Nine was born Ninah Jude Brown in a cold single-bed room at Sparrow Hospital. It was 1979 in Lansing, Michigan, which meant that the White nurses were merciless in their “care” for her unmarried mother, Marcheline, as she writhed and shook her legs at the sheets like they were puppies nipping her ankles. These angels of mercy in their trapezoidal bonnets and bobby socks pursed their lips disapprovingly at Marcheline’s bare ring finger. Knowing there’d be no hovering husband to complain on her behalf, they refused her a cold compress as sweat poured from her feverish forehead, denied her ice chips when her lips cracked and her tongue went coarse, and would not hold her hand as her uterus contracted, for fear that the melanin would rub off.
In her epidural haze, she even thought she heard one of them tsk, “When will these nigger-girls ever learn?” Months later, Marcheline would rather absently repeat this to her mother, who stood several feet away, pushing pureed carrots beyond Nine’s puckered lips. Her back turned, Marcheline would fail to notice how her words bolted up her mother’s spine and rocked her for a moment, right where she stood, baby spoon suspended just out of Nine’s reach. Then came the tremble with unspeakable anger at her own hospital ward tale, wherein the nurses weren’t White but were just as full as vitriol and there was no sweet anesthetic to muffle their judgmental asides. Just as Nine would begin her hungry whimpers, her grandmother would emerge from her swoon of recollection and Marcheline would rush away from the bathroom mirror with makeup impeccably applied and race for the honking car downstairs in a sweater dress seemingly designed to make her date forget her new motherhood.