I was born at a truck stop in the middle of Connecticut. I had no mother, only a midwife—an elderly woman who looked like she was made of dough. She welcomed me as I stumbled, full grown, into the world. I thanked her numbly as she wrapped me in a musty towel and wiped the viscous fluid out of my eyes and mouth. My first instinct had been to cry, but she had looked at me sternly as if to say don’t you dare.
My mother might have been a parasitic wasp who laid her eggs in the tiled bathroom walls before curling up on herself forever. My mother might have been a mountain, an idea, Metis in the mind of Zeus. These are fantasies. I will never meet my mother.
My midwife sat me down on a fold out chair next to the two empty vending machines where I waited, shivering, for some explanation of my sudden appearance into the world. I received a stack of clean, ill-fitting clothes instead and changed behind the rotating postcard stand in full view of the highway.
The first words my midwife spoke to me were, “Come, you must be starving. Let’s get some lunch in you.” I knew what lunch was, somehow. I watched her heat up a plate of frozen meatballs and peas in the glass box where hot dogs were slowly being turned again and again on metal skewers. The smell made my stomach turn.
“There are not many places left where things don’t get noticed.”
“If you’re asking who I am, I’m your midwife, not your creator. This is merely my job.”
“So, you can’t give me a name?”
“You already have one.”
I wanted to beg her for my name but I didn’t and kept my pride. She looked at me appraisingly, like she was either proud of me or sorry for me. I held my chin a little higher. I didn’t want her to be sorry for me.
She placed her large hands on both my cheeks, the first time she had touched me directly. Her fingers even felt like dough, covered in flour, and I was afraid some of her spongy skin would come off on my face.
“You have to leave here.”
“So many questions.” She was disappointed, or scared, I couldn’t tell.
“You must.” She shrugged. I wondered if she was just a figure of clay sent by some higher power. I wondered if she would crumble as soon as a left, leaving only a smudge.
I left the truck stop and squinted into the sudden light, the haze of morning. Then I started walking.
The first person I met who was not my midwife was a girl with skin the color of autumn praying in a picnic area a mile or so from where I had been born.
When she looked up, after what seemed like an eternity, to see me sitting on a bench, staring, she smiled like she was greeting an old friend.
She kept on smiling while she rolled up her rug, although it was longer for me. When she was done she walked towards me.
She was so close to me that I almost couldn’t breathe, she reached out and straightened the collar of my ill-fitting shirt. Her hands smelled like cinnamon and nutmeg.
“Let’s get you something better to wear.”
“Who are you.”
“The same as you.”
“I think I was born today.”
Her hands were resting comfortably on my shoulders now. I felt like I was talking through honey.
“You...you’re familiar. Like I know you.”
“We do know each other.”
“Hush. I’ll explain later.”
She held my hand as she led me away and away and away and I couldn’t remember how to breathe, so I focused on the beetle brooch on her headscarf, glinting in the afternoon light.
“Might take a bit.”
“Take a bit…” I had forgotten where we were going.
She looked over at me, eyes crinkled.
She had dimples.
“I’m going to find us a strip mall or a thrift shop or something.”
“Takes some getting used to, right?”
I could only nod.
She got me soft green capris and three identical shirts that I could keep in her bag. I was glad she picked the clothes out for me. They fit me, and I wasn’t sure I could have chosen anything for myself.
We lay in the sparse yellowish grass in the median between two highways. The cars were thundering past at such a volume that we could only hear each other if our heads touched and we could tilt our words to each other’s ears. The air around us was sticky with exhaust fumes and sunlight.
“Is this...is this how it works, is this how it’s supposed to be?” I almost shouted into her ear.
She pursed her lips and sat up a little so she could shook her head.
“Then...why? Who are we?”
“Let me show you.”
She held out her palm. I took it. And suddenly we were sinking into the earth. I almost panicked, then I felt her other hand reach out and take my shoulder.
“Remember to breathe.”
“Okay. I...I trust you. Implicitly. Is that strange?”
“No. We’ve known each other for a very long time.”
I was about to ask what she meant by that, but my head was swallowed by the earth. For a moment I did panic, in the dark, filmy world below the grass. Then I took a breath in.
The dirt around us was warm and soft, like thousands of crumbs of fresh baked bread. I breathed in and it was like being weightless. It was like being unborn again. Something in me burned like muscle memory.
We were still holding hands. Her voice came to me as through water.