Dear One Heart
Sitting in this clinic is like sitting in a hole without a floor. No top. No bottom. No walls to touch. No light. Just darkness. I know. He said he’d be here an hour ago and he’s not here yet. At least I have Reuben to talk to, but Reuben can’t talk back. All he can do is open and close his little mouth and barely wave his little wrinkled hands attached to his caramel colored, wrinkled, short arms.
Mama hollered at me this morning again, the same way she has been doing every since Reuben’s been around. I don’t understand, because before Reuben came she was cool, even when she found out Marcello and me was having sex at his house when his Mama wasn’t at home. Marcello, I call him Cello for short, ain’t a bad person. He just leads this charmed life with a charmed smile that appears constantly cause the all the girls like him like that. It doesn’t help that he plays on the team and starts.
That’s why when he started to talk to me, nobody could believe it. I just stood there in the school cafeteria like a mute, posturing with my feet and hands acting like he didn’t mean nothing to me. When all the while on the inside my stomach was bubbling and I thought I was gonna throw up all over the floor. Later on that week after an afternoon game, Cello let it be known that we were kicking it. I don’t really understand the game as much as he thinks. I just always clap and holler like everybody else when he scores a basket. He’s tall and gangly, about six feet, five inches. His skin is smooth and Hershey brown chocolate.
Sometimes, when he’s trying to talk and make a point, he gets excited and embarrassed and stutters. I just tell him to take a deep breath and start all over again saying what he wants to say. He’s been in special education classes since we were in 3rd grade. His boys kid him sometimes about being so dark, but he says Michael Jordan’s dark so it doesn’t make any difference to him. Seems like most people hang around him just because he’s so good at playing ball. Me, I’m light-skinned—high yellow, my granny always says; then she laughs. She don’t mean no harm, but mama always cuts her eyes at Granny when she teases me about my complexion and sucks her teeth.
Mama had me when she was only sixteen. Never married my daddy, but they still keep in touch. They split up when I was only 3, so I don’t remember a whole lot about that time. He moved to California and works construction. He sends money when he can. When he heard that I was pregnant with Reuben, he came back to Chicago and stayed for a few days. He came by the house, but he didn’t say much. He just sat there looking at me every once in awhile and chain smoking Newports and drinking Martel. He and Granny don’t get along. Granny says he ain’t got good sen and drinks too much. Then, they got into an argument and she told him to get the hell out and go back to his family in Cali and to never come back. She told him Cello looks and smells too much like him. “Cut from the same cloth,” Granny said. He must have been hurt behind that because he hasn’t been back since. I saw his number pop up on my phone a couple of times. I answered but hung up when I didn’t hear nothing on the other end. Daddy’s never seen Reuben up close, only the pictures I sent him.
* * *
Here comes Nurse Gloria. She’s nice. Not like some of the other nurses I’ve met since I been coming here. Nurse Gloria even met Mama and Granny and told them she’d take good care of me. She’s built like my granny—wide hips, and big round sturdy, strong legs. Her gray black hair speaks the same wisdom that Granny has. It’s almost like she knew me and Reuben before the first time we came here. Reuben was crying and teething, but when she took him from me, he stopped and fell into a peaceful sleep. I say she’s like Granny because no matter what happens, she’ll stand there, hands on hips and shake her head and say, “Y’all just don’t know do you?” Well, what am I sposed to know anyway? Granny always speaks like that.
Rueben is awoke now. His dark brown eyes dart back and forth from one side to the other. I use my index finger to give him an eye test, just to see if he follows. He does. I wonder if he dreams like me. What would he dream about anyway? I dream a lot since I had him. In my dreams, I’m falling off a cliff and I can’t catch myself. The cliff is steep and runs down into the ocean. I never drown. I just float when I hit the water. The waves are walls of hearts, pink, yellow, red and blue. There’s music playing like that same music Mama plays when she’s depressed. That same muted-trumpet sound, low and moaning like a voice in the wind, off in the distance. Suddenly I’m in a whirlpool. Waves shower me, whip me like a rag. I can’t swim and I’m scared. I cry like Reuben, flail my arms. I can’t breathe. The water fills my lungs and comes back out through my nose like snot. The pain shoots to my forehead. It feels full, it’s going to burst. Then, I wake up, sweating and grasping at the sheets like I’m falling off the bed and onto the floor. I look over at Reuben to see if he’s still safe in his crib. He is. I realize that I’ve been dreaming and calm down my breathing and my heart.
* * *
I look up at the clock. Cello, will you come on? It’s one forty-five—still no Cello. He’s one hour, forty minutes late. I rock Reuben and try to think of a song to sing to him, but can’t. So, I look at the walls. Besides the steel blue pamphlet rack leaning against it, there’s a fire extinguisher with posters behind it about HIV and AIDS and mononucleosis and shaken baby syndrome and SIDS and birth rates and mortality rates and heart disease and everything else that I need to know. How can anybody remember all of that? It’s too much! It’s enough trying to remember the homework I get for the homeschooling that will end in a couple of months. I have to go back to graduate on time.
I was planning on going to college right after I graduate, but now I don’t know. Cello says he got a scholarship, but I ain’t seen no paperwork, no letters or nothing. Every time I bring it up, he kind of goes into his shell and says he’s got a headache and needs to go. My granny might just be right about him. I hope not.
