Friday, August 6, 2010

“Frozen Skies” by Terese Lorae Smauldon

I’m telling my story now because no one else has gotten it right. And if I’m going down in history as a criminal, I want people to know the truth.

My name is Darcy Spires. I’m fifteen years old. My father is James Spires, owner and CEO of Spires Technologies, the most innovative, fastest growing software company in the world. My mother is Victoria Mendelssohn-Spires, former 60s and 70s model and actress and currently on the board of three major charities in New York City. My sister, Penelope, graduated valedictorian of her class at Columbia University and is taking a year to study architecture in Europe.

And then there’s Xavier, my brother.

This is very difficult for me because new developments are unfolding as I write and I feel that I will have to erase pages as each day passes because the previously written statements will be obsolete. Irrelevant. Or lies.

But my story has been too talked about not to tell. Since the day I was born I was treated like a tabloid headline. I was the talk of the town and the medical field before I was old enough to know what any of it meant. My birth nearly tore my family apart. But my actions later on would.

Before I continue I should mention one important fact. It is not my goal to cause confusion, but I have to start in the past if anyone is to understand the present.

I was a Black baby born to white parents. Not adopted or fostered. Not via surrogate or test-tube. Just like a child born with an extra chromosome or missing limb, my Blackness burdened me with a disability that I didn’t even realize or accept until these recent events transpired.

No doctor, geneticist, or otherwise seasoned expert could explain the “phenomena” of my birth. I didn’t have a skin disorder and my family’s lineage was white as snow fifteen years ago. Then I came along and forced them to extract from their cognizance everything they thought they knew about family and race, and then discard it along with their prejudices and biases.

I was never told it was difficult for them to do. They all led me to believe it was the most natural thing in the world for them to raise a Black child. Now I know better.

When my newborn body covered in ginger skin was drawn from Victoria’s womb, James made a dramatic show of leaving the room. The OB/GYN and attending nurses all had the same thought that none dared to speak: my mother just gave birth to another man's child.

If anyone believed her when she cried and sobbed that she had never been unfaithful, they didn’t express it. I used to hear my parents fight about it. Apparently my mother is still affected by the lack of trust my father had in her.

“You treated me like some common, white-trash whore!” my mother would yell during a scorching argument.

“What did you expect me to think?” he would reply. “What would you have thought?”

“I would have believed,” she would say, disheartened. “You kept me out of the house until the DNA test was confirmed. Do you have any idea how that made me feel?”

“Yes, because you have told me a thousand times, Victoria”, he would say frustrated. “I made a mistake. I should have trusted you. How many times will you use this against me?”

“And your family! Some of them still have doubts…after all these years. And you never defend me, James.”

“Stop blaming me for Darcy’s condition! It’s no one’s fault that she came out the way she did and it’s no one’s fault that people assumed the worst.”

“Assumed the worst of me!” my mother exclaimed.

“You’re so self-involved, Victoria. I can’t deal with this right now.”

I was around seven years old. I didn’t know what a condition was and I certainly didn’t know that I had one.

“Mom and dad are just weird, Darcy,” a thirteen year old Penelope told me when I asked her what it meant. “They fight like that all the time.”

“Because of me,” I said knowingly. Sadly.

“No, because they need to get a divorce,” my sister said with equal confidence, but none of the sorrow. “None of my other friends’ parents are still together and they never have to deal with the stuff we do.

“Do you have a condition?” I asked.

“No one does.” she replied.

“It’s ‘cause you’re black’ Darcy,” Xavier said menacingly, suddenly standing in the molded doorway of Penelope’s bedroom. “You make them fight.” His tone pierced like daggers, twisting and burning inside of my body.

The words he spoke always hung over me like clouds in a frozen sky. A permanent reminder that something was wrong. That I was wrong. No matter how equal we were in every other way, my skin color was the rift that nothing could mend.

“Shut up, Xavier,” Penelope said to him. “Darcy is not Black. She has white parents and a white family and white friends. She doesn’t even talk Black,” she said in my defense.

“Yeah, I’m white just like you!” I said with more assurance than I felt. The truth was I had never doubted myself before. If there was any Blackness to me I didn’t own it or acknowledge it. I didn’t know how. I was as white as my blonde-haired, blue-eyed, sister. And why couldn’t I be? We came from the same place.

