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Readers write about “Union”

On Postpartum Depression

The day I found out I was pregnant was the best day of my life, but the high-risk twin pregnancy filled me with anxiety. I waited for a miscarriage, the discovery of a genetic disorder, or some dire complication. Each day that passed without incident as I approached my C-section date I felt relieved, a small space between my shoulder blades opening to let the breeze pass through. I let myself imagine my babies in school, at swim lessons, sharing delight in one another, sharing a common heart with their dad and me.

The day of their birth was shocking, traumatic. I was awake as the doctors tugged and pulled and I screamed, unable to stop what was happening, torn open not with pain but a terrible vibration. The babies were immediately a devastating tsunami of need, raw and too new. I began to cry and couldn’t stop. We took them home, and I kissed them over and over. But I didn’t know how to make sure they would stay alive, and the fear was devastating. I wondered aloud how I could have made this choice. Everything went sideways and bizarre. I didn’t recognize the world anymore. I started to hallucinate grinning, twisted faces in the floor tiles and the wall.

When I was in the worst of those six weeks postpartum, I was apart, on the other side, outside of myself.

In a mad rush to preserve my sanity while keeping my babies safe in a precarious nest built only of prayer and spun sugar, I arranged for their temporary care with family, away from me. I worked intensively on recovery and slowly started to gather myself, collecting my amorphous fog of a soul with cupped hands and putting it back inside me, behind my C-section scar. I worked on my fears, shrieking beasts with one million teeth, until they shrunk to little dogs I could lovingly pat. I could feel love for my babies. I began to believe they might be OK. I started to feed and diaper and rock with ease. I sang to them, and my joy streaked gold across the sky. They smiled, and a month ago, they started calling me mama. 

When they wake me babbling in the morning now, my ears grow to capture more of their sound, their light. I give it right back to them. I have to. They are their own beings, but they are also me.

Alexandra Richardson, Portland

 

On the Lookout

I have several close friends who are teachers, and inevitably they bring up the positives of union membership. “It’s so nice to be protected,” they say. “I know I’m not alone; I have a union fighting for my interests; someone is looking out for me.”

It’s political campaign season, so there’s a number of political ads on my Facebook feed and my TV screen. There are debates and town halls and votes being held, and everywhere I hear the familiar refrain from my fellow voters: “I want someone who’s looking out for me.”

This desire for a “lookout”—for protection—is on my mind right now, because I’m a mother of young children and I primarily stay home with them. This is a particularly union-less time in my life, when my connections are few and my needs are many. But this is also a caretaking time, in which my role is that of union boss—I take hard looks at my family and I decide what we need to fight for, what we need to demand or insist on. I put my family’s needs before my own because I know that this is my job right now, this is the role I’ve been entrusted with, and like any good leader, I know how to sacrifice my own preferences for those of my constituents.

I’m learning to be my own union, I suppose. After all, what if my job, as a mother and a citizen, is actually to look out for someone else? Perhaps, I should be on alert for others—for the green spaces we share, and the libraries we belong to and the ways communities form and thrive, in our businesses and our places of worship.

I think I’m learning something about civic responsibility and social fabric here in this domestic laboratory, something I could never have understood otherwise. I finally know what it means to put someone else first, and I am less cynical about the needs of others, political and otherwise. I hope that someday my children—and my community—feel about my protection the way my friends feel about their union membership. I hope they say, “I know I’m not alone, someone is looking out for me.”

Dani Nichols, Bend

 

Weaving

I come from acts of separation, striving, and splitting off. The acts were simultaneously moves of ambition and courage while being maneuvers of escape, to start somewhere new, fresh, free. At the center of these we-can-go-it-alone aspirations, my brother and I came to be. Our upbringing walked hand in hand with a version of the American Dream. We went from my dad’s Eastern European, immigrant, working-class roots to the middle class. He pursued higher education and attained two degrees while I was in elementary and middle school. My mom expanded her English as we learned how to read. In the margins of Sesame Street books I had as a child are translations, Korean to English and back again, of words like dream, waterfall, and desire.

And yet, the pressure built, and the fabric—love tightly woven with expectation and armor—was pulled too tight. Words were left unsaid, or said too loudly with slicing precision that ripped the warp and weft. Threads pulled, became misaligned, and burdens heavier than we could carry were lofted our way. The weave strained beyond measure, and pieces of ourselves fell to the ground.

My parents have split from one another. My mother is split between realities, my father desperate for more space even as he lives at the intersection of sagebrush and mountain. My brother left and changed his name. He hasn’t met my kids. I remain.

I feel myself as the tightly pulled knot at the center of a threadbare dishcloth, frayed and torn with age, bleached from years in the elements of individualism, perfectionism, and production as personal worth. From the seeping pain of things fallen apart before we were born.

I don’t wear the tight bind well, but I’m using it to gain purchase while I collect fragments of threads, bits of yarn, and repurposed fabrics. I use the knot to ground myself as I learn to knit, weave, and sew. I’m crafting space for breath. I am forming from once discarded remnants, a weave of heart over turmoil, and love over scarcity. I want to be the last tightly bound knot in our line, I want to uncoil and unkink its desperate grasping and create space for comfort in fibers woven just right. I am stitching back together what was once lost. Space for flex, failing, learning, and growing. Space enough for everyone, to support, and keep warm.

Ellen Wyoming DeLoy, Portland

 

What’s in a Name?

Can you guess what I have in common with Amelia Earhart and Sarah Jessica Parker? I won’t keep you in suspense. We all kept our maiden names after marriage. We’re in the minority because only twenty percent of women who marry in the United States keep their surname afterwards. Following are the reasons I kept my last name after I tied the knot.

