Raising Yu Zheng / Raising Eli

Oasis by Lindsey Price

At four years old, my son Eli amused himself by muttering nonsense words. He walked down the street of our Portland, Oregon, neighborhood with a stick, banging on trees or scraping it on the sidewalk. “Chink, chink, chink,” he said. His eyes so dark you couldn’t see his irises.

I didn’t say anything. It was a nonsense word to him—for now. I didn’t think anyone we passed noticed him speaking, but I did. He was Chinese to the core. Chinese blood, Chinese skin, Chinese everything, but given an American passport with no choice of his own. Assigned the name Yu Zheng at his orphanage, Yu for the rivers that crossed his homeland and Zheng for strength, he was renamed when we adopted him at ten months old: Eli Zheng. His birth name is a secret, maybe whispered to him by his mother in Chongqing’s local dialect. Those brief days she held him before he was left at the orphanage by someone. Maybe her. No one knows or will tell us the truth.

What I learned before adopting: the biological woman, the Homo sapiens, the primate, does not know the difference between raising a child and preparing to “revoke” the child for adoption. The human is an animal. A fierce animal. When the mother brings the child’s lips to her nipple, oxytocin surges through her body. It causes the milk to be released. When the child latches on, the pressure on the nipple causes the brain to secrete oxytocin in milliseconds. Yet if the woman is stressed, she won’t release oxytocin, which is crucial to nurturing and bonding. (They tested this by lighting firecrackers by a nursing gorilla and testing her oxytocin levels.) How would a woman facing the most traumatic moment of her life respond to this child she had born? And how would I bond with no oxytocin released naturally?

We were told: the adopted child always feels a loss. Always. The child needs consistency and realistic boundaries. The child needs us to follow through.

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The Passenger

A backtrack. A rewind. Not too far. Just a taste.

A moon curve lit my way. Punk kids were hanging outside an all-ages warehouse, sucking the edges of their blankets, with bleeding fireworks going up their spinal cords. In their wake were sparks shooting to their fingers and the soles of their feet. They knew more about their bodies now than they did sober, and what they learned scared them, so they sucked their blankets. Some were once yellow, and some were once pink.

Before Royann knew I was back to town, I met with her in secret, in an aural land of phone calls late at night. She didn’t know I was calling from across the river. The water lapped. It brushed against piers. It touched the fur of muskrats and fish died in it, suffocated by sewage, damaged by prescription drugs flushed down toilets. I couldn’t hear the river, couldn’t feel it, but I knew it gave me some protection. I didn’t want to see her in person.

I called from a phone booth outside a Dollar Tree. The phone book was torn off the plastic holder, except for one page, on which I wrote fragments of our conversation with a pencil stolen from a bar. I put my finger in the metal slot, searching for extra coins.

“The electric guitar is not an instrument on its own,” I said. “It’s a relationship with the amp. If you plug it in straight, it’s boring and flat. It has to be loud enough so the strings resonate, so there’s a sympathetic vibration. You’re never going to get anywhere with Connor if he has guitarists with a clean sound.”

“No, he’s moving away from that. He’s got a new approach. He’s a dick, but I think he’s going somewhere. Danny quit.”

“What’s he going to do now? He has no life.”

“He’ll figure out something. They weren’t talking toward the end. It was time.”

“But you liked him,” I said.

“We only slept together once,” she said.

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Dead Souls

A new year. January 2001. I went alone to the next IVF appointment in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights, menstruating. Everything was mathematically planned out. I had been on the Pill for a month to regulate my ovaries, and now I’d stopped taking them. The doctor did an ultrasound in my bloody kootch. The nurse who took my blood to check for hormone levels said, “Hopefully it’s the last period you’ll have for a long time.”

“Thanks,” I said.

Though later, before I left, she said, “Everyone’s nervous the first time.” What did that mean? Was I doomed to failure? Yet she also said, “The lining of your uterus is thin. Everything looks good.”

The first set of injections would stimulate my follicles to produce more eggs than normal, and I would be monitored on an ultrasound, like any normal pregnant person, the follicles looking like the underside of a psychedelic mushroom, open to new life.

At home, though, Sam and I got in another fight. “If I get a shit job I’ll be too depressed,” Sam said.

“What should I do, just write you a check for ten grand and be done with it? Our marriage?”

He was working on a moth painting for a friend. “I’ve been busting my ass to get it done. I want to get adult illustration work and you’re telling me to get a shitty day job.”

“It’s not fair I have to work all day on projects I don’t care about, that I’ve done a million times, and I only have time to write fiction on the weekends.”

