ISSUE THIRTEEN | FALL 2019
There are moments when I want something in me. There are moments when I want a baby inside me that is yours. There are moments when I want and I want and I want and the wanting becomes a hunger, a hunger so harsh it is already failure dead inside me. I want a family of my own, a space of my own, in a world so sweet and harsh and sour and big that it scares me. I would fight for it to the death, like in one of those movies where the world is ending.
* * *
When my ex-husband filed for divorce, part of me felt: this chapter of my life is over. I felt more alone than ever because I was more alone than ever. In a world of social media and dating apps, I felt pressured to find someone as soon as possible, to create this sense of family, of personal success, to stave away loneliness.
Coupledom is a priority, but why? Nothing is allowed to happen naturally, organically. So many people, including myself, feel like their lives can’t really “start” until that family is made—or that something is “missing,” not added.
* * *
Part of me also knew that the world is neither shaped nor created by binaries, that families don’t stop at blood relatives and spouses. I have always been independent, intimate with friends in ways that challenge traditional partnerships dictated by heteronormative roles. Friends are family if we want them to be; allowing friends to be as emotionally intimate and reliant on us as our romantic partners not only takes the pressure off our partners, but enables a real physical community to thrive where isolation is mitigated.
When I think about children, I think about a child who is loved by many. I think about a home full of plants and the smells of baked bread and too many people for the house to hold. People who give us love, people who show up when it matters, people who take out the trash.
* * *
Sometimes, I think I am not loving or selfless enough to be a parent. I am too used to my own loneliness, my own independence, to think outside of myself. I am an ostrich whose head is underneath the sand trying to find the salt, the ocean, the smell of rocks, the smell of a love, before my body is too old to do anything but die.
* * *
Growing up, I was surrounded by women named Diane: Greek women who married Greek men named George, then had children. I know many Dianes and many Georges. I never wanted to be them.
When I turned 30, my body laughed. There were so many reasons not to have children: travel, art, responsibility, the climate, money. There were also so many reasons to have children. Life is short. Life is long. Why not? There's all this love. There's so much to love and do, so many ways to fit it all in, like a giant messy closet that expands forever, glittery stars of all colors.
I still don't have an overwhelming desire to become a parent, but I also don't have an overwhelming desire to not have a child. This ambivalence can be hard to live with, undress, and rearrange within and outside of my body. How do you proceed with yourself and with others when there are so many variables and unknowns?
* * *
As a nonbinary person who currently presents as femme, I am careful about using words like “mother” or “father” instead of “parent.” We all use them, they are part of our lexicon, but how can we dispel gender myths and roles if we continue to use the words that engage with them? There is nothing intrinsically wrong with these words or roles, but there is something wrong when they force us to sacrifice parts of us that we shouldn’t, or when we make choices based on what we’re simply used to seeing.
Perhaps my own disdain for motherhood, when I was younger, was more tied to the labor inequalities mothers face versus fathers. Thinking of fatherhood, for instance, never ruffled my feathers as much as feeling as if my body was never going to be my own again even post-birth and breastfeeding. If the division of labor wasn’t tied to gender, would people like me feel less divided and confused?
Let life do its thing.
Let’s just see what happens.
These are phrases I repeat to myself, but they also feel like cop-outs.
Am I allowed to? Am I worthy?
We're entitled to nothing but saying and being our truths.
I suppose that is enough for now.
And perhaps for always.
* * *
Trauma and rebirth are linked; the opposite of destruction is creation. For many survivors of trauma (any trauma), we crave a rebirth, a sense of creation. A child is the ultimate form of birth, creation—a life outside of our own that starts with our own. Who are we if not the love we host?
When I think about having a child, having them grow inside my body, I think about all the pain and love and joy and sorrow and memories this baby will have by osmosis, a kind of genetic book embedded in their body. When I think about having a child, I know birth is nuanced; a birth will always end in death. Nothing is forever, just as a perfect family, large or small, chosen or not, is never forever.
I brace myself for all these possibilities and timelines. Time is just a construct, after all. Who said we’re actually moving forward in time? Isn’t time more like waves, a moving void?
* * *
I want to be all times in space like a vibrato ocean, moving slow, a jellyfish alive and feeling everything unyielding and vast from forever ago—open like a closet, dark and fallen, like an abandoned ocean lost in memory, a child who remembers the mothers of mine I never knew, recalls the smell of birth, breath last and first.
What’s the metaphor? Where did it all go so wrong?
What is the middle journey? I used to believe only the ends mattered. Growing up on books, I knew the journey was the beautiful part, but I was taught to be obsessed with the ends. How not to become the bad things: the bad men, the monsters that crawl out from under our beds and hide in our closets.
* * *
A femme walks towards me while I’m leaving McCarren Park, her glasses sliding down her nose, both of us beautiful, two forgotten swans hating our own bodies—staring at each other in wonder and longing. I can tell we are each thinking of the other’s beauty as we pass. But we pass and don’t stop, don’t speak, missing each other like most people miss each other.
How do we wait for the right moment when there is no right moment? Who do we wait for and why do we never just wait for ourselves?
* * *
There are no answers, but I think about the man who choked me inside Grand Army Bar, who bit the side of my chin so hard, a yellow bruise emerged the next day. I wondered what the bartender thought. I wondered why I wasn’t surprised when he told me he worked for the White House.
* * *
I watch other couples while I sit alone in McCarren Park. The forgotten swan is not around. I see people holding hands. I wonder how many of them are feigning happiness. I hope none of them are, but I also know better. Our ideas of love and family and home are so siloed, fractured like prisms of glass reflecting emptiness.
* * *
I want to be as beautiful as the earth.
I want to leave the earth having created something beautiful.
* * *
I don’t always know what I want or what my body will do, and I can’t predict the future, but I know I want to be in a world where I give and feel neon love like a star whose light has reached us, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s alive or dead, whether it lives or dies.
There isn’t anything but us, here, temporarily. There aren’t oracles who can tell us these things. Only us. Only us and the energy we channel and share.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of Sirs & Madams, The Gods Are Dead, Marys of the Sea, Sexting Ghosts, Xenos, No(body), and is the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault. They received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is the founder of Yes Poetry and the senior managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Them, Brooklyn Magazine, BUST, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets. You can find them online at joannavalente.com, on Twitter at @joannasaid, on Instagram at joannacvalente, and on Facebook at joannacvalente.
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