A game changer


“Grandmother, I’m going to have a baby” I said, inhaling nothing but the heat coming from both inside and outside the mesh screen door, which held despite a broken hinge.

She turned to look at me; I shut the window, as if I’d be overheard by the spade players outside. I was eight weeks. I felt I hadn’t gained weight anywhere but on my shoulders. The father wasn’t going to go along with a baby so I left him out of my story. Spaghetti noodles frothed in boiling water in a pot on the stove. She came towards me and took me in, feeling my arms and my back as if seeing if I were real. I was 19, past the ages of both my sisters when they had gotten pregnant. Wrinkles added dashes to her eyes. The thin red lips that usually held a cherry cigar brimmed, curving up like a measuring cup, from the bottom to the top, full. She gave me one of her soul quenching sighs, then kissed me on the lips. Her breath smelled of smoke and cherries. 

“I’m so happy for you baby.” She placed a wooden spoon on top of the boiling pot to keep the water from overflowing.

My mother had suffered a nervous breakdown when I was a baby. All eight of us, kids, were passed among relatives while my mother struggled to make the pieces of her life fit inside a space that had collapsed from its weight. I lived with my Grandmother. My mother and I danced precariously around the edges of each other’s fragile egos, neither one of us able to occupy the center—the space that we longed for in each other. My mother was like a cool older sister. She never grew up and so I grew up on my own, pampered by my grandmother who at one point watched ten of her six offspring’s offspring.

I told each family member present. My cousin, Ginger, said, “There is a government conspiracy around birth control. They don’t want us to have it.”

“That isn’t the point, Ginger.”  I didn’t tell her I wanted a baby.  I wanted to do it alone. The boy who had given me the baby, was exactly that to me, my donor.

My Aunt Rosy, who nursed five kids, and was now nursing a gin and juice said, “I mixed powdered milk with twice the water, and live on government assistance, subsistence it should be called.”

My model thin mother dressed in a flowered mini skirt leaned on the Formica table in my grandmother’s kitchen and said, “That’s nothing, I nursed 8 babies and my breasts are shapeless, empty sacks. What did I get in return?” A question she answered by rolling her eyes.

They told me in turn, about diapers, and baby food, and about making do.  I had been taken in by a complicated con game created by the government to suck black people into soul sucking poverty.

It was a warm summer night filled with the sirens of an ambulance or cop car, competing with the ice cream man’s troll through the neighborhood, as well as the shouting and cursing from a pick-up game of basketball played in a nearby neighbor’s backyard.

We were twelve adults with just as many kids running amok outside. Grandmother called all the kids in for dinner. The card players had switched to dominoes, but the men joined us inside abandoning the game. We watched a recap of a football game played earlier. An excited commentator explained why there had been an upset. They showed a rerun of the play. I’d not been at the house then. The next football game was due within the hour. We all piled in front of the sixteen-inch T.V. my grandmother had in the living room. On our laps, plates loaded with spaghetti which we washed down with Kool-Aid. The kitchen table wasn’t big enough even with the extension put in. After dinner, the children shared bath water. The announcer explained what the game changer for the team had been. How the underdogs had prevailed. They replayed the hail Mary pass, thrown high, down the center, miraculously caught by an end receiver. My cousin, Ginger watched me, studying me, when she thought I wasn’t looking. She thought I was a loser, I knew that. She was college bound and she was twelve. At twelve I had known all the answers to how to play the game too. I didn’t envy her, because you play your position in a game that has no time outs, no real rules and that’s hard to score.


By Annabelle Baptista


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