She looked at Yvette with hollow eyes. “I don’t want to marry,” she said straight out. Marriage, she went on, felt like a life sentence being imposed on her. “How dare I not even be given a voice in the decision!” she added, her voice rising with outrage. “Look at mother, she married late. If I get married before I am twenty years old, how many childbirths will I have to endure by the time I am forty-eight years old?” She started to cry. “I don’t want it, I don’t want it.”
“What don’t you want, girl? Yvette asked.
“I don’t want a life foisted upon me! I want my life for myself!”
Yvette was startled by the young girl’s passion. “But your parents, the Church…”
“I don’t want my life decided by anyone else, not by my parents, not by this village, not by the Church!”
Yvette did not even know what to say or do. She had never heard such talk before in her life. Of course, she knew that girls were sometimes scared about their future. That was understandable. The unknown is always frightening. But that was not what she heard in young Anna’s voice or words. She heard rebellion there. She also heard something else, something that she rarely heard in voices of girls and women. She heard strength and determination. And it both frightened her and filled her with pride.
“I wish I was never born a woman!” Anna concluded.
Yvette sighed deeply. “Oh child, we can only be born what we are, nothing else.”
Anna looked at her and her green eyes flashed with fire. “Then, If I was born what I am, what I am is someone who wants her own life!”
Yvette Letourdie stood up from the table and the fullness of her physical presence filled the room. Heavy-set at twenty stones, she stood as tall as any man in her ankle-length nurse’s uniform and white head scarf. As Anna’s words sank in, they moved her in ways she could not control.
“Daughter,” she said simply, extending her arms to the slender girl sharing the table with her.
Anna stood unsteadily and then let herself be drawn into the embrace of Yvette’s huge, black arms and against her enormous bosom. Yvette had no words for the sixteen-year-old, neither wisdom nor reassurance. Certainly nothing that she could speak with honesty.
She had brought hundreds of souls into the world but never before had she needed to address feelings such as Anna’s. She knew what the culture taught. She knew what the Church taught. She knew what she was supposed to say. For every young Catholic girl had to walk this same path. There was no choice. Rebellion was the work of the Devil.
“Oh, daughter, daughter,” she sighed as she hugged Anna ever tighter. She knew that the path for a young girl was never easy, and only good fortune brings the perfect partner, someone with a good heart and conscience. She too had suffered from an arranged marriage.
She was sixteen, like Anna, when her parents married her to a man aged forty. Oh, how she suffered at his wicked hands! He drank the local, potent brew baka all the time, sending him into dark rages during which he beat her unmercifully. He was rough and uncaring when he took her to the marriage bed. During her first three years of marriage, she suffered two miscarriages. Her salvation was hardly that at all. His heavy drinking took its toll on his health and Thomas Letourdie died from cirrhosis of the liver, leaving Yvette widowed and penniless. Certainly, her own family would not take her back. What was she to do? In total desperation, she turned to the midwife who had shown her such kindness during her miscarriages. Under her care and tutelage, she entered a new life, one that she embraced with passion and dignity. She never remarried.
“My poor daughter,” she sighed, holding Anna tight. “My poor, poor daughter.”