This was the third time her cell phone had rung in the past ten minutes. As she looked down at the unknown number from California, she realized it was the same number that had been calling her all day. She wondered how they possibly could have gotten her phone number since it had always been unlisted, plus she lived in Miami. Cassie knew she needed to go; she had been at the mall all day, and after the rousing event earlier, she really just wanted to go home. Andre had texted her to say he would be home in an hour from practice and he told her to be ready for their date night tonight.
Just as she was getting into her Audi, the phone rang again. “What do you want from me?” Of course she was talking to herself, but her husband told her that she does that often. After the fifth ring, she pulled her vibrating phone out of her black-hole-of-a-bag and answered it with an exasperated, “Hello?”
“This is Huntington Hospital in Pasadena California calling in regards to your mother who is in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant match.”
After a loud sigh and a quick punch of the passenger seat, Cassie replied, “I’m sorry, I think you have the wrong number. My mother doesn’t even live in California and I just talked to her yesterday so I know she is completely fine. Now can you please take me off your calling list or I will report this number.”
The nurse said, “Sorry, I’m calling for a Mrs. Robertson?”
“Yeah, okay. This is she.”
“I know this may come to a shock to you, but the woman who I am calling on behalf of is your…” The next word out of the nurse’s mouth made Cassie drop her phone. She sat in her idling car staring out at a black bird picking at crumbs. My birthmother? She never really got angry, unless a pair of shoes were sold-out of course, but in that moment she got so mad that she picked up the still-connected phone and said as calmly as she could, “You can tell her this: I never want to hear from her again nor do I ever want to meet with her. She was never a part of my life and I never wanted her to be either.”
Just before she was about to abruptly end the call, Cassie heard someone saying something about giving her space, but she was too frustrated to even care.
Maria stared up at the too perfect ceiling and even though it’d been twenty-one years and counting, she could clearly remember carrying the little baby inside her. She never gave up on the journey despite all the people who said, “Get it ova with.” She knew that wasn’t right, because she’s a believer. Like a do-what-is-right-and-worship-the-Lord Christian. That’s how she was raised until her daddy died of a drug overdose.
That messed up her whole life, but it also woke her up a little too. She never paid attention in church until a year after daddy was in the grave and she found out she was pregnant by some man she never really loved. That man stayed in her life until he found out the news, then he left. Maria was glad he left though, because he was the first person who told her to end her baby girl’s life.
The night she realized there was a child inside her, Maria sat bare-naked on her cold bathroom floor in her shag-carpeted apartment, too stunned to cry. She was all alone, so she most likely would have stayed prostrated until the new day was it not for her loud all-knowing mother’s phone call. She recalled stretching her stiff limbs, feeling pins and needles as she walked to her unpredictable flip phone. She would never forget the first words out of her mother’s voice, which was mixed with sniffles and a tenderness only a mother could muster.
She yelled, “Baby girl, you keep the child or God knows what I will do!”
Maria recalled standing there, feeling the cool breeze from the fan nearby on her still naked body. She was shocked, not by the fact that her mother knew, but because of the intensity in which she delivered the message. Maria had looked down at her right hand. In it, was the four-inch-long white piece of plastic that had told her that she was carrying a human inside her. As the seconds passed, Maria’s sullen face turned to a smile. A moment later her mama started to wail, thinking the deed had already been done.
Finally seeming to gain her voice back, Maria said, “Mama, don’t worry I am,” with as much force as she could coax out of her dry throat.
“Good. Now come over to see me and bring as much of your belongings as you can fit in your car, because you are moving back home,” her mom replied.
Maria loved her mama. That wise woman stood by her the whole way through the long, tiring and unwell months of pregnancy. When her mother died of natural causes the previous year, Maria went into deep depression that lasted months. To this day Maria still had days where she couldn’t talk or move because she longed to talk to her mom just one more time. Maria was an only child, so she never had a brother or sister to share those sorrowful thoughts with. Her little girl would have been an only child too, because Maria got her ovaries removed as soon as she could after the baby was born. She hated thinking about having another baby. Not because she didn’t want to raise a child, but because she wanted to keep the one child that she did have special. So that was Maria’s way of remembering what she gave to her baby: life.
