Saturday, November 22, 2014


Kyoto received the bonsai tree as a wedding gift from her Auntie Saachi two days before she left her home.  It was a sweeping tree, stretching its branches from the pot and reaching for an imaginary sea that waited for it beyond the boundaries of its own soil.  As Kyoto held the glazed green pot in her hands, she remembered its significance.   

“Does she speak?” Aunt Saachi was waiting for the girl to express appreciation.  Her niece’s shy manners were no excuse for rude behavior.  Yoko, Kyoto’s mother nudged the girl gently. 

“Say something,” she whispered.

Kyoto wondered if the tree was to come with her when she left the home. It didn’t matter at this point; she knew she would have to be grateful regardless.  “Thank you, Aunt Saachi.”

The old aunt blinked her eyes and nodded, satisfied with the forced gratitude.  “Of course you have taught her how to care for a bonsai tree, haven’t you?”

Yoko smiled and nodded.  “We have learned from Mr. Ukiyo.  He lives in apartment six-A.”

Aunt Saachi wrinkled her nose.  “That man!”

Kyoto and her mother looked at each other; Yoko stifled a smile.   Aunt Saachi didn’t care for the apartment dwellers, but especially for their gardening neighbor.  A Korean war veteran, Mr. Ukiyo had been shot in the leg four decades ago, a world away from home.  He was nearly abandoned by his own troops because they failed to realize he was one of their own.  After the war he returned to San Francisco a more anxious version of his previous self.  He began the terrace garden to bring peace to his inner world, he once told Kyoto.   His outdoor balcony had an extensive array of potted plants, especially bonsai trees.  It certainly was a place of peace.

“He was a farmer in the homeland, was he not?” Auntie Saachi knew him only from the elevator, where he greeted her, stooped over and humbly dressed in jeans with dirty knees.  “I can see the grime beneath his fingernails when he pushes the buttons.  I take my handkerchief out to push them again after he has been in there!”

“I believe Mr. Ukiyo was born here, Aunt,” Yoko said, thoughtfully.  She turned her head toward the light that shone through the front window.  Her hair had been rolled into a neat bun at the nape of her neck in the morning and still cooperated with her fastidious attire.  Yoko’s gold dress ensemble had been chosen and worn to honor her Auntie’s visit.  As much as she looked elegant, Yoko’s Auntie Saachi looked even more so.  Nearly eighty-five years old, the woman still wore the most fashionable contemporary clothes, purchased by a personal shopper from Sak’s and Neiman Marcus.  Her features were still stunning, her chiseled face impeccably dusted with powder and rouge.  Her lips, a strawberry floating in a saucer of cream, were pursed with just the right amount of disdain as she considered her grand-niece.

“Are you ready to be a wife?” she asked Kyoto.  The girl sat still, trying to breathe steadily as she held the tree in both hands.  She looked at her Aunt’s thinly veiled arrogance, knowing she wasn’t ready; she wasn’t nearly ready to be a wife.  She might never be enough of a person to be a mate to anybody.  The air grew warmer and the girl cradled the tree close to her chest, suddenly hoping that she might steal away from the tense meeting and retreat to her neighbor’s house.  Mr. Ukiyo would tell her the story of the sweeping bonsai again.  It would be just what she needed to hear; a significant story that would assist her in leaving her home of twenty-eight years.

“I am as ready as I can be, Aunt,” she answered, her voice wavering. 

“Well, don’t expect music,” Auntie Saachi leaned forward and rapped on the glass top of the dining room table twice. 

The table echoed under her Aunt’s voice.  Yoko looked carefully toward her daughter, hoping she would not be silent. 

“I will try not to expect anything, Aunt.”

Auntie Saachi turned to Yoko and raised her eyebrows.  “Have you told her everything?”

Yoko nodded once, seriously, as if the two women held a secret between them.  Kyoto stretched the neck of her rayon sweater, hoping to allow more air in her lungs. It was too much to bear; she decided to make an excuse to leave. 

“I’m sorry, Auntie, but I have an appointment with the wedding coordinator,” she said, standing up and bowing.  Both Auntie Saachi and Yoko looked at her with surprise and incredulity.  Kyoto tried to inhale deeply; the air was warm and stagnant.  She dipped the tip of her finger in the moist soil of the tree. 

“Must you go now?” Yoko asked, a look of horrified worry on her face.

“I must,” Kyoto said, wincing.  “I wish I could stay, but I cannot…”

“You cannot what?” Auntie Saachi looked squarely at her grandniece, eyes narrowed into slivers.  “You cannot tell your young friend that your Great Aunt is here on a special visit to see you?”

