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The International Writers Magazine
Life Stories

Elizabeth di Grazia

The bedroom is shadowy. The bundle, a snail swaddled in yellow flannel, curls into my chest. We rock. A homemade quilt lies at the edge of the crib, its outline visible through the slats. Against one wall the silhouette of not yet opened infant toys propped on white shelving. Floating above us, a welcome balloon. I look down at him searching for his face. He has burrowed beneath the blanket. Pooled body warmth makes us sweat. I dare not move to brush the perspiration running down my neck and under my shirt, though it's spidery and causing me to itch. He seems to like this moist incubator we have created. The only sound is his short, rapid breaths that I lean to hear.

In the darkness, the bundle is Johnny, the twelfth child of the Smith family, the brother I mothered until he was five years old. His death at twenty-nine years of age follows me the same as the little red wagon that he pulled around the farmyard.

In the darkness, the form twisted into me is thirteen pounds and eight months old, the same age as Baby Boy Smith (my baby, the one I had when I was seventeen, twenty-five years ago) when his adopted mother first held him. I think of them now, mother and son, how she must have felt holding her baby. I embrace Baby Boy Smith, pull him tight, tears slide down my face.

Only for a moment is the baby Antonio, my adopted son. I lean forward and stand, lift Johnny, Baby Boy Smith, and Antonio over the railing and into the crib. The baby cries. I hear Johnny and Baby Boy Smith crying for their mama and wonder if I'm always going to hear them every time I hold my son or look into his crib.
I didn't know that I was bringing home Johnny and Baby Boy Smith when I boarded the plane in Guatemala City. Yet they are as alive to me as the biting March wind pushing to get into the house. I have to hold their hand, I think. Let them sit on my lap, cuddle in my arms. If I fight the images, the memory, their scent, they will endure, as I have endured.

I ask myself, will Antonio not be seen by me and compete with shadows that he knows nothing about? But didn't I have Antonio because of Johnny and Baby Boy Smith? Aren't they the reason that I wanted to give a boy life?

My partner Jody is in Guatemala completing the adoption process for our daughter. Antonio had only been home a week when we got the call that our daughter had cleared the Guatemalan courts. Jody and I had decided to adopt two children as close as we could in age. Antonio and Crystel, born six weeks apart, had been in the same foster home since Crystel was born. We wanted to bring them home together. That didn't happen.

The first night with Antonio is the worse. He will not sleep. He cries all the time. The weight of being a good mom pushes at me the same as the March wind throwing itself at our home. I know things like don't hit, don't yell, and don't hurt. But there's more to being a mom than that. I thought caring for Antonio would be easy. What possibly could go wrong? Why does the baby cry all the time? I need sleep. He cries every time I place him in the crib. I lie on my bed, hold him on my chest. He whimpers. He sobs. I move him back to his crib. He cries. "What do you want?" I ask. "What's wrong?" I pick up the baby. Shake him. I'm horrified. I never thought that I'd be one of those mothers. I quickly lay him on the hardwood floor. He quits crying. All I want is sleep. He sobs. I pick up the baby lie him on the changing table. In his glazed eyes - I see - he wants to sleep. He isn't doing this to me. I hold him tight.

The next day in the wavering afternoon light I rock Antonio. Gripped in his fist is a red plastic ring that he is biting. Moments earlier, I had taken from the shelving the Rock-A-Stack gift; five bright candy-colored rings in graduated sizes looped over an 8-inch-tall plastic post. Antonio, tugging at the plastic, helped me open the package.
I say, "Johnny, I'm sorry I couldn't take you with me. That I had to leave you with our mom." Teeth marks indent the ring. "I wanted too. But I had to leave. I had to save myself." Antonio reaches for the yellow ring. "Johnny, I wasn't your mom. I was your sister. Even though you called me mom, and I took care of you like a mom, I wasn't your mom." The baby bangs the rings together laughing at the slap, slap, slap sound.

Exploring the world with his mouth, Antonio chews on the yellow ring then the red. He makes sucking noises, settling into my lap. "Baby Boy Smith, I know your mom loves you," I say. "Your real mom. The one who created a home with you." I stand to sway Antonio back and forth. "I gave you up because I couldn't take care of you." I hug Antonio close. "I hope you have a good life." My son's lips purse together, smacking. "Are you hungry, Antonio?"

After feeding and changing the eight month old, I return to his bedroom to rock. Antonio's birth mom probably doesn't think of him. Why would I think that? After all these years don't I still think of my son? Why would his mom be any different from me - because she comes from a poor country - because she's illiterate? Is her love any less than mine?

Transcribed documents say that Rosa, Antonio's mom, has a first grade education. When she was 20 she met Mateo and lived with him off and on for two years. She had two children, including Antonio. Mateo didn't want to recognize her first born, their daughter, because he didn't want to be engaged. He left before he knew Rosa was pregnant with Antonio. When they met again, she let him know about Antonio. He refused to be the father of Antonio and disappeared. Rosa's 2 1/2 year old daughter is living with Rosa's mother while Rosa works as a maid in Guatemala City. Rosa sends money every month for her care. Her mother doesn't know about Antonio and if she finds out, she will refuse to take care of her daughter.

I was sixteen years old when I became pregnant with Baby Boy Smith. I named Marty, a person I had relations with once, as the father. I gave Baby Boy Smith up for adoption because I had no resources. No money. No family to support me.

Documents state that the couple chosen to adopt my son, Baby Boy Smith, had also adopted an infant girl (who was three years old at the time of my son's birth). Baby Boy Smith would complete their family. Knowing this information, each time I heard that someone was adopted I listened for clues. Did the boy have an older sister? Was the boy born in the fall? In graduate school, a man my son's age was writing about being adopted. I sat across from him, and studied his skin tone, the tint and texture of his hair, the color of his eyes, the shape of his face, and the length of his fingers. I took note of his personality and mannerisms. Was he talkative or shy? Did he move to touch his brow; was his voice gravelly? I wanted to ask him, were your parents kind? Do you ever think of your birth mother? Wonder, who was she?

Bundling Antonio in a snowsuit, I say, "You're guapo handsome, Antonio, It's time for us to go to the airport. Your Mama Jody and sister will be here soon."

In the airport, I watch Jody step down the stairs lightly, an infant in her front pack. When we meet, she turns Crystel and we watch the babies look at each other. A wide smile works its way across Antonio's round face; his dark eyes reflect the light. He reaches to touch his sister's face. Holding the children, we hug, tears bursting from our eyes.
"I love you," Jody says. We kiss.
"Welcome home," I say. Antonio waves his hands wildly. He wants to crawl out of my arms and into Crystel's. She watches him. Blinks, then blinks again, starts driveling. Antonio yammers back. Still embracing Jody and I look into each other's eyes. "Finally ... our family ... together."

Jody hands Crystel to me, and I hand Antonio to her. I whisper, "I'll take care of you Crystel, thanks for making it home." I don't want to let her go, but Antonio will have it no other way. Mama Jody gives him a quick kiss, than sets him on the floor. And I place our wiggling daughter next to him. Holding tight to each other, Jody and I watch their reunion: Antonio shows Crystel that he can stand: he scoots to his knees, reaches for the railing and pull himself up, all the while, their big eyes hold each other. She reaches to touch his face.

© Elizabeth di Grazia 07 March 2007
edigrazia at

 Elizabeth has published short work in a number of periodicals, including The Phoenix, Rockhurst Review, Beginnings, Penniless Press and four personal essays with Edge Life.  An essay will be forthcoming in the June 2007 issue of The Mom Writer's Literary Magazine.

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