She woke to Andre’s arm draped over her curvy waist. He wasn’t what woke her up though; it was the bright light coming through the slip in the brown curtain. She hated any kind of light when she was sleeping. Andre always teased her about her sensitivity to lights, especially florescent lights, but she would brush the topic aside, saying how it was a normal thing. He never bought her argument though.
As she lazily moved her eyes around their spacious tan bedroom, she couldn’t help but re-read the framed words of their wedding vows placed with precision above her white vanity across the room. As the sun shown though the blinds, Cassie thought about the day they got married; standing there on a Miami beach with her sheer white dress blowing gently in the warm breeze. Andre stood across from her, all of his six-feet-seven-inch muscular frame decked out in a custom tux. He always looked clean-shaven and put-together, but there was something about their wedding day that really made him look so sexy. Just then Andre took an extra deep breath, breaking her dreamy state. Luckily neither one of them snored, but they both breathed deeply. Cassie liked to think about it as if the air around them was love and neither one of them could ever get enough.
Cassie was just twenty-one, her birthday last week, so she was sure her perception of love was still naïve despite being married for over a year. Andre was five years older than her, but he loved how she acts silly during their movie nights, and he too joined in on the pillow fights that she starts. Cassie looked over at him again; his black curly hair cropped low into a fade and his skin is almost the same toffee shade as her own. Most people, her family included, thought that she married him because he’s “a forward for the Miami Heat,” which translated to “he has money.” No, she said yes to him because he was the one person who saw every little high-maintenance quirk that she had and still said, “Yeah, I want her to be mine.”
He rolled over and sleepily gave her a kiss right in the middle of her forehead. They were silent for a long time; she’s not a morning person and neither is he. “What day is it?” she asked.
“Thursday: our date day,” he replied in a yawn.
She smiled because he never forgot to take her out to a new restaurant every week, even if he’d had a long hard day of practice. The alarm clock began its loud morning ceremony announcing that their quiet time together is over.
She hated this part of the day because he left her for work. Before Andre, Cassie never cared about leaving anyone. She loved her family, but they weren’t as hard to leave as he was. After about twenty minutes of “procrastinating,” which is what Cassie and Andre called the time that they made-out instead of getting out of bed, Andre finally sat up and smiled down at his bride.
Cassie smiled back at him saying, “You know you’re already late for work. What’s another fifteen minutes?”
“And that, Mrs. Robertson, is why I married you,” he said as he lay back down beside her.
An hour later, Andre was fully ready for work and the knot in her stomach grew to an almost unbearable pain. He pulled her to him and she smelled his clean musky scent on his neck. He sighed, running his fingers through her long dark wavy hair and then gived her one last kiss before leaving for the day.
At the time of her baby girl’s birth, some nurse told Maria that giving up a child for adoption was easy. They were stupid and wrong, she thought. As she sat in the same hospital that her baby was born in, now all these years later, she could still picture the look on that nurse’s face when she told her to, “Stop y’all cryin’. It’s just like an abortion honey.”
Maria wanted to punch her right then and there. That nurse had no right to say anything to her. Maria was not crying because she was “giving her child up for adoption.” No, she had confidently made the decision because she knew she was giving her baby a chance at a life better than the one she had grown up in. Her mother had done all she could to keep Maria well fed and in school, but Maria had misused all the opportunities she had in her education and instead went out partying. Maria knew that the life she could give to her baby would be the same one that she had, because that was all Maria knew. That is what she wanted to say to that nurse all those years ago, but she couldn’t stop her own tears of joy and hope that her baby could live a comfortable life.