Tears welled in Kyoto’s eyes.  “I cannot breathe properly, please forgive me.”  She bowed slightly again and walked toward the front door, one step in front of another.  As soon as she opened the door, she felt the fresh air from the terrace before her.  It was cool and moist with fresh rain.  The sidewalk below the terrace was pooling with gentle mirrors, wet and refreshing.  Kyoto heard the sound of steel wind chimes coming from Mr. Cabot’s first floor apartment; she recognized their tone.  They cooed to her every day as she collected the mail.

After two long breaths, Kyoto refocused.  At her waist was the redwood fence that once was stained bright red.  Now faded, the wood splintered and was soft in places.  The maple tree that was once a sapling, staked in the middle of the court,  now tried to reach the fence with its branches.  At her feet, the familiar grey aggregate pathway meandered along the fence line before curving to a stop in front of Mr. Ukiyo’s door. 

She rang his doorbell, looking over her shoulder for her mother’s face.  At last, the door opened, an old man, stooped and smiling greeted her. “Hello, Kyoto,” he said calmly, as if he expected her.   He looked at the bonsai she held, considering it carefully before turning toward his apartment.  “Bring your tree and come inside.” 

She followed him through the mid-century minimalist living/dining room combination and out to the terrace.  His large, rectangular balcony was surrounded with a clean bamboo fence that always managed to hold out the street noise.  Wrought iron tables were placed in rows, filled with potted plants, placed carefully on green plastic.  Most of the plants were bonsai, like the ones she carried.  Perennials, mostly Japanese anemone, bloomed with pink flowers that mimicked the propellers of a helicopter.  The floor tile was a pale red stretching in all directions, succulents peeking out of the corners.  

“I am sorry I did not ring you first,” Kyoto began, before she sat down at the patio table, two wire chairs on each side of it.  Mr. Ukiyo nodded and reached for the potted tree, hardly paying attention to her apology.

“Where did you get this?”

Kyoto sighed, sticking her fists in the pockets of her sweater.  “Auntie Saachi is here.”

For a moment, Mr. Ukiyo looked up at her.  Through the film of his cataracts, Kyoto could not mistake a correction.  “Why are you here?  Should you not be inside visiting with her?” 

Kyoto kicked her foot against the edge of a tile and shrugged.  Mr. Ukiyo went back to examining the tree. 

“This tree is aching to be loved,” he said, finally.  Kyoto leaned forward slightly and reexamined it. “It is leaning forward, ready for a big change.”  He looked up at the girl and smiled, showing a crooked row of yellowed teeth. 

“Do you think so?”

“No wonder the Auntie has chosen this for your wedding!”  He set the glazed pot down on the table and reached in his pocket for a cigarette.  “She is trying to tell you to be unafraid and lean into this change.”

Kyoto could not imagine her Auntie thinking with the same gardening mind that Mr. Ukiyo had.  “I’m not so sure that her meaning was this…”

“Look for yourself,” Mr. Ukiyo pointed to the base of the tree, surrounded by a film of pale, crushed  pebbles.  “Can you see she chose a tree that had a root system that was well cared for?”

Kyoto leaned forward, examining the small trunk.  “I don’t know why she gave me something like this,” she said, sorrowfully.  “I wish I could just leave the tree alone.  It has its own special beauty…”

Mr. Ukiyo exhaled strongly, a plume of smoke coming out of him.   “A tree that is left to grow in its natural state is a crude thing!” he said.  “Only when it is kept close to a person who can fashion it with loving care that it acquires a  shape and style all its own!”

“So you say,” Kyoto smiled at the gardener’s passion.  She knew from years as his neighbor how seriously he took the art of caring for the potted trees. 

He leaned back in his chair.  This is an auspicious gift, young lady! A young girl who is about to get married must allow her roots to be cut by those who have gone before her,” he said, nodding his head emphatically. 


“You should go and be with your Auntie, and not sit here with me.”

Kyoto leaned back in her chair.  “I was hoping you could tell me the story of the sweeping tree,” she said.  “After that, I will go back to be with her.  Even though I think she hates me.”

“Ha!” The gardener stamped out his cigarette in the foil ashtray between them.  “It’s her who hates you?  I see…”

He inhaled deeply and turned the tree toward her.  “Do you see the bonsai?  There is something beautifully controlled about it.  In this earth, we can’t control many things, but now and then we can harness the perfection of natural objects and still protect their integrity.  This tree , with its gnarled and withered roots and twisting branches tell a tale of  sparseness and suffering.”

He turned the tree toward her.  “Do you see the branches?  They are reaching, longing to be loved and noticed.  The tree tells a tale of sadness and being unfulfilled.”

Kyoto looked sadly at the tree.  “It is melancholy like I am.”

Mr. Ukiyo shook his head.  “There is great beauty in melancholy.  Don’t expect the tree to ever stand up straight.  It is exactly as it should be.”

Kyoto nodded.  “Maybe.”

