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Essay

YOU WERE HOLDING THE BEEF DIP you had brought to the vegetarian potluck when I met you. The potluck was the lunch hour of the day-long birthing class at our midwife’s cabin. Through the large window behind the kitchen sink I saw the snow falling heavy and wet on the woods behind her home. I read your nametag as you looked for an opening on the counter. You wore a little silver cross around your pale neck, awkward against the neckline of your pink sweatshirt. Your belly was round, your skin clear, the shape of your chin lovely. You were so young. You caught me looking and opened yourself with an earnest smile.

I learned that you were eighteen, a decade my junior. Just married and living in one of the old iron towns I had not yet heard of. An evangelical Christian. You said so casually, as if I were too. I slumped. You had found me out.

Now, the midwife was an evangelical, too. From the beginning I had known this, but she was atypical—a strict vegetarian and champion skier, eccentric in other ways. Yes, she stocked salvation tracts in her bathroom as if they were necessary as toilet paper. But she had been recommended to me just as I figured she’d been recommended to you: she knew how to get babies out. My local hospital was notorious, at least in my circle, for doing that same thing badly. Despite statistical warnings about the safety of home births, I drove hours across snowy wilderness to her remote cabin and trusted that she would drive hours to see me when it was time. If there was one thing all the women in that class had in common, it was that.

You told me your husband worked at Walmart. He had to commute, you said, because your town did not have its own Walmart yet. You did not work.

Hungry mothers pushed into the kitchen. Expecting fathers made small talk near the uterus diagram. Glass lids and aluminum covers were lifted from lentils, eggs, pastas, mashed turnips, marinated kale sprinkled with walnuts, the earliest ramps, goji berries. It was too crowded for me to maneuver my third-trimester belly away from you. We learned our due dates were close. Three weeks apart. Me first.

“Was it planned?” you asked, bouncy, joyous.

I nodded. Yes, it was. Down to the week. You waited for me to ask the same. I pictured your town on a map, and if I was thinking of the right place it was the tiny speck between the lakes, far from my larger speck of a town, where I was attending graduate school while my husband worked for a food co-op by day, a steakhouse by night.

You volunteered to me that you hadn’t been not trying, but had left it up to God. I smiled, for I knew how things would have gone in my own bed in a different marriage, if I had wed at eighteen. But I had not, and in my early adulthood I came to realize that if I were leaving anything to God, it certainly was not sex.

You asked me how I liked our midwife. Fine. I assumed that, like me, you qualified for Medicaid and could have done all this for free. And I wondered if, like me, you were paying the full three thousand to the midwife. I mentioned none of this but did say, “I also see a doctor.”

“Oh,” you said, shaking your head. “I went to a doctor, once.” Way back in your first trimester, you’d taken the single trip to the OB.

“The first thing she said was, ‘We can get rid of this!’”

After the appointment you called the midwife, like you had known deep down you should have done right away.

“I made sure to not waste any more time with that abortionist.”

Abortionist. I knew that word. At your age I had used words like that, and secular and sanctified, back when I imagined my life’s work on the mission field. But my faith changed. You might have said it failed, and if that was so, maybe I had never been saved at all, because God does not let go of whom he has captured.

I didn’t want to hear anything you had to say. Our roots were too similar. Our lives were too different. Perhaps you were born to miners—I never asked. I was born to a factory worker and a secretary, in a warm state where children like me were funneled straight into college, no matter how steep the debt. My church told me about hell, but in high school they also drove my friends and me around our state to tour colleges, including the Christian university I took out loans to attend when I was your age.

You talked about common sense, God, getting back to basics. I tried to creep away but could not. You told me about the persecution you faced as a young Christian mother. How you would shut out all that noise, trust in the Lord, and it would be okay.

I did not believe you, and yet somehow you were forcing loose everything I had bound and hidden and promised to never think on again, but the dust had not ever really settled. I would not escape my past. I feared your words would catch me, wrap themselves around my thin, moist neck. When I had worked so hard.

“I have never felt so much like a woman. I truly believe I am exactly where I am supposed to be, in this kitchen, right where God wants me.”

The midwife made her way into the mess and blessed the meal. We held hands. After the prayer a line began to form. You still held your dish, and you shrugged at me, smiling.

It all came so naturally for you, I thought, much later.

