The Writer’s Corner features poetry, essays, short stories, satire and various fiction and non-fiction from SCAD Atlanta students. To submit your own work for the Writer’s Corner, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“An Introduction to Your First Born” by Casandra Brewton-Johnson
I see confidence in the way you hold your head high with your shoulders back and hips forward. Your eyes are sly with the knowledge of something intimate like you’ve discovered something about yourself. Such a different vision of the backwoods country girl I admit to knowing so little about.
I never had a complete understanding of your life and now that I’m flipping through these old photos, a need for self-discovery is overwhelming. Will you share in my search? Hushed tones and silence about the past have been a barrier in our relationship for too long. Years ago, I sat you down to hash-out certain aspects of childhood. Do you remember? Your voice shook as you kept trying to redirect the conversation. I didn’t want to cause you distress, so I dropped the matter. No more. You must understand that beyond blood, yours and my past are connected in ways that you can’t imagine.
I won’t lie and tell you that there was never any resentment in my heart against you. I’m sorry. How could I not be angry? I was only four when you sent me away to live with your brother and his wife. You had no choice, right? A few years ago, you told me that you sent me away because you had no way of providing for me. I tried to imagine what it was like to be you, twenty-three and a single mother with limited opportunities living in rural Georgia. Sometimes, my imagination is not so great.
It’s unfortunate that the two years I spent living with your brother and his wife can’t be wished away. They were never meant to be parents. I tell you this not out of meanness or spite. But deep down, I believe you knew the truth when you put me on that Greyhound bus with them. You had to recognize that his disease mimicked the one that killed your father. Stale drink on his breath and trembling hands should have been clues. His wife was his equal when it came to like-minded vices and signs of her mental instability became my daily nightmare.
Did he tell you about those nightmarish days? Like the first night we arrived in Vegas? The dog they were taking care of attacking me, biting and scratching my face. I was blamed for the attack. I’m not sure if it was because of the dog attack or because it was my first time being away from you, but I developed a bed wetting problem that stayed with me for those two long years. Every morning, I paid a price for those wet sheets. I think she got pleasure from lashing me across my backside with that thick leather belt.
Maybe your dear brother told you about the night his wife left him. He got pissy-drunk and threatened to end it all with the Colt .45 he kept in the house. He made me sit next to him as he sobbed and drank, waving that gun around. The same loaded weapon he placed in my tiny hands the day before and let me pull the trigger in target practice. I didn’t need to understand his ramblings, but even at five, I understood that I was in a dangerous situation. I needed you the most that night.
The next day, I was placed in foster care. No warning. No sorry. Left on the front stoop of a stranger’s home like a bag of prank dog turd. I need to pause for a moment. My heart hurts and is pounding too fast to continue…
My foster provider? The word “foster mom’ doesn’t fit, and besides, I forgot her name the moment I met her. But, I can never forget our first encounter. It’s baked into my memory. A tiny version of myself is standing in the doorway of a semi-darkened bedroom staring at a large woman lounging in bed as she pulled on a cigarette. Her wide fat lips rattling off a list of chores and house rules and blah, blah, blah. She spoke and I heard nothing. I wanted to run or scream but puked on her shag carpet instead.
We were a house full of misfit kids relying on each other for survival. Hustling strangers at the park or strip mall for food and money to keep from starving. I was always hungry. But, LOL, I learned the importance of a well-made sugar and syrup sandwiches. Listen, it wasn’t an ideal family, but it was all that I had. Where were you?
If you ask me how I survived those hateful two years, I have no clear answer. At one point, I might have said that it was because I dreamed of coming back home to you. But, I stopped hoping and believing that you would save me. Your one or two phone calls over those two years were not soul-sustainable and your existence faded. Again, I don’t say these things to demean or hurt you, but I want you to feel the person that I am. How I came to be.
When I asked you ten years ago why you sent me away for so long, you explained that I was only supposed to be gone for a month or two until you could “get back on your feet.” I couldn’t respond at the time. What I wanted to ask is how long could it take to scrape together a few dollars to retrieve your own child? Your answer was too simple but I understood the complicated truth.
Remember the day that I finally came home? I was put on a plane to Atlanta and didn’t know that I was on my way back to you. No one explained anything. I was like luggage being transported to its next destination of horror for all that I knew. I didn’t care anymore.
When you and your sister’s family picked me up from the airport, I was unsettled. Why bring me home now? Clarity came the next day when you introduced me to my two-year-old sister and one-year-old brother. Even then, my six-year-old brain was working out the math and forming a conclusion. Life had gone on without me.
I wish that I could hate you for sending me away and replacing me so fast. But, hate is a powerful word and life is never that cut-n-dry, and neither is my love for this small family. The closeness that you share with my brother and sister is a barrier that challenges my psyche and relationship with each of you. I see the unwavering bond between the three of you and despite how I used to feel, and still feel, I recognize that I will always be an outsider visiting my own family. Am I jealous of that bond? Sometimes.
I see more than a confident young woman staring back at me from this black-n-white photograph. I see a kind and loving woman who made a mistake and has done her best to set things right. I see me. Does that surprise you? I think your past discretions and sending me away has given you a false notion that you have no right or don’t deserve to understand my journey. Fair assumption, but here’s my pledge: I give you permission to ask me the tough questions because, in the asking, I will also learn more about you and your truth. I won’t push, but when you’re ready, it will be my pleasure to introduce you to your firstborn.