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Bits and Pieces by Katrina Cassens

I wanted Tia to be the first one to hold him. After all, she was his real mom. I was just his vessel. I didn’t even hear him cry before the nurse placed his vernix-covered body on my chest. Seven pounds, ten fingers, and ten toes. His skin was a beautiful hue of blue. His lips, those were mine. Skinny elongated feet were the Cassens curse. If I hadn’t known these first moments were all I would have with our son Liam indefinitely, I would have felt guilty for taking them from the Websters. I wanted Dave to do the honors of cutting the cord. He was Liam’s dad, the only man who gave a damn about the details of his existence. Months before, Dave and Tia graciously asked me to help them choose a name. That’s just the kind of people they were. Allowing them to experience every moment of his birth was the least I could do when they had done so much for me.

My uncle’s girlfriend got me a balloon, but everyone else knew better. I didn’t want any more reminders of my selflessness. I wanted to ignore the foreshadowing of my forfeiture. My one request was a single night alone with Liam before we left the hospital. Even asking for that left me with a burning, selfish guilt. But I didn’t care. I needed those moments, fleeting or not.

A flawless product of a college one-night stand rested peacefully in my lap for what seemed like hours, but when the whimpering finally began, I took it as my cue to cry too. I held him close to my chest as I got up from the hospital bed. We paced around the room, and I breathed everything in fully.  I looked around at the abundance of supplies the birthing unit had provided me. I built a collection of doll-sized Pampers begging to be soiled, a soft bristled brush that needed a head to groom, and a little blue blanket that would forever be searching for a body to swaddle. I didn’t care about the regurgitated formula down the front of my hospital gown — I would have bathed in it. My fingers caressed the bridge of his button nose before gently pressing it to mine. His blue-gray eyes surveyed my face as if they were searching for answers, but all it had to offer were questions. I sobbed an apology that I immediately took back and followed with, “I love you so much. You’re going to be really happy.” My womb was crying. I was empty, but I couldn’t fall through with my decision now.

I glanced over at the car seat in the corner of the room, reminding myself that it would never see the backseat of my Mazda. I stroked the gold-coated wooden box that Tia left for me and pushed the gift cards to the side. A family photo album assured me that he would be surrounded by prestigious, hard-working people — doctors, lawyers, dentists, social workers. They were the kind of people who volunteered to feed the poor after working all day. They were the kind of people who never forgot to say a prayer before dinner. I opened a gold locket to find a folded up piece of paper with the quote by Desha Wood that said, “He is mine in a way that he will never be hers, and he is hers in a way that he will never be mine. So together, we are motherhood.” In that moment,

I knew that I would rather shatter my own heart a thousand times over than break theirs just once. Every ounce of doubt in my mind subsided. I knew the Websters would never make me regret my decision to give them my son. Our son. Their son.

The town I spent 20 years of my life in no longer felt familiar to me. I slept in solitude with a deflating balloon. I kept the newborn nightie soiled with vomit in the little gold box next to my bed, vowing to never wash it. I walked along the Columbia River and for weeks I envied the smiles on the faces that passed me. I wanted to remember what it felt like to be complete. Six weeks after the adoption, I went to Spokane to visit the Websters and we got family pictures taken in a field at sundown. That’s when I knew that no matter what happened, no matter how much time passed, they would always include me in their family story. So I eventually stopped trying to fill the void when I realized it didn’t exist. I quit asking the question why when I realized I had a box full of reasons and an annual Christmas card with a face that looks like mine.

About the Author

Katrina Cassens is a senior graduating this May with a degree in English and an emphasis in creative writing. She often spends her time writing, listening to EDM, and having dance parties in her kitchen. She plans to attend Gonzaga School of Law in hopes of becoming a criminal defense attorney.