I lose myself in Toni Morrison's Beloved and I know that I am Sethe's and she is mine. I see my own reflection in the black pools of her eyes; I recognize the curves of that wide mouth that drove the male slaves of the plantation to fuck cows in their longing for her. Beloved is Morrison's Pulitzer Prize–winning fictionalization of the life of Margaret Garner, an escaped slave woman who chose to murder her children rather than return them to bondage. Morrison reimagines Garner through Sethe, a slave forging a kind of life on Sweet Home, a Kentucky plantation, complete with a husband and four children: two boys and two girls. When Sweet Home falls into the cruel hands of a new owner, Sethe takes her babies and runs, crossing the mighty Ohio River and settling into a small Cincinnati community of former slaves.
There, in the home of her free mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, Sethe and her family enjoy 28 glorious days of freedom, where she can finally love up on her children in a real way because she feels that they are hers alone. When slave catchers close in, Sethe gathers her darlings and dashes to a woodshed, where she intends to kill them all, including herself. She succeeds in killing her crawling baby girl, taking a handsaw to the child's neck and watching the blood pump out of her tiny body. Sethe, Baby Suggs, and her remaining children continue living in the house, haunted by the spirit of the murdered baby. When a strange, beautiful woman arrives calling herself "Beloved," which is the single word marking the dead baby's headstone, Sethe claims the woman as her daughter returned from the other side.
Beloved earned Morrison the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, cementing the work's status as a classic within the American literary canon. Morrison typically deals in the beauty and horror of contemporary black life, but in Beloved, she travels back in time to provide an origin story; the novel is a retelling of our very first black American traumas. It is a recounting of the first Africans to be dragged across the Atlantic and have "American" tacked onto their identity. Sethe, the daughter of a captured African woman, is a first-generation slave, and in the continuum of Morrison's oeuvre, she functions as a literary Eve.
The official diagnosis was an incomplete spontaneous abortion, but what I claim as truth is stickier, more complex. It is the summer of 2008, the year that thirteen-year-old cicadas burrow out of the ground en masse, filling every room with their endless drone and those red eyes that are always, always watching me. I fail to graduate high school, so I attend my friends' graduation festivities and work ridiculous hours at a phone-accessory store in order to buy name-brand clothes and enough weed to numb myself.
I am eighteen and in love with a boy who will never be able to love me back. Our relationship has always been delicate, precarious, but that summer, my unplanned pregnancy finally causes us to fall and break. I don't love what I am carrying, but I do love the boy who planted it there, and every day I fight for him harder, close my fists around him tighter. Around my sixth week of pregnancy, it becomes obvious that he does not want me or what I am carrying; he wants the abortion we had initially agreed upon. He denies me, refuses my attempts to bind myself to him, and my maternal ambivalence matures into a sour contempt; I carry it in my womb, alongside the small seed that is the beginnings of a baby. I wake up one morning with a hot, aching pelvis and notice that the small beating inside of me, rapid and light as a cicada's wings, has stopped. It's as if the shock of being refused by the love of my young life and my resulting vitriol for the embryo was enough to kill it. I could almost hear the soft "crunch" as it was done.