“You’re not like me, Darcy. I’m way better and it doesn’t matter how much a part of this family you are you will never be one of us,” he said before stomping off to his room.

Xavier’s hate scared me more than the idea that he might be right. Someone with that much animosity only had a matter of time before he would be so consumed by his loathing, that he could nothing more but release it. That time for Xavier would be three years later.

My best friend growing up was a girl named Aurora, who preferred to be called Rory. Her parents knew mine from college and everyone thought it was such a sweet, heaven-sent coincidence that we were born two weeks apart. Our friendship was dictated by the stars, her mom would always tell us.

About a year ago I was on the phone with Rory. She told me that her mom promised my mother that she would do all she could to foster and promote a friendship between the two of us.

My mother suffered from severe post-partum depression and was sure, by the “all-knowing” words of my grandmother, that I would be teased by everyone once I started school. Rory’s mom said she wouldn’t let that happen because she was going to raise Rory to accept all people, regardless of color. I suppose it worked. But it made Rory wonder if she accepted me because she genuinely liked me, or because she was forced into it.

That conversation was the last time I heard from Rory.

But before that she was everything to me. I loved her like we shared the same blood and I looked up to her even though I was two weeks older. I used to brush her long, honey-hued hair and wish that my own midnight kinks would magically uncurl and leave me with the silky straight strands of my friends and family.

My mother kept in contact with a hairdresser from her modeling days who was a pro at “killing naps.” So I visited this woman every few weeks and she killed a little bit of me each time hoping that one day there would nothing left of me to burn. But I stopped relaxing my hair five years ago when I turned ten so that I could start to resurrect myself. At that time I didn't fully understand the connection between keeping my natural roots and what started happening to me. But hindsight leads to me to believe that I was yelling and screaming in one of few ways I knew how.

That’s the year everything changed.

My tenth birthday was complete with the traditional pinks and ponies of little girls’ dreams. It was an expensive, society affair that served as a networking opportunity for the parents involved. I was a princess for a day. It’s ironic that years later I would be called queen.

I soaked everything up…the balloons, candles, confetti, attention. The attention overwhelmed me. But I loved it all. Xavier was wrong after all. I was one of them.

Later that night after the party dwindled into the past, my mother put me to bed with a kiss on the forehead and a prayer. She thanked God for me and the glow I brought to the family.

“I really do belong, don’t I?” I asked my mother before she left my room.

“What do you mean, Darcy?”

“In this family. Even though I’m Black I belong.”

“Of course you do. You are my daughter. Black or not.”

“Because white is better than Black, right?” She paused at this question. I wonder if my skin were as light as hers would she have given the answer she did. Because if she didn’t really believe it, why did she encourage me to straighten my hair? Why did she slip into a depression when I was born? Why did she refer to my Blackness as a ‘condition’?

“Darcy, we are all the same.”

“We never talk about it, though. We never talk about the fact that I’m different. Like’s it’s too bad to bring up.”

“Look at your hair. Look at your clothes. And your room and your toys and your school. You’re not different, Darcy. You have everything the others have.”

“But not because I’m Black. It’s because you’re white. What do I get for being Black?”

She looked shocked and then hurt for a moment after I said that. I didn’t know where these thoughts were coming from. But I felt a shift. Something was looming. And it would all come down to the fact that I was a brown girl.

That night I dreamt of elephants. African elephants on 5th Avenue. Sitting on top of them were beautiful, dark women with gold in their ears and around their long necks. Springy, thick hair on their heads or no hair at all, and tribal make-up on their faces. They were naked and lovely and I watched them from my bedroom window. I felt them although we did not touch. And I heard their unspoken words. They were calling me. They said they would save me. My silent confusion reached their ears and they told me not to worry. I would not be lost.

When I woke suddenly from my sleep, my eyes met the cold, blue stillness of Xavier’s.

“If you say anything you will get in big trouble,” he said, pawing at my nightgown.

Still caught up in my African dream, I remained quiet, unsure what he was trying to do.

“You think I don’t love you, Darcy. I will show you.” His little boy hands squeezed my tiny nipples and developing breasts.

