Three Cassandras


In Greek mythology, Cassandra is one of the daughters of Priam, King of Troy, a Trojan princess and favoured of the god Apollo. She was blessed and cursed with the gift of prophecy—to speak only truth but never be believed.


The fertility on our suburban Midwestern plat feels almost like Eden this spring. A marsh duck broods a dozen eggs in a protected corner of our house, directly under the dryer vent. A robin’s nest sits just inside an evergreen, near eye level, right at the front door. The crabapple tree and lilac bushes seem to be blooming forever, throwing tiny pink, yellow, and purple scraps to the grass week after week. Even the three-legged chipmunk, hibernating somewhere under the back deck, has emerged looking fat and funny as ever, begging for sunflower seeds.

Of all rites, I love the early mornings best. Our bedroom windows open, the cool, new air, full of eager warbler’s territorial love calls. I can translate them to our own bed as I roll under the quilt and adjust to my husband’s warmth. He knows how I prefer his foam pillow, his flannel pajama tops with the wobbly buttons, his peppermint soap. He is amused and charmed.

There are other things he knows but has lovingly forgotten. First among them are my long-ago, doomed pregnancies. I call them my Cassandras. Cassandra, my young body, an incomprehensible warning.  Cassandra, my fertility, a revelation turned into a riddle. Cassandra, maternities of broken promises.

It is rare that I relive those losses, some forty years ago, but this overbearing spring brings the Cassandras closer. Since individual details, like their downy heartbeats, have disappeared I must go to invisible graves to reconstruct their silences. A group of cells contracting in unison. Getting along inside of me. A hollow ball flattening into a disk. A centerline groove. A tube curling into a crescent. Tiny arm and leg buds. Courageous, hopeful ideas. Then shooting stars lost to overwhelming needs, troubles, insecurities. One, two, three my Cassandras. Who knows how to become a good human being?

And yet, these stories may not simply end at the beginning. Science says that some embryonic cells escape and remain alive deep inside the bone marrow, guts, and liver of their mothers. They swim around and around mother’s bloodstream. Maybe they migrate to places that need repair. Maybe they help soothe many a mother’s wounds.

That any cells of my Cassandras escaped death then vested themselves in my mending, leaves me flattened with emotion deeper than humility, tougher than shame.  Grateful or not, the Cassandras are the wellspring of my empathy, and my sorrow, for decisions by almost anyone that can never be revealed. Losses that can never be mourned. Even facts that have conveniently or lovingly been forgotten. I know that for some, there lives a mortal paradox that must be borne alone.