The phone is ringing I am sure the phone is ringing somewhere in the dark cave of my bedroom in the black void of sleep I know the phone is ringing.
The phone is not ringing. The phone is in the other room, plugged into its charger. It is not ringing. The phone is not ringing.
Something is wrong with the kids I know something is wrong with the kids deep in the fissures of my brain I know that something is wrong with the kids.
Nothing is wrong with the kids. Go back to sleep. It’s 3 a.m. Nothing is wrong with the kids.
Thirty-two years ago, as I lay asleep and unsuspecting after a glorious night, nature worked the way it often does, and I was invaded by another human being. Hospitably, I opened my womb to a developing life–my baby, our baby, a temporary visitor, a sublet for nine months or so.
I did not know he was colonizing. I did not know he was going to stick with me forever.
While I thought I was gestating, he was moving in. Fetal cells crossed the placenta into my blood stream, into my cells. Like stem cells, fetal cells can morph and change into the tissue they inhabit. Scientists discovered this when they found cells with Y chromosomes–male chromosomes–in a woman’s brain tissue.
Her son was right inside her head.
Further research has shown that this is much more common than anyone had previously believed. Apparently, we give birth, but apparently, they never quite move out.
They call them micro-chimeras, little bits of other people living inside of you, making cell lines, taking up residence in your head, in your heart.
These chunks are all mashed up like the chimera of Greek mythology—a monster with a lion head, snake for a tail, and rising out of the back of the beast, a goat head. The chimera breathed flames. It was an omen of disaster ahead—fire, shipwrecks, volcanoes.
The chimera was, of course, female.
Later, a sister, another colonizer. As her cells crossed the placenta into my blood, as they latched and landed and became one with my tissue, did they meet her brother’s cells? Did they wrestle, like Jacob and Esau, in my brain, in my heart? Or did they link up, united in their intrusion into my body?
How do they mingle, co-mingle, with each other and with me? Which one is the lion head, which one the snake? Which the goat head rising up from the center, bleating its dismay?
Now they roar inside me in the middle of the night. Wake me in a blaze of panic because I know one or the other child is in trouble–struggling, despairing. Sometimes I am right. The phone is ringing, the kids are in trouble.
But my heart always knows before the phone rings. My brain knows before I am even fully awake. My boy, my girl, they will not let me go.
Kit Carlson is an Episcopal priest and a life-long writer with work appearing in publications as diverse as Seventeen Magazine and Anglican Theological Review. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, recently published in Ponder Review, Bending Genres, and The Windhover. She is author of “Speaking Our Faith” (Church Publishing, 2018). She lives in East Lansing, Michigan, with her husband Wendell, and Lola, a nervous rescue dog. Find her at www.kitcarlson.org.
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