12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
ON THE TENTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, TNC GAVE TO ME…
ASHES AND DUST
Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.
Where had she heard these words? Ah, yes. That odd funeral she had been forced to attend with her family a few months ago. The deceased was a distant elderly relative whom she had never met. Grandma from out of town, her mother said. She wasn’t quite sure where this Out Of Town was but she never asked questions. The ceremony was a tedious blur. She spent the service and subsequent internment daydreaming about running through the churchyard, picking its beautiful flowers one by one in every colour. She got stuck on purple. What kind of yard didn’t have purple flowers? She pondered this silent frustration as the preacher droned on, paying no attention to his pronouncements.
His boring words were the last thing on her mind when her parents surprised her with a Christmas trip. They were going “home”. She had heard so much about the village where her parents grew up, and the opportunity to see it for herself filled her with a rabid excitement. She could not wait. She would finally play under the moonlit night sky and run through Grandma’s orchard, plucking the impossibly juicy fruits she only ate when she came to visit from the village. Finally, beyond fascinating tales and edible souvenirs, the home she dreamed of would become a reality.
Now, as she watched her blood seep into the ground of her grandmother’s courtyard, she remembered those words. They echoed in her mind as she watched the rock she had been sitting on take on a peculiar coat which slowly spread into the sand, turning its warm clay tones into a stranger, colder crimson. Watching herself bleed, she felt an acute sense of calm amidst the chaotic festivities that surrounded her.
“Merry Christmas, baby. You’re a woman now.”
In that moment, hearing her mother’s soft voice, feeling her loving hands gently stroke her hair… Something in her twelve year old mind broke. She could not reconcile the love she heard in that voice with the throbbing between her legs. She could not make sense of the resplendent regalia, wild dancing and joyful singing while she watched her blood flow into the ground. This must have been what the preacher meant. Dust to dust. Something in her had died. It was there, in the blood-soaked dirt, and it was never coming back.
It was that time of year again. The season of carols and tinsel. Since she heard the news, the cruel coincidence that she would be bringing life into the world during a period that had taken so much of it out her had not escaped her. Shrugging of this acute awareness of fate’s wicked sense of humour, she braced herself. She knew what to expect. She had heard the stories. Women who had been cut had it much harder than everyone else. She braced herself for it. But nothing prepared her for the agony that scorched through her entire being as she pushed. She had expected pain. This was something else. One after the other, lightning bolts of anguish pierced through her. It was a maddening kind of pain, one that brought confusion. She could no longer tell where it was coming from. It felt like she was being burned alive, and the fire raged, from the tips of her toes to every last follicle on her scalp.
“You’re doing great. Just breathe, okay?”
In her mind’s toolkit, she reached for the techniques she had learned in Lamaze class, only to find that her training had evaporated. Panic. Quickly, she scanned her brain for something calming. Books. She loved her books. Their subjects or authors rarely mattered. As long as she could lose herself in their pages and be transported into a different world, she was enthralled. Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants had seen her through her last trimester, especially when she became too uncomfortable to sleep. She had been sceptical at first when it was recommended. Angry feminist literature was the last thing a hormonal, irritable and sleep-deprived pregnant woman needed to calm her nerves. She was pleasantly surprised. Her husband would regularly come downstairs to find her buried in its pages, engrossed in the author’s humour. Books could always make her feel better. Then another lightning bolt hit. Book therapy wasn’t working. She had to run on instinct and determination now.
She was, after all, the one who insisted on the natural way, despite copious advice to the contrary. Most fervently, the love of her life and father of her child had begged her to spare herself the torture. Her safety was more important to him than anything else, he said. But she was adamant. No knives. No blades. The only time one had been used on her was against her will. Never again.
“Well done. You’re doing so well. Just keep breathing. I can see the head. Now, push.”
No knives. This is what she told him. But her decision did not come from a place of fear. It came from a life-long sense of longing. Since that day in the courtyard, she knew she had been robbed of something valuable. Feeling like a woman. She often derided herself for succumbing to the cliché of wanting to be a “true woman”, never really knowing what that meant. Still, the nagging itch that she would never be whole plagued her throughout her life. Years of spending a little too much time in the bathroom, suffering through excruciating dalliances with fleeting lovers and seeing her own body as a living humiliation slowly crystallised this fear. Now, the life she had created with the man she loved offered her a chance at redemption. She had an opportunity to fully immerse herself in the definitive female experience. She wanted to truly experience what it took to bring a life into the world. She was willing to do and go through anything to make that happen.
“You’re almost there. One last push. You can do this.”
And she did. With every last bit of strength she could muster, she pushed. Then, she heard it. The sound she had been waiting for. Her baby was crying.
“It’s a girl.”
As she took her daughter in her arms, she became that twelve year old girl who could not compute her complex feelings. She could not grasp the waves of love and vulnerability she felt crashing against a fierce and primal duty of ownership and protection. She felt her husband by her side, holding her as she held their child. Then, the clouds of her muddled emotions gave way to the soft-falling morning dew of clarity. She knew.
She knew that she would do anything to keep this beautiful new life safe. She knew that her daughter would never know what it meant to bleed into the ground. She would never forget that warm evening in her grandmother’s courtyard. She would always be haunted by the dancing, the blood and the dirt. But she could start a new chapter of her life. As the children in a neighbouring ward sang carols she had probably heard countless times, the season took on a new meaning for her. All the love she had ever felt or known was now in that hospital room. Everything else was just ashes and dust now.
I hope everyone is enjoying the festive season, especially with loved ones because they truly are the essence of the period. In the giving spirit of the season, I pass the 12 days of Christmas baton to the one and only Toxic. With great responsibility should come tempting incentives, so my incentive comes in form of a gift- a 1960s Diana camera. Use this power wisely.