Life is a cascade of tectonic plates and unexpected boundary transformations. Mostly we don't notice because shifting the ground doesn't necessarily require brute force. Mostly we don't notice because we are looking at our feet. One step back or forward; one choice; one decision; one reaction; the breath of a butterfly alters the cosmic chessboard upon which we play out our lives. If we were to view the cosmic chessboard in its entirety, would we turn to salt, sterile and immobile? Not everyone is a chess player; some of us just see horses, castles, and Pagan gods.
"The paths fork and divide. With each step you take through Destiny's garden, you make a choice' and every choice determines future paths. However, at the end of a lifetime walking you might look back, and see only one path stretching out behind you; or look ahead, and see only darkness."
- Sandman #21 Seasons of Mists - Neil Gaiman
You make a choice.
I don't know if the tree I remember from Destiny's garden, not the maze, the tree, is meant to be Yggdrasil. I don't know that it matters because that's what I took away when I was still young enough to imprint easily. I got myself tangled in the World Tree, but I'll never know the full effect of that choice. It took a few years before panic set in. In the mean time I burned a little too hot for comfort.
Children have an expectation of bedrock. You can put them naked in a hurricane, and as long as they are secure, they can weather that storm. When the bedrock breaks, they respond according to the depth of the fracture and they begin to become more them and less us. It's the lack of visibility that takes us by surprise.
How did that even happen?! Look back at the path.
There was a family before the last baby. The fracture that broke the family split into a thousand tiny fault lines that chiseled into the quick of the first children's lives. And that is how they saw each other. They were the First Children and they lived in the invisible castle of Just Us.
In a matriarchal society the children, regardless of paternity, belong to the mother. During the exodus, the last baby and I found the collection of 'stuff' documenting the first four months of her life. This is what we found:
- Her 16 week ultrasound portrait
- The journal her father and I began at the beach three months before her birth and completed seven months later
- Her newborn footprints
- The little pink index card attached to the lucite bassinet that she might have occupied had I been willing to put her down. The card identified gender, date of birth, and mother
- The original paperwork included with our discharge papers indicated that Heather Jefferies gave birth to Baby Girl Jefferies This document was used to launch the birth certificate process
I hadn't processed the paperwork and I'd forgotten about the journal. I wish every child in the world had a journal like this. It speaks to the hopes and dreams of an entire family. There are photographs pasted to the inside of the front and back covers of her siblings, her six month pregnant momma, and her daddy. I wish I'd included the post delivery photographs. She could remind herself of the way her siblings looked at her; their hearts broke open, they remembered the truth of themselves, and the fallacy of separation. She has seen these photographs, just not in the context of the journal which was the original declaration of love.
The journal also documents her father's experience of labor and delivery. He showed me things about myself I never would have believed. He told me things that answered the question: Seriously. Why did you think marrying me was a good idea?
The journal is documentation of a miracle. We are all miracles, but once separated from the whole, we forget ourselves.
Her first name was Baby Girl Jefferies. The choice was entirely mine. She asked me why her name wasn't my name, and I said I didn't have it in me to break her father's heart. That's a poor excuse, she said, it's not as if it changes anything. I agree. In my head and heart they are all three Jefferies children, but that truth is only hers.
In 1986 and 1991, that sort of paperwork did not exist. There were no options. We were presented with Baby Boy Mancinelli and Baby Girl Mancinelli; and despite my persistent insistence and legal documentation, I was, Mrs. Mancinelli from intake to discharge. I was mad as a wet cat.
If I'd been thinking, I might have seen it coming. I might have been able to get in front of it. I might have been able to make it stop, but the path behind us is straight.
You are our half-sister.
We used to say: "don't make the baby cry!" We said that to each other because all it took was a cross look and that poor little girl cried like her heart would never mend. The best we could do was hold her close for as long as it took to dry up the tears and clear her breath.
She was almost past that when they said the words. The words, "you are our half-sister" broke that heart past any sort of mending. You brush things off, wipe them up, stand them on their feet, and we all carry on. We have the capacity to wound each other in ways we cannot possibly imagine. We don't always have the capacity or the bandwidth to reach back and repair. We don't always know. If we did, our hearts might also break past mending.
Life is not a Zero-sum game.
There is always another way to tell a story. It doesn't alter an event or change the words; but it allows us to see another section of an intricate equation.
Who those children were, how they were, in that little girl's life was the reason for the heartbreak. Had they treated her differently, this revelation would not have been news. Had they loved her less, not held her as close, not included her as an equal in the daily allotment of sibling abuse, this revelation would have pissed her off, but no more than that.
The truth and depth of their love for her had nothing to do with the shared loss that left them adrift in some pretty choppy seas.
"You are our half-sister." can be heard just as easily as this:
'You do not have to share this pain with us. Don't worry, we'll be right back.'
What would our lives look like if we could flip a thing like that so easily? Flip it right over on it's back and discover that the love was belly side down the whole time.