The day I was born, 20 minutes after I entered the world, my Mom had a massive stroke. She lay in a coma for days, hovering at death, seemingly oblivious. The doctor, a kind OB-GYN who specifically tended Black women, and sometimes placed their babies into the arms of adoptive parents, looked at mom’s youthful face and long, wavy hair and said he could write up the paperwork. The family had already been chosen; it was only a matter of signatures. He loved that Mom could speak with him in fluent French in her prenatal visits, but he explained to Grandma at the hospital that in the unlikely event Mom came out of the coma, she would be fully incapacitated, paralyzed and blind, unable to care for herself or take care of an infant.
They talked at Mom’s bedside, not knowing Mom experienced anything other than nothingness in her state. But my mama was traveling.
“I was walking through this field.” Mom told me this story on occasion, and she never wavered from these words. “There was this bright light at the edge.
“And I was heading toward that light.”
Grandma, standing in the hospital room and watching her 16-year-old daughter die, decided keeping this angry baby with the fat cheeks was better than losing us both. Grandma said this as she told Dr. Spann to tear up the adoption papers. Shortly after, however, Mom’s vital signs picked up.
“The colors were brilliant, Tina. But for some reason, I stopped and turned around.”
I belonged to her. She belonged to me. Over the years, she belonged to others: students, her poetry pals, our family. But we remained a constellation of two stars.
We talked about Grandma and Dr. Spann and her stroke recovery last spring as we sat on my living room sofa, a pan of brownies between us. Mom had a mission to help my French along (didn’t work). She’d occasionally adjust the scarf that slipped from her scalp, holding it in place with the hand that remained paralyzed after her stroke, 55 years before. We had bought three wigs for her and a slouchy Mandalorian beanie, but chemo won that game, and Mom submitted to the telltale scarf. I remembered Mom’s black hair, and recalled learning to plait it in two braids that reached her waist.
“The scarf makes you look like a pirate,” I said.
“Argh,” she replied.
I wondered what she dreamed about as she slept, longer and deeper each time, eventually fighting to stay awake against the morphine and the Haldol and the Dilaudid. I wondered what beckoned her – a light? a storm? a fathomless night sky? – as she stared and strained upward in the bed, gasping for air, her right hand, cooling but still strong, clenching my fingers. My mama saw something in the ceiling that nobody else could see, but it was there, and it was there for her.
There would be no bringing her star back to me; not this time.