Her bare legs were an inverted V in the metal stirrups. The doctor told her to sit and turned so she could cover herself. He called her dear and slid a pen out of his pocket and drew on her chart the outline of a body, and for her backbone, a curve. He drew a belly, and a baby, upside down, a paisley, a comma, a semicolon. Because your spine is special the baby will try to come feet first. He was such a gentle man, older, probably somebody’s father. We can do a c—

I’m staying awake, she said. No operations.

* * *

Before her spine lilted and twirled and began to spiral, before gym teachers and office ladies at school shook their heads, before doctor appointments, before she had to stand there naked in cold exam rooms, heat hissing from radiator ribs bolted to the floor, before her father died and her mother remarried a man who wanted his “own” child, Patrice had been happy.

In seventh grade came her period and her operation and her body cast, a papier-mâché mold. Three months later she emerged somehow both concave and convex, her body rounded, the shell of a crab. The scar looked like an S, like a belly dancer dancing, tracks from a train, grates in a road. Like before, doctors held yard sticks against her spine and she had to bend and reach and twist, and there were calipers and tape measures. And like before the doctor looked at the nurse who shook her head the way Patrice’s mother had at the girl in the wheelchair across the street.

* * *

After she told him, expecting the best but receiving the worst, she didn’t hear from him. She called. She went to his room. She wrote him notes and slipped them under his door. The yellow dorm phone became her enemy, the grey dorm room her refuge. Then, walking home from that appointment at student health, she saw him on campus with somebody else.

* * *

She chose them from a catalog at the adoption agency. They were older than the other couples. Susan and Christopher came to her dorm when her roommates were out. “Here we go,” she told her belly, and opened the door. His gangly arm was looped around her waist like in the photo. The skin on her face looked splattered with paint, sideways teardrops, like how rain blows across the windshield. How are you, dear? How do you feel, dear? Such idiots, such fools, her mother would have said. It made it easier. It made it harder.

They sat in a row on her lower bunk. She was suddenly exhausted, though she’d done nothing tiring. She lay down, head on her stuffed bear. Words filled the room around her: bassinet, ultrasound, Lamaze, bonding, family. A wave coursed through her from a place so close, yet so far from her. She grabbed Susan’s hand then Christopher’s and laid them on her belly and pulled her hands away. She closed her eyes, as though trying to feel if they were really the right fit. Would they listen when this child spoke about being given up; say it wasn’t their fault. A part of her longed for them to tell her this.

As they left Susan pulled two crocheted booties from her pocket and gave them to Patrice. Inside were checks folded into origami storks and on the memo lines: college fund.

The sky was black out now.

Thank you, Patrice said. The money would definitely help.

Susan glanced at Christopher and then at Patrice. For our baby, she said. A, a gift from us all, she added, like some consolation prize.

Five months later the baby was born, eleven pounds, with a birthmark on his crown. After his hair grew it would be hidden, but Patrice would always have this little treasure that she owned, because she’d seen it first.

Like a gyroscope, the baby had kept spinning back to the breech each time the doctor turned him. Patrice refused an epidural. This pain was her own. She was suddenly more aware of her body, like she’d met her hidden self in that delivery room. Maybe it was hormones the night nurse said. But Patrice knew it was another person, a second baby that had emerged inside, side by side with the baby boy. She wanted that phantom self to blossom, to keep her and love the part she knew now, was never broken.


FFO: What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever received?

MG: The worst advice I ever received was to fit my writing into what is recognizable and understood by the collective in order to get my stories noticed, published, accepted. I’ve come to believe that while certain places publish certain types of writing (length, for example; or a particular area of focus, etc) that I will never be able to deliver the “same, only better or different” than what has already been done. How could I and why would I want to? I’ve learned this lesson organically, over time. I interview authors at the award-winning The Writer’s [Inner] Journey about this topic and more: I also write about shame, sometimes regarding the writing process, at

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