I’m Still Willa Carmichael
THE SUNDAY AFTER HIGH SCHOOL let out in June, my mother found my home pregnancy test (+) and an abortion brochure from the Bagshaw Women’s Clinic in my sock drawer. I’d snuck home at 7:00 a.m. from a warehouse rave on the Downtown Eastside and, moments or hours later, stepped sopping wet from the shower into the spear tip of my mother’s index finger.
“A little privacy, how about?” I said. Back then, I had silver bead rings in my nipples, navel and labia minora and had big plans for my labia majora.
“These nylons.” My mother held up a pair of black fishnet nylons she’d found in my sock drawer, as if they were evidence the serpent from Genesis had shed his skin in my highboy. She was dressed for this evangelical church she’d started going to over on Willingdon after Dad left. She had on her long, navy blue skirt, a starched white blouse and the grim, furrowed smile she wore on the judge’s bench at the Provincial Court. Her favourite saying, when it came to parenting me was, “There are no appeals in my court, Willa.”
I knew at once that she’d found something worse than the fishnets and tried to drown out the alarm bell tolling in my head with a loud accusation of my own: “You can’t wear those nylons in church!”
Up came the crumpled brochure with the black and white peony on the cover and, beside it, the name of the woman who’d advised me written down in my neat handwriting: Rhonda-Lou :-).
“Willa, you haven’t?”
I clutched my hand to my stomach, as if the baby was still there. God, no I’d never do anything to avoid being a fourteen-year-old mother with a grade nine education. I thanked somebody—God maybe or Stephen Hawking— that my mother couldn’t pick out the frigid dribble of sweat rolling down my wet neck.
“How many weeks?”
I held up four fingers. It was easier to lie in signs than words. “We’re keeping it,” she said.
Last night’s rave pushed at the back of my throat. My mother gave me a little, puckered smile and pressed herself against my small, wet, barren body. “It’s just morning sickness. When I had you, I threw up until the end.”
My mother couldn’t have believed that I would keep the baby. Maybe her doubt began with the brochure and that I had an advisor in Rhonda-Lou. Maybe it was because my mother’s job as a Provincial Court judge kept her out of the house for fourteen hours a day and she couldn’t stop me from reading Doris Lessing novels. Maybe it was the age of the douchebag I’d slept with—twenty-three—and that I refused to testify against him. My mother and I fought for three humid July days. We fought over the horror of my honour roll brain trapped inside a “trollop nature” (her words), over my bright future as a teenage mother living on welfare supplemented by prostitution; over what to call the cluster of cells I’d planned to “pitch into a hospital incinerator”—embryo or child. On the fourth day, she handed me a plane ticket to San Diego and a bus ticket to San Quintín, Mexico, a small town on the west coast of the Baja. She was shipping me there to work for my half-brother, Randy, for the rest of July and August. Randy ran a Christian mission called Samaritan Life on a five-acre spread just outside San Quintín. I’m sure my mother thought that if anyone could guard my unnamed cluster of cells past the first trimester, it would be Randy. I just wanted to get away from ground zero.
The night before I left, my mother helped with my unpacking. She confiscated my smartphone and my laptop. She took my copies of Lolita, The Grass is Singing and The Golden Compass, and left my pocket Spanish dictionary and a Sudoku puzzle book . She made me sign a piece of paper not to take advantage of already being pregnant and fuck anyone inside or outside Samaritan Life, especially men “reminiscent of that archreprobate, your father—God bless his HIV.” At the time, the agreement suited me just fine. Galen Wade, drywall taper, bassist, statutory rapist (said my mother) and, for six weeks, father, might as well have died. He didn’t return my texts or calls when I told him I was pregnant. I had to go alone to the Bagshaw Women’s Clinic and I had to come out alone. I had to be diminished.
“You’re going to return, Willa,” my mother said, “with my grandchild steeped in the mysteries of the Lord.” And then she raised her palm and closed her eyes and prayed until her hand tremored as if she had the DTs. “Let your mercy and love reach inside this daughter of sin and protect this little one. Lord, protect this precious gift. Lord, I beg you. Enforce thy laws.”
