Happy Holidays – Blog Tour

Thanks for stopping by the Holiday Blog Tour.

This is a short fiction piece I wrote out of the blue. It was inspired by a Facebook post from a very dear friend, Lori (from Goddard). 

When you’re done, don’t forget to visit Nikki Kallio tomorrow, 19th Dec. I hope you’re enjoying the tour so far. Happy Holidays.

Sacrifices

“But where is she getting them from?”

“I don’t know, Cora. Somebody said from a farm in South Jersey,” my mom said.

“That’s a long way to drive, Esther. Especially with a baby,” Cora said.

They were talking about my sister. She was up to something again that had started the women in our family gossiping and the men shaking their heads.

“I don’t know. All I can do is pray.” My mom was fighting tears, her usual stance when my sister was involved.

“Will you talk with her?” my mom asked me.

I was in the rocking chair nursing my youngest. I didn’t really want to get involved. I lived out-of-state for a reason.

“Uh, sure, but what do you want me to say? I mean, she’s grown now.”

“She’s sacrificing chickens, Michelle, what do you think I want you to say to her?” my mom said.

Norwei was sixteen years my junior. We had different fathers and pretty much grew up apart. She was two when I left for college, and so most of our relationship had been digital. But I felt a mild responsibility toward her. I was there when she was born, I changed her diapers, and I did more than my fair share of babysitting since her Dad went missing after some gambling debts caught up with him when Norwei was just six-weeks-old, so I always struggled with how much to involve myself in her life.

“Don’t you need a permit or something? I mean, it’s gotta be against some health code to be killing chickens in your apartment,” my aunt Cora said.

“I don’t know. Who knows this kind of stuff?” my mom asked.

“If her neighbors complain, the landlord won’t let her stay there. Baby or not.” Cora had a penchant for saying the wrong thing. 

She and my mother were sisters by marriage. Cora was my uncle’s wife, and ever since I can remember she and my mom were engaged in this silent, but willful competition to see who was closest to the Lord. 

Cora was a large woman who used her weight to bully the rest of the women in our family, but everyone saw through it. She was fat and she was insecure about it. So for the most part we just smiled and felt sorry for her. But she was a lot of fun at family reunions. She’d inevitably say something that hurt someone else’s feelings, they’d run off to the kitchen crying, and my cousin and I would sit by ourselves giggling like we were still teenagers.

“Michelle, you’ve got to speak with her. This isn’t how I raised her,” my mom said.

I wasn’t sure what I could say that would make a difference. Norwei wasn’t one to take advice, even if she knew it was for the best. She was determined to live her life the way she saw fit, and apparently that meant sacrificing chickens right now.

“Has anyone asked her why she’s doing this?” I asked.

“Of course, Michelle.” My mom was frustrated, which meant nothing any of us said was going to satisfy her.

“She said she was trying to get closer to God. But that was in the Old Testament. We don’t need to do that kind of stuff anymore,” Cora said.

“Well, I guess if she’s doing it for God…” I said.

“No! That doesn’t make it right.” My mom shook her head. “You don’t understand. I didn’t raise you right. I mean, I wasn’t serious when it was just me and you. I was playing with the Lord back then—”

I looked down at my youngest as she nursed. Her eyes were wide and she smiled at me as if she understood everything we were saying. She was seven months, and she hadn’t taken to solids like her sister, but that was all right. I liked this time together.

“—you know what I’m trying to say,” my mom said.

I nodded. I learned not to let it hurt anymore. My lack of faith created this chasm between me and my mom that she just couldn’t accept. I was the child she failed. It was all my fault, she’d say. If only she’d been serious with the Lord when I was growing up, then I wouldn’t be broken.

My cousin, Alexis, Cora’s daughter walked in. She looked at my mom and then at me. “Y’all talking about Norwei and them chickens?”

I smothered a chuckle. Alexis was two years younger than me, but we understood one another in a manner that said we grew up together. Countless sleepovers, nights out, and covering for one another meant that we communicated without words.

“Yeah,” Cora said. “You heard from her?”

Alexis nodded. “I just left her spot. She said she was about to kill another chicken.”

“My Lord,” my mom said.

“You didn’t try to stop her?” Cora asked.

“What for?” Alexis said. 

Alexis was the one in our family everyone went to for advice. Mostly because she was discreet, but also because she was honest. Brutally so.

“Where’s the baby?” my mom asked.