“Yes! Yes!  It is as it should be.”

Kyoto exhaled and picked up the tree.  “Do I take it with me when I leave my home?”

Mr. Ukiyo smiled.  “It is a nice tree to take to your new home.”  When Kyoto didn’t acknowledge his comment, he added, “Robert s a nice man.”

Kyoto smiled, remembering her fiance.  “He says we should have eloped.”

Mr. Ukiyo laughed and clapped his hands.  “Too easy!  What would your Auntie say?”

The girl made a trace with her thumbnail over the edge of the glazed pot.   When she looked up, Mr. Ukiyo stood up, stretching his arms above his head.   She stood herself, picking up the bonsai and following her neighbor through the apartment and through the door.

“I will see you on Saturday,” he said, bowing slightly.  “Don’t worry about the change.  It will all come naturally.”

Kyoto was going to ask him something, but the man closed the door.  She heard him lock it from the inside, leaving her on the porch, gripping the tree and looking at the pathway.  Then, one foot in front of the other, she took the familiar steps toward her door.  She would return to the table with her mother and great aunt.  They were most likely having tea by now.   

Kuniyoshi, Auspicious Desires of Land and Sea

Friday, November 21, 2014


Hailey, Idaho
May 1, 2114

My name is Rosemarie.  You’ve probably heard my story, and everyone who’s heard of me knows that picture. The mug shot that makes me look like a haggard drug abuser, red hair frizzy and flying all about the place; grey eyes staring straight ahead.  It’s important to tell you that they took that picture after two days of interrogation and sleep deprivation.   I want to tell my side of the story, before I surrender to the dismal sentence I have been given. 

After the childbearing edict was established in California, women became lawbreakers if they decided to bear a child without carrying a permit.  It was now required to have written permission from the government to conceive a baby, whether you were going to terminate the pregnancy, give the child up for adoption or keep it to rear yourself.  Women were denied permits for a variety of reasons: a congenital defect, personality disorder, mental illness or a criminal record.  My criminal record was a series of shoplifting arrests I had in my teens, all for stupid stuff like make-up and breath mints.  Our lawyer fought to have my juvenile record overlooked, but  it was quickly decided that I was a non-bearer.  In short, the government would not permit me to pass on my thieving genes to the next generation.  Because of all the intervention (I was given a tubal ligation the same day I was declined), their decision was final.

A month later, I realized I was pregnant. 

My morning sickness, swollen breasts and missed periods were what normally would have been a blessing to any woman who was hoping to start a family.  Instead, I dreaded breaking the news to my husband - it would make Gene and I felons.  When he got home that night, I showed him the pregnancy test strips that all came back positive.  He was elated and actually cried tears of joy before reality set in.  Then, there was an hour or so of hand-holding and silence.  We decided that night to have the baby and we made a plan to pull up stakes and head to Idaho, where the laws against illegal childbirth were more lenient and haphazardly enforced.   

Within a week we had both resigned our jobs and sold most of our possessions.  We had arranged to rent a cabin on the southern border of the Sawtooth National Forest, where the coyote outnumbered the people.  The country became spectacular on our drive.  The Urban jungle of Oakland relaxed into the fields of Sacramento, where we headed over the Sierra Nevada’s and drove into Nevada at night.  At last, the morning sun broke out over a backdrop of trees: the promising landscape of Idaho.  We stopped only to refuel the car and relieve ourselves.  Our sustenance was peanut butter and blackberry jam sandwiches.  

As soon as we arrived, I got out of the car and took a deep breath and stretched.  Green air filled my lungs and a blue dragonfly whirred by my forehead.  The cabin was in the middle of a beautiful nowhere, just outside of a little town called Ketchum.  I still remember seeing it for the first time, blown away by the kaleidoscope of the raw wilderness.  A silver steel roof reflected the sun, making us shield our eyes with our hands.  The cabin itself was a dark brown, painted to mimic the bark of the tall pines that surrounded it, and stood humbly against a slope of grass, blooming deep purple with Indian paintbrush, leading into a dense forest.  It was so different from Oakland, so different from anywhere I had ever been.

Our new landlord stood on the porch, holding the keys to our future in his hand.  I knew I wasn’t showing yet, so there was no need to suck in my tummy, but I was nervous.   He was elderly, perhaps in his eighties, and his eyes were set deeply in folds of wrinkled skin, but he still managed to look at us suspiciously.

“Welcome to Idaho!” he called to us.  Gene raised his hands, smiling. 

“Thank you!” he hollered back, maybe a little too loud, but I knew he wanted to be heard.

“Well, here’s the house,” the old man said as we walked up the wide, brick porch steps.  The cabin looked solid, but not fancy.  I was hoping it had indoor plumbing, my bladder was about to explode. 

