I feel like I’m living my worst-case scenario. Not only did I not get to meet my daughter today, but the only person who might have been able to lead me to her is now enemy number one.
I hate him. I hate that I let him touch me last night. I hate that in the brief time I spent with him yesterday, I gave him all the ammunition to label me a liar, a whore, an alcoholic. As if murderer wasn’t enough.
He’s going to go straight to Grace and Patrick and reinforce their hatred for me. He’s going to help them build an even sturdier, taller, thicker wall between me and my daughter.
I have no one on my side. Not a single person. “Hi.”
I pause halfway up the stairwell. There’s a teenage girl sitting at the top of the stairs. She has Down syndrome, and she’s smiling at me adorably, like this isn’t the worst day of my life. She’s wearing the same type of work shirt that Amy had on at the grocery store. She must work there. Amy said they give grocery bagger positions to people with special needs.
I wipe tears from my cheeks and mutter, “Hi,” and then sidestep around her. I would normally make more of an effort to be neighborly, especially if I’m going to be working with this girl, but I have more tears in my throat than words.
I open my apartment door, and once I’m inside, I slam it shut and fall facedown onto my half-deflated mattress.
I can’t even say I’m back to square one. I feel like I’m at square
negative one now.
My door swings open, and I immediately sit up. The girl from the stairs walks into my apartment uninvited. “Why are you crying?” She
closes the door behind her and leans against it, scanning my apartment with curious eyes. “Why don’t you have any stuff?”
Even though she just barged in without permission, I’m too sad to be upset about it. She doesn’t have boundaries. Good to know.
“I just moved in,” I say, explaining my lack of stuff.
The girl walks to my refrigerator and opens it. She sees the half-eaten package of Lunchables I left this morning, and she grabs it. “Can I have this?”
At least she waits for permission before she eats it. “Sure.”
She takes a bite out of a cracker, but then her eyes get wide and she tosses the Lunchables on the counter. “Oh, you have a kitten!” She walks over to the kitten and picks her up. “My mom won’t let me have a kitten— did you get it from Ruth?”
Any other time, I’d welcome her. Really. But I just don’t have the strength to be friendly during one of the worst moments of my life. I need to have a decent breakdown, and I can’t do that with her here. “Can you please go?” I say it as nicely as possible, but asking someone to leave you alone can never not sting.
“One time when I was like five, I’m seventeen now, but when I was five, I had a kitten, but it got worms and died.”
“I’m sorry.” She still hasn’t closed the refrigerator.
“What’s her name?”
“I haven’t named her yet.” Did she not hear me ask her to leave?
“Why are you so poor?”
“What makes you think I’m poor?”
“You don’t have any food or a bed or stuff.”
“I’ve been in prison.” Maybe that’ll scare her off. “My dad is in prison. Do you know him?”
“But I haven’t even told you his name.” “I was in an all-female prison.”
“Able Darby. That’s his name, do you know him?” “No.”
“Why are you crying?”
I get off the mattress and walk to the refrigerator and shut it. “Did someone hurt you? Why are you crying?”
I can’t believe I’m going to answer her. I feel like this makes me even more pathetic, to just vent to a random teenager who walked into my apartment without my permission. But it seems like it would feel good to say it out loud. “I have a daughter, and no one will let me see her.”
“Did she get kidnapped?”
I want to say yes, because sometimes it feels that way. “No. My daughter lived with people while I was in prison, but now that I’m out, they don’t want me to see her.”
“But you want to?” “Yes.”
She kisses the kitten on top of its head. “Maybe you should be glad. I don’t really like little kids. My brother puts peanut butter in my shoes sometimes. What’s your name?”
“I’m Lady Diana.”
“Is that really your name?”
“No, it’s Lucy, but I like Lady Diana better.”
“Do you work at the grocery store?” I ask her, pointing at her shirt. She nods.
“I start work there on Monday.”
“I’ve worked there for almost two years. I’m saving to buy a computer, but I haven’t saved anything yet. I’m gonna go eat dinner now.” She hands me the kitten and starts walking toward my door. “I have some sparklers. When it gets dark later, do you want to light them with me?”