Randy met me at the San Quintín bus station. He hugged me as my mother had at the airport: as if I wore a concealed bomb. His sweat smelled of chilies and tortillas and the town’s salted, dusted air. At the corner of each eye, he now had two light red splotches where once he had teardrop tattoos.
“Bienvenida a San Quintín,” he said. He’d worked in Mexico for twelve summers, but that was almost all the Spanish he knew—it was all the Spanish most of the missionaries knew. That and Dios te bendiga.
We drove south down the highway in Randy’s black Dodge truck with the air conditioner on high. He told me how good it was to see me, how much I’d love working with the Mexican people, how much “you guys” could help, as if I was two sets of hands now that he thought I was pregnant. I said only cheery, vapid crap. I knew my mother had armed him to undermine me: any word I said that had any depth to it whatsoever would be a trapdoor into a lecture or a sermon about my getting pregnant, about my killing a child if I chose abortion. Randy turned on the radio to an English program that talked about sinners in the hands of an angry god. Even back then, I refused to capitalize god: this irate, vindictive deity was an invention of ideologues, of people who needed conviction to know pleasure.
“I’m cold,” I said. I rolled down my passenger window, so I could breathe real air. My mother had chosen this place for me—because of what it lacked. San Quintín had nothing that resembled a hospital or clinic among the long rows of fading, pastel-coloured storefronts. A block off the paved highway, we were knee deep in sweltering dirt roads, rickety plywood shacks and swarms of barefoot children. The Baja’s god must have been angry about something other than a prematurely emptied uterus.
We drove through a wide, steel gate flanked by palm trees into Samaritan Life. Randy showed me to the faded, red two-person tent that would be my home for the summer. Samaritan Life had been a shabby campground before Randy bought all five acres and fixed it up with volunteer labour from Canadian churches. He and ten local ministers had scrubbed out the moral and spiritual stains with twelve hours of continuous prayer. The grounds had a pool, a cookhouse, and a small caretaker’s shack. All four sides were fenced in by a tall row of scraggly junipers interlaced with an old chain-link fence and plenty of San Quintín’s tawny dust. My job would be to prep and serve three meals a day to the missionaries who came from Canada by the busload “to show the mercy, justice, and reconciliation of Jesus Christ in Mexico.” Randy said that his ad copy practically writes itself and that the Lord favours those who use the Oxford comma.
“You could use some favouring, too,” he said and glanced at my stomach.
I caressed my belly with one hand as I’d seen other mothers do on TV. “A condom broke, okay?”
I should’ve said nothing. He reached into a leather shoulder bag he wore everywhere and gave me a New International Bible and a silver cross. He wanted me to wear the cross to look pure to the Mexicans we built houses for and, more importantly, to Randy’s devout clientele. And I should read the Bible to save, if not myself, the innocent life inside me. “Your baby can understand what you read to it,” Randy said. “Start with Proverbs 19:23.”
“What’s my baby to understand if I read her 1 Samuel 15? God likes killing kids?”
“I don’t know you anymore.” He put on a wide-brimmed straw Stetson and walked away silent and stiff-backed between the olive trees. “I’m still me,” I called after him. “I’m still Willa.”
I wasn’t, not really. Doctor Deikman had said that I wouldn’t remember anything about the procedure, because of the “really good drugs.” But when I peed I could still feel the cold plastic tube going in and then the nasty suction and after that I tasted the cherry Flintstone vitamins my mother used to make me swallow. I tasted that flavour for months. In the cafeteria at school. On the plane to San Diego. After tacos one night in San Quintín. As if loss came with a fruit tang.
My days at Samaritan Life began at 6:00 a.m. with Randy’s prayer meetings for the staff and ended at 10:00 p.m. when I locked the cookhouse for the night. The missionaries arrived by bus every Sunday night and left the following Saturday. I made gallons of oatmeal, chopped orchards of fruit, and cooked cauldrons of spaghetti. I changed the toilet paper in the outhouses and scrubbed the seats every night and threw the filthy water down the hole of the last outhouse onto a swarming cockroach colony. I had little time to read or think. “Hasta mañana,” I said each night to Mrs. Casimiro, the milky-eyed Mazatec woman whom I helped in the kitchen. “Dios te bendiga, Willa,” she always said back and placed her hand, which was missing two fingers, on my shoulder like you do to a mourner at a funeral. “I pray for the baby. You pray for the baby, too.”