“May I use the bathroom?” I asked, as soon as I was close enough.

“Sure, sure...” he motioned to the doorway.  I opened the rusty screen door and walked in to a darkened room, waiting for my eyes to adjust.  As soon as I could see, I walked down a hallway to the small bathroom.  There was a blue porcelain toilet, and I sat on it thankfully.  As I looked around, I took in the dated decor.  Above the matching blue bathtub was a chrome towel rack, two fresh white towels were neatly hung, probably just for us.  The faded blue sink that came out of the wall was supported with chrome legs, stained and rusted near the bottom.  A  wall was a calendar from “A & E Auto Parts and Service” was next to me, from December 1999, smiling girl dressed as an angel wearing a T-shirt and cut-offs.  She held a wrench playfully in her hand while she looked over an opened hood of a 57 Chevy.  Above the door was a wooden plaque, laced with cobwebs, whose sentiment proclaimed “Trust God.” 

I sighed.

When I left the bathroom, I could see the rest of the cabin, which I already knew was 800 square feet.  Our bedroom had a double sized bed, covered in a soft nubby bedspread.  A maple hi-boy dresser had a mirror facing the doorway and I saw my disappointed expression.  I had to remind myself of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. 

“Next year by this time I will have a baby,” I whispered to myself.

The living room actually had a beautiful fireplace, which made up for the green plaid sofa, love seat and ottoman set that was placed traditionally around floor lamps.  A TV with rabbit ear antennae was on a rolling cart, but pushed against the yellow curtains, as if it was an afterthought. 

It seemed to get worse as I looked around.  The appliances were electric, with foil placed in the strategic areas to deter grease build up.  A small faux wood dinette set was in the harvest gold kitchen.  I remembered our Restoration Hardware set we sold to my cousin before we left.  It was depressing.  I went back out to the porch and joined Gene, who was listening to a dissertation from the landlord.

“...managing and protecting the land is going to be what you’ll find most challenging, not only because of the vastness of this land, but because of the varied terrain.  In this front area, we decided just to put down the lawn, but you can see there’s no sprinklers...” Gene looked at me and raised his eyebrows, like he knew it was going to be awhile.  After we got the keys we went inside and slept without eating, without showering.  We were so exhausted from the trip, emotionally and physically that we just collapsed.  I had no idea how cold it would get at night.  At three a.m. we were huddled under a mound of blankets, shivering and frightened. 

Just before dawn, Gene said, “Today I’ll go and buy firewood in Ketchum.”  That was the very last time we forgot to buy firewood. 

I grew up in Oakland, and I’ll tell you now that it was nothing special.  What I did have in my city life were things that worked.  I had a coffee maker, a toaster, a shower head that would allow water to spray through.  As soon as we could, Gene and I replaced those things.  Little by little I was able to look past the sacrifice of modern conveniences and realize that Gene and I had landed in a really special place.  The first month was so amazing that I fell in love with that little place. If you were really quiet, you could hear a creek running clear and clean, babbling in the distance.  I lost count of how many species of birds came in and out of our yard, day and night.  Sunrises were spectacular, only to be rivaled by sunsets.  In between, the sun shone onto our back porch with such beauty that it made me feel we were living in our own slice of heaven.  

Gene and I decided to cut loose and change the inside of the cabin so it would feel more like home.  We didn’t spend a lot of money, but we transformed the place.  A couple of gallons of white paint brought an unbelievable facelift to the drab, mismatched walls.  The calendar girl was replaced with a medicine cabinet that held my pre-natal vitamins and antacids.  The nubby bedspread was replaced with a cool down comforter we bought at a thrift store in Ketchum, but I decided to dust the cobwebs off the “Trust God” plaque and leave it where it was.  Gene decided to replace all the harvest gold appliances with used white ones – he even installed a dishwasher.  It was the most incredible improvement, and I was so grateful.  When I asked him why he did it,  he said it was because he couldn’t stand to look at them anymore, and then winked at me. 

Our closest neighbor lived a half a mile away and the day he came to introduce himself I had been scrubbing the kitchen floor with pine sol.  After Gene installed the white appliances, I decided to make the hardwood floor look good and that meant removing years of grime.  Gene was chopping wood in the front yard and soon I heard him talking.  Normally, he didn’t talk to himself, but I figured anything was possible since we moved here.  Pretty soon, he walked through our front door with our neighbor like they were already best friends.  As I looked up at them from the floor, through my dry, frizzy hair that was hanging in my eyes, Gene lost it.

“Honey! What are you doing?” He ran over to my cleaning bucket and took it away from me.  Almost as soon as he reacted, he realized that he shouldn’t have.  He helped me up, and as I stood, I wondered if I needed to explain his overreaction to our house guest who looked at me, shocked.