In the ten years before my pregnancy, I had slowly torn myself away from my family, church folk, myself—I wanted to be better. When I conceived, I agonized about where to seek medical care, and no decision ever seemed right. I wanted to be a good feminist. I wanted to believe in science. I wanted to remember, too, the biases of doctors and researchers and institutions. And then, after my child was born—what would I tell her about God? Everything was a struggle.

Standing next to you at the potluck, I could not shake the feeling of having drawn the short stick. I had imagined meeting educated women, women who’d traveled the world working on farms and liked to make yogurt and clothes and social change. Women who articulated their choice to birth with a midwife in different terms. But the midwife’s following was wider than I would have liked to believe. It included you. Both of us, due the same month, with the same midwife, in the same patch of near wilderness. If I had told you all this at the potluck, as we stood too close for comfort, might you have said: See how the Lord calls you back now?

Over heads, I eyed the couple with whom my husband was chatting. They had not yet moved into line. I backed away from you to find them laughing at a joke I had missed.

These folks still held their dish, an appropriate chickpea something. They were older than me, well into their thirties, with the easy grace of just enough wealth. The wife’s rosy face was free of makeup, her expanding second-trimester middle draped in high-end minimalist maternity wear. Ecology professors? Homesteaders? More of what I had in mind. (I never saw them again.)

As we ate, I heard you tell your story to another woman. She seemed more receptive than I had been.

Class resumed. In the second half, the midwife ceased to talk about the mechanics of birthing. She explained the God-given gift of immunity while holding up a worn Xeroxed pamphlet titled “Should You Trust Vaccines?” My husband squeezed my knee, irritated.

At one point the ecologist wrinkled her face and asked a question the midwife could not answer. By the end of the class the midwife seemed to have run out of teaching points, and she concluded with a story: An Amazonian tribal woman’s milk was administered, drop by drop, onto the pale tongue of a sick missionary. The midwife did not know to which tribe this woman belonged, or if this nursing mother had consented to the man’s treatment.

“But he healed in full,” she told us. I had recently felt the swelling of my breasts, seen the first drops of leaked colostrum sticky on the bedsheets in the morning. “There is power in your milk.”

I saw you nod, moved, as you slumped into the midwife’s couch, sipping from a two-liter bottle of soda, after the earlier lectures on nutrition, exercise, and ideal fetal positioning. I rested my hand on my taut abdomen, received my baby’s punches and kicks. When I visualized your labor, I saw writhing, shaking, thighs lacking muscle, milky eyes, weakness. I decided you were not the woman to be birthing at home.

Perhaps, for me, birth would feel like an orgasm, like the hippie books promised, or maybe not. But I needed you to be high risk, so I could be low risk. I imagined my own cervix contracting with ease, and I watched you, judged you, from my stolid butterfly posture on the hardwood floor.

 

The birth drew nearer, and I knew that to survive I must embrace my mammal body and instincts. This was sacred. I had a sense that during birth what was human in me would slip, if only for a few hours, and I would be defined by organs, breathing patterns and noises, hair, openings, blood, and cord. I underestimated this phenomenon, its toll.

At thirty-seven weeks, the midwife began requiring weekly visits to her home. I protested the three-hour drive, reminding her that I saw a doctor, too. The midwife would stare back at me, saying with her eyes, You signed up for this. The snow began to melt in a final way, and the roads were slush, lined with unlucky animals whose migrations had been forever thwarted.

Each week I wondered what I had signed up for, as my husband drove and I rubbed my throbbing back and swelling legs. I’d heard stories of the hospital, tales of episiotomies, botched epidurals, women who thought they could have gotten through if they’d just been given a bite to eat or allowed to get out of bed. Yet in the last months of my pregnancy I’d heard good hospital stories, too—women who labored at home with their doula, checked in with their doctor on the phone, and went to the hospital when the time was right. I’d also heard the stories of thankful women whose life-or-death complications had been handled with precision and dignity. Was it insane to be driving through thick woods with a near-term child to see a midwife in her cabin? But I’d made the nonrefundable bet to have my baby in my living room, unfettered by tubes and wires, clocks and rules.

What an unnecessary problem. There were places–cities where I had resided–where birthing worlds could meet, where choices did not have to feel so extreme. I should not have needed to spend all my savings on the birth. But this was where I found myself having a child, in your strange corner of the United States, where a little school had offered me a little money.

 

I had an appointment scheduled for June 5. On the morning of June 3, my due date, the midwife called.

“Do you remember Kara, from birthing class?”

