In the end, Da stayed with us nearly 2 weeks, and it was lovely, having him around. As I gather all new mothers are, I was a wreck, angry one day, crying the next, and his calm, almost nonchalant monologues were the only thing aside from having a good cry that could settle me down. (And I hate crying, just so you know—I’d rather shout myself hoarse at someone any day—so you can imagine the sort of state I was in.) Da was also incredibly useful at running and fetching things, and by the end of his stay, he could almost tolerate the sight of Amaryllis feeding, so I was starting to feel generally less like a freak of nature/milk cow, when she needed to eat. He’d also given my baby a small, unintentional gift; at some point, he’d started calling her ‘Rilla’ and as soon as he’d said it, it just stuck.
Rilla, she was. Tiny and perfect, her little rosy mouth like a flower bud, her wide baby’s eyes bigger every day, and already changing from newborn navy to a greener hue. The jaundice that apparently afflicts most brand-new babies (so my baby book told me) was mild, and had gone completely by the time Da went back to Ireland, leaving her with skin that was neither pale, nor anywhere near as dark as my own. Her hair was dark, nearly black, but had already started to lighten; “My own hair was chestnut, and nearly blonde in the summer, when I was a boy,” had been my da’s final word on the subject, and I admitted, if only to myself, that I hoped her hair was the same.
I was so frightened. I had never minded being mixed race, I had always been so proud of my beautiful, exotic mother, and how like her I was, but… now, I didn’t want anyone to ever say the things to me that my baby’s… that… I didn’t ever want Amaryllis to be called anything ugly, because of the colour of her skin, or her unusual features, or any other reason.
What if she looked like me? I stood in front of the mirror a dozen times, in the first few weeks after she was born, and just stared at my arched, thick black eyebrows, my patrician nose, the sharp Cleopatra-esque jut of my cheekbones, and the face that had always seemed so exotic—even to me—was suddenly bizarre, odd, repulsive even. I could see, sometimes, when I looked at myself, what Rilla’s… what he’d thought, when he looked at me. I could see how it might be true. I could see how some people, maybe, could think I was ugly.
And then I got angry, and told myself not to be stupid, a moron, an arse, a dildo, a dozen times. I told myself that he was to blame for the things he’d said and done, and that regardless of how my actions may have egged him on, my ethnic origin was in no way at fault. I understood; I’d had trauma, of a particularly personal, degrading type, and it had warped my perception of myself; and I did my best to talk myself down, when I started to feel ugly or worthless or ashamed.
I actually called a Rape Crisis line, once.
And they were no help. I wanted to talk about exactly what had happened, and how it had left me feeling—I didn’t lie, but I implied I’d been at a sex party, and set the scene from there—and the blatant disgust in the other woman’s tone let me know that she was not going to provide a sympathetic ear. I hung up, hurriedly, and called Richard instead—who then drove to my flat, sat at my bedside, and encouraged me to have 3 glasses of wine even though I was breastfeeding, while he repeated all the comforting words I’d already told myself—and he eventually crawled into bed with me, fully dressed except for his expensive hand-made shoes, and spooned me until I fell asleep.
That helped a lot more than the (forgive the pun) pregnant pause at the end of the phone, when I asked the Rape Crisis lady whether going to an ‘adult’ party gave everyone there the right to do whatever they liked with me.
I’m not having a go at crisis lines in general, or even that one, by the way. I need to say that. I’m sure most of the staff are lovely, compassionate, well-trained individuals, who are slow to judge and quick to empathize and provide a much-needed shoulder to cry on for a lot of women. Maybe I just got someone on a bad day; maybe she was new; maybe I misread her tone, and she was shocked, but still sympathetic.
It really doesn’t matter, does it? Because in spite of all evidence to the contrary, I had someone there, in my life, to be my shoulder to cry on. And while I can’t speak for everyone, I know that in my case, that works better than fake understanding and fake sympathy from fake friends.
The next morning, I asked Richard to be Rilla’s godfather. He was astonished; even after I explained that it wouldn’t be a religious ceremony, just an informal, secular event, he looked bemused. He then made some crack about being surprised I wanted her to have a godparent/didn’t I intend to live forever? I joked back that, yes, I’d probably outlive him, being several years younger, female, and in a less-stressful job; he pointed out that raising children is the most stressful thing in the world, and outliving him or no, I’d probably have grey hair, crows’ feet, and no time to myself, ever; I joshed back that he’d better accept my request, then, just in case Amaryllis needed that spare parent sooner than expected.
My repeated insistence must have let him know I was serious, because the mood shifted all of a sudden. Reaching for my hand, Richard looked solemnly into my eyes (he does solemn really well, actually, very tastefully) and he said sincerely, “Anais, I would be honoured.”
And just like that, I burst into tears, for probably the 10th time that week, and told my best mate, a man I’d known for 7 or 8 years, that I loved him, for the first time in all that time. As he hugged me and murmured, “Me, too,” I heard Rilla start to stir from her nearby bed-on-a-stand (called a Moses Basket, apparently) and somehow, all of a sudden, I was thinking to myself how unbelievably lucky I was, and the idea that I’d called a stranger looking for advice, or comfort, or anything at all, seemed utterly absurd. I didn’t need strangers, when I had my own little, well, family, right there.
And besides. Therapy is for Americans.