“He’s asleep. She said she doesn’t kill them while he’s awake.”

“Thank God for that,” my mom said.

“Does it smell in there?” Cora asked.

“Cora!” my mom said.

I hadn’t thought of that.

“Not really. She keeps the windows open and sprays Lysol,” Alexis said.

My mom got up and left the room. I could hear her talking to my stepfather. She was asking if she should go over to Norwei’s. I looked at my daughter and wondered if we would ever become as disconnected, but it was hard to imagine. She seemed so perfect, so in love with me. We had a rough first five months. She had reflux, I was hyped up on hormones, and my two-year-old was still trying to understand why she wasn’t getting all of my attention anymore. But in time things settled. She began to sleep, I could finally wean her off the medicine, and my eldest really enjoyed having a little sister to baby.

“Frank says I should call her,” my mom said when she returned to the living room.

She reached for the phone, but I stopped her.

“Get your thoughts together first. You don’t want to say the wrong thing. Remember, she says she’s doing this for the Lord, so you know when people say that, there’s no deterring them.”

My mom snorted. She wasn’t in the mood to fight with me.

I was the only nonChristian in my family. I was agnostic by default because, well, it was hard to outright deny God existed after twenty-six years of believing. Believing in Him was part of my childhood, it was everything to my family, and it felt like turning my back on my culture and heritage if I said I were atheist. 

My lack of faith was the one thing that separated me and my mother. She wanted to love me wholly, and on some level I knew she did, but my lack of belief was like a knife in her heart she once said. I tried avoiding the subject, but she was a Born-Again, and so trying to have a conversation without mentioning God was akin to devil worshipping in my house. Everything always related back to God. Even the smallest matter. I remember once when I was pregnant I went grocery shopping for her and on instinct I bought milk. She had forgotten to put it on the list, but she said that it was the Holy Ghost guiding me. She said that God was in everything.

I guessed if you looked hard enough you could find anything in everything.

“Cora, pray with me real quick,” my mom said.

Alexis went to the kitchen, and I looked down at my baby pretending I hadn’t noticed my mom’s outstretched hand. She and Cora sat together and bowed their heads. My mom asked the good Lord to guide her so that the Holy Ghost could seize her mouth and she would utter only what was pleasing to Him. She prayed to Jesus and asked him to touch Norwei so that her ears were able to hear His words. Then she started speaking in tongues, and I rocked a little faster.

I wasn’t sure why I felt like crying, but I knew that if I started my mom would see that as a sign and tell me the Holy Spirit was trying to break through the wall Satan had built around my heart. There was a fight for my soul, she’d say, but God was going to win because she had already prayed over me. It was just a matter of time.

I named my daughter Sara. My mom called her “Sarah”, like the Biblical character, but it was pronounced more Persian, like Saa-ra. We had a difficult beginning. She wouldn’t sleep and so I spent a lot of time crying those first five months. Praying as well. It was the closest I had gotten to God since I was in my mid twenties, more than ten years ago.

Mom said the fact I made it through those five months with no more than two hours’ sleep at one time was a testament to His existence. The real reason I hadn’t harmed Sara was because the thought of being without my first born was more painful than my forced sleep deprivation. Every night I would pace with Sara held to my chest while my husband would lie in the spare bedroom wondering what we could’ve done to deserve such a baby.

We saw everyone: the pediatrician, a child chiropractor, a reflux specialist, and an osteopath. In the end all we could do was wait. Hold on. 

Sara smiled. I placed my finger in her palm, and she instinctively closed her fist and giggled.

The phone rang. It was Norwei. My mom answered and immediately passed it to me.

“Uh, hello,” I said.

“Michelle?” Norwei was expecting my mom.

“Yeah. How are you?” I was nervous.

“Mom put you on the phone?”

I took a deep breath. If I was going to do this, it would be my way.

“Yep. She’s worried.”

“Ugh, can you please tell her to relax. God! She worries about everything.”

“Motherhood,” I said.

“I’m not going to be that kind of mom.”

“Depends on if your kid’s sacrificing chickens,” I said.

“Oh you got jokes?”

“Well, you have to admit, it’s a bit Old Testament, isn’t it?”

There was a long pause.

“You mad?” I asked.

“I’m pregnant.”

I looked down at Sara. How could I not be happy for her?

“How’s that related to the chickens?” I asked.

Norwei sighed. “I just need to connect with God, Michelle. I know you don’t get it, you being all atheist—”

“Agnostic,” I said.

