Giovanna

2008
Febbraro, Susan

She pretends she doesn't mind another baptism - another sister with a new baby. She dutifully buys the obligatory pink and white "ceramic cross with engraved name on gold base" for her niece and laughs and raises her glass at the wedding-like feast to celebrate the infant's entry into the family of God. She watches her own mother at a distance, flushed with excitement at yet another granddaughter. Her own husband is pouring wine for the other men at their table with a paternalism that seems almost natural to him. She hears him laugh and joke with the other men about future weddings and the financial responsibilities and the unrelenting tasks of being a father.

The knives in her chest seem today to be hurting more than usual. She senses the need for some relief and --so--once again she feels herself move above the room. This happens to Giovanna infrequently, but today again she feels herself leave the robust round and "black-brocaded and heavily gold-chained" body to view this scene from another vantage point.

It is always upward and to the right and she feels somewhat like what it must be like to be a helium balloon with no will of one's own-slowly moving upward-floating but looking down on the happy event-which all seems to be in slow motion-with forks moving to mouths as if weighted by a hundred pounds and wine glasses raised as if holding lead. The sounds in the room seems weighted too, and flow together as one continuous noise, like a muffled symphony of laughing, talking and clinking. She has no fear of this sensation. She knows she will return to her body whenever she is ready, but for now - her impersonator self will have to do without the essence of Giovanna - who now looking down sees another scene.

Now she is the mother and it is her baby girl, ornamented and royal in the bassinette, like an infant bride ready to meet God-and she is the person who is laughing out loud as glasses are raised and fortunes predicted. Her infant daughter Tizianna, is no longer lying in her tiny infant grave clothed in the intended christening gown and gold-the infant grave from which grow roses and forget-me-not nurtured and watered by the millions and millions of tears Giovanna has shed upon them. Millions and millions of tears for a baby-finally a wanted baby-after two unwanted-two terminated-two murdered-two sent early to God-a perfect wanted stillborn baby girl.

Giovanna knows she is not missed. Her impersonator self does well without her essence. She awakens each day to a loving, unknowing husband who thinks she is O.K. She moves through her morning routines and dresses in her black pants and blouse. She walks to the corner and laughs and chats with the other women-also dressed in black (they have had their losses too) --their clothes too tight and too short for their thick fat bodies--black stockings with holes and runs, rolled down at the knee--kerchiefs on their graying hair and black bags over their shoulders holding the necessities for the day. Jabbering in Italian--light--it is early--they are not tired yet.

She joins in. She works at the hospital cleaning floors and other things, in the suite of rooms where babies are born and die. She knows the secrets of these rooms. She knows the laughter and the tears. She knows what happens when babies are born dead-perfect and dead. She knows how God punishes for babies disposed of and she knows that she will never cradle a baby sucking at her breast for milk thin and blue. She knows that she will never feel the pain of cracked nipples and lack of sleep--of tired body and colicky baby--pacing, pacing. She knows that for her the pain will always be weekly visits to an infant grave at the end of the bus line.

Giovanna has tried to pay her debt. She has behaved well--impersonated a good daughter, joyful sister, interested aunt, resigned wife. But no one knows what a good actress she is and so every now and then her essence--the real Giovanna, rises above the impersonator, to give the shell relief from the pain--to separate the shell and the real--to put the pain in another place so that for a few brief moments the shell can have a rest from the acting. No one will notice, it is so brief. No one is looking at Giovanna anyway--all eyes are on the mother and child.

Her body is older now and with each "separation" she is slower to return. One day she simply won't. She thinks about her infant daughter Tizianna, every waking minute thinks want it might be like to-yes-cradle her to herself, to her breast. Perhaps --why not? Go to the place where her daughter is and relieve the pain forever. One of those leftover scalpel blades at work--that rope in the garden shed out back--perhaps those saved up sleeping pills given to a woman deserving of rest at the end of each day.

Not today. She won't distract from her sister--but one day soon, she thinks-maybe tomorrow.

She feels herself returning-she feels the body and the essence reuniting. The knives in her chest are back. She is raising her glass. The motion and the sounds are back to normal and she drinks down the wine and laughs right out loud-dutiful woman that she is.

Theme: Death and Dying | Décès et le mourir
Theme: Patients | Patients

Stories in Family Medicine | Récits en médecine familiale [Internet] Mississauga ON: College of Family Physicians of Canada. 2008 --. 

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