MTO Norah Marr

I was born in the water.

When I say I was born in the water, people think birthing pool. Or bathtub. Mom says someday I’ll use my water birth as an icebreaker at parties and gatherings, but for now, she forbids any talk about it. Her face locks up and vibrates like there’s an earthquake inside her whenever the subject comes up. She doesn’t believe me when I tell her I remember being born.

Mom, Dad, and my brothers were invited to spend the day on a friend’s boat. Dad says that’s the day he decided he’d own a boat too, and now we do. Mom never goes in the water though, and I know what nobody else knows: it’s because of what happened. She doesn’t trust water anymore.

For Mom, there was no such thing as labor. She didn’t push. Or cramp. She was floating beside the anchored boat when she felt a tugging from inside, out of her control. I know because I know what everyone feels, just by touching their skin—any skin at all. A handshake gives away all the secrets. Good thing I’m only ten years old, so shaking hands doesn’t happen much. Still. Crowded places like the county fair: noooo. Just, no. All that skin and all those people brushing up against me. The ride workers buckling my belt and touching my leg. Handing me my ice cream cone and grazing my hand with their fingers. I don’t want to know their secrets. They come in the same way the water comes in the pores of your skin. Go ahead and try to stop water. Impossible.

In homeschool, I’ve learned there are warm or cold, stable or unstable currents in the ocean. Maybe it was a special Lake Erie magic current the day I was born. We read a story called Tuck Everlasting about a spring that gave immortality. Maybe it was like that, but it gave me something else. A water current that seeped into an unborn child and worked “mysterious alchemy”—mom’s words—on a baby and made it so she opened the womb “like she’s unzipping her sleeping bag.” Mom’s words again.

My first memory is Mom’s terror at feeling me, born, without any help from her and without any control. Like when you hydroplane and the car slides and shifts, no matter what you do with the wheel. That happened to us once on the way to Costco, and Mom reached over to protect me, like her arm was a lap bar. “Zero control,” mom said. At first she felt lusty kicks like any baby’s, but then it was something else entirely. She told me the water rushed in and seemed to rinse me out, and then she made me promise to never tell a soul and to keep the whole telepathy-skin thing a secret, too. “They’ll take you away and experiment on you,” she warned me. I touched her, so I knew she believed those words.

Mom believed every moment could be a learning moment, so one day, she took me to vote with her. My brother, Jack, said I was lucky it was midterms because the lines would be shorter, but he was wrong. They were out the door. An old man working the polls asked if I wanted to hold Mom’s I VOTED! sticker. I shook my head because I knew he might touch me.

“Of course you do, little darlin’.” He snatched my hand and placed the sticker in my palm. More than enough skin. I knew everything, and no way could I keep my mouth from dropping open at the stooping, birdlike man with the gold cross around his neck. But on the inside, this man was rotten. I had learned that outsides didn’t match insides. But this…this stole my breath.

His eyes narrowed, and he didn’t let my hand go, even when I yanked. Mom was poring over her ballot.

“Mom…” I said.

“Just a minute.”

“You’re not an ordinary girl, are you?” The man’s whisper smelled of old fish and rust. His face was so close I could see his gray stubble and the hairs in his nose.

I pressed my lips together and stared at the man who had done bad things in a war a long time ago and got away with it. Then I had a comforting thought. From God, I think. I decided to share it. I whispered back, “Luke 8:17.”

“What’s that?” His face scrunched up in agitation.

“You’ll see.” I said. “Look it up.”

He was still staring into his phone when Mom finished and we walked out.

“You learn anything interesting?” she asked.

I did, but not what she thought. What I learned was I didn’t need to know what happened to the water or to me. I didn’t have to understand everything; I just had to use what I’d been given.

True: Ten-year-old Norah was born in the water. That’s all I know. Everything else here is made up. I DO have the pleasure of teaching Norah in my 5000 Words class. She is quiet and respectful, and I have the feeling that if she were in a pickle like the one I’ve created, she’d listen for God’s direction.

Want your own MTO Horror? I’m excited to say a few more victims stepped up to the plate! It only takes a minute. Go HERE if you dare.

Photo credit: Daniel Sinoca

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