It was strange though; the nurse that has been assigned to monitor her stem cell transplant because of her leukemia was actually really kind. The nurse kept Maria company and would sometimes braid her long dark wavy hair. This morning they discussed the difficult topic of finding a match for her. The nurse brought up her daughter, but Maria quickly said no. If I haven’t been able to find her all these years, how do they expect to now?
She sat up, flipping her long hair over her shoulder, just as the nurse and doctor came in to see her. They talked to her about bone marrow and how much she desperately needed to remember if there would be anyone in her family that could donate for a transplant. I think of her instantly, my little baby who was never mine.
As she sat and stared out at the annoyingly too green lawn, she wished she could have worked today. When she doesn’t work, Cassie goes to the mall, simply to distract herself from the queasy feeling of being away from Andre. I wonder if the pain would go away if I go shopping, she thought to herself. She used to be independent when she was younger. Even went off to cosmetology school in a different state on her own and was completely fine. Now she can’t even stand one day on her own unless she is busy doing something outside of their home.
She often told Andre that her makeup business is what keeps her out of the hospital. That comment never failed to upset him. He said he would quit his job if she needed him home more, but that wouldn’t be fair to him. So Cassie always made sure she was either busy doing something or glued to his side. She truly enjoyed her life though, and wouldn’t trade it for anything. How she was living right now is how she always pictured her world would be like – rich, famous, and married. Her parents always knew she was destined for this life too; she wouldn’t be here without all their financial support.
Thirty minutes later she slid into her car, trying to keep the anticipated vomit from completely coming up her throat. She took deep breaths, hoping the day would go by quickly.
Only about thirty minutes had passed since she had been checked on, so when the nice nurse walked in, Maria’s face went from its usual calm and relaxation to anxiety. Every time someone walked through her door she expected bad news either about her condition or not being able to find a donor, since this was a hospital after all.
“We found your daughter’s number this morning!” the nurse exclaimed, “All we need is your consent so we can call her.” As Maria looked at the nurse, tears began to form behind her eyes. She remembered when she gave birth to her daugh… to the baby inside her. The pain of childbearing was nothing compared to all the pain that she was feeling now. She would give anything to do it all over again. The thought of possibly getting to see the little girl she had made was what brought the tears to Maria’s eyes. I wish my mama was still alive to witness this, she thought. After all these years all she had wanted was to even just talk to her little girl.
“You have my full consent,” Maria choked.
The nurse came over, sat on the edge of Maria’s hospital bed, and placed a pale steady hand over her own shaky caramel tone one.
“You are the best mother in the world miss Maria,” the nurse said with a smile.
Maria looked at her with a confused expression and then said, “What you talkin’ ‘bout? I never got to be a mother.”
“Oh hush. You are the mother to that girl no matter if you think so or not. Plus, you’ve been like a mother to me during your stay here. I’ve felt much love being around you,” the nurse said assuredly. Maria thought about what the nurse had just said, like a mother… felt much love.
“Well thank you,” Maria said quietly, “but could I ask what I did that made you feel… loved?”
The nurse giggled and it echoed off the smooth unembellished walls.
Then she leaned down close to Maria as if it was a secret and whispered, “Nothing. You just have a motherly heart that longs to care for whoever you come in contact with. It’s a beautiful thing.”
The doctor and other nurse came in before Maria could respond, but more tears slid down her stress-worn face although this time they were tears of joy. Maria flashed her large smile at her nurse to say a silent thank you. In that moment, she knew that whatever happened was no longer in her control. I am a mother, she thought. If she died without knowing her own child, at least she would rest knowing that she had been a mother to other people in her life.
Thursdays at the mall are boring, Cassie thought while looking at her twenty-four carat white gold watch. Where are the interesting couples with three children they can’t take care of? She sighed and realized that she had been at the mall for almost five hours already. She flipped her brown wavy hair over her shoulder, then got up from the not-so-comfy chair she was sitting on with her large Neiman Marcus bag in one hand and her cobalt blue Celine tote in the crook of her other arm. As she lazily sauntered through the familiar mall, people watched her, sometimes pointing.
