A few months ago I rescued a Peace Lily from a giant hardware store chain. A few broken stems pushed it to the clearance section, but it was otherwise healthy. I made splints for the breaks using wooden chopsticks and a cut up drinking straw, and it healed nicely. Scarred and flowerless, but proudly showing off soft new shiny leaves unfurling a few weeks later. It sits beneath the window next to my computer, and I have grown quite fond of it.
Yesterday I went to the plumeria cutting sale in Balboa Park. I’d originally thought of burying the remains of my pregnancy with a plumeria, and was eager to pick one out. Greeters at the door offered me a plumeria flower on a toothpick to tuck behind my ear. Plumeria flowers are traditionally used in Hawai’ian leis, so the room, with its many lei wearers, was fragrant. A volunteer from the Southern California Plumeria Society walked me over to the person who, in her opinion, had the best Celadine cuttings. (This particular variety of plumeria is the easiest to grow, bearing yellow flowers.) I chose a Celadine and, for the hell of it, a variety of plumeria that had been cultivated by the seller’s grandmother. I liked the idea of having a plant with a traceable ancestor.
Then I made my way to the demo table which explained to novices like me how to pot and care for plumeria. It turns out that plumeria are small trees so do best outside (unless you have a room with 270° of sunny exposure). I didn’t like the idea of planting my bean in an outside pot, exposed to the elements and bugs. Things that slither and crawl distress me, and I don’t need to add to my distress. I bought the plumeria cuttings, but wondered if the Peace Lily was a better recipient. Inside, no insects, close by, safe…
It was dark outside. The neighbourhood was quiet, muted sounds from within glowing houses, bright chirping in the grasses. I squatted in my skinny jeans, my phone in a back pocket, striped hoodie, and the Birkenstocks I bought last summer and which I’m still trying to break in. I took a handful of sphagnum moss and crumbled it at the bottom of a wide terracotta pot, watching as pieces broke off and floated away in the cooling evening air. I scooped a double-handful of earth and placed it on top of the moss. The pot was prepared.
I opened the insulated lunch bag, grinning navy blue robots against a red background, and took out the small plastic Ziploc bag inside. I pulled apart the hard plastic line that held the sides closed and took out the once-sterile hospital container. Three inches tall, a generic, clear plastic jar with a label on the side. Inside I could see a red blob, its smooth underside conforming to the curve at the bottom of the jar like the silly putty I’d played with as a kid.
I unscrewed the grey lid and took a good look at the contents. Exactly four weeks have passed since I delivered the placenta and embryo and, after a piece had been trimmed for pathology plus 26 days in the freezer, what had been the length of my palm wasn’t much bigger than the first two phalanges of my thumb, and not as wide. I carefully poured water from the garden hose, using its lowest setting, to thaw the blob that stubbornly clung to the jar. I had to prod it to loosen the frozen bond. I didn’t want to touch it at first but determined to do so, knowing this was the last time I was ever going to see actual proof of my pregnancy and my miscarriage. The last time I would have the opportunity to hold my bean in my hand. I tipped the blob into the palm of my hand and studied it, repositioned it, and took photos from every angle. I was looking for someone a few millimetres long and think I found him.
Hey, kiddo… it’s time.
I gingerly plucked the tissue and noticed it felt firm to the touch. I placed it in the center of the pot and it suddenly hit me that this was goodbye. Another handful of scooped earth, this time sprinkled thoughtfully. I noticed its smell, like rain and flowers and trees and minerals, and silently watched as my bean quickly disappeared from view. I planted the Peace Lily and pulled the plumeria flower from behind my ear and stuck it in the soil. I sat quietly.
I cleared up the mess and, hugging the pot, went inside. I turned to my pebble that I have slept with in my hand most nights this past month, and sketched a face. Below the face, a shape to represent hands in prayer or a shining light or a tiny baby. I painted in my design with a gold indelible pen and on the other side wrote
A pebble Jizō to protect my plant. I placed it against the lily stems. Then I took the two little Guatemalan worry dolls I’d bought — I’d tied the smaller one to the larger one — and placed them in their pouch on the soil. As is customary in a Mizuko Kuyō the dolls and the flower are a gift to Jizō. But the dolls also represent the bond between me and my bean, and are toys for the afterlife, if there is one.
That was it. No birth certificate. No death certificate. No funeral. Just me, clutching at the words Mizuko Kuyō and making them my own to move forward with my grief in the only way I know how.
Just me, doing the best I could to honour the memory of the short pregnancy I so enjoyed, cherish the thought of what could have been, and name my little Mizuko Bean whom I loved so much already.