United Front
Caroline Henry


First he is saying nothing. He is hearing nothing, he is doing nothing. It is me in my room like a hole, hibernating over my belly. It is me in the borrowed clothes. It is me cresting my parents' enthusiasm. It is a long, drawn-out question. It is a tiredness and a retching. It is a trans-plantation grounded in hope. It is an infrastructure of dependency. It is the way it has to be.


First I am told nothing can be done before the social security card and birth certificate come in the mail. Six weeks at least. I will later learn this isn't supposed to be true, that my daughter's support will be fixed upon the date I turn in the paperwork, meet with the case workers. It will be a more important date than the date of her birth. The upside is that those first six weeks will always be mine. The girl and her mother. Her mother's clumsiness with her own breasts. The girl's cries through the night, her indignant awakenings.


For the court to prepare and file the summons: seven months. For the other court to receive and process the answer, to set a date for the initial hearing: two months. To complete the maternal/filial portion of the paternity test: two weeks. To set one date, miss it, and reschedule the paternal portion of the test: two months. One first birthday party. One staggering toddler, two lovesick grandparents. Half a dozen ignored e-mails, a round of pointed and public fictions. The bar fights of the quiet.


There is a conversation. We get it all out, not sure if it will be the first and last time, what the other conversations will hold, if there will be other conversations. The results come back, positive. I am not surprised and that does not surprise me. He is not surprised and that surprises him. There are half-understandings, offers received in skepticism, questions answered and presumed.


The hearing has been scheduled. Before the hearing, a trip, midwest to sea, banks of thick earth to evanescent sun. It is the first meeting of the father and the girl. They are both so vulnerable. I am surprised, had not realized how deep were the talons of my doubt. It flaps. It shadows. It quakes and flies free just as guilt descends. My girl and I go home.


The hearing, finally, and the judgment. And what a stern judgment. I am concerned about the effects on the new relationship, so soon and slick from its cocoon, but also I'm dizzy with relief. Soon there will be payments against the debt, there will be breaking even, there will be options. The paperwork is another three months, but the payments begin, and he works hard to pay back to the original date (though only the earliest date in legal terms, remember, the first six weeks of her life will always be mine) and the debt is a long way toward gone.


Bad advice from a state employee. The case is closed abruptly. Money is withheld from him, then returned. A pointless round trip along bank wires and postal routes. I am back to uncertainty, and I am wondering when the story ends. But I see that it can't. It won't. It perches at times, it settles. Sometimes it departs for a daytime adventure and I am me alone again, sitting on a park bench with ants crawling across my lap, the sun coming and going.