“Excuse me, lil’ lady, wha’cho black ass mixed with?” some black guy asked her. Cassie rolled her eyes and prayed that this insignificant man wasn’t going to continue hitting on her. They all know I’m married, she thought, yet they continue to “holla attacha girl.” She was used to all the white people staring and whatnot, but she always felt a sort of distaste for black people. This man, for instance, was grating on her last remaining nerve.
“What am I mixed with?” she snapped. He probably already knows I’m mixed with boring white. “Well, I am mixed with Great Dane, Blue Healer and a touch of Husky,” she stated, ticking each one off on her long manicured fingers. She smiled and stared at the confused man, flipped her hair then continued walking. She heard the man cursing behind her, saying something about her being stuck up and rich.
As Cassie was just about to leave the mall, she noticed a large advertisment about a major Labor Day sale in her favorite store. Checking her watch again, she realized she still had plenty of time before she had to go home. Besides what’s a few hundred more dollars anyways, she mused, and then clicked away.
After another deep breath, Maria said she was ready for the phone call. The two nurses and her doctor were all present. They decided that the nice nurse was going to be the one making the call. Why is she so calm? I can’t even breathe right and my head is throbbin’, she thought to herself as she looked around the medium-sized hospital room. This simple cream-colored room had become quite familiar to her in the month she had been there. Maria’s hated being in this room because of the lights. The windows were far too small to let in enough natural night, so the too-bright florescence lights were on pretty much all day, unless she was sleeping. In that case, it was the flashing lights from all the monitors that she was connected to that kept her from sleep. She liked to call the monitors children because they never stopped harassing her with their rainbow-colored lights and bleeping cries.
“Okay, Maria are you ready?” The nurse said as she gently squeezed her hand.
Maria nodded, her throat to dry to speak.
The phone was ringing. It rang until there was a click and an automated voice said that the person on the other end was not available at this time. Maria felt like crying. After thinking about how all the lights bothered her, she wished she could be cleared to go home. With the doctor’s permission, the nurse called back again. Just stop, just stop, just…
“Stop,” Maria said, her voice barely a whisper even though she felt like shrieking.
“Miss, maybe this is really your daughter’s number,” the nurse said with a hopeful look,
“Just one more time okay? Then we will give you a break.” Maria wondered why she even had pleaded for them to make the phone call with her present. All she wanted to do now was make them all go away. I wanna go home, she thought, but what’s there? All I’ll be goin’ back to is an empty ole apartment and bills.
“Fine,” she said as she took a shaky breath.
She walked into Zara as two workers immediately bubbled over to say hello. Well, they really just wanted her to buy the usual three-hundred-dollar purchase and both ladies wanted commissions, but that was none of her business. The first lady to greet Cassie was a bit too excited and ditsy.
“Good afternoon Mrs. Robertson,” the clerk said. Cassie turned toward her with a smile, hoping to not get into one of those meaningless small talk conversations.
“Hey, it’s nice to see you today,” said Cassie flatly.
Just as the first clerk was going to reply, another lady came over with the most gorgeous little black dress in her hand. She didn’t even say hello, the lady simply held the dress out in front of Cassie smiling, showing her large gums and pearly whites for the entire store to see.
“I’ll take a size 8 please,” Cassie said rudely. As the clerk quickly clicked away in her heels Cassie noticed a husky dark figure walk into the men’s section of the store. He looked around; not noticing her leery gaze, he then grabbed a gold diamond watch out on display and slid it into his inner left coat pocket.
