[Originally published at Black Feminist Rising on April 14, 2013. Republished with permission of the author.]
It’s in some closet somewhere in some small town, I’m sure you’ll find it. It’s a school photo of me when I was 6. My hair is in two big puff balls and a smile reveals my missing teeth from too many Mickey Mouse lollipops. I’m wearing a purple v-neck shirt with a blue tank top underneath, my arms are crossed obediently from the half-good photographer’s directions. The background is fixed, much like everything in life, to create the illusion of picturesque happiness and serenity.
And after this, it will be my Nana arguing with my mother about her improper preparation of school photos. Then it will be my mother’s first divorce but not before sky blue pom pom flip flops on foreign military training ground in South Carolina. Afterward it will be Texas, front yard football games and train track crushes.
But before this, there will be a small 10 inch TV with the 1950s reruns of Zorro and the fear of the opening segment to old Disney cartoons because of ’90s special effects. There will be lots of summers of wasps, mosquitoes and shaven ice cream. A few Piggly Wiggly and Save-A-Lots and drug deals under the metal steps in the projects will also be seen.
I have no photos for these memories.
They rest in my mind like cassettes that play when triggered by a word or casual conversation in the whatitsname office I work in. Sometimes, they dance around and become jumbled, keeping me awake at night. But before this it was the country, picking vegetables in the fields with my grandmother and humorously pretending I was a slave. The sun burned the soft top layer of my skin and bugs sung of their animosity of pesticides in harmony. An almost heat stroke, water and a rustic pick-up truck and a sober grandmother perform like a Shakespeare play in my head. A promise is made and then it is broken, and sometimes I remember these too.
But before this it was an old white house, on East Pope Street and two dogs, a little black girl and a broken home. The numbers 71655 possessively hug the white wooden panels near the front door. Later, there are family dinners at the local Chinese restaurant, a few desserts and lots of paper fortunes from stale cookies. Before knowing their glory was man-made and systemically printed on Industrial Revolutionary inspired machines, they were used as tokens to make wishes. In that front yard of the same white house, a lot of wishes were made, ritually and gently set in the water with a dandelion every morning after – some of them came true – rain puddles are selfish that way. But sharp grass that make feet bleed and sweet honeysuckles that fill tummies before snack time are beyond generous.
And before that it was early morning drives to the town wood cutting factory and gazing at the sky and making secret pacts with the stars– one smile for one promise of a happier life. The stars are better at keeping promises.
But there are no photos for these memories.
Nor are there photos of my cousins. Five of them, all given up to the adoption system because of my Aunt’s indifference. After this it was walking with my grandmother to some house in a bad neighborhood and seeing what abuse looks like on the back of my 7-year-old cousin. A few broken homes, court visits, Baptist churches and crying hugs later the physical wounds heel. If there are no photos for these memories, I’m glad. But there is a photo of him on an adoption website, because no one wants a broken child. No one wants broken things. There isn’t enough glue for that.
And a couple half-boyfriends, schools, crushes on Jesse McCartney and A&W burgers later, there will be a second marriage for my mother, who’s 28.
But before this it will be a few hotel parties, running from police, school fights, sex, alcohol and throwing pills in the bathroom trash to help an addicted friend.
There are 12 photos from my childhood. Nine of them are from my 4th birthday in the town park. I ride around in my Barbie jeep and marvel, huge grin and no teeth, at my Pocahontas cake. The other one is a photo of me, probably 2, sitting on an old car in the projects with friends of the family huddled around me. In the background, you can see the basketball hoop before it will be stolen six years later. Lastly, is the photo of me as a baby, white skin and blue veins, channeling James Cameron’s Aliens but in an albino kind of way. It’s my mother’s favorite movie, so I guess I was wise beyond my years.
And after all of this, there will be a plane, Germany, a childhood forgotten and an adolescence gained.
There are photos for these memories but not enough.
My words will create the ones that are absent.
I will use imagery to suffocate them briefly in fluid idealism and bring them up for a breath of half hearted melodicism filled with half remembered truths. I’ll hang them in the shadowy recesses of my mind.
And perhaps, if I do this long enough these words will develop and print.