What I want to say
is that there is nothing in your body that lies.
All that is new is telling the truth.
I’m here, that somebody else,
an old tree in the background.
Stand still at your door,
sure of yourself, a white stone, a good stone –
as exceptional as laughter
you will strike fire,
that new thing!
You’re only the best I ever had.
From a poem by Kat called “I Just Opened Up My Eyes”
Χαλεπά τά καλά
Her tattoo, which in ancient Greek translates as “Beauty is harsh.”
In modern Greek it means “Nothing without labor.”
photo by Jacquie Causey
She was the greatest surprise of my life. I was eighteen, in college, working midnights, and about to leave to tour eleven countries in Europe. But when I became ill and went to the campus doctor and he told me I was pregnant, my only thought was that she was here and she was here to stay. Mothers always say extremely sentimental things about their children, but on my honor: I loved her the moment I knew she was growing.
Someone recently asked me if I was afraid to become a single mother at 18, 19, and I said no, because I had so deeply loved my niece and nephew and so I knew how to love a child. But more importantly, I had a dream one night in which an old woman said this to me: “There is a single, simple thing you must know. Treat every moment with her as if it is the only one she will remember.” And when I woke up I knew how to do that. I also dreamed that I was sitting on the floor in front of a vending machine eating a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, and a woman walked in and said, “You’re having a girl.” I said, “I know that.”
She was born September 6th, 1984, in Biloxi, Mississippi, during a Dixie storm.
What a girl she was! By the age of three she had memorized all of the dialogue in The Wizard of Oz, and she loved to wear little dresses and walk around outside in her ruby slippers, carrying an umbrella, saying things like, “I wish this rain would stop.”
I have never known another child who was born perfectly reasonable. Kat was. I could explain things to her so simply and she would nod; she never misbehaved, ever. We talked all the time. She was profoundly opinionated about what she should wear, and ended up going to school in outfits I am sure she would now find . . . unfortunate. She loved to talk on the phone with the Virgin Mary. Once I heard her say, “Hello, Birgin? What are you doing? Are you jumping rope? Where is you son?”
We had no dark days and she had no awkward years. She went from being a beautiful child, gentle and thoroughly compassionate, to being a beautiful teenager. She was and is also a brilliant mimic, and I once had a professor who would give her a quarter to do imitations. She is still among the funniest people I’ve ever known.
I could name her thousand gifts, but the greatest must be her love of children, the way they love her in return; the fact that she was willing, as an undergraduate, to train as a doula and help deliver the babies of Spanish-speaking women who couldn’t communicate with their doctors. She helped deliver nearly forty children. Obadiah believes she hung the sky and the moon. And to Baby Augusten, she is everything.
Her loyalty is unquestionable, her integrity a marvel. She knows the names of hundreds of plants, and can make gardens out of nothing. There has never been a dog she feared. Her family is her permanence. She rarely angers, and even then is quick to forgive. And if you are her friend, you are her friend for life – she would walk on broken glass for the people in her life. Years and years ago she suspected that her best friend might need a new mother, and asked me if I would take the job, and I did. This is my adopted daughter, Brittany. I love her, too, very much.
In May, Kat earned a degree from the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, in Philosophy. For anyone that would be an astonishing feat. But what moved me most that day was the sense that she and I were never supposed to make it; a pregnant, single 18-year-old is not supposed to end up with one of the brightest, most diligent, joyous women after 23 years. The only time I teared up (I was brave), was when I said to her, “We did it, we got all the way here,” and she agreed.
My mother and sister and niece and Kalia drove all the way to North Carolina to see her graduate. It was a lovely thing.
I must say though, that far more surprising and rewarding than her degree is the fact that she is becoming a brilliant musician, with a voice so rich and moving I want to listen to her all the time and I’m afraid to listen to her at all, for fear I’ll collapse in a state. She is bizarrely talented. Many people agree with me.
Finally, my first born, my little string bean, love of my life: I’ve said it countless times. You were the greatest blessing I’ve ever known, and you are the finest person in my life. If you weren’t my daughter, I would wish every day that you were my daughter. Happy Birthday, Chicken Wing.