She invited me to your home, right then. You were in labor, the midwife said. If I came now, we could cancel my next appointment, which meant far less driving for me. I did not think about your feelings. I packed food and water in the car, grabbed the only jacket I could still fit over my belly, picked up my husband from work, and left town.

I had been busy and had not thought of you much. But my memory of you was clear. I shifted in my seat, unable to get comfortable, feeling sorry for myself because it was my due date but you were the one readying for birth. My irritation gave way to relief that at least you would be done, that when it was my turn I would have the midwife to myself.

We left the gray highway in your town and entered your neighborhood of weather-worn homes. From down the street I could see the midwife leaning against her red rusted Subaru, eating a protein bar. We parked behind her. A pretty young mother with blonde dreadlocks, a wooden cross strung on fraying hemp snug around her neck, a Jesus fish tattoo on her ankle, and a baby on her hip stood near the midwife. A few young children surrounded them. Across the street stood a crumbling brick church, people passing through its open doors. A seasoned, meaty smell in the air, a barking black dog tied up in your front yard. He lunged at us. I saw rotting porches rising from tulip-and-snow-patched soils. Neighbors waiting, watching.

The midwife was known here, it seemed. A visiting celebrity. As children in the street looked up at her in awe, it became clear to me that long before the midwife had become popular in my college town, she’d been a staple of rural communities, of the woods, of this beautiful, mine-wounded land. I felt fooled, for somehow thinking I’d purchased something different.

“Congratulations,” the pretty mother said as I exited the car. Her nose ring glinted in the sun. “She delivered all of my babies, too,” she said, sizing up my roundness. The woman’s smile was warm. For a moment I imagined a world in which we were friends, a world where I asked her questions about breastfeeding and she taught you and me both to knit tiny socks while listening to Christian folk music.

The midwife ushered my husband and me into your house. Empathy escaped me. Had you read the midwife’s instructions for birth readying the home? Had you stuffed the checklist in a drawer and told yourself you’d think about it later? Wasn’t there anyone you could have asked for help? The living room’s state bewildered me.

For weeks I had been sterilizing towels and sheets by baking them on low in paper bags. Worried that the midwife and my doula would get hungry if the labor was long, I had poured protein-rich purees into ice pop molds, labeling them “vegan” and “gluten-free” to suit their dietary preferences. If my husband misplaced something, I scolded, and on non-vacuuming days, I lint-rolled the couch. The birthing supplies—gloves, medical jelly, iodine sponges, extra-large sanitary napkins—were ready on the stand next to the bed. A day shy of thirty-nine weeks, we had gone to sleep with dirty dishes and I had cried: what if I was caught unawares, and after all my hard work had to labor in a pigsty?

And now, I could have combed your carpet for treasures, except they would not have been treasures. Canned tobacco, empty soda bottles, fast food wrappers, DVDs, stray pieces of candy littered every surface. Christ. There were babies coming. This was no place for an open body, an emerging baby. Your husband was at work, the midwife said. You groaned from the back of the house, while I sat on the sofa, crumbs pricking through my jeans. The midwife only wanted to check vitals and measurements, to say hello to the baby, but if she’d hoped for an internal exam I would have flatly refused. My rage moved from you to the midwife: How could she let you be so dirty?

When you emerged, your face was pink and you looked tired. But not like a woman in labor. The midwife casually encouraged you to cross the street for the church’s taco night, bad meat and all. I knew right then it was a false alarm. Labor had not even started. I saw on your face a flash of shame and fear. It was terror—not an imminent baby—keeping the midwife in your home.

I thanked you without eye contact. You kind of smiled, said, “Yeah,” then slipped on a pair of drug-store soccer sandals and walked out the front door.

 

Four days after my daughter was due, I walked miles in sunshine, heavy and unafraid. I ate and drank what I wanted and watched the great blue lake heave forth her last frozen chunks. They floated out from her secret middle, chilling the shore, though it was June. Young women in bikinis lay on the driest patches of sand.

 

The startling passage began. In the night my body roared awake to birth. I got down on my hands and knees and grunted.

I told my husband to call the midwife. She would climb the carpeted stairs of my broken-down, tar-papered apartment building to our small unit, which smelled of lavender, which looked as beautiful as a place with crumbling door frames and dented walls could. A single candle sat on the table my husband had built with lumber salvaged from a gutted Red Lobster. A houseplant hung from the ceiling in a plastic pot gummy from the peeled-off price tag. My visiting mother slept in the tiny office, and in the living room our thin mattress was positioned just so over the duct-taped carpet. A lovely mobile made of string and leather triangles dangled high over the white crib. There turned out to be lead on the walls, but not dust. The midwife would think I’d done well with what I’d been given.

