It Buried Us
IT'S BECAUSE I WAS BORN in the middle of a blizzard—twenty-four inches in less than two days came down, twice as much, in measurements, as I was when I came out my mother, only twelve inches—a tiny little thing, they said, and my mother smiled and then she frowned, or so I’ve been told, because still, even after six hours of labor—six, half the amount of time as I was in inches—my father hadn’t arrived.
People said it was because of the blizzard that he hadn’t come, but my mother disagreed, and people told her that I was small because I had been born into the cold—a tiny little nothing of a thing, they said—it’s because not enough blood pumped through my mother while she sat in the car, in labor, having contractions, my nervous-aunt driving, starting and stopping, no visibility, for three hours—three, half the time it took me to make it all the way out.
Later, as a little girl, my mother would hug me and hug me and I would shrink away from her, and she would tell me that I was the way I was because instead of a warm, pumping heart, I had been born cold, blue as a berry, the cord wrapped all around my neck like an octopus hug, and she would say, you are the way you are because you were born into a blizzard. And I would wonder what made her the way she was, with her spindly spider arms, reaching, bending, fragile in their crooks—where had she been born? What made her the way she was, always reaching, always stretching, always trying to grasp me, grip me, hold me tightly?
And I wonder, all the time, or most of the time, or mostly just when it snows—hard, like a blizzard—what happens to kids who are born in the middle of a heat wave, their mothers sweating and fainting, and their fathers with no viable excuse for never showing up. Do those kids grow up bothered and temperamental, but warm and loving? Do they? Are they red-faced children, the ones screaming in markets, a hot-contrast to the way that I sat, my face cool and expression still, considering, even when all around me, my parents threw words at each other like they were bats, let out into the night, flapping, shrieking, frantic.
If you look into a blizzard, straight on—and not on a macro level but on something more micro—you will see this happen: tiny flakes that, especially when illuminated by a light, like a set of headlights—but also a flashlight will work, as would a streetlamp—glitter and glint, like sparkles, like fairy dust, like the metallic particles you sprinkle on big pieces of cardboard for school projects when you’re younger, and it looks beautiful. My mother always made me into a robot—sprayed silver, shiny, tinfoil over my head in a point. I was a Christmas Robot. A Halloween Robot. Mechanical. Cold. My father tells me that I have winter’s eyes—grayish and sparkling, clouded and serious. He tells me it was because I born in a blizzard, because I am part snow angel and part human. He says nice things because he has to, because he pays out compliments like an allowance—here you go here you go—to make up for all the time he is missing.
When the blizzard of my birth was at its prime, the snow fell so hard and heavy that everyone lived, temporarily, in the hospital where I was born. They set up stretchers as beds for the tired mothers of children with broken bones, and put out big thermoses of watery coffee in the cafeteria, and my nervous-aunt says that it almost felt like the old days, with the community coming together for the birth of a child. She says that I should have grown up loving and open, being born around so many people, everyone rooting for my mother, cheering her on, waiting to see what would happen to the child born into the middle of the blizzard.
My father said, about my birth: I couldn’t get there. He said: I was at work. He said: this blizzard, it buried us. He didn’t say: Forgive me. For missing it. For not being there for her. For making you grow up as an ice sculpture—a fine, carved statue.
But I have read stories of children born in actual blizzards, in frozen-shut cars, their mothers blue-scarlet blood trickling onto the car seat, seeping in, staining it, and I wondered, what of those children? What happened? Did they grow up like me, or even worse, too cold to talk or move, stuck forever in that time of the blizzard, or maybe, they grew up better, because maybe being born out in the actual snow, their nervous-aunts scooping up the fine white powder to brush it across their sweating mother’s forehead, maybe then they grew up distinguished, wise, superior, ice-castle royalty, beloved and adored?
This was me, as I grew up, as I got older, and I understood that temperature was more than just a measurement, and I understood the love-less-ness of some parents and marriages: First, I was a tiny little nothing of a thing, crouched, tucked-into-myself, cold, lonely, sitting on top of snowdrifts in just a t-shirt, watching my breath come out in elegant, streaming white puffs. Then later, I replaced my cold-breath for cigarettes, grayish smoke enveloping me, snaking around my limbs, arms as skinny as my spider-mother’s, as I sat on over-turned milk-crates, knees up—and I never grew to be more than a tiny little nothing of a thing—in the back of the restaurant where I worked, serving hot food with bare hands. Then still later, in the future, maybe, I will be able to control the coldness inside, be able to understand that ice in my veins doesn’t mean that I am solid, kept shut, and I will understand what it is in the atmosphere that makes blizzards and why they happen when they do, and what it means when you can’t separate yourself from the storm.
Weather is not magical, my mother says, it is predictable. She says: Your father is as predictable as the weather and I expect just as little from him. Maybe giving birth in the blizzard made my mother cold, inside, too.
That is what I will hope for: Not apologizes, or explanations, or solutions, but a change in weather patterns. I will cross my fingers, ice-on-bone, and wait.
Erica L. Kaufman grew up in New Hampshire, briefly lived in Rhode Island, currently resides in Massachusetts, and writes often of the ocean and the woods. She earned her BFA from Emerson College in Writing, Literature, and Publishing and her MFA in Writing for Young People from Lesley University. Her work is forthcoming in the young adult anthology, Things I'll Never Say: Short Stories About Our Secret Selves, out from Candlewick Press in Spring 2015.