Like I say, he’s pretty much a nice guy. I don’t think his teachers or his family understand him like I do. He’ll come by sometimes and we’ll sit on the porch, playing with Reuben and watching the cars speed past. He thinks he might not be a good daddy ’cause he never knew his own daddy. He don’t know if he’s dead or alive. He says his mama never mentions him and nobody else in his family does either. I tell him that I don’t really know my own daddy that well; I mean I know who he is but I just really don’t know him. I just know he sends some money every now and then, but it ain’t much cause me and Mama and Granny still struggling like everybody else out here.
One night, Cello got deep on me and started crying and said that he wanted to know his daddy—really wanted to know him. What was he like? Did he look like him? Did he crave chocolate cake like him? Did he stutter like him? Cello favors his mom in color, but not in height. He thinks that maybe his father was tall like him and played ball too. He was wondering if he was special education too. Then, what got me was when Cello said that maybe that’s why he don’t take to taking on responsibility like he should. He said he knows that sometimes when he’s with his boys, hanging out and doing nothing, he knows he should be with me and Reuben. I nodded my head in agreement but felt sad for him at the same time. Seems like he can’t do no better than he does no matter how hard he tries sometimes. I rubbed stroked his forehead like Granny does mine when I’m depressed.
But it does seem like he’s never there when I need him. Like the time I came running into the clinic one morning, moaning and crying like Reuben.
Nurse Gloria asked, “What’s wrong?”
I said, “Every time I feed Reuben, he throws up all over himself. I mean, I know babies do that, but…”
She cut me off, “Baby girl, little ones like him do that, especially when you feed them too much. Their stomachs are only so big. They can’t take a lot of food like us. There’s no place else for it to go ’cept right back up. Here, let me take him. Clean him up—be right back, okay?”
Nurse Gloria must have a hundred kids—she always knows what to do. Nowadays, I follow the recommended serving amount on the package and try not to feed him every time he cries. Nurse Gloria said it’ll only spoil him if I do. It’s going on two o’clock and the afternoon appointments start rolling in. Here comes Sabrina, one in her stroller—and one in the oven. Sabrina was on her second one. I don’t know how she does it. I can hardly handle one. We say hello and she takes a seat. We know each other from way back in grammar school. Graduated 8th grade together. We were freshman, then started the second year and then she left when she got pregnant with her first child and hasn’t been back. I heard that she went to the pregnant school for girls for awhile, but got kicked out for smoking weed. I wonder what she does all day. Never heard that she works at all. Mama knows her Mama, but she don’t talk too much about her at all, except to downgrade her. Mama used to always say that if I ever took after Sabrina, she’d break my neck. Link card and all. Well, now I got my baby and the link.
Cello, will you come on? Sabrina’s cool, but I never really hung around her after graduation. When we went to high school, she hooked up with some girls who were trouble makers and well known around the school for starting shit with any and everybody. Her son is 3 and hyper. Granny would say he’s got ants in his pants. I watch her and him out of the corner of my eye, trying not to be obvious. Every time she calms him down, she just stares off to the side towards the entry door, cursing to her phone and focusing on the black and white floor patterns with a far off, pained look on her face. Granny always says if you want to see how somebody looks for real, look at them while they’re in pain. That’s when you see the real person. I hope Reuben ain’t hyper like that. Late at night, when he’s asleep, I just stand there by his crib and look at him, wondering what he’ll be like when he’s older. Maybe he’ll be a teacher. A doctor? A lawyer? President? I don’t know.
If Reuben could talk, I wonder what he’d say. I’ve wondered that ever since the day that the doctor handled him from me amidst all the blood and shit. Did he say goodbye to God just before he came into the world? Did the lights bother him? How does he see me when he looks at me? Does he see the same thing that Mama sees? I started asking Mama these questions after we came home. She just looked dumbfounded and then looked at me like I was crazy. I guess so, me, laying there looking and feeling like somebody had jacked me up and left me for dead. A couple days later, I overheard Mama on the phone talking to Aunt Jonnie about how she was really worried about me and she might make me go to see a doctor if I kept on talking and asking stupid questions about Reuben. I just threw it out of my head, went back into my room and sat on my bed. I sat there and watched Reuben. He laid there and I think he was smiling. He was trying to reach out or grab something I couldn’t see. His eyes looked beyond. He was just having a good time. Granny says that when babies did that, they were playing with the angels that hovered just above them.
Cello, will you come on? Every time I’d screw up and feel like the world is doing me wrong, Granny’ll say, “Honey, God gave us two hearts. One to put out there to the world cause it’s gonna get broke. The other one? Well, that’s yours for safe keeping.”
Then she’ll rub my forehead with soft hands and keep braiding my hair in a circle. When she braids it this way, she says, it’s so everything will always come back to me.
Terry Clark: "I live and work in Chicago. I hold a BGS from Wartburg College and a Masters of Arts in English from Chicago State University. My publications include poetry and short stories with poeticdiversity; New Scriptor Journal; Taj Mahal Review; Art&Prose, Expressions from Englewood and Timbooktu.com."