This story is by Iyana and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It Takes a Village
Asali grabbed my hand and placed it on her protruding belly. I could feel the baby moving around; I could see my sister’s stomach rocking and rolling, “She’s gonna be a dancer. Look at your belly grooving.”
It felt good to see my sister laughing and happy. The first few months of her pregnancy had been rough. My poor bother-in-law almost lost his mind worrying about Asali and their baby. Mama Sarah assured him it was expected, the morning sickness and mood swings.
“I am so glad that you feel better, Asa. Are you ready for this meeting with Lydia?”
Asali nodded, “Yes, Amani, don’t worry about me. I’m good. I am just hungry as heck. I wish she would come on, so we can order.”
We were sitting in the California Pizza Kitchen; I spotted Lydia, “Here she comes, so rude, always late.” She spotted us and headed toward us. Lydia was a striking woman, almost six feet tall and slim but not skinny. A few heads turned, men and women, as she strolled through the room as if she were Angela Bassett and not Lydia Edwards, ex-crack addict. “Hello, Mother,” I scooted over so that she could sit next to me. Asali and her belly needed the entire booth.
Our mother slid into the booth after she leaned over and gave Asali a hug and rubbed her belly. “Hi, Amani,” she leaned over and tried to hug me, and I didn’t return the gesture.
Lydia ignored my rudeness. She turned to Asali, “Asali, you look beautiful. I remember when I was pregnant with y’all….”
I interrupted her, picked up my menu, and rolled my eyes. “Let’s order so the Asali can eat.” I didn’t want to hear her talk about our births or childhood.
I wasn’t in the mood to play these down memory lane games with Lydia. We hadn’t seen our mother much growing up; she hadn’t raised the two of us. She and our father had gotten caught up in the crack epidemic that ravaged our city in the eighties. I was 1, and Asali was 5 years old when we were removed from the home. We were raised by our maternal grandmother and aunt. Grandma was the best grandma ever, and Aunt Sarah was our Mama. When Aunt Sarah got married and had children, her husband Earl became our Papa. Her two sons were our brothers. Our father’s family was in our lives as well. Lydia and Robert were just the sperm and egg donors. I had no memory of Robert; he died when I was three years old. Over the years, Lydia would show up and stay for a while, a week or two. Asali would fall in love with our mother every time she showed up and be devasted when she disappeared again.
After we ordered and received our drinks, I looked at my mother and asked, “What was so important that it couldn’t wait. The birthday party is next week.” She gave me an apologetic look, and I fought the impulse to roll my eyes again. Asali and Lydia shared love of fairy tales. Whenever our mother showed up, she would tell us stories. Lydia loved the ones that ended with, and they lived happily ever after. I wondered what fairy tale she was going to spin now.
I remember the last big tale. In 1992, I was 8, Asali was 12 when our grandmother went to live with the Lord. Lydia returned for the funeral and promised us that she was getting clean and staying clean. She was there a year before leaving again. When she left, it broke Asali’s, young heart.
Asali remembers living with our parents and being a family. She doesn’t remember the bad times because of the angels, Grandma and Auntie, who saved us before we suffered. Although Asali had a difficult time coping with the abandonment from our mother, she always welcomed her with open arms and heart. Lydia had been back in our lives for a little over a year now. She was supposed to be clean, and she had a job and her own apartment. We were all hopeful. To be truthful, they were optimistic; I was skeptical.
I watched as Lydia sipped on her lemonade. I noticed that her hand trembled as she lifted the glass. She cleared her throat and began to speak. “I just wanted to tell y’all that I have cancer.”
I gasped, “Oh!” That was not even close to what I expected to hear.
Asali reached out and took her hand. I looked at my sister, and I could see the sorrow and concern that clouded her eyes. I felt terrible for Lydia, but it was not my problem. Asali did not share my feelings; she was very concerned for our mother. I knew this news would affect her profoundly. She still held onto hope for a happily ever after with Lydia.
The nurse came out in Asali, “What type of cancer? Is it treatable? Let me call my doctor and get you in.” Asali was not giving Lydia time to answer, and she pulled out her phone and began to scroll.
Lydia put her hand on Asali’s hand, “No, Asali, it’s okay. It’s Pancreatic cancer. The doctor says there is no way of knowing how long I have. I have decided to do chemo and radiation; I may as well.” Tears began to roll down her cheeks as her voice broke. “I agreed to an experimental treatment. There is a team of specialists that will be working with me. A nutritionist, psychologist, along with Oncologist. I didn’t quite understand all of it. You girls are smart; I was hoping that you help me understand.” Her voice became so low that I could barely hear her. “I was wondering if you girls could help. Sarah said she would help. I won’t be able to keep my job. Sarah offered me a room in her house.”
She was outright bawling now.
Asali looked at our mother and held her arms out. Lydia rose and hugged her, “Don’t you worry about anything, Mother. We got this, right, Sis?”
I knew I should hold my tongue, but it pissed me off, “Oh, now you want us when you need us. Where were you when we needed you?” My voice had begun to rise.
Asali was angry at my response, “Hold your voice down, Amani. Don’t be like that.” She looked at me with disgust.
We continued lunch in silence. I tried talking to Asali on the ride home, but she wasn’t ready to discuss it. I thought Mama would be on my side. But, when I told her how I felt. Her answer to me was, “Baby, it takes a village.”
Lydia didn’t move in with Mama; she moved in with Asali. She and her husband had the room, and Asali wouldn’t have it any other way.
When my niece was born, I spent more time with Lydia. I helped in the beginning because Asali needed me. But as time passed, Lydia and I began to form a relationship. It didn’t happen overnight but over the years. The treatments were debilitating for Lydia. I had to help her bathe and eat. As she recovered, she began to talk. Over the fifteen years, I listened. I learned a lot about the parents I had written off. Lydia had suffered post-partum blues after my birth. A friend offered her the pipe saying it would help. She got hooked and convinced our father to try it. The rest is history.
We could never make up for the time she spent chasing the pipe, but we were all rewarded with our own Happily Ever After. Lydia was able to see all five of her grandchildren’s births and growth, my two and Asali’s three. She was at my graduation when I graduated from college. Lydia and Sarah became closer, and Lydia formed a relationship with her nephews. We enjoyed regular Sunday dinners together. The entire village.
The last six months of Lydia’s life were painful and quiet. When her cancer returned, she did not want any more treatments. She was happy that God had given her happily ever after on earth. She was ready for eternal happiness, living with the Lord.
After the funeral, Asali and I sat at Lydia’s gravesite, just the two of us. We sat quietly for a while. Asali put her arm around my shoulder and sighed, ” Funerals are usually sad, but I am so happy, Amani. I had given up on having a happy ending with Mom, but we did. They say it was the treatment that kept Mom alive, but I know it was God; he wanted us to have our Happily Ever after.”
I hugged Asali, “Truly a miracle. Let’s join the rest of the village and celebrate Mom’s homegoing.”