“If it hadn’t been for that crack in the sidewalk in Basel, you wouldn’t be here,” I will tell her.
Broken stones in front of the Swiss toy store made wide gaps, but I wanted her so badly that I almost missed finding her there in one of those spaces. I was looking in the windows, wishing I had a reason to enter and buy a toy souvenir. Just when I thought I might get one anyway, I saw the sign: Gesschlossen.
I didn’t have to say anything, and your father grabbed my hand, waiting for me to cry. But I didn’t cry because I was distracted by a little green plant sprouted from a half-inch space in the cobblestones in front of me. There you were, a tiny, delicate, and strange little strawberry about the size of my fingernail, blushing in the evening sun. You were the only one there, hanging off that singular stem busting through the sidewalk.
Looking around to see if someone were watching us, I pulled the berry from its tiny stem and told your dad that we were finally going to have our child. He pretended that he didn’t believe me, but he didn’t stop me when I told him this was how we were going to get our baby. In that gray corner, with the night approaching and the shadows stretching over the buildings, I pushed the strawberry to the roof of my mouth and swallowed. I waited nervously, convinced you were taking root.
So sure that you were soon coming, we found another toy store and bought a wooden cow with leather ears, a braided hair tail, and a ribbon wrapped round its neck with a gold bell hanging from it that jingled. I thought of you, shaking that cow and screaming, “Moo!”
The clerk wrapped the toy in tissue paper and sealed the gift. We walked to the apartment at Weiherweg 28, and the next morning we returned to the United States. The following week, I went back to work. In the meantime, I’d forgotten all about how we met. I gave up on your coming. Babies don’t come from berries, and I knew that. They came from trying hard, or not trying at all. They don’t come from fruit growing in the sidewalks in front of toy shops in Switzerland. Yet, to spite my reason, I placed the wooden cow on the mantle next to the corn husk mother and child figurine I’d bought in San Antonio three months before when my wishing had turned to pining.
When I went to a doctor, he told me not to worry. He could give me something that might help; neither of us knew that you were already budding in my womb.
One morning, before the sun got too hot, I went running and I found myself at a pond where a Great White Egret was bathing. I don’t know why, but I deviated from my path and chased him around the water. I never caught him, but he left one of his feathers behind on the bank. I stuck it in my ponytail and ran home, where I put it next to the corn husk doll and wooden cow. If I believed in omens, I would have thought the bird’s gift was one. But it was more like an announcement.
Only days later, I took a test that you passed.
When you were born, your skin smelled of roses and jasmine. Your father said that when he held you next to the hospital bed. Although I hadn’t said it, I thought the same and knew I wasn’t making it up. We remembered my craving flower waters the entire time I was pregnant and how I sniffed bottles of Cortas eau de rose and eau de fleurs d’oranger. That was all from you.
Only a few days old, you would sleep on the shaded porch in a bassinet with the sound of the rain as your lullaby. Pointing to the leaves on the trees shaking on the swaying branches above you, you cooed and smiled at the leaves when you were four months old. At 18 months, you licked the autumn light beams pouring in from the front door window in the mornings. They shined in, and you drank every one of them until they were gone. When we moved to New York and had no grass, you found every square patch of earth and claimed your space. You petted and hugged the trees. I would have thought these things odd if you hadn’t come from the ground, from a hard place under stones. In the months before you were born, I knew I would never contain how or where you grew. You consented to live in me, but you wouldn’t stay longer than it would take to be returned to the sun, the wind, the rain, and most of all, the dirt. Every time I smell your clothes after you’ve been playing outside, I know you’re back to where you belong.
Once my daughter is old enough to understand this story — her story — she might not believe it, but everything I will say is true.