womb?
Given the situation, Natalie had begun to realize that she couldn't have the same rights with Danielle that she had with her other subsequent children. It didn't hit her all at once where she could say, like a watershed, on this day, I changed and I knew this to be true. No, it was a gradual, beating of the waves of their reunion, like the surf breaking on the shore, that she came to understand. Because she did not stay, she did not have that privilege of being critical. She had earned the right to be critical with the others, because she was always there for them, and they had never been left behind. In return for this, Natalie had been rewarded with their tolerance, a kind of naturalness. They loved her in spite of her imperfections. Zaire and Malik laugh good-naturedly at her idiosyncrasies, whereas Danielle found Natalie's shortcomings to be the subjects of her long lost daughter's contempt and criticism.
When she looked back, Natalie saw a long, winding trail. The search had taken twelve long years. Over those years, she had suffered, changed, and grown. Perhaps this was what the delays had been about. She had to be strong enough to handle this young woman's rejection and rage. Danielle has come into her life at a time when Natalie had the healthiest boundaries she'd ever had.
For when Danielle was born, Natalie knew no boundaries no delineation saying that "I am worthy," Hence, since she had not felt worthy, it was easy to sabotage her life through her body and by her choice of a man. The irony was that now, because Natalie had a strong understanding of what was abusive, and what was not, she drew the line with Danielle. And contemplating it, Natalie knew that this she was taking a risk, which could cause her to lose Danielle again only after a year of reunion. But that was the chance she had to take for the greater good.
Natalie remembered telling Danielle after their second visit last summer, "This time it is 'til I die or you die."
Still, Danielle was like a porcupine, throwing out her quills, daring anyone to get too close to her for fear they may find her unlovable and leave her again. Poor baby, Natalie thought, you were never meant to be rejected. Your adoption was supposed to give you a chance in life.
Natalie had never realized the power of the call of blood. Just as the baby dolphin had blindly followed his mother, Danielle, for all of her kicking and screeching, was here to stay. Thinking about Danielle's rocky beginning, Natalie wondered if her daughter would ever blossom into the full flower she could be, but then again, who does?
Natalie decided that she would just be patient. In time, Danielle would find her truths for herself. And when she did, maybe she would learn that in the territory of the heart, one day her gaps would be filled.
Two Years Later
"Happy Birthday, Danielle." Natalie had made the call, thinking of how different this year was from Danielle's last birthday, her thirty-first one. What a difference the thirty-second birthday had brought!
"Hi, good to hear from you, Natalie."
"Almost called you last night. You know you were born right after midnight."
"Well, my novel is coming along fine." Danielle was working on her second re-write of her novel. Seeing that Natalie was a writer, had unleashed her closet writing skills.
"Good. I can't wait to read the re-write."
"Why don't you get in touch with this Entertainment Group? They are looking for scripts. I just read about it in a magazine." Danielle was always helping to promote Natalie's career. For all her criticism, Natalie had discovered that Danielle was one of her most staunch fans and supporters. And thinking back, after about a year of writer's block, her writing had returned renewed, stronger than ever. Likewise, after a schism, Danielle had returned, in a healing mode, healthier and wanting a relationship.
"Thanks. That's real nice of you." Natalie felt peace settling down like an old, well-worn comforter around her soul.
"After all. You are my mom."
Maxine E. Thompson was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, but has resided in Los Angeles, California since 1981. After graduating from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, she worked as a Child Protective Services social worker for twenty-three years, first in Detroit, then later in Los Angeles. Ms. Thompson attempted her first novel, The Hidden Sword, at the age of 16, when she was the first black student to integrate St. Francis High, an all white school, in Traverse City, Michigan in 1967. In 1989, Ms. Thompson became a recipient of an honorable mention in Ebony's first writing contest for her short story, "Valley of the Shadow. " In 1994, she won an ward for her short story, "The Rainbow, " through the International Black Writers' Association (IBWA). In 1996, she was also a recipient of a PEN award. She received certificates of merit for outstanding achievement in Writer's Digest's Self-Publishing Contests in 1995 and 1997. She has had poems, short stories, and articles published in e-zines, national magazines and anthologies. She is the author of two novels, The Ebony Tree and No Pockets in a Shroud . She writes an on-line column, On The Same Page, which promotes the work of new and self-published writers. Her web site is located at www.angelfire.com/ca2/blackbutterflypress.
Windy on Mars ~ Greyhound
The Woman Whose Lover Kept Leaking Her Love
Dance of the DNA
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of Creative Women