Lithopedion: a rare medical phenomenon in which a dead fetus calcifies in the womb of the mother.
First I try baking. It doesn’t matter. The baking cannot save me. I bake cookies moist and delicious. I bake cookies dry and flat. I bake cookies until I sweat and ache, dusted in flour, sticky with sugar. But the panic, still there, gnaws at me. I shove a whole cookie into my mouth. I chew hard and swallow. Another cookie follows fast. Another. I chew the warm, sugary cookies and gulp them down in large, painful boluses. I swallow and am shoving more into my mouth. I am out of control. I repeat until my belly is distended and painful, but the distraction of eating does not numb me out.
I lock the bathroom door behind me even though there is no one at the house. I kneel before the toilet in my bulimic rush. My right hand forces its way deep into my throat. My teeth press against my gritty, sugary hands, cutting the first and third knuckles, classic Reye’s syndrome. I heave and brown stinking slop comes up and splatters into the toilet. Gasping, I force the hand down again, and I cut the same knuckles, the sting stronger the second time. Overcome with disgust, I no longer need my hand to purge. I heave again and again until I am empty. I am breathless. The brown vomit stares up at me from the toilet, but everything is gone with the flush. My empty belly relaxes and a certain relief, a numbness washes over me, and I become a fraction removed from my panic. A bit hardened. Dear God, I pray, make me a stone.
I remember teaching my eighth grade English class the word lithopedion. “Lith,” I had explained, “is a root meaning stone. P-e-d means child. In Latin, it literally means ‘stone baby.’ It happens when a late term miscarriage occurs, and because the fetus is too big to be expelled by the mother’s body, the body works to calcify it, so that the mother is protected from the dead fetus.”
But now I am stuck, I am the word, and cannot be any other word.
They found you, my twin, my one same, lying naked on the bed with a plastic bag over your head. A one-page suicide letter, hastily scrawled, lay on the floor. Empty pill bottles and a half-bottle of wine on the nightstand.
I thought of us inside our mother’s pregnant womb. We were an egg split: cells divided into two embryos which implanted and nestled in the uterine lining. Mother’s body created the lavish placenta we shared; networks of arteries and veins formed and connected us, the rich whoosh-whooshing blood singing its lullaby.
There is no mother here as my legs grow cold on these hard bathroom tiles. In your absence, I will seek out addiction, bulimia, alcohol, and anything that will keep me numb, dead, in my safe cocoon.
Natalie Coufal is a nonfiction and fiction writer from rural Central Texas. She won the Charles Gordone Nonfiction Award at Texas A&M in 2018 and the Paul Ruffin Award at Sam Houston in 2019. She is currently seeking her MFA in Creative Writing, Editing, and Publishing at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.
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