The Sunday of my first week there, Randy made me go with him in his truck to the San Quintín garbage dump. The poorest Mexicans lived there in cardboards shacks and, for money, they collected scrap metal to sell in town. I went to help Randy unload the pile of garbage in the truck bed, but he said, “You’re on light duty. Stay here.” Hardly had Randy let a black plastic bag hit the dust before these six kids and their parents tore into it and rooted through the stinking mess for food. Randy got back into the air-conditioned cab and took a call on his smartphone from this busload of missionaries coming down from San Diego.
The thick, black smoke from the garbage fires thinned a little and I watched two of the older kids taking slurps from a tub of spoiled yogurt I’d thrown out two days ago.
“Why show me this, if you want me to keep the baby?” I asked. “You’re not keeping the baby,” Randy said. “You’re giving it up. I know a good family. Prayerful in their hearts. They’re arriving tonight. Your mom is okay with it.”
I felt too cold and dizzy to spit out fuck that I’m keeping it and walk back to Samaritan Life. The past week that I’d been here, I’d let the rigour of my I’m-pregnant act diminish a little each day. Most of the missionaries who came through Samaritan Life had such an earnest, easygoing credulity that I would have been long gone before I had to start worrying about showing. Now someone wanted the baby I no longer had. I didn’t have the money to bus back to San Diego and rebook my flight and I had too much pride to call my mother in tears.
“Donna Edgelow—she’s the mother of this family I’m talking about— her pregnancy last year was ectopic. You know what ectopic means?” “I think I know the female reproductive system.”
“She ruptured a fallopian tube. Doctor said she shouldn’t try anymore.”
When the big bus pulled into Samaritan Life at 10:00 p.m. and ejected fifty missionaries from Faith Harvest Church into the gravel-crunching dark, I wore my baseball hat pulled low and helped direct people to their assigned tents. The group had brought extra suitcases full of children’s toys, sandals, blankets and sacks of beans and rice for a camp of migrant Oaxacans who picked tomatoes one valley over. This tall woman in a white print dress kept calling my name. I knew she was the one Randy meant—this Donna. I could tell by the hope in her voice when she called me, as if Willa Carmichael translated as bringer of little miracles.
“Willa?” Mrs. Casimiro said to Donna and pointed where I’d been. “Allá, en el oscuro.”
I stacked the last piece of extra luggage in the large storage tent, crept to my own and turned up Patti Smith on my iPod until the rooster crowed from the farm beside the compound. In the cookhouse, I tried to convince Mrs. Casimiro that I was too morning sick to serve breakfast. “When Antonio was born,” she said and handed me a large bowl with twenty eggs to whisk, “I worked in the fields until my water runs down my legs. Afuera, afuera. Vayas, Willa.”
I met the Edgelows again as I served French toast, oatmeal and cantaloupe to the long line of new arrivals from Faith Harvest. A young girl with blond braids held up a sealed mason jar with a live black widow inside. “Dad caught it this morning in the shower. It can kill people dead.” The girl, Bethany, pulled at her mother’s pink James 1:27 T-shirt and asked, “What’s her name again?”
“You remember, Willa,” Bethany’s mother, Donna, said. “Last night, she told us where to find our tent. Thanks so much, Willa.”
Bethany held the mason jar about six inches from my chest, right over the aluminum pan of French toast I was serving. “It would kill you, Willa. If it got free.”
“That thing isn’t getting free, is it?” said Donna. “Now, you’re supposed to be praying for Willa, like Randy wrote on his website. Willa’s here on a very special mission.”
Bethany closed her eyes and said, “I, Bethany Edgelow, pray that God anoints the work that, that—”
“—Willa is undertaking. I pray that God grants her life in abundance. I pray that—what was the third thing? There’s always three things.”
