Believing in the Brown Unicorn
When I was a little girl, I never considered whether unicorns were real. I don’t have warm childhood memories of bed sheets emblazoned with unicorns with pink and purple flowy hair, or of prancing around the house on tippy toes in unicorn-covered jammies on lazy Saturday mornings. Nor was my pressed ponytailed brown hair ever adorned with sparkly unicorn barrettes like some of the other little girls I knew.
During those years, I thought unicorns were for dreamers, not doers. I was a doer—of homework, of chores, of what I was told to do, and sometimes of what I wasn’t. I was more of a believer in fairytales, the kind that featured Prince Charming, glass slippers, and happily ever after. As I grew up, I searched for all three with reckless abandon. I stumbled through my pubescent years marked in equal part by pimples and pangs of the heart. Then came the topsy-turviness of my twenties and thirties. But it was when I skidded into my forties—flat on my back with a cervix diagnosed as “incompetent,” a marriage that had just dissolved into divorce, and a baby preparing to push his way into the world that I encountered a brown unicorn, far from whimsical but rather a stouthearted savior of herself, who made me a believer.
When I first saw the brown unicorn, she was wandering and lost. For years, she had been looking for love in lands where her hidden magic was not seen. After floating amongst the clouds from one decade to the next, she relentlessly searched for her soulmate. But instead, she found her soul.
Amidst sandstorms and thunderous clouds, she set out to make a life with whom she believed was her love. He felt confined by her need for conventionality. She felt betrayed by his want for freedom. Day after day, they circled each other with the precision of aerialists, careful not to crash and fall—until, one day, they did. He was finally free. And, unrequitedly, so was she. The baby growing inside of her was her only reason to breathe.
She lay on a hospital gurney under the glare of fluorescent white-blue lights, her mind drowning in a sea of dreams that would never come true. She called back tears running out of the corners of her eyes. She felt the pull of surgical thread—in and out, out and in—as it closed a cervix that would rather open and leave hollowness in its place. Her body absorbed the coldness of the room occupied only by a doctor, nurse, and her. She shut her eyes, realizing that she was on her own and that this was how life might always be.
In winter’s snow and ice, she navigated slick pavements and stairs, her wide-eyed baby boy strapped tightly to her chest as she steadied herself against the biting winds. The handles of stretched plastic grocery bags imprinted themselves into her frostbitten skin. She struggled to carry the weight—of the bags and of the world; one always heavier than the other. Many days she wondered how she could go on with no help or reprieve. But her hope for her child, always her hope for her child, assured her that such days were not all there could ever be.
She fought enemy combatants known as shame and fear. With the horn sitting atop her head, she jabbed, swiped, and cut. The battles were often unrelenting, leaving her bloodied and bruised. With everything in her, she fought valiantly and stood more firmly than she thought she ever could. Through battles won, and those lost too, she whispered to herself that under no circumstances should she ever give up and leave the arena.
I know that the brown unicorn is real. I’ve seen her magically come to life: when she determinedly emerged from the drowning depths of sorrow and despair; when she freed herself from the chains that bound her mind and heart; when she perceived that the power she sought dwelled within; and when she finally soared beyond the reach of any force aiming to steal her joy or sully her soul. It is because of all of these things, in her I now believe.
Before darkness turns to light, I’m up making eggs to order and packing lunch. I gulp down lukewarm coffee. There’s a fifteen-hour day ahead. The boy is to be dropped off at school. I am to get to work. Dinner is to be cooked. Bedtime stories are to be read. And finally, when I lay my body down after it’s demolished by the day, I can never close my eyes and drift off into sleep.
I fret about whether I’ve done enough and rue the day when my boy insists that I haven’t. I imagine him older and more insightful, passing on the easy questions and opting for those that are hard. I regret the choices I made when my mind was ill with unease—those that have deprived him of the family of his dreams.
One night, I shamelessly pull up to a McDonald’s drive-thru window. The Happy Meal toy is what he’s after, ease is what I seek.
I peer at him through the rearview mirror.
“What’s the matter?” I ask.
“Mommy, it’s a unicorn. Unicorns are for girls.”
“What makes you think unicorns are only for girls?”
“Because they have pink and purple hair, and everybody knows they’re not even real.”
“What?” I feign disbelief. “Baby, I promise you, they’re so real. And there’s a magical brown one that’s super strong and incredibly brave. Maybe even more so than all of your superheroes combined.”
I watch him narrow his eyes in complete disbelief.
I start to try to further convince him otherwise, but decide there’s no need. In due time, after all he’s lived and all he’s seen, he’ll be a believer in the brown unicorn, and for sure know it’s me.
Terri Linton received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Sarah Lawrence College, where she is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Nonfiction writing. She also holds a Juris Doctor degree from Rutgers School of Law-Newark. Linton is a freelance writer and also hosts the podcast She Roads with Terri Linton where she interviews women about their life journeys and roads to resiliency. Linton’s writing has appeared on the Huffington Post; ESME; Motherly; and Mamamia. She lives in New York with her son.