“Did you marry me just so I’d buy you a house?”

“Why don’t you go to school so you can teach art?”

“Fuck you. I don’t have to listen to your pressure.” He walked outside.

I’d woken to my landlady yelling at her mother. Through two sets of windows, iron grates, and the space of an alley, I heard her slap her. She screamed at her mother that she’d soiled her bed and wouldn’t get up.

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Prelude to a Kiss

Walk into the party. Try not to look at the couch with the afghan blanket over the top, another piece of furniture the cat ripped up. You will not sit there. You will never get up again. You’ll fall into the cushions and dogs will eat your corpse. Your butt will grow instantly from the size it was at age seventeen to the size it will be twenty years later, but the rest of your body will stay the same. Your butt will be glutenous and firm in places where the squats have had an effect, but wide. You could turn each cheek into a bird feeder. Sprinkle suet on top.

You sit anyway. You are super-glued to the poly-cotton fabric. You do a bong hit of a crushed Quaalude. It feels like plastic is coating your lungs. Not a good idea.

You pass around a handmade pipe, trying to ingratiate yourself with the friends of your new boyfriend: roofers and bikers and petty ex-cons. It’s the pipe that Fred—boyfriend one—made you at shop class. He found a scrap piece of cedar and carved and sanded it for you, bought you a screen for the top. The pipe goes around the circle and never makes it back to you. You are too high to notice. Guns are under beds. Dogs sleep in corners.

You don’t believe in karma, except when something bad happens. You’re cheating on Fred with Billy—boyfriend two—no wonder the pipe disappears.

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Napalm Picnic

manifest-station-image

From my memoir (names have been changed)

I picked up the thermometer by the bedside table and shook it. Every day I took my temperature and recorded it on grid paper, trying to determine when I was ovulating. Sam and I lived in a Victorian split long ago into an apartment on each floor. Our bedroom was off the kitchen, with a tall, gated window covered by a curtain I’d sewn.

 

My primary care person, a nurse practitioner in San Francisco’s Castro District, had told me for years not to worry, but I did. The notebooks I stored in a suitcase in the closet were filled with my fears. My FSH levels were normal—I was new to infertility-related acronyms. I never said that word, infertility, in my mind. I was way too superstitious and optimistic. Basically, normal FSH levels meant I wasn’t struggling too hard to produce the follicle-stimulating hormone necessary for ovulation.

Every annual checkup, I’d walk past the stacks of HIV prevention pamphlets in the office and lay down for this nurse practitioner. She told me my breasts felt good—soft and healthy—almost like she was evaluating their allure. I put my feet in terry-cloth-draped stirrups so she could feel my uterus. Good, good. No STDs. Regular sex. Healthy. Good genes. No problemo. She massaged my breasts for nonexistent lumps and said, “There’s a population crisis.” Who was I but one more woman adding to the problem? She said, “You’ll get pregnant.”

After three years of hearing me worry, she told me to get a test to see if my tubes were blocked. I’d never heard of tubes damming up, much less this test.

The thermometer hit the edge of the bedside table and broke, shattering glass. Tiny silver spheres tapped across the wood floor. I swore and knelt down to dab them in a Kleenex, feeling like I was bringing bad luck to myself—to my body—mercury poisoning was not good for primping the body for pregnancy.

I wanted this blood token. I wanted a baby of my blood—of Sam’s blood. Make something of our misfit lives. I was well-rounded and grieving each month. Drip. Stain.

the rest of essay

Raising Yu Zheng / Raising Eli

Price-Lindsey-oasis
Collage by Lindsey Price

A section from my (unpublished) memoir is out on Nailed magazine. Here’s an excerpt from Editor’s Choice: Raising Yu Zheng / Raising Eli

At four years old, my son Eli amused himself by muttering nonsense words. He walked down the street of our Portland, Oregon, neighborhood with a stick, banging on trees or scraping it on the sidewalk. “Chink, chink, chink,” he said. His eyes so dark you couldn’t see his irises.

I didn’t say anything. It was a nonsense word to him—for now. I didn’t think anyone we passed noticed him speaking, but I did. He was Chinese to the core. Chinese blood, Chinese skin, Chinese everything, but given an American passport with no choice of his own. Assigned the name Yu Zheng at his orphanage, Yu for the rivers that crossed his homeland and Zheng for strength, he was renamed when we adopted him at ten months old: Eli Zheng. His birth name is a secret, maybe whispered to him by his mother in Chongqing’s local dialect. Those brief days she held him before he was left at the orphanage by someone. Maybe her. No one knows or will tell us the truth.