There was no third thing. What else could Randy write on the Samaritan Life website and not give me away? Pray for lovely Willa, my fourteen-year-old half-sister, so a man nine years her senior doesn’t impregnate her again?
“We have so much to talk about, Willa,” Donna said. “You have such lovely skin.”
After breakfast, I helped load the coolers of tuna sandwiches and apples and oranges into the passenger vans that would take the missionaries from Faith Harvest to the site where they’d be building a house for a Mexican family of six. Bethany had left the mason jar with the black widow inside on the breakfast table, and when I went to let it escape, she called out from behind me, “It’s God’s.” She took the jar outside and laid it on a creeping succulent beneath a tall red geranium, a full southern exposure. Already at 8:00 a.m. the Mexican sun felt like the hot coals for a pig roast.
“At least put it in the shade,” I said.
“What’s that noise?”
“That cooing? White-winged doves. It’ll go on all day.”
“It sounds like questions.”
Bethany closed her eyes so tight she looked in pain. She had smears of suntan lotion along her blond hairline and a gold stud in each ear. She prayed—a soft, quick plea for the Mexicans she hoped to help, for her mom and dad, for another little brother. Her eyes opened and, for a second, she looked lost in the Mexican heat. “Can I listen to your baby? Mom let me listen to hers before God took him to heaven. His name was Devon and he liked the story of Moses in the basket.”
A light sweat coated the nape of my neck and I put my hair up with a scrunchie. “My baby is no bigger than a walnut.”
“Mom’s stomach got big. Yours looks flat.”
“I’m not showing yet.”
She nudged the mason jar with her shoe. The black widow pulled in its legs and shrank to the size of a pebble. “It’s just a stupid spider.”
“That spider was an egg. Its mother guarded it like your mother protected you and Devon.”
“Pastor Bernie says I have dominion over it. Dominion is like being the mom and the dad at the same time.” And then she thrust herself into my arms and pressed her head against my abdomen. I tried to pull away, but she’d wrapped herself around me and held on with a crazy strength and pushed first one ear into my belly and then the other. When I thought I was going to have to scream at her, her grip went limp. “Your baby is crying,” she said. “Like Devon.”
Randy wanted me to go with Donna and Bethany and some of the other women to the daycare in Los Piños and translate. I resisted. But I had grade nine Spanish and he said that that was better than what his team had, which was nothing. I could get to know Donna: that the Lord worked through her hands. I flipped Randy my middle finger and scurried towards my tent. Randy was beside me in an instant, his hand wrapped around my wrist so tightly, my fingertips throbbed with blood. He had that savage, serene look in his eyes he used to get when he beat people up on contract and then told me how much he loved his work. “You going to hit me?” I asked. “What about my precious fucking baby?”
We rode in Randy’s white passenger van down the dusty rode to the highway. Randy wouldn’t turn on the air conditioning, because the thick dust would clog the filters, so we suffocated until the blacktop.
Bethany pointed to the onion fields on our right side. “What are they doing?” she asked.
I explained that the women wearing the baseball caps, long-sleeved shirts and bandanas over their faces were picking onions— cebollas. They made about two dollars a day and went home and maybe they had a husband, maybe not. But they had kids, lots of kids, from lots of fathers. “Not them. I mean those.”
I followed her finger a bit further south, a bit higher in the sweltering blue sky. “The Spanish word is zopilotes— vultures. Something must have died in the field.”
“I can smell it.”
“Windows are closed, silly.”
“It’s the same smell there was when Devon went to heaven. It’s the same smell there is now.” She made a big show of inhaling as much air as her lungs could hold. “It never goes away.”
