Dusty-Anne Rhodes has been a regular contributor to Pure Slush from late 2011, first in print and later online. Dusty’s non-fiction collection Hard was also published by Pure Slush in April 2013. Born in the US, she lives in Berlin, and besides her writing, is an expert proofreader, having proof read many of the print volumes Pure Slush has published. Thanks Dusty!
There were three of us. I was the first. You might think I’d remember when I was an only child or at least when there were just two of us girls. But I don’t.
When I was quite young, my mother told me, “If you had been a boy, we would have named you David Andrew.” I heard the similar rhythm and sound—Dusty-Anne, David Andrew—so her assertion made some kind of sense. Except that it didn’t quite: how could I have been a boy? Being a girl was part of being me. How was it possible that I could have “turned out” a boy?
If I’d been a boy, I guess there still would have been three of us—all on the scrawny side, with thin brown hair and blue or hazel eyes. Unless ... what if David Andrew were given a place in the family beside myself and B and K? Then we’d be four.
One night when we were eating dinner—we kids were aged maybe 8, 6 and 4—I asked my parents, “How many children did you want to have?” They looked at each other, unsettled by my question. My mother said, “Oh, two or three!”
I pounced. “So, that means K is optional! First you had me and then B—and then it was optional whether you’d have a third child!” I loved new words for how they rolled off my tongue, I loved them purely for their own sake. I didn’t truly want K to vanish.
My parents exchanged some sort of panicked look. And went on the offensive: “No, Dusty, you’re the optional one!”
I protested that that was illogical, that that just couldn’t be: first there was me, then B, and then maybe ... just maybe ... K!
Since I’d spoken up, I was to be made fun of. “You’re the optional one around here,” became a standing family joke.
Would there then have been just two of us?
When I was 11, my mother told me that she’d once been pregnant before her pregnancy with me. And that she and my father had been so excited they’d told both her mother and my father’s mother about it. (The story was told as a warning not to tell things to others prematurely.) Unfortunately, she’d had a miscarriage.
“What’s a miscarriage? What’s that mean?” I asked.
“When you lose your child before it’s born,” she said.
‘Lose’ like in a department store? Did that mean I could have had a big brother? Or even a big sister? Then we’d be four kids, the four sides of a square rather than the three of a triangle. Interesting. Different.
When my father died, my mother was left to cope alone with three teenaged girls. She wasn’t distraught exactly—on a day-to-day basis she functioned well enough, getting dinner on the table and organizing things as before. But she was pretty rattled. This was not what she’d bargained for in marrying Daddy.
Just a few months after his death, she told me something she probably would have wanted to confide in a friend. There must have been a lack of candidates. “Do you know, I got pregnant again after K was born. I really didn’t want another child; I didn’t think I could handle it. I looked into travelling to Mexico, the only place in those days where you could ... you know ...”
Oh. I wasn’t the optional one.
I didn’t want to know that.
published 13 December 2014