“You’re pregnant, aren’t you?” he said.  He was smiling, like he had unearthed a pleasant secret and I looked at Gene, who looked panicked. 

“No, she’s not,” he said, quickly.  “She’s just allergic to...”

“My wife is, too,” our neighbor continued.  “We’re non-bearers, but it all happened so fast.”  He was still smiling, a tall young man, maybe even younger than us.  He had golden hair and golden eyebrows and a broad, white smile that made him look like a Ken doll.  Something in his face made me want to trust him. 

Gene just smiled.  “This is my wife, Rosemarie.  Honey, this is Luther.”

I tried to act normal.  “Hi.”  I was sweating and I knew he knew that I was expecting.  I was wearing a tight tank top and I could feel my belly being larger than normal.  Luther was looking at it.

“From the looks of things,” he said, looking intently at my tummy. “I’d say that Kay is two months further than you.”
There was an awkward silence as I tried to smile.  I looked at Gene again, who wore an expression of confusion and amazement. 

“Is that why you’re in Idaho?” he asked. 

“Oh, yeah!” Luther said, emphatically.  He poured out their story with such freedom that we listened eagerly, standing in our kitchen.  They had come from New York, the state that authored the edict in the early forties.  No one ever believed it would pass, but it did, sending native New Yorkers for the Midwest.  Luther and Kay had a child already and according to the edict they were given amnesty. Even so, because of her criminal record, Kay was called in to have a tubal ligation surgery but she never did.  Instead, the family fled to Idaho, where they had lived for three years. 

“We would have never predicted the edict would have gone national,” he said.  An expression of disgust came over him.  “What kind of society declares childbirth illegal for only some women?” I knew that there were several countries that had adopted such laws, but I knew Luther’s question was rhetorical.

“Would you like some lemonade?” I finally asked, motioning for him to sit down. 

“No, no,” he smiled.  “I came over to introduce myself...” He thought to himself for awhile and then brightened.  “Look, we’re having a bunch of friends over tomorrow night for a bar-b-que.  A few of them are non-bearers, like us.  I’m sure everyone would love to meet you.”

Gene and I looked at each other, but he shook his head. 

 “My wife isn’t pregnant, Luther.”

For a second, I felt like the floor was going to crack open and swallow us up.  Time stood still as the guys just looked at each other.  Finally, Luther backed down.

“Well, I’m sorry to offend you, if I did...”

“No, no!” I was blushing, half from embarrassment, half from nervousness.  “You didn’t offend me...”

He started covering up for himself, saying that we were invited to come over and hang out anyway.  We politely refused and as he left, Gene and I didn’t speak for a long time.  We hadn’t discussed how to receive neighbors or talk to strangers.  From then on, I knew I’d have to be very careful with how I handled my pregnancy.

The next day, I woke up before dawn.  I went out to the back porch and could hear the creek running, birds chirping.  The valley was just waking up and as I looked toward the forest, I saw a family of deer looking back at me.  I smiled.
“Don’t worry about me,” I whispered.  “I’m trying to blend in, too!”

In a couple of hours, I heard someone knocking on the front door and I wondered if I should answer.  I looked out the kitchen window and saw a pretty blonde lady dressed in a polka dotted dress standing there with a big pink square box in her hand.  I decided to crack the door and peek outside, pretending I had just woken up.  When I did, all I saw was her smile.

“I’m Kay!” she said, boldly.  “Let me in.  I brought donuts.”

I didn’t have much choice but to open the door and let her come in.  As soon as she entered my house, it was like a long-lost friend had found me.  After she cracked open the donuts, we sat down at our table and started talking. 

“I know you must be scared,” she told me.  “I was scared too, but now we’re a community.  You’re going to love it here!”
I still hadn’t admitted anything, but instead asked her about the community she was referring to.  She started listing their friends, people who lived within twenty miles of them.  They met regularly, being able to be free and transparent with one another.     

“Alright,” I said.  “I guess you probably already know, but I am pregnant.” 
Kay sat back in her chair and rubbed her belly.  “So am I, and I don’t have a permit.  Now you can turn me in if you want to.”
I smiled at her and she reached for my hand.   I put my hand in hers and when she squeezed it, I started to cry. 
“Don’t worry,” she said, “everything’s going to be alright.”

That night was the first time we went over to Luther and Kay’s place.  It was the first of many nights we came together with others like us.  I came home feeling hopeful, like I wasn't alone and everything was really going to be alright.  It was good for me to meet others like us, normal couples who had been denied childbirth permits.  To me, they were angels; together we commiserated.  We all had the same troubles; the same prejudiced lectures from officials who denied us a basic human right.  The government sold their philosophy to the masses, and they bought it. We heard our own friends spout off their dogma: “People need a license to drive a car, why shouldn't they need one to bring a child into the world?”