The daycare in Los Piños was nothing more than a wire fence about eight feet high around a bare patch of earth, a seesaw and a rusting geometric play dome. About a dozen kids pressed their bodies against the wire and looked at us as we unpacked some sandwiches and toys. An older woman named Luisa and two other younger women, about my age, appeared in the doorway of the house that adjoined the pen. The two younger women had a cooing baby in each arm. A painted piece of plywood on the wire door of the pen read Hombres no entran. Randy walked inside, picked up a little girl and introduced us to Luisa in his broken Spanglish. Luisa had greying curly hair and plastic glasses whose lenses were as large as saucers and left a red shelf of flesh in each plump cheek when she took them off. In the next second, most of the kids had latched themselves onto Randy and were crying, “¡ Capuchi! ¡Capuchi!” as he closed the pen door behind him and left me shut inside with Donna and Bethany. “Dios te bendiga,” he said.
We gave out the balls, dolls, toy trucks and skipping ropes. Donna said she’d brought a bag of nail polish, so we could paint the nails of the women. The two young women with the babies were first, and Donna
painted the first girl’s nails red and the second’s pink. The second girl gave me her baby boy to hold and Donna asked, “Did Randy speak to you, Willa?”
Luisa asked me, “¿Qué te ha dicho? Tu cara te parece a la muerte.”
“Es nada.” To Donna, I said, “She says I have a pretty face.” “I thought she said muerte. Isn’t that the word for death? Like Día de los Muertos.”
“They have a lot of dark humour here.”
“I’d think they’d have to. There’s not much else. This is hardly the place for a child.”
The young woman showed off her pink nails to Luisa and hugged Donna.
“You do have a pretty face, Willa,” said Donna. “Doesn’t Willa look pretty, Bethany?”
Bethany cupped her hand over Donna’s ear and said in a loud whisper, “Watch out for the vultures. Also, Willa is going to have a baby.” “I know, dear. Now Willa and I have a lot to talk about.”
Luisa must have known what the word baby meant, because she asked me, “¿Estás embarazada?”
And all I could do was nod and then the two young girls with painted nails yelped and hugged me and Donna said, “We hope that you’ll consider us, Willa,” as if she was a politician I might vote for. She looked at Luisa with tears in her eyes and said, “I lost my last little one. Gone.
Vamos. And I didn’t know why God did that. But you have to have faith. It happened for a reason.”
“His name was Devon,” said Bethany. “I had a toy truck for him. Mom said he liked trucks, so I buried the truck beside his grave. Remember what the grave said, Mom? Devon Arthur Edgelow, so small, so sweet, so soon.”
Luisa gave me a puzzled look. “¿Qué dijo?”
I ran outside the pen and vomited into the hot dust until I thought I would spit up blood.
“Her baby,” said Luisa, “is frightened.”
In the evening, Randy drove everyone to a roadside taco stand he called “Smokies.” It was better than merely digestible, he said—he’d eat there every day if he could. I ordered for everyone: beef, chicken and pork with corn or flour tacos stuffed or unstuffed with cheese. I sat on the steps away from the others and ate tripe tacos because no one else would and drank a Coke. Donna and her husband, Jerry, came over and asked if they could sit down beside me. I hadn’t met Jerry before. He was wideshouldered enough to fill in for Atlas on statutory holidays, but short, and he always wore a blue-checked mackinaw, even though it was 35 Celsius. He’d been off with Randy and some of the other men at the build site in Triqui and so far all I’d heard him talk about with Randy was this amazing brand of drywall mud he’d discovered at Home Depot: hardly
any dust at all when you sand it. We ate our tacos and didn’t say anything because from how serious Donna looked I knew what they were going to ask me. The tripe sat heavy in my stomach, but I kept eating to look normal.
Donna said that she’d made a compliment board back at the base with a large piece of scrap cardboard and some construction paper. There was a paper pocket with everybody’s name on it and anyone could write out a compliment and put it in anyone’s pocket. “Yours is looking stuffed already,” she added. “Everyone likes you.”
I could only imagine what New Testament quotes people had written out to try to convert me, call me back in time to the dead and buried desert morals of an ancient people. “That’s nice,” I said.
“In the morning some of us are going to the little folk art market on the highway. I love the beaded sculptures here. Been collecting them for years. You could join us?”
“Missus Casimiro keeps me working all day. Thanks all the same.” Jerry looked right at me. “Randy said he’d talked to you about us.” “You’ve never even spoken to her before,” Donna said to her husband. “This is Jerry. He looks like he works in the mines of Moira, but he’s actually a music teacher out in the valley.”
