From the editors: Visual artist and writer Joyce Hayden has contributed one of her definition collages and an excerpt from her memoir. Continue the conversation with Joyce in the comments!
“You two should have a baby,” my roommate Mia said. “Then you can stay home and write your children’s books” [my dream at the time…writing children’s books, not having a baby]. The possibility thrilled me. For about five seconds. Until I remembered who I was partnered with. I was 25, in love for the first time, with the first guy I’d ever had a second date with. I was never the girl who dreamed of white weddings and picket fences. Never the girl who imagined a houseful of toddler laughter and diaper changes.
My classmate, Laurie Gates, was standing beside me. We were in my living room, looking at family pictures hanging on the wall. The one of the little blond boy. My mother was answering Laurie’s question. I was 10 years old. Fourth grade. That was THE MOMENT when I finally knew what “dead” meant. The blonde boy in the frame was never coming back. My brother, who I thought was just missing, was never coming home.
The first time I met him, I couldn’t stop smiling. He looked at me, then immediately ran to his room, bringing back a book. Rushing towards me, he shouted, “Read! Read!” He jumped into my lap and, as I turned the pages, I never wanted him to leave. The boy was David Mason, the son of Kevin’s friends, Billy and Lorraine. For six months, I longed to have a baby. Longed for Mia’s wish for me to come true. Longed to dance around the living room with a baby in my arms. For six months, I made the argument, both in my head and aloud, how a baby would improve our lives. I was 28, the perfect age, I reasoned. I was met with one of two responses: “Not now” or silence.
Standing in the shower one Monday morning, I let the hot water scald me. I daydreamed about different ways “out.” I was twelve years old, trying to choose between pills, a razor blade, or a bullet. I knew I couldn’t survive one more weekend at Uncle Bob’s house. Couldn’t take one more encounter of his hands on my body. In the shower I came to a realization: I could never have a child. Because parents cannot keep their children safe. As the water tumbled over my hair and face, I imagined a big red house, deep in the woods. A line of smoke rising from the chimney. The house was full of runaways….of kids who needed a safe place to live. I saw myself as the caretaker of this house. And there was only one rule: any kid who made it here, could never be taken away by any adult for any reason.
I laid on my back in the cold June water of Lake Sunapee. Tears trickled down the side of my face, as the sun dappled the leaves above me in green and yellow. “I do not want this I do not want this I do not want this,” I sobbed. I knew in my gut that I was pregnant. At 30 years old, any desire I had for a child had vanished. I was in a position I promised myself I would never experience: having to consider an abortion. Although I had always believed in a woman’s right to choose, I did not want to have to make the decision myself. I pulled my body from the water and sat on the private dock. Perpetual bruises glared on my biceps, to the point that at work, I had to wear long sleeves to hide the marks. My memory recalled the crash of wine bottles and house plants thrown as I ducked. It was a surprise to me that I hadn’t yet been hospitalized with Shaken Baby Syndrome. On the morning when I awoke in a pool of thick dark blood, I cried with pity. I cried with relief.
Though I’ve been called a spinster, by my mother; although many people assume I am gay; although I’ve been asked repeatedly by colleagues, students, friends’ friends, doctors, and strangers how many children I have, the one thing I don’t have is regret. Once I reached 50, I knew that was a poison that could swallow me whole. Looking back, I believe that if I’d found a more loving partner, one I trusted would hold a job and offer emotional support to both myself and a child, then I might have made a different choice. But I didn’t believe that guy existed for me; I didn’t even understand, until I was 40 something, that while nothing is promised, there are steps parents can take to maximize their child’s safety in the world. Nonetheless, I feel blessed I found safety for myself.
Recently retired English Instructor, Joyce Hayden, spends her days hiking, writing, and creating art. She travels the country exhibiting her work in galleries, leading gratitude painting workshops, and working on her memoir, The Out of Body Girl. You can follow her on Facebook and her website YesRiskJoy.
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