Most non-bearers who had come to Idaho had a history of criminal activity.  Many expectant mothers had a history of prostitution.  One of the ladies I grew close to in our circle of friends was Joleyne, who admitted to smoking meth as a teenager and getting arrested for dealing.  We were different, but the same.  We had both been stripped of the right to be mothers, but we were going to be mothers nevertheless.

I didn’t know about the moles in our group; I never suspected Gary and Denise of being Federal agents.  Everyone asks me about that now, especially being locked up in here.  I tell them the truth: I never suspected them of anything and they were just really good actors. 

It happened at a swim party at Luther and Kay’s.  It was a warm spring day and we all decided we didn’t want to wait until summer to use the pool.  Joleyne and I were sitting against the wall that normally absorbed all the sun and she asked me why I wasn’t swimming. 

“I’m too fat,” I said.

“You’re nine months pregnant,” she retorted.  “You’re not fat.”

“I feel fat.”

“So do I.”

“Even my face feels fat,” I felt the underside of my jaw line.  “My face looks like a full moon.”

She looked at me and burst out laughing.  She was laughing so hard that it made me laugh, too.  We were laughing and laughing and I was trying to stop when I looked up and saw something weird.  I was laughing so hard that I hardly saw Gary and Gene fighting.  I only saw other guys come up behind him and put his hands behind his back.  I now know that they were handcuffing Gene, but at the time it looked really scary, like they were going to kill him.

You know how people say that your life flashes before your eyes?  That’s what it was like.  I was laughing, but then I just stopped.  I felt like someone screeched the brakes of my life on.  I started to stand up and I was so scared, seeing a group of men coming in to our party and handcuffing all the guys.  I remember seeing a flash of everything: being a little girl swinging on the warm swing set in my parents’ backyard, eating watermelon at Fourth of July, my high school prom, pictures at Disneyland, a roller coaster ride, kissing Gene, watching the woodpecker at the cabin...

And then a man walked over to me.  My heart was thumping in my chest and my ears were ringing, but I felt his grip as he grabbed my left arm by the bicep and the wrist.  “Come with me,” he said harshly.  “Cooperate and it will all be easier..." 

We came to Hailey in separate cars and we came into the jail one by one, in front of a paparazzi line and news cameras.  I had to go to the bathroom so bad and I thought I would wet my pants.  I looked for Gene, but I couldn’t see him anywhere.  I was given a cell all to myself and somewhere down the hall I could hear Joleyne calling out our names.  A female guard came by my cell and told me not to call out or answer her.  I was crying, not knowing what would happen to me, but all that bitch cared about was keeping her stupid cell block quiet.

They brought us in for arraignment two days later; I wore a special jumpsuit for pregnant ladies.  I was embarrassed.  You would think that all the shame inside of me would have been worked out by then, but it wasn’t.  Instead, I was weepy and frail as I stood before the judge as the charges were read.

“How do you plead?” she asked me.  I looked up at my lawyer, who just nodded her head.

“I want to see my husband,” I said. 

The judge looked over her glasses to me.  “You need to enter a plea.”

“Please,” I could feel myself crying, but I couldn’t stop.  The bailiffs led me out to the hall and my lawyer stayed behind.  The next thing I knew I was in a hospital, but I was still pregnant.  In the hospital, several federal agents questioned me.  They wouldn’t stop asking me questions, even though I was terrified.  I kept remembering the deer I saw in my backyard.  They were looking at me, like “Don’t shoot me!  Don’t shoot me!”

That’s how I felt.

In a few days, I had the baby and she was taken away from me as soon as she came out.  The nurse said that the baby would be placed with a nice family and that I didn’t have to worry.  I asked her why I had the baby if I had my tubes tied, but she wouldn’t answer me.  I wondered if the surgery had worked.  I missed Gene and kept asking for him.

It has been nineteen days since my arrest and I am getting sentenced today.  I want to tell you all that I am being forced to plead guilty to bearing a child without a permit, which is punishable by five years of work. I know they’ll probably send me to the mines where I can work off my debt to society, but my work will most likely serve  the government  and save them a salaried position while acting as their slave.  I will be separated from my husband, my home, my friends and the child I was hoping to save for at least five years; afterward, I am not sure if I will see any of them.  There are no guarantees for the incarcerated. 

Today I got a letter from Gene.  He is beginning his own sentence, a year in protective custody at a federal penitentiary that will be named the day he gets shipped there.  His words are like gold to me:

“Well, Rosemarie, we tried.  We tried to live and give this baby a life, but there was no way to do it and we didn’t know that at the onset.  Try to maintain a positive viewpoint, because a negative view is actually our real prison.  Many people that are free waste their days by judging others, as they did us.  Now I am confident that when your five years are up we will be free to have a life together.  So keep on going and remember I love you.