When I was born, I was Melissa Davis. The man I’d come to know as dad, the one raising me had given me his last name, Uhles, when he legally adopted me. My biological father had left the scene early on and waived his parental rights. In retrospect, that was the best thing he could have done for me. Though my name had changed legally, my biological father still sent me a few checks over the years with his last name on them. This was emotionally confusing, and the checks were harder to cash at the bank without explanation.

Fast-forward to my adulthood. I had begun to pursue writing. My name was getting attached to my creative work. It never occurred to me that I’d change my name again. I had to give this idea more thought when I turned thirty-two. I’d moved to Oregon and fallen in love with the landscape and with a handsome engineer. Our wedding day looked like the stuff of fairy tales. That said, after we’d said our vows, I sensed there would be many changes ahead in adjusting to married life. But I’d decided that one thing would remain the same that day, my last name.

The list of reasons had piled up in my mind: I’d already had two last names, I wanted to keep my bylines and online presence the same. This decision would also save me trips to the social security office, DMV, and post office, where I would have had to get a new passport. Last but not least, if our union ever fizzled, I’d still have my same name. 

My husband and I have been married for over eleven years now. That is true in part, because during that last name discussion, he gracefully accepted my choice. I knew maintaining our marital union would mean lots of compromise but I needed something that reminded me that I don’t belong to anyone. I chose a partner to share my life with, that is all. 

Melissa Uhles, Aloha

 

A Splitting and a Joining

Roads connect and separate. Like countless snaking glaciers, roads sever the world from itself. Mountains are cut open to the sky, their guts spilled into quarries. Forests are bulldozed, continuing our extinction of ecosystems. Rivers are dammed and redirected, creating barriers that disrupt migratory patterns built up over long evolution, separating the routes of creatures from those creatures’ deepest instincts. Someday we will see the roads we have built, separating landscapes and ecologies previously joined for millions of years, and feel inescapably ill from what we have done.

Roads connect destinations but separate people. How did you last traverse a road? Probably by car or bike, alone. Probably scared of other drivers the whole time, or frustrated by them. These feelings, danger and irritation, are feelings of separation. They split us from each other, even as our inanimate temples are connected by the roads.

Roads separate pedestrians from destinations. They are whitewaters of harrowing metal chunks roaring past us, past homes and lunch spots, sometimes through us and those spots. We steal each others’ lives on roads. Their great danger separates us, emotionally and physically and geographically, even as they join our needlessly distant constructs like mountain ranges bridged by glaciers.

There are other ways we can travel, ways that require fewer roads—ways like buses, trams, trains. We can publicly fund these, instead of roads. Public transport connects us with each other while commuting, through conversation and shared space—or with ourselves, through reading, sleeping, and whatever other aspects of self we notice in those moments not spent guiding a roaring chunk of metal over a road.

There are other ways we can build, letting homes coexist with parks, schools, stores, theaters, restaurants, for minimal motorized transport. Changing excess roads into non-motorized avenues lets pedestrians, bikes, and animals coexist. It allows food carts and market fairs along common routes, where they belong. People and horses can easily maneuver around tents in an avenue, so travel remains intact. Cars cannot maneuver around tents in a road, so travel clogs up, people become frustrated and take it out on other people, and feelings of separation spread like an illness alongside the auto traffic. 

Everything is both a splitting and a joining. We get to choose which is being done to what, and with whom. Let’s join together as people and planetary inhabitants, and demand a split from roads.

Nathan Waugh, Philomath

 

Union

Today when you see that the sun is out for the first time in weeks, you know that you will put on your boots, wade through a pasture full of shin-deep puddles to catch a mud-caked horse. You haven’t ridden for a month, and you notice as you curry off the mud that the horse has the beginning of rain burn on its shoulders. When you put the saddle on and start to tighten up the girth the horse lets out an enormous sigh and turns towards you with his lips curled up away from his teeth in a threatening gesture, but you know he’s not going to do it. Not this time.

If the horse is sound and you’re feeling brave, you ride the horse through a holly orchard onto an old logging road—where the dripping red alder’s catkins are beginning to swell. When you get to the beach there are the usual bucks and side dances before you settle into a slow controlled canter, moving in small circles until you can feel the horse starting to relax underneath you and your hands becoming softer. He now trusts that you won’t suddenly veer off and ask him to jump a log and you trust him enough to not go sideways and try to dump you in the sand, and you let him go. This is a dance you do every time. Now you are crouched over his shoulders and he is moving so fast his mane stings as it slaps against your hands and face and your eyes water from the cold. There is nothing except you and the horse and the sound of hooves hitting wet, hard sand, and you keep moving together until his gallop slows to a trot and you turn him back towards the barn.

When you take his saddle off, steam rises above his back and he bows his head against your shoulder and he pushes, hard, until you reach over and scratch underneath his headstall where the sweat has dried onto his skin. He lets out another long sigh when you loosen his girth, but this time, as he turns his head, instead of showing his teeth he reaches over to check your pockets for the carrots that he knows are there.

While he eats his grain and hay you sit in the corner of his stall, watching and listening to him. You have spent years together doing this. This union is a prayer of sorts, this line between the two of you where you understand that there are times and places for everything that goes right, or wrong, and few things in life are so clear.

Kate Saunders, Neskowin

Comments

1 comments have been posted.

This piece, Union, by Kate Sauders is so moving and beautiful, revealing a relationship that goes beyond words.

Anne Hall | May 2020 | Neotsu

Also in this Issue

From the Director: Waiting for the Break

In Brief

Editors’ Note: Union

Reciprocity of Tradition

Organizing from the Outside

Essential but Excluded

My Parents’ Exes

The Struggles That Unite Us

The Privilege to Raise Our Voices

One Country Again

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