“Jazz guitar. Wes Montgomery. Django Reinhardt. Pat Metheny.” “I don’t know them,” I said. “I like a lot of old punk.”
“Lou Reed. Joey Ramone. Mick Jones. I know their licks.” He started air guitaring The Clash and sang not so terribly: “We ain’t got no swing / Except for the ring of that truncheon thing.” He caught Donna’s disapproving look. “That was all before the mercy of the Lord smacked my dopey ass.”
“We would take care of your baby,” said Donna, “as if it were our own.”
“I have a name picked out,” I said. “If it’s a boy, William after my dad—William Carlos Carmichael. For a girl, maybe Sasha.”
“Those are lovely names, Willa.”
“William Edgelow,” said Jerry. “Class.”
“You could visit,” said Donna. “Couple weekends a month.”
“Heck, come to the valley for Christmas.”
Bethany spun the mason jar with the black widow in it on a little mosaic of bottle caps pushed into the hard-packed dust. The spider looked like an iridescent black-and-crimson marble curled up in one corner of the jar. Around and around.
“I don’t have a lot of money right now,” I said. “My mom is a judge, but since Dad left, my college fund has kind of dwindled. To like zero.”
“We’d cover your expenses. Private room. Postpartum care,” said Jerry.
“She wants to sell the baby, Jerry,” said Donna.
Jerry’s brow pinched, as if he wanted to say, “Fuck that,” and leave.
“You want this baby to go to good home, don’t you Willa? You know you can’t look after it. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you. You could give it up to a stranger, but where would it go? Everyone looks good at the start, but then what? At least with Jerry and I, you know your baby will grow up safe and secure—”
I blurted out a number, not because I really wanted the money, but because I’d thought they’d leave me alone to suffer my lie in peace. “Ten thousand dollars,” I said.
They looked at each other as if a surgeon had just given them the same bad news.
“Willa, honey, you want what’s best for your baby. What’s best is Jerry and me. The spirit guides us.”
Bethany spun the mason jar faster and faster.
“Why did you bring that awful thing?” asked Donna.
“She’s all alone,” said Bethany. “She wanted friends.”
Donna took the mason jar from her daughter and offered it to me. “Willa, you wanted to set it free.”
“Ten thousand dollars,” I said. “That’s what it’ll cost.”
When we got back to base, I went in the cookhouse to help Mrs. Casimiro clean the ten plastic coolers we filled with lunches. She said that there was a call for me. “Un hombre,” she said.
“My father.” I didn’t know what made me say that. I hadn’t spoken to my father in six years. He sent me Christmas and birthday cards, handmade Valentines and broadsides of his poems around the time of full moons. He sent framed black-and-white photos. Photos of him and his “skinny HIV lover,” as my mother said of Tim, the man he loved and elegized in sonnets, rondeaus and triolets. My mother swabbed the glassand-black metal frame of each photo with rubbing alcohol, twice. “At least,” she said, “there won’t be any more children.” She usually added “to support,” because she’d sent money over the years to all the kids my dad fathered, at one time or another: to pay for braces or clothes or daycare or tuition. Randy was one of my six half-siblings, each from a different woman. We had a Facebook group for a while— Will’s Kids: a Poet’s Bastards— until Randy found god and ate up Leviticus 18 and 20 and shut the whole thing down to protest the sin of Dad with Tim.
“Dad?” I said into the phone. Mrs. Casimiro turned on the kitchen faucet to rinse out the last of the red coolers and only air hissed from the tap. I was on the doctor’s examining table again, my legs in stirrups, my throat full, my uterus ugly empty. I forced out my happiest voice and turned to the corner so Mrs. Casimiro wouldn’t see my face. “Dad, it’s me, Willa. It’s still me. Remember what you wrote in that poem? It’s still me underneath all this HIV. Dad?”
“Galen?” It was Galen Wade: putative father and confirmed sperm donor, because he’d been my first and only. “Why the fuck are you calling me?”