There is a cry in my heart for justice, but there is none. I can only pray that my baby’s new mother can keep her happy and out of trouble; then she may have a chance at this life.  I’m not good at being perfect, and if that’s what she needs then maybe the government is right.

Monday, November 17, 2014


Old Romance Cover - public domain

I am tired of going into Walgreens and seeing my mother’s name on the shelf of bestsellers.  She has no shame, and she freely admits it.  As a romance novelist, her job is to write stories with just enough tension in them that you can’t see the happy ending coming.  Mother is good at it; she is also good at plagiarism – most of her plots come from my life.

When I graduated from high school, Mother took a writing class, seeking to bond with me since I was enrolled at the same junior college.  I hated the idea of going to school and running into her – college days are supposed to be filled with independence and freedom.  She respected my wishes and stayed far away from me, but I was unprepared for the group of friends she made.  Most of them were my age and they met for study group at local coffee houses, like they were all best friends or something.

Mother’s first novel was an accident – it was actually a short story for one of her classes.  Her professor asked her to stay behind from class, just to encourage her to extend the story a bit and submit it to an agent.  He added that romance novels are the biggest sellers in the publishing market and that Harlequin has never had a dip in sales.  Mother marvelled, then got to work.

“What’s the story about?” I asked her, a little jealous that her professor singled her out.  I was the writer, not Mother!  Why hadn’t any of my professors had private encouragement sessions with me? 

“It’s about a woman who goes back to college after raising her children,” Mother told me as she unloaded the dishwasher.  “She has a hard time adjusting to life because she’s built her world around her youngest daughter.  Anyway, the mother goes back to school and makes a whole new group of friends, including a young man who develops a crush on her.”

“What?” I couldn’t help smiling.  It sounded so familiar, up until that last bit.  “Is this based on a true story?  Does one of your study partners have a crush on you?”  I couldn’t imagine my frumpy old mother attracting a guy my age.  Mother stood up straight and looked at me like I was insane. 

“Of course not! Who would that be?”

“I don’t know, maybe that guy Tomas?”

“Tomas is gay, I think,” Mother returned to unpacking the dishwasher, sorting silverware and placing it carefully in our ancient plastic trays.  “Ned is married.  Carl told me once that you were quite beautiful...”  With this last bit of information, she looked up at me and smiled. 

“I’m not going out with Carl, Mother.”

“Why not?”

“Well, for starters, he hasn’t even talked with me, let alone asked me out on a date.”

Mother shut the dishwasher and hung a dish towel carefully on the oven handle.  “He’s a shy young man, honey,” she looked up at me, tenderly.  “He loves his mother and takes care of her.  Oh, honey, can’t you at least come to study group with me and meet him?”

I shook my head, incredulously.  Mother had just been encouraged to extend her first short story into a novel and get an agent – and all she could think about was setting me up on a blind date.

*  *   *   *

After Mothers first book was published, (entitled “The Freshman Ten”) we celebrated.  Her study group met at our house for meatloaf and champagne and I finally met everyone – including the shy Carl who had a crush on me.  At the party, I marveled at how much the description of Ivan (the student who has a crush on the elder-student, Samantha) matched Carl - physically and socially.  I also started to wonder if she modeled Samantha after me – the things she said sounded like the things I would say....

Mother eventually let college be my territory and didn't enroll for a second year.  She turned her sewing room into an office and bought a used computer, writing constantly.  I actually took her advice and went on a date with Carl and we ended up really liking one another.  Because of this, Mother made “family nights” for us often, cooking our favorite things and hanging out with us as we talked by the fireplace. 

“My agent wants me to write a sequel,” she told Carl and I one night after steak and potato salad.  “I am thinking of having the two kids get married and start a family.”  Mother was referring to the characters in her book – the “two kids” were Ivan and Samantha.

“You mean Samantha and Ivan will get married?” I laughed.  “Samantha is forty and Ivan is twenty!  Isn’t that a bit impractical?”

Mother blushed and I realized I had embarrassed her.  I regretted it, but Carl spoke up before I could apologize. 

“Why not have Ivan meet someone more his age?” he suggested.  Mother’s face contorted. 

“No, he would never leave Samantha!”  She was thinking, and when the fire crackled, she looked up as if an idea exploded in her brain. “Unless Samantha dies!”

Carl and I looked at each other and laughed.

“Are you going to kill off Samantha?” I asked.  “Is that such a good idea?”

Mother hardly noticed we were there.  Instead, she rose and walked to her office like a woman on a mission, never even saying goodnight.  It was fine with us; Carl and I commenced to cuddling in front of the fireplace. 