As I stretched into a contraction, my husband said, “Oh,” into the phone. I looked up. He paced into the kitchen. I did not follow, instead breathing through my pain. My husband came back frowning. The midwife was headed to you, one hundred miles away. You, in labor, again.

I went back to bed. I could not be in labor if you were. My husband believed this, too. I cursed you to complications serious enough to send you to the hospital and out of the midwife’s grasp.

 

Of course, my labor did not stop. As my husband slept I did cat-cows on the bed, pushing out any feelings, becoming animal. I surprised myself when I shrieked. Surely I could not be letting go so early. I smashed my head into my pillow. Then I was electrified and we entered the next phase of our lives.

My husband sat up, waiting for me to speak. Suddenly I dreaded the midwife’s presence. I wanted to crawl into a dark closet and do it all myself.

“Call her again,” I said anyway.

He did. From across the room I saw his face fall, and then he was not there. Another contraction, faster, harder. My husband was downstairs and outside, and I needed him back. My mother still slept in the other room, and I did not want to wake her. I walked to the open window, where I could hear my husband’s words but not full sentences. I stood shaking, remembering the sounds I was supposed to make to stifle the pain. What scared me was not so much how my body hurt as how much energy labor required.

Another contraction. My husband came back. And what did he say? That our midwife was going to invite you to our one-bedroom apartment. That we would labor alongside each other.

I laughed.

But my husband nodded, yes. The midwife couldn’t be in two places at once.

“No,” I cried. “Don’t let her in.”

My husband went back outside. My mother came out in her pajamas to see if I was okay. I did not want her to know about the conflict, though of course she had overheard. We paced. A few minutes later my husband returned and told us the midwife would arrive in about ninety minutes, and that he had called the doula over too. He said nothing about you, and I did not ask. My mother hugged me, said she’d get up again with us soon.

I settled in as best I could to the work of birthing a child. My contractions were progressing. Yours, I supposed, were not.

 

After twelve hours of contractions, I was nearly fully dilated. “Not bad,” said the midwife, nodding her head and smiling while checking my cervix. She asked my mother and husband to set up the birthing tub. She promised me an afternoon of recovery and food and love, a baby at my breast.

Then, unexpected wind blew the fire I thought I was controlling. At first I thought it was transition. But it was a different kind of burn, a hot blue fire that was not productive. It took me a moment to realize I was screaming, and then I could not stop. The midwife looked inside. Her face fell. “Four,” she said. “I’m so sorry—you’re back to four.” The midwife told my mother not to bother with the tub. There had been a mishap inside of me and she would need to monitor my child’s heart rate regularly.

So I began again, but with each new contraction, my baby’s head became a bulge in my lower back. My doula and husband helped me brace for the pain. I vomited, shat. I could not urinate. I heard “posterior” whispered. I did not know what this term meant for me. I did know that my tailbone was being ground down to broken. That there was no more careful breathing, only screaming, like in bad comedies with stereotypical births. I escaped to the bathroom, alone, and gripped the sink, awakened screws once snug in the wall. Saw myself in the mirror, all my quirks and tastes and desires—inconsequential. This was how, in history and forever, women fucking died.

I did not think about you.

Around hour sixteen, the midwife told me I was getting close. I lay on a large napkin on the floor, barely breathing between sobs. I had lost control of my mind and organs and was wishing for drugs and surgeons and anything or anyone who could stop the pain.

At this point, the midwife suggested, again, that you come over.

“No!”

“But she’s already on her way,” the midwife said, voice flat.

“No, no, no, no!”

“She’s twenty minutes out. I have to check her progress.”

The midwife left the room. The doula rubbed my back. “No,” I wept after her from where I lay. “She can’t come in.”

Nobody answered me.

I lay there a while longer. My husband took a break in the bathroom and the doula told me the midwife had to be downstairs for a bit. I heard a car idling on the street, the slamming of doors.

I was conscious enough to figure out it was you down there, aching in your car in front of my crumbling home. I closed my eyes.

By evening, I was fully dilated. But when I pushed, nothing happened. The midwife took the doula away to whisper. My body was not working. I had not urinated since the afternoon, a weak trickle. Please, I begged the midwife, do something. I don’t care. Cut it out.

I continued to push for five hours. The midwife looked grim.

