CNF: Raised To Life

by Patrice Gopo

In the nightmare I find my toddler face up in a shallow pool. Her wide eyes haunt me. Her clothes balloon with water. I lean over, yank her out, and hold her lifeless body in my arms. I wake, open-mouthed, to the din of absolute silence.

Now alert in the night, I can split dream from reality. I know my daughter sleeps close by. But I see those vacant eyes. The limp body. The spreading circle of damp on my imagined clothes.

***

I am eleven years old, and my pastor dunks me into a baptistery filled with water. Raised to walk in new life, I hear when pulled to the surface. A large towel greets me as I exit, my clothes heavy on my limbs, a puddle forming at my feet. Beneath the soft fabric, my skin feels the cool air, and my body begins to shake.

In the future words gush with great force. Well-intentioned opinions flood my mind and make my lungs burn for breath. Taught as tenets of this faith, I hear instructions about being submissive, respectful, and the keeper of the home. An ancient role, I’m told, assigned from the time the Tigris and Euphrates rushed through Eden.

There are things I will come to regret. The way I shrank myself, the way I silenced my voice, the way I believed that idea to be truth. But I will not regret that moment of immersion.

***

I gave birth to my daughter in a tub of warm water. She slipped from the sac of fluid within me to the birthing pool surrounding me. Below where I crouched and pushed, she could have remained there for seconds, minutes, maybe more, her body attached to a pulsating cord.

Instead, the midwife’s hands sank below the surface, cupped my girl’s wrinkled body, and guided the fresh baby to her mother. Thin skin pressed against my wet chest as I waited for a scream that never came. Just the flutter of a heartbeat and a soft mew.

“The gentle birth,” the midwife said while she drained the tub. “Water babies don’t really cry.”

***

Sometimes I daydream about my girl far in the future when she is big and grown. She stands on the bank of a great river or walks barefoot beside the ocean’s many lapping tongues. Her wide eyes stare into a blurry distance beyond the range of my imagination.

And I think how around her, words can rise. How jagged twists on a faith I have handed her may one day creep close and soak her shoes, her clothes, her being. But my daughter, I dream she floats in the river current, breathes with the ocean’s waves. Her strong arms cut through walls of water in a way even her mother never knew.
 

 

Why did I believe for so long? Because I didn’t know there existed a way to stop and still remain.

***

In the bright of morning, after the time for nightmares is over, I hear my toddler’s waking cries. Later we walk past a fountain. Her squeals prod me to stare with her at slim arcs of water splashing into the pool below. I loosen my grip on her hand and watch her touch the slight spray of what she has known since her beginning.

Patrice Gopo’s work has appeared in a variety of publications including Creative Nonfiction, Gulf Coast, Full Grown People, and online in The New York Times and The Washington Post. She lives in North Carolina, and she is at work on a collection of essays.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Raised To Life”?

    I started writing the first draft of, “Raised to Life,” almost two years ago. It began with two images: my daughter’s birth in water and an early childhood memory where I thought I almost drowned. I wasn’t sure the reason why these scenes mattered or what larger story these images wanted to tell. Still I persisted with the two images and added other images and details (many of them ultimately extraneous) about water, breathing, birthing, drowning, and mothers and daughters. Every now and then I returned to the piece and pushed it a little further towards something I still wasn’t sure of.

    A few months ago I noticed the images speaking to abstract concepts: fear of what could be, hope for a child, and faith. Then two things occurred. First, a writing teacher mentioned how images can relate beyond the physical. That got me thinking about ways in which I’ve felt like I was drowning in a metaphorical sense. Second, a friend mentioned to me an idea that our children are born into our faith. This statement made me think about the physical act of baptism as a representation of belief. Those two incidences became the keys that unlocked this essay and connected images I had been trying to understand for a long time.

    In the end, my early childhood memory where I thought I almost drowned didn’t fit into the piece. However, some of that original language became part of the language I used when describing the words gushing with great force. I hear nothing is ever wasted as we write, and I think in this essay, that idea is true.

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