I lean against my counter and sigh. I don’t want to say no, but I also have a feeling my breakdown is going to last at least until morning. “Maybe another time.”
Lady Diana leaves my apartment. I lock the door this time, and then I immediately grab my notebook and write a letter to Scotty because it’s the only thing that can prevent me from crumbling.
I wish I could tell you what our daughter looks like, but I still have no idea.
Maybe it’s my fault for not being honest with Ledger about who I was last night. He seemed to take that as some type of betrayal when he realized who I was today. I didn’t even get to see your parents because he was so angry I was there.
I just wanted to see our daughter, Scotty. I just wanted to look at her. I’m not here to take her from them, but I don’t think Ledger or your parents have any idea what it’s like to carry a human inside of you for months, only to have that tiny little human ripped away from you before you even get to meet them.
Did you know that when an incarcerated woman gives birth, if they’re almost finished with their sentence, they sometimes get to keep their babies with them? This mostly happens in jails, where the sentences are shorter. It sometimes happens in prisons, but it’s rare.
In my case, I was just beginning my sentence when I gave birth to Diem, which made it to where she wasn’t allowed to stay with me in the prison. She was a preemie, and as soon as she was born, they noticed her breathing wasn’t where they wanted it to be, so they immediately whisked her away and transferred her to the NICU. They gave me an aspirin, some oversized pads, and eventually took me back to the facility with empty arms and an empty womb.
Depending on the circumstances, some mothers are allowed to pump, and their breastmilk is stored and delivered to their baby. I wasn’t one of the lucky ones. I wasn’t allowed to pump, and I wasn’t allowed anything that would help my milk dry up.
Five days after Diem was born, I was in the prison library, crying in a corner because my milk had come in, my clothes were soaking wet, and I was still emotionally devastated and physically spent.
That’s when I met Ivy.
She had been there for a while, knew all the guards well, all the rules, how far she could bend them and who would let her. She saw me crying while holding a book about postpartum depression. Then she saw my soaking wet shirt, so she took me to a bathroom and helped me clean up. She meticulously folded up paper towels into squares and handed them to me one by one while I layered them inside my bra.
“Boy or girl?” she asked. “Girl.”
“What’d you name her?” “Diem.”
“That’s a good name. A strong name. She healthy?”
“She was a preemie, so they took her as soon as she was born. But a nurse said she was doing well.”
Ivy winced when I said that. “They gonna let you see her?”
“No. I don’t think so.”
Ivy shook her head, and I didn’t know it then, but Ivy had a way of communicating entire conversations through all the different ways she shook her head. I’d slowly learn them over the years, but that day, I didn’t know the way she shook her head translated to, “Those bastards.”
She helped me dry my shirt, and when we got back to the library, she sat me back down and said, “Here’s what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna read every book in this library. Pretty soon you’ll start to live in the lavish worlds inside these books, rather than the bleak world inside this prison.”
I was never a big reader. I didn’t like her plan. I nodded, but she could tell I wasn’t listening to her.
She pulled a book off the shelf and handed it to me. “They took your baby from you. You won’t ever get over that. So, you decide right now, right here. Are you gonna live in your sadness or are you gonna die in it?”
That question punched me in my stomach—the stomach that no longer contained my daughter. Ivy wasn’t giving me a pep-talk. In a lot of ways, it was the opposite. She wasn’t saying I would move past what I was feeling, or that things would get easier. She was telling me this was it—the misery I felt was my new normal. I could either learn to live with it or I could let it consume me.
I swallowed and said, “I’m gonna live in it.”
Ivy smiled and squeezed my arm. “There you go, Momma.”
Ivy didn’t know it, but she saved me that day with her brutal honesty. She was right. My normal would never be the same. It hadn’t been the same since I lost you, and losing our daughter to your parents just pushed me even further from center.
The way I felt when they took her from me back then is the exact same defeated misery I feel right now.
Ledger has no idea how much his actions tonight have broken the last few pieces of me.
Ivy has no idea how much her words from almost five years ago are still somehow saving me.
Maybe that’s what I’ll name the kitten. Ivy. Love,