Updated: Sep 29, 2022
Written by: Cecilia Buywheeler Gunther
I was dead-heading Sister Delphina’s roses when I swore once again to run away. I would haul up my fallen-girl's baby belly, soar up and over the high stone walls into the hot beach sun and scramble down the shore road. The thought rolled deep in my mind. I cut another roses head off.
I had told Mum I was pregnant in a tiny voice. She was volatile in those days. Explosive. Mum was succumbing to the cancer and was a powder keg. I say succumb but I don't mean dying yet. Bedridden, though. She had been fighting the cancer for four years and in the winter that I got pregnant she had decided to stop fighting, to lie down and let death get on with it.
I was not allowed to discuss abortion. I was never asked who the father was. By getting pregnant I had proven myself to be reckless so they took my body back. I was not to be trusted with it. Mum said: If you keep that baby, you will be on your own. You can’t come home with a baby. You will adopt. I will speak to the Bishop. We will send you away to the Sisters.
I cried and begged but there was no point talking. It was winter. I was cold and small and tired, standing by Mum’s bed in that big house by the sighing sea where I had cooked and cleaned every day after school, taking over the family for my dying mother. I felt sick. I echoed that deep sea sigh, drifting further downwards.
Later that day, I was sitting in a tight circle with my school friends out by high tide. My friends and I decided that we would keep the baby. It was pure bright delight. I rose to the power of
those words! We ran across the sand like tall elfin unstoppable spirits, sand flying from our naked feet, our coats flapping like wings. We would keep the baby!
But Mum anticipated this, she and the priests hatched an overnight plan and I was sent away hours later. Away to a huge convent-run laundry further up the island; soaring mission style buildings, an orphanage, an enormous kitchen, long silent polished halls. Fallen angels. Fallen girls with washer woman hands. Watchful nuns.
But girl-women have this special skill - we can go deep. You won’t even know when we are thinking in our deep place.
Mum sent me away, I did that. The nuns put me to work in the rose gardens and that steaming laundry, working the mangle, and I did that. The church took my son. I signed. I was very deep by then.
But not lost. Don’t any of you look at a woman’s face and think you have the whole story. We might have gone deep but we will rise up and we might just bite your face right off. We just might.
When the adoption time came my voice was shaky-ready and I asked my son’s new mother to keep in touch with me. To promise. Much later, after my own mother’s death, my son’s new mother brought him to me. Now, he has two mothers. He forgave me but I do not believe it because I will never forgive myself for letting them take my body hostage while it held his.
I still know silence. It is my skill. That deep silent door never closed to me. I wait until all the other words are spoken. Then I think some more from the deep. Then I speak. It is my strength.
About the Author
New Zealander. Mother of 5.
Writer|Researcher|Creative Thinker|Educator|Bread Baker. Passionate about Planet Earth. Passionate about creating real-time relationships with our customers. More passionate about words than I am about punctuation!