race, heart, death, and lungs: Growing Up Southern with Cunt, Part II

My mother was conceived in a nuthouse by a man who didn’t raise her.

My grandmother beat and beat and beat my mother, the youngest of her six, the only one with black hair, brown eyes, brown skin.

For years she passed as white, in the way that poor rural whites can: sharecropping,  angry, crusted with dirt. In highschool Sheriff Tom Poppell tried to press my mother into sexual slavery, to work with the other girls of color fucking roadgoers in peach stands for food.

My mother, in middle school, contracted strep throat. Left to languish- short on money, health services, love- the strep flowered down her throat to touch her heart. Rheumatic fever: she never breathed or moved the same again, scarred heart pumping overtime to carry oxygen to all aching parts.

Bootstraps was the only ethic of survival in an impoverished county as hers. Broken-hearted and raised on belts and beans, my mother went to college despite and became a teacher. Desegregation opened her to new counsels: her kindergartners named her a “bright”: a black-white with “good” hair.

Later- after  she married my white father and birthed my sister and I- my sister by intention, me by blatant accident- after the alcohol and the beatings and the pills and the bathtub overflowing and the year that electricity danced, danced through all the reeling dendrites of her brain- she met a man who saw her, or part of her, and they moved together to an all-black part of Atlanta.

Race was never spoken of. We visited them and were welcomed in their neighborhood- two white girls of a high yellow mother and a black man. The police were less welcoming; for the crime of driving with two white girls, the man who should have been my step-father was pulled over and jailed.

For the crime of loving two white girls, the man who should have been my step-father was imprisoned on false charges of child molestation.

Race was never spoken of. My mother lost visitation rights- for years we saw her only in hotels, within my father’s county. Although charges were later dropped, my mother left her fiance for fear that she would never see us again.

The white man who later became my step-father did what the man who should’ve been didn’t, although nothing was ever said.

Who am I in this? Who am I? My grandma dead, now, her secret with her- my mother dying slowly of a swollen heart. I think of the Kentucky of my mother’s birth- I think of family I’ve never met and never will, of the man who was my grandfather. I think of the man who should have been my step-father, whom I will never see again. I think of my skin, freckled and Irish-white like my father’s, and the danger it has wrought. I think of my child’s skin, even paler than mine, and the privilege and oblivion it carries. I think of the bars we stood outside of that they made him stand within, as we shed worthless clueless white girl tears.

I think of longing fiercer than breath for the knowing of those lost to us. A knife like ice I carry always, sunk deep into my lungs. My mother. My mother. With her the thread is snapped that I must tend and carry. And meanwhile all the blood back-flowing through valve and chamber, rising, closing in.

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