a Parallel universe
“Hey, Sweet Petunia!”
Fresh from an anti–Vietnam War parade through the streets of Berkeley,
California, my mother, Gracie, explodes into my sterile white hospital room
decked out in one of her velvety, rainbow-hued robes, three Zuni turquoise
necklaces, and her favorite ring that’s adorned with a gigantic silver eagle, its
wingspan the width of her hand. She’s woven a crown of iridescent pheasant
and crow feathers into her honey blonde hair, and she’s clutching a bunch of
daisies I’m sure she’s filched from somebody’s garden.
“Imagine me a grandmother!” Gracie exclaims in her throaty voice as
she hurries to my bedside, plants an extravagant kiss on my nose, and stands
beaming down on me.
I’ve just been in labor for twenty-four hours—during which I have,
according to the standards of womanly heroism prevailing in the early sev-
enties, rejected all medication. I resisted the doctor’s recommendation of a
cesarean section and huffed and puffed my way through labor until I was
light-headed. The baby someone finally plopped on my breast was coated
with a creamy white substance. I thought he was a fish—a floppy salmon
maybe. It was through that haze of exhaustion that I caught a glimpse of my
son before two latex-gloved hands whisked him away to a plastic box-bed in
a nursery down the hall. Then I surrendered to the painkillers.
Stupefied with both exhaustion and drugs now, I’m sobbing into my
pillow, hair matted to my scalp with sweat. I don’t know where I am. No
notion why I’m here. Before my mother’s arrival, a nurse had peeked into
my room with a worried look and asked me for my name. I’d stared back
“How’s my Sweet Petunia!”
Slowly, Gracie swims into focus, a blur of lavender against the white
wall, reeling me back to reality. I’m twenty-four years old, but my mother’s
scarcely forty. Though the blonde hair that haloes her face contrasts with
my dark flyaway curls, we share the high cheekbones that Gracie has always
[WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly 37: 3 & 4 (Fall/Winter 2009)]
© 2009 by Carolyn Kraus. All rights reserved.
242 ■ a Parallel universe
attributed to a mysterious Native American ancestor. To Gracie’s delight,
people often mistake us for sisters.