Cassie was the only person who knew who committed the crime, yet the person who notified the store manager that the watch was missing was one of the workers located in that area of the store. She watched as the manager returned from making a quick call just as four mall police sauntered in to the store. Oh joy, she thought to herself, now there’s going to be mall cop drama. She decided to stick around in the overly air-conditioned store to see how this all played out. She meandered over to the fitting rooms, which was a fair distance from the “crime scene” plus the lights weren’t so bright and annoying. After a few minutes, they realized that whoever took the watch was gone. Slow clap for the brilliant mall cops. After minutes of customer’s hushed whispers about the dangerous person and all the workers huddled in a corner like scared greyhounds, the “cops” began asking if anyone had noticed the individual who took the watch. One mall officer looked her way, but Cassie just shook her head and flipped her hair over her shoulder.
“You would think our mall cops would at least look good,” Cassie said aloud, “This is Florida after all, why are they so fat?” She wasn’t talking to anyone in particular, although some prissy old woman gave her the Don’t-Judge-Unless-You-Too-Want-To-Be-Judged look and then walked out of the store. Cassie rolled her eyes and smoothed down her cream Chanel crop top that revealed part of her rose tattoo on her left hip. She too felt like leaving; now that the “excitement” was over she was in much need of a non-fat light iced latte from some shop other than Starbucks plus her stomach pains were coming back.
Just as she was walking out, the two store clerks yelled out to her that she hadn’t bought anything yet.
Without looking back Cassie said, “I’ll be back later, just need some caffeine after all this.”
After the fifth ring Maria knew there was no hope. She was about to tell the nurse to just hang up the phone when the ringing stopped. She froze, her still-trembling hand hovering in front of her mouth. She couldn’t hear the voice on the other end, but she knew it had to be her sweet girl.
After a second, the now-stunned nurse quickly responded, “This is Huntington Hospital in Pasadena California calling in regards to your mother who is in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant match.” Maria wanted to finally hear her daugh… Yes, her daughter’s voice.
“Speaka phone?” she asked. The nurse hastily pushed a button and that was it, Maria was listening to her baby girl for the very first time. Well, I remember when I heard her cry right after she was born, she thought, it was the most melodious noise that I had ever heard. Then they took her away…
“…I think you have the wrong number. My mother doesn’t even live in California and I just talked to her yesterday so I know she is completely fine. Now can you please take me off your calling list or I will report this…”
The nurse said, “Sorry, I’m calling for a Mrs. Robertson.”
“Yeah, okay. This is she.”
“I know this may come to a shock to you, but the woman whom I am calling on behalf of is your birthmother,” the nurse said softly. Maria held her breath as she pictured a young lady with light caramel skin and long wavy black hair just like hers staring back at her.
After a rustling sound and a short pause the voice on the other end replied, “…Tell her this: I never want to hear from her again nor do I ever want to meet with her. She was never a part of my life and I never wanted her to be…”
All those tears of love, hope, joy and now deep mournful hurt didn’t hit Maria quickly. Instead of bursting into tears, she sat there on her hospital bed slumped into the thick off-white pillows behind her. She doesn’t want me in her life?
“Maria, do you want to be alone?” her nurse asked hesitantly. The pain the leukemia brought on her was nothing in comparison to what Maria was feeling now. She was staring blankly out the small window. Her face looked like that of an eighty year old: sullen, winkled, and ashy-grey in color.
“Let’s give her some time,” the doctor said quietly. His hand softly patted Maria’s, then he and the nurses left the room.
Maria didn’t want to be alone; she wanted to be held by someone who knew what she was going through. But there was no one in her world that would have filled the hole in her heart. I want my mama. My daughter doesn’t love me. I shouldn’t have called her. I wouldn’t be hurt. It’s all my fault. I’m dying anyway. Why should I live then? I want my mama. I’m coming mama…
All of a sudden Maria reached for the one tube attached to her arm she remembered the nurse saying something about it being very important. Oh, my sweet nurse… she’ll understand. Maria quickly yanked the tube with the purple liquid out from under her thin skin. Nothing happened. Then dark blood rapidly started dripping down her arm and sliding onto the light green sheets. Maria began to shake, thrash and have convulsions that set off a chorus of flashing lights and alarms from her monitors.