*   *   *   *

“Last Chance for Love” was a bigger hit than Mom’s first novel.  The unstoppable Samantha died after valiantly fighting off stage four ovarian cancer for four months.  With her dying breath, Samantha encouraged a grief-stricken Ivan to marry the beautiful nurse that had been her faithful companion, never leaving her side – the thick-eye-lashed Suzie.  At the end of the book Ivan and Suzie decide that Samantha will be the name for their first child if it is a girl, and they ride off in the sunset together.  They had just buried Samantha, but they were already planning their wedding and future children.

I couldn’t make it through the book without rolling my eyes, but apparently the throngs of people that bought it did not agree with me.  Mother started getting invited to read portions of her book at Romance conferences.  She encouraged young writers to believe in themselves and believe in true love – Mom’s latest cause.  The book became a featured item in the Harlequin catalog; Mother was elated.

“What about you and Carl?” she asked me one evening.  I was nearly finished with University and was ready to graduate with a BA, but Mother was more interested in my love-life.

“We need to wait until he finishes school, Mother,” I said.  I hated it when she butted her nose into my life.  “Carl has two jobs and can’t afford to quit them, so night school is his only option.”

Mother shook her head and tried to hug me.  I took a step back, refusing to be pitied.  She tried to give me a pep talk, Mother’s version of how things should be done.

“Your father worked two jobs when we got married,” she said.  “We got married on such a shoe-string budget…”

“I’m not you, Mother!”  I shouted.  As soon as I did, I regretted it.  She shrunk away from me and her eyes clouded with tears.  I wanted to apologize, but instead I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. 

“Carl and I will get married, but we don’t want a shoestring budget.  We don’t want a rush wedding, we want to plan and not incur debt…”

Mother brightened.  “Mother of the Bride will pay!” she said.  I almost laughed, but then I could tell she wasn’t joking.  She was bright with hope and promise, and I sunk inside of myself, knowing I should have thought of another excuse.

*  *   *  *

“Honeymoon Ecstasy” was another best-seller, breaking the bank and making Mother  a cash cow for her publisher.  Her agent invited her to New York for the launch, but Mother refused, saying that wedding planning was a full-time job. 

She literally took over all of the preparations.  I told her what Carl and I wanted for the wedding day and Mother went to any lengths to get it.  She made our rustic wedding look so rustic, despite the huge price tag I knew everything  came with.  When it came time for the bride’s dance with her father, I surprised Mother and had a dance for just the two of us.  As “In My Daughter’s Eyes” played, we cried and danced and hung on to each other. 

“Thanks for everything, Mother,” I said. 

“My girl,” Mother was sobbing, but managed to say something above the music:  “True Love conquers all…”

As she wept on my shoulder, I rolled my eyes.  Why was she crying?  Was she happy for Carl and I?  Was she happy about true love?  Was she sad that Daddy had died?  I was left with the feeling of not knowing my own mother, the feeling that pervaded my life.  I hated that feeling – it was surprising how much I felt it. 

The honeymoon was in Niagara Falls, just like Ivan and Suzie had.  In the book, the young couple overlooked the falls and declared their love as they watched the rainbow lights shining on “the drifts and billows of crashing waves” – I knew even before Mother gave me the envelope that we were headed there.

“Does it overlook the falls?” I asked Mother, wryly. 

She only looked wounded as she answered me, “Who told you?”

*  *   *   *

Last week I waddled into the store and saw it there, her latest book.  Mom stopped celebrating the release of her novels; she was as prolific as Carl and I were.  As I gave birth to children, Mother gave birth to books.  While I paced the floors at night with sick children, Mother paced the floors at night with her characters, always wrestling with the same drama that most people wrestle with, but with beauty and makeup and lots of kissing.  All of her characters seemed to be caught up in the same misery that was familiar to me; Suzie definitely saw more romantic action than I did.  Writing about the monotony of motherhood, Mother realized, is not what creates bestsellers.

I had placed a quarreling Zeke and Olivia in the back of the cart to duke it out once and for all.  Joshua, in his car seat, was nestled carefully in the basket directly in front of me.  I was so pregnant that I felt ready to burst at any moment.  Carl had started a new job and couldn’t take any more time off.  I found myself, disheveled and going to the store to replenish our ever dwindling supply of children’s cough syrup, with my troop of noisy  kids. 

There it was on the shelf, “Making Time for Love” – the cover art mocking me as I looked at it.  As the kids bickered in the back of the cart, I couldn't help but reach for it.  A beautiful woman, carrying a baby in each arm, looked over her shoulder at a man, dressed in a three-piece suit, necktie blowing behind him as he sped out the front door, briefcase in hand.  

The synopsis on the back read:  “Before the children, Ivan and Suzie enjoyed a life of mutual seduction.  Is their romance now in jeopardy with a new job and new children?  Can the lovers make time for one another and cherish each other as they did in the early days?

Give me a break, Mother.