I don’t know why I thought this winter was long. Last year’s was just as endless. It wasn’t until May, right before my son, Robin, was born, that anything green appeared. I remember laying on our lawn, nine-month belly up, smelling shoots we didn’t plant. I packed sandals in the hospital bag even though we cut frost from the windshield the morning Robin came.
My son and I have very different origin stories, very different story stories. He arrived one May day after a tense, high-risk pregnancy (placenta previa) and a c-section, scheduled months before. He saw me, briefly, after his silent debut in the operating room, but it was my husband, Stewart, who sat with him while he mastered breathing. Stewart, who sang to him while nursery lights tried to mimic my heart.
A week later, we took Robin home, to our house, and opened the window onto the maple outside. He slept, all day and all night, in the center of a rumpled bed messed by sunlight. I recorded the first night it rained around us, Stewart and he deep in some open-mouthed sleep. We fumbled with syringes and tubes and shields while Robin ate, then, didn’t eat. Those weeks, long, short, gone; Stewart and I watching him like a stranger we had studied in advance.
My parents are strangers. Real ones. I was born in January on the Jersey coast just minutes from casinos. My parents, too young to gamble, got pulled over by a cop on the way to the hospital. Months back, they had left college and moved east, working odd jobs while they waited for me to come, then go. They didn’t know when I was due, or how I would arrive, or what an epidural was. They didn’t know who I was, or where I’d go, or what day I might come back.
When I arrived, blue from the start, I left just as fast. I’d meet my birth mother thirty-two years later, over wine in New York, but I’d meet him, the father, that day, in a nursery I imagine smelled like sea salt. Barely twenty, he wrote me a poem. It said (in part): “Love is felt through all time and space / though there is no hand to feel, / what makes love seen and felt and heard / is knowing love is real.”
I was adopted through Catholic Social Services in 1982. For the first nine weeks of life, I stayed with a foster family somewhere, I think, in southern New Jersey. I think because I don’t know. I don’t know the house, or the street, or the zip. I don’t know the crib, or the stairs, or the mother.
Apparently there were other children—three—and they doted on me. Apparently I slept through the night, and I chewed my fists. I liked TV. Factoids of infant me are transcribed on a questionnaire my temporary mother filled out—rife with exclamation points and ellipses. The only field she didn’t complete, the one marked “Name,” all caps right at the start.
Not knowing the name dogs me, like some other unshakable winter. I asked my adopted parents once what I was called then, during the missing months, watching TV and playing with ghosts. Nonplussed, they searched each other, then shrugged. “Baby Girl?” they wondered. When I found my birth parents, years later, they didn’t know either. They didn’t even know I entered foster care for those short, long weeks, never really gone.
I shade the gaps. I imagine the birthing room, blue. I consider the carpet in the nursery, yellow. And I build the scenes, elaborate and detailed and wrong. What did my mother do when she got in her car in the hospital lot? What did she do, the foster mother, when it rained at night, some open-mouthed sleeper mute beside her? And what was the baby called then, by the kids, in the dark? There are no hands in my story.
Robin and I stand on the lawn as the frost burns off. Big gaps appear in the green as I wonder what his blanks will be. The maple from his first days still stands in our yard. Bark falls off. The stairs in the hall make the same predictable music as the father comes and goes, singing the same tunes. And right now, while he’s speechless, I answer every question for him. After every blank I write ROBIN in all caps, wishing his name was the answer to everything. Every long winter, every lost parent, every page missing from the story. All of his, and all of mine.
Kerin is a writer/poet living and working in Burlington, Vermont. Wife to Stewart and mother to Robin, Kerin is pregnant with baby two due in the fall of 2015. Free Thaw is about the experience of new motherhood, high-risk pregnancy, loss and love. Follow her on Instagram.