“I’m going to try one more thing,” she said.

 

Nearly forty weeks earlier, a young albino doe stood ahead of me on the bike path. I squeezed my breaks and we made eye contact. The world is not a love letter from God and neither was the doe. But still, I knew, then.

Then she was a flash disappearing into spent thimbleberry bushes. I rode on, to buy the pregnancy test. My slim wheels turned with my thoughts, of what if it was true, of what if it was not, of what my husband would say, of how I would need to stop drinking so much coffee and wine.

I would carry a child in an unfamiliar and cold lakeside land. I worried about hunting season and realized I had no idea when it began, or if it ended. I did not worry about getting a child out, though.

And then, late one frigid night, I drove the shore-side road with my husband after his shift at the steakhouse. I was four months pregnant. We shared an orange from my grandmother’s tree, a priority parcel received the day before. A solar storm’s faint purple green pulse swept across the winter sky. We were moved, to see it under the haze of town lights while we had not been searching. Vague meaning settled on my body. I was to become a mother in the midst of this. I put an app on my phone to alert me of visible auroras. This never worked.

 

In the twenty-third hour, the midwife became a stoic priestess over the animal woman I had become. She prayed by my side. I was in and out of consciousness, organs preparing for one last try, to move beyond understanding. The midwife went deep into the birthing moment, which has no before or after, which must be played as dealt.

Our slight midwife reached inside me with her large-knuckled hands, prominent veins visible under latex gloves. She took hold of my baby’s shoulders and commanded me to somersault, twice. This was the grist of her religion, work with the body imperfect. If human animals are created in the Lord’s image, then God is not only powerful, but elastic. Perhaps you’ve never forgotten this.

The procedure tore me apart. It also worked, the second time. The midwife had been not sure; the doula was amazed. After the baby came, yes, joy, but I wept. I had a daughter on my chest I knew I would love, but could not, in that moment. The placenta still needed to come out and midwife’s hands went where they pleased. How the midwife warded off tears and hemorrhages. She kneaded skin into impossibility, and placenta arrived.

I cried for ice cream in a weak voice. The midwife angry, yelling, at everyone and no one, “Somebody get her ice cream!” Her hands stayed inside me, ever moving, even with the placenta gone. “Almost done,” she whispered. The baby squirmed on my deflating abdomen as I trembled. I had the sense I was going to die. Salted caramel gelato appeared on a spoon and was thrust into my hot, dry mouth.

 

The trauma of birth settled into my body, and I got on with nursing, diaper changing, going on walks, and pretending I was not in physical pain. My child nestled close to me and also opened to the world. Fiddleheads unfurled and summer’s leaves and petals bloomed and faded.

At six weeks postpartum I saw the midwife, and then never again. She was cool to me. I had poisoned a well I had not understood I had been dipping into. I did not ask her about you.

But I wondered.

You stayed pregnant to me. In perpetual false labor, calling the midwife to rub your back as you cried in your cluttered living room, as your husband stocked boxes at work, as the church fed the neighborhood. I imagined your dog barking at the passing little girl who wanted to get a glimpse of the midwife through the window. The mythical midwife, the one who perhaps had pulled the watching girl from her mother’s loins by the heat of a stove, who would do the same for her someday. The hopeful girl, too young to know life as an expanse of disappointment and poverty, wondering what it would be like when this powerful woman was rapt with the attentions of her body only.

And I imagined you en route, too, always asking for the extra space I was not offering. You were endlessly traversing forest highways while contractions pummeled your middle, while you braced for your baby’s arrival, only to find the midwife, who’d promised herself to you, shut away in my apartment where you were not allowed. In between rushes of pain, you must have checked your phone for messages of confirmation: yes, come, you are welcome in this home. Nothing. But you told your husband to keep driving, and when you made it as far as the county line and crested the hill, you would have sensed the lake’s great darkness spread out before you, and my college town’s dense light.

 

When my daughter was nearly two, I graduated. That spring my family and I moved far away to a large city, and I got a job. I still wondered about you. On a dry winter day I walked laps around the office parking lot during my break, wondering if it was possible I might still be a Christian. I had a thought: the coming down of God was not the stark white doe or the solar storm or the milk that saved the missionary, but you.

Through youth I had prayed, O God, make me a vessel. Give me the impossible at a moment’s notice, and I will be ready. I will not be asleep.

