I will raise my Babygirl by Sara Starling
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I will raise my Babygirl by Sara Starling

I will raise my Babygirl by Sara Starling


As a child, I would cling to her arm. Both my hands wound tightly around her muscle; skin that sunk and sagged from gravity fifteen years too early. My dad looks at photos of her from their twenties and tells me, “This is how I like to picture your mom.” She looks nothing like that photo. The one thing linking them is the cigarette dangling from her frail wrist. I suppose that even then she wasn’t eating. I used to cry when she would leave the house—I would rip my hair out in clumps that would stay matted to the carpet for days.

Her hair sits limp and wiry on her scalp. Her eyes are the colour of daffodils, and her teeth are stained like she’s just finished a lavender latte. She doesn’t drink coffee. She never has. She never could remember my first words or the time I was born. When I was seven in her closet, I found small containers that sang when I shook them. I opened them and they held baby teeth: three containers, one for each of my sisters and me. Some remnants of a childhood where she remembered to let us believe—believe in the tooth fairy, in superheroes, even in God. But never in a mother that was patient, and forgiving, and would braid our hair in matching princess silhouettes before bed each night.

I had my first drink at seventeen. In a friend’s basement, I was handed a vodka cooler coated in condensation. It was sweet and fruity and tasted like the juice my parents gave me before bed. I had another, and another, and another, and another, and my blood felt like warm milk under my skin. I wonder to myself, is this why she did it? Maybe she didn’t pick the drink over us. Maybe she picked the feeling of warmth filling craters, of baroque champagne flutes, and the excitement of winning ten dollars on a scratcher—the exact amount it would have cost to send me on that field trip, or for that bottle of Moscato in the side door of our fridge.

I wander into churches. I’m surrounded by saints I’ve never heard of and am told to pray. Only I don’t know how. I don’t know how to ask. Every week I condemn atheism for being the only thing that makes sense to me, the only thing I’ve ever chosen. I beg to believe again; maybe if I could understand Him, He could stop it. If not alcohol poisoning or cancer, then something charitable. Something of mercy. She calls me two days after my twenty-first, “Happy birthday Babygirl, mama misses you.” To this day she calls me Babygirl. I wonder if she says it because she’s trying to remind me that she raised me or if it’s just because she doesn’t know which of her children she is talking to.

I watch how the mothers of my friends envelop them after heartbreak, how their arms wrap around their daughters like plexiglass, shielding them from the damage. I mourn for my own mother, six blocks away and asleep in front of the TV. I mourn for myself for having to be my own protection, always being hit by debris in the gaps my own arms can’t cover.

In the deepest crevices where I bury myself, I stretch the tender skin apart and pull her out of me. I watch as her eyes open and there’s light like there is in mine, but it’s brighter. Unsullied. She laughs without pardon, and she talks without fear. She looks like me, but she’s younger. She believes in the tooth fairy, in superheroes, perhaps even in God. And, again, I pray to Him. I pray to be a mother, to fill her lungs with baby’s breath and stir honey into her bloodstream. Let me raise her once more and grow her from the inside out. Let me do it again. Let me shield her from every thrown bottle and glass shard on the hardwood. In this life, she will go on every field trip, and she will go to sleep each night with chalk under her fingernails and laughter in her belly. She won’t be a mother. She will be a child, my Babygirl.