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The Flame

From deep inside the womb, I know both love and sadness. They ripple through my blood, my bones, and intertwine to create the essence of me. 

This invisible truth sits inside, certain, a spark that will not die. Like the campfire that no matter how much dirt or water you douse it with, an unseen whiff of breeze keeps the embers glowing. I tend it closely.


My mother lives in the bungalow. The house that is not a home where she has been sent to have me and give me up to God and the powers that swirl around her. Other girls are with her. They mirror her story. At the age of eighteen and unwed, she has been sent halfway across the country from the only place she has ever lived.

Beyond the shame of her circumstances, are other pains. Her stepfather of the past five years is not only the Chief of Police, but abusive to both her and her mother. Nothing will happen to him in that small North Dakota town. He can do as he pleases with his women. 


I come kicking and squealing onto this earth at 11:30 in the morning on April 21st, 1965. With this first breath I already feel my mother’s love. She has spoken without words her hopes and fears of the last nine months. I have drunk from her soul, fed on the unseeable parts of her, grown and thrived despite the desperation of her world. I know only her.

My father, a young, enlisted soldier met her at a dance two years prior. They dated, broke up, but reunite. He is then transferred from the nearby air base all the way to Alaska. He says he will not marry her. Not only because he sees no way he can support them, but also because of their religious differences. 

My mother is Catholic and he a serious Methodist. Organized religion has thoroughly indoctrinated these two young people into believing they are too different to build a life together.

More has been done with less, but the constraints of their society show no respite from its pressures.


In the bungalow, letters come and go. Phone calls provide no answers. No peace. She recovers from her labors and prays. And curses. And weeps. She holds me and feeds me, maybe even from her breast. 

Social workers give advice. “Oh honey, it will all work out. You’ll see, this will all be for the best.” There is only one story allowed in this house, and it is that she must do this, give me away for both her well being and mine. No other options are considered.


They bring me to her daily. I know her voice from the womb, know her smell. Within my bundle I feel her fear, her sadness, and her anger. I wonder how many times she cries.

Fifty years later in her darkest nights, does she think of me?

She gives me no formal name, but many of these young women have a ‘crib name’ for their babies. I do not know mine.


In the bungalow, there are more words from the experts who guide her, “If you name her, it will be harder on you to let her go.” For days she continues to recover. Her youth feels heavy on her shoulders as she prays to her omnipotent God that provides no new answers.

Eventually the letters and the calls and the unfairness of it all wring her out. She is left with only her shed tears and dying hopes and finds she has no choice.


Nine days after I was born, she walks into a courtroom and signs the papers that leave her bereft. I am no longer hers, and she is no longer mine. By the act of a pen and the closed minds that surround her, a woman she will never see again carries me away to be raised by another mother.

But before she goes, I dream, that the last moment she sees me, she reaches out one more time. Within the blanket wrapped tightly around me, her hand brushes the air by my puffy cheeks and barely touches my hair. And that speck of flame comes to life with the tiniest breeze that no one else can feel but me.

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