I had long told everyone I was no longer Christian, but a part of the gospel remained a dim flame in me. In my undergraduate years I lost my first fundamentalism while acquiring—from my upper-middle-class professors—a liberating faith that longed to work itself out in radical hospitality. The Kingdom of God I desired turned things strangely. I did not try to do well. I felt beckoned to a triumphant and holy failure. Every cursed thing came from money, including success. After graduation, I balked at most sorts of career advancements. I could not pay my student loans. Even mere financial stability, I feared, would separate me from all that Christ loved. Perhaps this was not wrong. Still, failure became boring and ugly. When I left the church I was lonely, heartbroken, with a new language to learn and the old, beloved one to forget. I was tired of trying to speak it. I went to graduate school and quickly found imposter syndrome. Then I met you.

After I stopped praying, I still wanted to be a pivot towards goodness. I wanted to star in a Kingdom event. But the Spirit is wind, and I never learned to be light.

Ah. My sweet baby was biology. The Kingdom event? It was you.

 

The midwife and you and I, we are all women. I will not confess for sins tied up in my woman’s body. My choices were animal impulse. The systems we found ourselves in fucked up. Not my problem, I have convinced myself.

It was your problem. I am sorry for this. I am sorry you had to drive to my college town. I am sorry you needed the midwife to tell you there is power in milk. I am sorry you need the Magnificat for more than good literature. I am sorry I’ve begun to think I don’t, because the world is hot and windy, impermanent, and animals die in droves. Life has a way of twisting, which I know now deep in my womb.

I am sorry I was not prepared for something better. In the weeks leading up to the birth, I could have stocked an extra mold of freezer pops. Perhaps I could have imagined surprise. I am sorry. Woman. Animal. Neighbor.

I am sorry I was not a Christian when it might have mattered most.

 

One night I found you on Facebook and scrolled through your virtual life. I saw that you had a boy my daughter’s age—relief—and had since had another baby. There were photos of smiling people—some too young to be in wheelchairs—and Bible verses, inspirational memes, Ron Paul quotes, a dying grandmother, so much information about essential oils. Down I scrolled and found the long-ago post announcing the birth of your first child. It was nearly a full month after I had my daughter.

Your first son was born at home. The photos showed no messes, and you looked beautiful, energized—I cannot say the same for myself in the ghostly pictures from my first moments of motherhood. Maybe for you birthing a child had been like choosing the midwife. Like believing. Like claiming each shitty circumstance as a perfect part God’s plan. I had been wrong about my body, and about yours. It struck me then as I curled up on my couch spying on your life and sipping boxed wine that you may not remember me. Or, you do: I am logged as a woman of scorn.

I stopped thinking of you as pregnant when I saw the photos of you after the birth, and all the photos since. But I was disappointed, in a way. I think I needed you to be pregnant just as I needed you to be weak.

If you were still pregnant, there was a chance that I could be good. Perhaps we could still bring children into the world, together, despite it all. This was silly; the birthing hour was long over.

You were what I had been waiting for, and now we will never see each other again.

Or, this is wrong thinking. After all, haven’t I learned that I am not a love letter to the world?

So, I’ve recently become practiced in another kind of imagining. I strain to think of the night I birthed as a night when others did not. People ate and danced and had sex and fought and read on that night. And it is likely that the midwife called one of her many contacts in my college town to find a place for you to rest. There was her kind client who lived near me, the one with a Finnish last name who always wore a long jean skirt and a bun. There were others, too. I don’t believe the midwife would have sent you back so quickly.

Wherever you went, did an in-breaking hold you close?

This is a hard exercise for me, believing that Kingdom moments happen outside of books and dreams. In spite of me. Just because I forgot you, you may not have felt forgotten. Even more, you may have felt joy. You may have been given a soft, clean bed, a warm dinner, a backrub, an ear, and it may have all felt like an open seat at the Table of Tables. You may remember your early labor in the college town not as the night the graduate student rejected you, but as one of those strange times when God really did come down in the midst of we beasts.

When animals care for each other across species, genuses, families, it may or may not be good for the evolution of a line. Confused cardinals feed goldfish like babies, hens warm puppies, and humpback whales defend seals from attacking orcas. You and I are both humans—the hopeless survival of our species intertwines us forever. But if humankind entered one last great war, we might end up on different sides. We could be enemies.

I long for the unthinkable event. A kingdom of two animal women, doing the hard human thing of being animals, together, against instinct. We can make space for each other. Where is the person who can do this? It is not me. I pray someday it will be.

 


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