BY Andrena Zawinski

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is the last thing I thought I’d hear being wheeled through the hospital corridor to the delivery room. The surprise ended as I realized it was Lotus.

Lotus and I met months earlier in the hospital clinic’s maternity waiting room where she spilled her story to me as quickly as she had introduced herself. Living friend to friend, she was kicked out of her parents’ home and upper-middle-class life once she revealed her pregnancy. 

I was fascinated by her, so tall and voluptuous; at twenty-four, and with a Vassar degree in French and Comparative Literature, she seemed so worldly to me. I, on the other hand, had only a high school diploma and was doing clerical temp work around town. This after escaping my pothead, art school dropout, soon-to-be ex-husband’s fist to my face and demand that I have an abortion. Just months earlier he and I had crossed state lines from Rhode Island to New Hampshire for a courthouse marriage that didn’t require parental consent. 

Since then, my days were filled learning new things: learning how my body could change to make room for another, learning to take walks in the park alone, learning to take myself to dinner and a movie, learning to rock myself asleep rubbing my belly imagining the life inside it.

Lotus and I, growing bigger with babies, shared stories waiting for our checkups. We were both at high risk—she for use of psychedelics and toying with opiates during her first trimester, me with an underdeveloped reproductive system. The only time I saw Lotus angered was when a smart-ass intern joked that I should be the poster child for abortion, an abortion she knew I scheduled but canceled. She, in a disturbed calm, simply chanted softly. I came to look forward to my encounters with her, even though we were on divergent paths.

One of Lotus’ grander schemes was for us to get an apartment in D.C.’s Dupont Circle, “Hippy Central” in those days, to raise our children together. She admired her feminist sisters who were living what she saw as alternative and progressive lifestyles. On the more practical side, she tried to convince me to subscribe to La Leche League principles but gave up once I told her I found the idea of breastfeeding primitive and revolting. Yet, she insisted our meeting was kismet, especially since our due dates were identical, declaring we could become Sapphic Amazons. She finally gave up on her ill-placed attempts to pull me from my unwavering plan to accept my mother’s help to raise the baby back home, Lotus simply closed her eyes delivering Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

That chant became a distant thrum as my screams rattled the walls of the delivery room. There were some casualties in that room: My best friend, who had taken me in during the pregnancy, was rolled out on a stretcher after fainting at the sight of my fatigued and twitching muscles as the doctor finished the delivery with forceps. The nurse, who told me to squeeze her hand each time I had a contraction, had her finger put in a cast, fractured from my grip. The anesthesiologist called in for my epidural injection, who had a tuxedo under his lab coat and liquor on his breath, was fired.

I never learned what happened to Lotus. I had hoped her family opened their hearts to her. I also imagined her realizing her dream to read her writing at Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, prefacing it with Simone de Beauvoir’s On ne naît pas, mais devient plutôt une femme. One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.  It is then that I drift off on the soft sound of her memory: Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

Andrena Zawinski is a poet, shutterbug, and flash fiction writer. Her fourth full collection of poetry, Born Under the Influence, appears in September 2022 from Word Tech Press and debut collection of flash fiction, Plumes, in May 2022 from Writing Knights. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Image Credit: “Innervines” by Angelica Esquivel

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