The nice nurse was the first to hear the commotion and after seeing Maria quickly called for the doctor, who was just down the hall, while she desperately tried to rein in the still-thrashing Maria.
“Her vitals just dropped, they can’t go any lower or we’ll lose her,” the doctor said urgently trying to replace the missing IV. “I can’t get a pulse now… Get the defibrillator.”
The nurse raced around the room gathering the needed supplies. Even after trying the defibrillator, they couldn’t get a heartbeat. Her forty-year-old heart had stopped beating and could not be revived.
She couldn’t stop shaking. After a quick 5-mile drive home, she arrived to an unnerved Andre telling her that he had tried to call but the phone was busy. As he pulled her into a comforting sweat-drenched embrace she began to cry. He let her cry for a few minutes, occasionally wiping her tears away with his comforting hands.
“So, what’s wrong? Did someone hurt choo?” he prodded.
It took Cassie a few more deep breaths before she replied, “My birthmother is in some stupid hospital in California and she needs some dumb transplant so the hospital somehow found my number.” The hatred in her voice was apparent. Andre looked about, stunned as she had ever seen him.
With his eyes wide, he whispered, “Birthmother?”
“Yeah, I know. Stupid, huh? I told her I never wanted to hear from her again and…”
“No,” he interrupted, “You can’t just say that to yo mother.”
“She is not my mother, Andre, and you have no say in what I tell some woman who gave birth to me.” She had let go of him at this point. Her tears of annoyance turned to tears of anger toward the whole situation. He looked at her as if he was disgusted, which made her cry more. She loved him more than anyone else and to see him with this much detachment in his eyes truly scared her.
“Are you… sure that she was yo birthmother?” he asked hesitantly, with a questioning gaze.
“I’m completely sure. Why else could they have tracked me? You of all people know that we aren’t the easiest people to get ahold of,” Cassie said with a defensive tone. Andre took two of his long sauntering steps and held her again. She stayed stiff because she knew he wasn’t just holding her because he wanted to. No, he was holding her to make his point since she was so upset. Her brain sort of softened when she was in Andre’s arms. He was like a tranquilizer to her and she had the same effect on him too.
“What if we called the hospital back together? Just to make sure that everything is alright with your…”
“She is not my mother,” Cassie interrupted sharply.
“Okay, but would you be ‘aight with that babe?” Andre asked pleadingly, letting his urban intonation bleed through even more. Cassie thought about it. She thought about what it had felt like for her to even think about the fact that she was speaking to this lady she had never met, but who made her feel so much hate.
She said, “No, I won’t be a part of the phone call. I told her I never wanted to meet with her and I consider calling her back the same as meeting her.”
“You know that doesn’t make any sense, right?”
“Andre, I don’t even care at this point. Let’s just clean up and go get dinner like we do every Thursday night and just forget about all this?”
“Fine. We will go get dinner. But, not until after I call the hospital,” said Andre insistently. “You can pretend like nothin’ happened today, and that the woman that gave me you didn’t just step into your life. Cool, tell me how that works out for you. But I’m gonna call and see.” He reached out his hand for her phone and she gave it to him instantly. Cassie was always a rude, heartless girl, but the one thing that made her vulnerable was Andre. The fact that he was now involved in all this drama made it tough for her to separate being a snob and being his angel.
“I just have one question to ask you,” she said.
“No matter what happens to that woman, can you forget about all this and just move forward? And please don’t tell me what you find out, ‘cause I really don’t care.”
He looked at her with a look only Cassie would recognize as equal parts love mixed with equal parts sadness and said, “I promise to love you unconditionally, to support you in your goals, to honor and respect you, to laugh with you and cry with you, and to cherish you for…”
“As long as we both shall live,” they said in unison. Cassie wasn’t surprised that he quoted their wedding vows word-for-word to her, since they both stared at them on their bedroom wall daily.
She smiled at him saying, “I’ll be in the shower baby…” He smiled back at her, showing his perfect white teeth, as he watched her walk away and then pressed redial.