Tommy says that his umbilical cord shriveled up and fell off before he was even born; that he came out of the womb with it tied into a sailors’ knot around his pinky. We were all so impressed. How had he lost it that early?
I’m not that gullible anymore. My mom used to tell me that the longer you had your cord the more points you got, like holding your breath, but at school everyone said umbilical cords were for babies. She just didn’t want me to grow up yet.
Some people have them even when they get old and usually you can tell. Their voices don’t sound right; they’re off-key. They act different and it’s obvious when one of them is in the room, like trying to ignore a mannequin out of the corner of your eye. When my mom was buying some paper towels from Walmart, the cashier was a full grown-up but he still had his cord; it snaked around the register out the back door, because if it went through the automatic doors it’d get squished. He wouldn’t speak to us, even when my mom told him to have a good day. When we were driving home, I asked her why she wanted me to keep my cord if I’d end up like that. She looked at me in the rear view mirror and said that people couldn’t help the way that they were and I shouldn’t say those things. She didn’t check the mirror the rest of the way home.
On the news I saw that people were talking about if it should be legal to sever umbilical cords. The ones who say we should talk about the older kids; how we can’t afford to build separate high schools just to keep away the bullies. The ones who say we shouldn’t talk about what happens to the mothers. When they’re cut too early, the cords leak right out like a thawing flower and take the insides of the mothers with them. Those women lose their breasts and their fingernails fall off. Their noses go flat and flop around when they go over speed bumps. Eventually, people find them in their showers or the laundromat like a pair of drenched long johns on the floor.
I still have mine. I crocheted it into a sweater that I wear all the time so no one will know. My mom pretends along with me so I won’t be embarrassed, but secretly, I’ve seen her pity the kids who loose their umbilical cords when they’re tiny. That special pinched smile for the first-graders who compare bellybuttons. Secretly, she’s glad I’ll always be there on the other end of her.