“—Agnostic, but he don’t want the baby.”

“I’m sorry.” What else could I say?

She was crying now. “And I don’t know what to do.”

“What’s she saying?” my mom whispered.

“Don’t tell mom,” Norwei said.

“I won’t.” I waved my mom away.

Sara reached for the phone, and I placed a quick kiss on her forehead. How could anyone not want you? I was a liberal. I believed in a woman’s right to choose, but looking at Sara… I was glad I never had to make that choice.

“He says he’s going to leave if I keep it,” Norwei said.

I never liked him. He was a loser by anyone’s definition. He never liked me. I was a snob, a wannabe white girl.

“How long you planning on doing this?” I asked.

“Til I know what to do.”

I couldn’t stop the tear that fell onto Sara. For all of Norwei’s poor decisions, crazy ideas, and unrealistic dreams, she was my sister. Her pain was mine too.

“What do you want to do?” I asked.

“I want my baby. But I want a family too, Michelle. What about Christian? He needs his father.” Christian was her son.

“Sweetheart, I doubt Christian was ever going to have a father. Not if he says that to you. This is just his excuse to leave. A convenient escape.”

I let the silence sit.

“Yeah, I know.” And she did.

My mom came back into the room and saw the tears on my face. She knelt by the fireplace and began to pray quietly. She started speaking in tongues again.

“I think you can stop killing chickens now,” I said.

She laughed. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“Where’s Christian?” I asked.

“Sleeping.”

“So, I gotta know, how in the hell do you sacrifice a chicken?”

“Girl, YouTube it.”

My laughter startled Sara, and my mom took her from me to calm her.

“You can find all kinds of weird shit on there. It was hard finding a Christian chicken sacrificing how-to video though. Most of that stuff is voodoo or satan worshiping.”

I threw my head back and the let the laughter shake me. It was good to laugh like this, with her.

“When he wakes up, why don’t you come over. Aunt Cora’s here, and I know mom would like to see you.”

“She’s going to be disappointed in me again, Michelle.”

Yes, she was going to be disappointed in her again. “I wonder if there’s anything Christian could do to make you stop loving him.”

She snorted, but I could hear her blowing her nose. She was still crying.

“Thanks, Michelle.”

“That’s what big sisters are for.”

 ***

Next Stops on the Holiday Blog Tour:

Dec. 19 Nikki Kallio, More Purple Houses

Dec. 20 Lupe Mendez, The Poet Mendez

Dec. 21 Anabel Lucio Morales, My Meandering Thoughts

Dec. 22 Icess Fernandez Rojas, IcessFernandez.com

Dec. 23 Regina Tingle, ReginaTingle.com

A Holiday Blog Tour

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(Photo used through Creative Commons and taken by Flickr user Cliff.)

I’ve worked on Christmas Day. I was in Japan. Christmas isn’t a holiday there. I find that a lot of my traditions and values are a result of where I was born and to whom. Christmas is special to me because it was special to my family. It was reinforced through television, radio, street decorations, and the festive spirit–as a nation we all had it.

But when I lived in Japan, aside from the beautiful street decorations, it was just another work day. What I learned is that as much as we want to believe we’re different, we’re more the same than we realize. Black, white, brown, or any other color, you’re more like your fellow compatriots than you think. In this way I feel distinctly American. It connects me despite the distance that separates us.

For the past three years, each holiday season I participate in a Holiday Blog Tour of women from around the world. A very special woman, Icess Fernandez Rojas has once again organized our tour for your reading pleasure. Some of it will be fiction, some nonfiction, but all of it will be interesting.

I’ll post a link to the first one in our tour on 16 December when we kick things off. Each day, one blog in the group will post a holiday story. After you read the story, the blog will link you to the next stop on the tour for the next day.

Here’s a list of our participants and their blogs:

Dec. 16 Teresa Carbajal Ravet, SententiaVera.com

Dec. 17 Nathasha Alvarez, Audaciouslady.com

Dec. 18 Natasha Oliver, Peace and Center

Dec. 19 Nikki Kallio, More Purple Houses

Dec. 20 Lupe Mendez, The Poet Mendez

Dec. 21 Anabel Lucio Morales, My Meandering Thoughts

Dec. 22 Icess Fernandez Rojas, IcessFernandez.com

Dec. 23 Regina Tingle, ReginaTingle.com