Cars rushed past him in the background. “Listen, okay? Please?” “After everything you did? Fuck—”
“—my van hit a seagull on the Port Mann bridge. Just now, Willa. It was so young—it wasn’t even white yet—and it was writhing on the ground and I picked it up and it died in my hands. Right there in my hands, this beautiful bird. And I started crying and I couldn’t stop, you know? And I’m like, man you can’t go on like this, living this insane life. Gigs, drugs—being such a prick. Because you’re going to be jumping off this bridge in another month.
“I want to keep the baby, Willa. I’ll move back in with my parents and we can look after it. You won’t have to worry about a thing. You can visit the baby on weekends.”
I dropped the phone on the tile floor and ran outside into the warm night to my tent. The Faith Harvest Crowd had gathered around a big blaze in the firepit, so I took the longer, darker route through the olive trees so they wouldn’t see me. There was an envelope with my name on it lying on my sleeping bag and I opened it and all these little, folded squares of paper fell out. There was a handwritten letter from Donna.
Jerry and I are good people of faith and we know in our hearts that we will raise the little blessing you are carrying to be a good person, too. Jerry and I would like you to come back with us to Canada, so we can pray with you and your mother and talk about the adoption. Randy said he will call your mother, explain the whole situation and make the arrangements. We would be happy to help you, as we discussed earlier this afternoon. We’re thinking of a fund for your education.
Love and prayer,
Donna and Jerry
PS—You had so many kind wishes on the compliment board, Willa!!!
The squares of paper from the Faith Harvest compliment board were written in greens and reds and pinks:
Thank you for being you, Willa! You’re an amazing young woman. So kind and generous! You’ve touched the lives of all of us!
I’m so glad to have met you. A big thanks for your help translating for the Faith Harvest team!
Be encouraged this day knowing we love you! And so does God!
I didn’t know the Willa they were writing about. I didn’t think about her and I didn’t want to think about her. The Faith Harvesters whooped and hollered and I could hear someone hitting something. I wanted them to stop laughing. I wanted Donna and Jerry and Bethany to never laugh again. I wanted no one to laugh again. I wanted them to be lying in a
field and the vultures to be ripping hunks out of them until they stopped laughing.
I tore outside. They’d all gathered near the fire and hung a Big Bird piñata in a tree and the kids from Faith Harvest were taking blindfolded turns hitting it with a stick. Donna wrapped the blindfold around Bethany and then twirled her around and around and said, ”Now hit it, honey, hit it until the candy comes out.” Jerry filmed her with his smartphone. Bethany hit Big Bird flush on the belly and tore it open and candy began to spill from it. The kids from Faith Harvest rushed after it and Bethany hit Big Bird again and more candy spilled down and down.
I stepped into the firelight. I was crying and Donna and Jerry looked up and Mrs. Casimiro and Randy and everyone else, too.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” Donna asked.
The mason jar Bethany had been carrying around for days with the black widow trapped inside sat on a wood log beside Jerry. I didn’t know what else to do, so I grabbed it and hugged it to myself and sobbed and Bethany ran up to me and yelled, “That’s mine!”
I held the jar above my head so she couldn’t reach it. She jumped and raked at the air around me and clawed at my arm. The Faith Harvesters had all gone quiet. Bethany hissed, “Hope, hope, hope it bites you!” I looked up into the shimmering, fire-lit glass as if I was looking into the diamond heart of the universe. It was obvious as anything that the black widow had died. That I should’ve saved her days ago. That her death was my fault. That one day I’d be joining her and I’d have to tell her that I wasn’t good enough to save her. Or strong enough. Or wise enough. That I had to begin again—to learn to crawl again.
“Got my period,” I whispered. I couldn’t look at Donna. I couldn’t see the hurt on her face part of me wanted her to feel.
“What did she say?” someone asked. Maybe Jerry.
“Her period something!” Bethany yelled. “Now give my spider back!”
I looked one last time at the motionless black widow and threw the jar into the fire.
There was silence for the longest time. A stillness. Even Bethany didn’t move.
“I’m bleeding,” I said in the loudest, clearest voice I could. “Down there.”