A memoir inspired by science fiction authors Richard Matheson, Margaret Atwood, Ann Leckie, Kazuo Ishiguro and state Sen. Steve Martin, a Chesterfield County Republican who referred to pregnant women as a "child's host, (some refer to them as mothers)" in a Facebook post that he says was intended as sarcasm.
It's not like I was abducted by aliens or succumbed to maleficent spirits. I studied the testimonies and reports. I observed those already in service in the performance of their duties. I consulted my own Host and her Host who felt it was an honorable, if underappreciated civic duty. They reminded me that as far as the State is concerned I was born to become a Host. No use resisting.
In this State preparation begins early with mock scenarios and plastic toys made to look like pudgy progeny. Then the paid caregiving internships on weekends as a teen. I was one of those who put off service in my 20s due to selfish desires for education, financial stability and attempts at self-actualization. But I bonded to a Cohort early — state-approved, sanctioned and licensed. You know how it is. You gotta fill out the forms first. He had the paperwork. I took his name. We'd been illegally working the Host machinery for years before I took my assignment. What can I say? The equipment does cool stuff and we wanted to test its exhaustion thresholds. I had transgressed for a decade but the Tribunal approved my Host application in my early 30s and I thought I was ready. Fool.
When I became a Host for the Commonwealth of Virginia, in what felt like minutes after I was inducted, I vomited in basic training. The world smelled like an outhouse for weeks. My Host sisters hazed me with talk of cheeseburgers and creamed spinach. I vomited some more. Then one night 12 years ago my breasts transformed into human nutritional production modules that blocked my view of my feet. The Cohort called them bocce balls. I went from hottie to Host in nine short months and never turned back.
When the Visitor at last arrived the State was pleased. My nutrition production and waste disposal Host tenure began. All seemed as described in the manual except the Visitor was 10 pounds upon arrival and had five months of colic. The Visitor was a screamer, I tell you. The Cohort toured him around the hushed, humid neighborhood in wee hours to placate him. My own sainted Host brought over food, a stipend and moral support. Other Hosts called and were supportive but the bellowing was too much for all but the hardiest. I was unnerved, pooped and lonely, but as it says in State Code — it is the Host's civic responsibility and sole purpose to manufacture, nurture and appease the Visitor. In desperation, I resorted to mostly just dancing with him and sticking my body's nutrition equipment into his yowling mouth. The Visitor was calmed. The Visitor became really cute.
The Visitress arrived colic free and lovely almost three years to the day after the first Visitor but I was ready for her. Nutrition and waste responsibilities were more manageable because she ate only apple products and peed like a cat for the first four years. This time I went back to an occupation in the private sector within two weeks of her arrival. Being Womb of the State made my day job difficult but that was icing compared to what it did to my body. Hosting brings ritual scarring, poochy spots and daily hygiene becomes optional. The Cohort and I were too exhausted to stay up late playing with our equipment.
Since their arrival, obligations to the Visitor and Visitress, whom I came to call the Vizzies, take precedence over all other interests and goals. I balance their caloric sustenance, cleanliness, values instruction and entertainment with my greed for sleep and an uninterrupted five minutes to void my bladder alone. Then there are daily board-certification exams in which I rapid fire answer profound Vizzie inquiries such as: "What do clouds taste like? Can I become both an acrobat and a veterinarian? Is the dog licking her butt or the other spot?"
Through the years the Cohort and I amicably parted ways and he still daily trains the Vizzies, yet the split made the State ever more watchful lest I become a Bad Host. There are whispers that some day the State will eliminate Bad Hosts. Today, they threaten those who claim the uterus as their own and those who deny the State progeny after weeks of training, but Hosts and Visitresses wonder what the next steps will be. I've found I can't be a good Host and follow my conscience.
I share my heretical beliefs with the Vizzies. We discuss rebel ideas that Cohorts make good Hosts; that Hosts without Cohorts are still good Hosts; that use of the equipment is delightful and a person's body is her own. It's my fault that the Visitress has let her Cohort dolls prance naked and raise some of her stuffed animals together. When the Service Tribunal comes knocking will it be for this kind of degenerate indoctrination or something more benign like when I fed the Visitor pork rinds and brie for dinner? I almost wouldn't blame the State if it charged me for the many times the dishes were in the sink so long they raised their own Visitors.
Then there are the tiny subversive acts of affection. On the day celebrating my arrival from the Womb of the State, the Visitress had a tummy ache. Code of conduct says she must report to her learning facility by 0900 five days a week. Instead we stayed in bed an extra hour and napped in each other's arms along with Jojo the stuffed monkey raised by Kens. She woke me up whispering, "I want to grow up to be a Host like you." I cried. She eventually arrived at the facility with a State-approved note in her lunchbox explaining her tardiness — our tender misdemeanor cloaked in lies about diarrhea.
I knew what I was getting into. The Vizzies do not belong to me. But I love them. I can't help the desire to be more than a Host and I know I am not the only one. It may make me an enemy of the State but I was nurtured to defy. On my annual arrival day this year my Host of 44 years gave me two cards. One was State approved. The other had this forbidden inscription: Your Mama loves you. S
Alane Miles is a hospice chaplain and host of "Death Club Radio" on WRIR-FM 97.3.
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