I knew she was my daughter. Or, to be precise, I knew my daughter was in there. I knew by the way she stared out the window. The neighbors, the police, the lawyer, the reporters – they all ask with their mouths twisted in irony and bitterness: how could you tell by the way she was looking out the window? A ridiculous question. I recognized her like a romantic lead recognizes her soulmate at first sight in movies. I knew in the same way you look into a mirror and know it’s you staring back. Do you have proof it’s you? Absolute proof that the person in your head is the same as the person in the mirror? Yeah? Then, I reserve the right to know whether the soul I’m regarding did all their gestation in a nutrient-rich sack among my very guts. On the morning of The Event, my mother’s eyes (only they weren’t hers) looked out the window the way my daughter would have looked out the window. That’s all.
How did your daughter end up in your mother’s body?
Obviously you never saw Freaky Friday! I’m pausing here for a laugh. Therapy Anne says it’s vital to keep my sense of humor around me like a decoy skin, to help protect my actual pinkish-beige skin, raw as it is from all the public flogging. She believes me. She’s a movie buff, too. In all seriousness, I don’t see how Cassie being trapped inside her grandmother is any more inconceivable than Cassie being trapped in me for 9 months, years ago. Only difference is we have a name for the first trick–pregnancy. I’m playing around with “premature reincarnation” for what happened to Cassie. Miracle Cassie, whose spark of life was lit during my first love scene ever, with a man my late father ran out of town, a shotgun in his hand, a black curse on his lips. This was daddy’s last ugly deed before he turned late. The big dose of ‘funny ha-ha’ that lets me know God is watching, eating kettle corn as he pulls the strings, is that my mother was the one who made me give Cassie up. Took one look at that little brown baby’s face and said no way. She said, “No daughter of mine is going to carry that specter around with her for the rest of her life.” My mother could talk like a poet before she lost her “it” and took to wandering the woods with the coyotes and eating discount crayons. When I got pregnant, it was 1982 in Western New York. I was too young, sure. But the other thing: being white with a mixed-race child wasn’t hip yet. If it had been hip, maybe I could have kept my child.
As far as the poetry of my mother’s life goes, I think being possessed by the very thing you wish to cast away is fair as fair can be.
So your daughter was reincarnated? Meaning she died?
Don’t be so literal-minded. Yes, the Cassie-my-daughter-would-have-been, that Cassie died. The stranger that Cassie is now turned 18 last year and didn’t bother to come looking for me. Sure, she’s alive out there with the people we chose for her. She probably has my face and my bearing, but ultimately she’s as foreign to me as the smell of someone else’s home. The Cassie who was so hungry she took every drop of milk from me till I hung deflated is certainly dead.
Okay, so let’s say we take for granted that your daughter was trapped. Why, then, would you do what you did on the morning of May 22nd?
This is the first interesting question of the day! Well, we’ve all seen someone struggle with a friend or family member in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. You can watch the movie Iris, starring Dame Judy Dench, or the much lighter short documentary film Complaints of A Dutiful Daughter, which won an academy award, if you haven’t. Those stages are especially cruel with a caged firecracker like my mother. When she was still rattling around in that old gray head, she’d look at me sometimes with watchful, lucid eyes. Eyes that said: Help. Starting about a month ago, those looks had all but replaced the googoo gaagaa vacancy I’d been dealing with 2 years. On the morning in question, she was all there, yet preverbal. Like she had something to say and was waiting for language to come. It wasn’t confusion; it was impatience. That’s not old age. That’s newborn. Here was Cassie, come back to me. I started crying. Still crying, I went to run a bath for her because Mother stunk like ammonia. As the water grunted and struggled and choked into the tub, I had a flashback to the last time I gave Cassie a bath. I could almost feel the tears and cold snot on my face, just as if I was still 16 and the long goodbye to Cassie was almost over. And then I thought I could just drown her. That way, she wouldn’t have to go through the pain of thinking I hadn’t wanted her. I would say it was sudden infant death syndrome, which I’d learned about from a library book, God help me; I was too stupid to realize they’d know by the water in her lungs. But then she looked at me. Her gaze was so intent it was like she was reading my mind. She knew I could never do what I proposed to do. She was meant to survive. I shut off the water on the morning of The Event to find my mother and undress her. I expected the usual kicking and spitting. She was already undressed at the back door, giving the outside world the same canny look her granddaughter had also worn on the edge of a departure, before she turned to fully face me and said, pointing to herself, “bring her home.”