By Jenn Carr
Winner of the 2018 Furrow Prize for Nonfiction
We’d drive across the country on road trips, all six of us jammed into that gray van my mother named Henrietta the Hippo, pulling our camper across the dusty void that is U.S. 50. I remember the wheels singing against the road, the Beatles on the radio, the fires in our bellies demanding to be fed, and my mother unbuckling her seat belt to reach across us into the back, rummaging for crackers and juice boxes. My body still remembers the sudden panic that would swallow me, seat belt safety lessons fresh in a seven-year-old mind. I would take my tiny arms and throw them across the back of her legs as she was searching, determined to protect her, an infinitesimal dam in the torrent of possibility of all that could come, all that could take her from me. The imminent collision, of course, never arrived; no twist of fate came inexplicably roaring from around the bend. She grabbed our snacks, buckled her belt, and we all continued on down the road. Until now. Until you.
You took root in her, a bitter seed, an uninvited house guest. It wasn’t until they caught you in stark contrast, a white blemish on a dark x-ray, that we realized you hadn’t divided and died like all the rest – you had grown out of control, had cultivated your own secret garden in my mother’s chest, ivy creeping up over the walls and spilling out into the fields beyond, thistledown adrift in the wind, on your way to colonize where the setting sun meets her rib cage.
You still don’t seem real – not after the doctor confirmed it, not after she came home with a pink tote bag filled with literature, not after her second opinion, not during the hours we spent in the wig shop, not even when they cut her open and took you out of her. She couldn’t have any of her jewelry going into surgery, none of the usual mementos people cling to. I gave her a Wonder Woman temporary tattoo – the Amazonian super heroine patron saint that her own mother swore by, a good luck charm, a magical talisman to ward off the dangers of the unknown. She applied it to her ankle, showed it off to all the nurses, her brothers and sisters, even the surgeon that visited her as she was being prepped. She looked almost brave in that hospital bed, her eyes burning and her hair curled. “I might as well curl it while I still have it.” She laughed, and the room was filled with her indomitable buoyancy, but as I pressed my lips against her cheek I could still feel you, a stowaway in the cabin, a crack in the hull.
In that moment all I wanted to do was throw my arms around her legs and hold her as tightly as I could, protect her from the imminent collision, the twist of fate that had come inexplicably roaring from around the bend – the pain and the mouth sores and the hair loss and the nausea as they salted the earth where you grew, the sleepless nights spent in quiet terror that you would come back to germinate again, to claim the parts of her you left behind the first time.
I won’t let you take her. I will bend the wild future to my will. You can’t have her. She belongs to me.
Jenn Carr is a junior at Oakland University majoring in Communication. She currently serves on the editorial staff of the Oakland Arts Review. In addition to writing, she enjoys strong coffee in steaming mugs, talking about outer space, and the kind of cheesy jokes your dad makes.