When I was a young child, after my mother and stepfather moved us from Oregon to NH, we had an outhouse. In back of the outhouse there was a stream, and beside the stream, tucked in amid the ferns, were white sheetrock buckets holding leafy green plants. The plants were a secret. One of many. They looked like tomatoes, but they were not.
At ten past five this morning the phone rang and I was pulled out of a deep sleep to listen to an automated message informing me that my children’s school had been canceled for the day. After I cursed the superintendent, my mind began the replay of my dreams. In the first scene, I saw myself standing in a room with my mother and stepfather. My stepfather loomed in front of me, my mother was in the shadows to my right. It was Christmas and my stepfather held before me the partial skeleton of a quilt. Triangular patches of scrap fabric had been sew together (presumably by my mother), but the shape of the quilt was just taking form. It was his gift to me. “Take it,” he told me, “I want you to finish it.” As he spoke my stepfather pointed to bins of calicos in the colors of Christmas behind him, gesturing for me to choose the fabrics of my choice to finish the project. He was insistent, this was something he thought I should do.
I refused. I didn’t want the beginnings of a quilt that he thought I should make on my own. (My mother once helped me make a quilt for my bed, he had much to say about it while the project was occurring.)
Instead, I stood before my stepfather and started to talk. The first words that came from my mouth were muffled and strained, as though I were trying to talk through a clot or a windstorm. There was no strength to my words. But, as I spoke, my voice became strong and clear. “I don’t want the quilt,” I told my stepfather, “Instead, I have something I want you to hear.”
I told my stepfather that for Christmas I had given my birthfather back his name (I did, in fact, give this “gift” to my birthfather this past Christmas). The name my stepfather had taken from him. “Dad.” As I spoke, my heart was racing my words and winning in its mad sprint. I tried to look past the mix of anger and hurt in my stepfather’s face, not willing to allow my voice to stop inside my throat. “I can call two people Dad,” I told him, “There are no rules that say you can’t do that.” I argued my defense to a mute audience, listing the reasons why I should not be denied the right to have and love two fathers. I didn’t stop until I had emptied my body of the words I had been holding inside.
The scene changed and I was standing in another building, a public building with many people, talking to a couple with a child in a stroller. My mother and stepfather were behind me and we asked about the child, a girl with long light brown hair hunched within her too small seat. There was an aura of gloom around the child, a sadness so deep the air around her was heavy, gray.
“How is she,” we wanted to know. The girl lifted her head slightly as her parents spoke of how she was recovering from the depression that had filled her after she had been to Oregon for a visit. They told us that now that she was back she was beginning to improve. As her parents spoke, my heart reached for the girl. This seven year old child with long brown hair, whose too large body sunk into her stroller, needed me. I knew the source of her sorrow. In my mind I saw her standing on the sand beside the rocky gray waters of the Pacific. I felt her open her mouth to a scream whose sound was immediately swallowed by the greedy mouth of the wind. I felt her body absorb the violence of the swirling air as though it were my own. I knew I could help her. I would teach her how to recover her muted voice.