Poem 190 ± December 11, 2015

Christine Stoddard
The Family Curse

“Is she dead yet?” came a tight voice on the other end of the phone
one suffocating June day before my high school graduation.
I stared at the receiver and hung up without answering, alone
in the living room while my parents prepared for our weekend elation.
After emerging from a four-year-long coma of exams and football party drama
and having that cap-in-the-air moment when I hugged my diploma,
there would be cake, presents, friends, advice.
Everyone there to congraluate and console me about this new era in life.

That was, until she picked up the phone and deafened the celebratory tone.

The woman who birthed and abandoned me.
The addict who sold the marrow from her bone.
My mother only in the strictest biological sense.

She wanted to know if her accidental creation had finally fallen to the family curse
cast not by wing of bat and eye of toad but a vaginal delivery and high viral load.
Every week, she called about my mortality and, every week, I wished her damnation,
though we both already knew a hell of pills and hospital walls painted puce.

No number of honors would take my HIV away.
Extracurriculars and letters of recommendation were equally impotent.
My medications and fear of love were my day-to-day,
yet she needed to remind me of what I would never forget.

When I walked the stage the next morning,
I had a vision of a grave I thought was mine,
but it was hers, muddy in the cold rain.

Two days later, the phone rang again with the news she died in a car crash.
But before that, I kissed a boy—a real boy—a boy all mine for the very first time.

Christine StoddardBorn and raised in Virginia, Christine Stoddard is a Salvadoran-Scottish-American writer and artist. In 2014, Folio named her one of the top 20 media visionaries in their 20s for founding Quail Bell Magazine. Christine’s work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, The Feminist Wire, the New York Transit Museum, Bustle, The Brooklyn Quarterly, and Tulane Review, among others. She is the co-editor of The Nest: An Anthology of The Unreal (Belle Isle Books, 2013) and Airborne: An Anthology of The Real (Belle Isle Books, 2013) and co-author of Images of America: Richmond Cemeteries (Arcadia Publishing, 2014).

This poem is not previously published.