I shut my eyes tight, wishing the African women would save me like they said they would.

Xavier pulled down his shorts and put his hands on my private area. I bit my lip, not sure what he would do next but hoping he would stop.

“This is what Black women do, Darcy. This is what you’re good for,” he said before covering my lips with his and thrusting his tongue into my mouth.

Tears welled in my eyes and burned as he forced me open. He broke me in ways I wouldn’t understand until I was older.

It was the first of many times. He became obsessed with making sure I knew I was different and this was the only way he felt he could. I wasn’t his family. I wasn’t his sister. I was a Black plaything and he would initiate me into my real world by any means necessary.

Maybe a part of me yearned for his acceptance so much that I didn’t tell, or maybe I truly believed I would get into trouble. Either way, I told no one.

For five years my brother raped me in my own house. When I turned thirteen and he was sixteen, he started using condoms. He wanted my body but not what it could produce. I felt sick and twisted and like the lowest person on the planet. I was a mistake. And Xavier proved it to me every time he touched my body.

I call that time of my life the Great Sleep. I was going through the motions of my day-to day, allowing myself to fall unconscious to the reality of what was happening to me and why.

And then, on my fifteenth birthday, I woke up.

I was given a collection of books as a gift from Penelope a year earlier. And I read each one over the course of that year, devouring titles by Derrick Bell, Alex Haley, Malcolm X, Angela Davis, and Leroi Jones. I became a sponge for a history I was never taught and ideas that I didn't know could exist. I experienced a personal revolution and felt a sense of pride that no one in my family ever expressed.

I felt my hair for the first time.

I saw my skin for the first time.

I knew who I was.

Brought into this world by no choice of my own, and then punished for not being enough. Or rather, being too much? Never being a proper fit for this life, for this land. My story is the story of the African women of my dreams. And they were right. I was saved.

The day of my fifteenth birthday I opened my eyes and everything that was old became relevant. My life now belonged to the future. I would be a lesson that I hoped no one could forget.

My parents insisted on taking me to brunch that day. Just the three of us. They wanted to celebrate, but they also wanted to “talk.”

“Honey, we've noticed a change in you and we're not quite sure how to take it. When you stopped straightening your hair all those years ago, I wasn't sure what to make of it. I didn't know what it meant and why you would chose to be different...” Victoria began. She nervously pushed the remains of her frittata to the center of the plate, the edge, and the center once more.

“What your mother means is that you've become very distant. You don't confide in us anymore,” James said.

“I never confided in you,” I replied. “Believe me, if I would have told you half of what I felt, what I've been through over the years, you would either deny it or dismiss it. It's nothing you could understand.”

“Darcy, how dare you say that to us! We're you're parents. Of course we understand you.”

“You're my parents, but you're not my people”, I said with all the strength and calmness of someone who is at total peace with the truth.

That night as I lie in bed, I knew that everything would change for me forever. I was right. My eyelids became heavy, as did my heart. It was quiet for a while. And for a moment, I thought it would be different. I thought it would be a night without pain.

But the footsteps came. Closer and harder with every second that passed.

He opened the door to my room and I was still.

He leaned over me.

And I was still.

But as soon as his fingertips left their caress on my brown body, my mind went into attack mode and I pulled the knife I had hidden under my pillow.

The first time that knife pierced Xavier's body I felt scared.

The second time I felt relieved.

The third time I felt justified.

Xavier fell back violently, struggling to stay alive as blood spilled from his wounds. As the life left his eyes, so did his power over me. He wouldn't own me anymore.

He had to die so that I could survive.

But I have to wonder, is it simply enough to survive?

And now I'm here. Locked in a cell as if I were a savage animal. Documenting the story like a modern day griot.

My parents have abandoned me. They were conflicted by their love for their son and their obligation to their daughter. And in the end, they chose what they knew...what they understood.

And as I said earlier that fateful day, they did not understand me.

When I told them about the abuse by Xavier, what he stole from me and the degradation he gave me in return, they were sympathetic, but not outraged. Their passivity in the midst of their knowledge of the facts was hurtful, but expected.

I have come full circle in my short amount of time on this earth. Born into controversy and perhaps I will die in it as well. The entire country is divided on this question: Does one have a right to live free from suppression, hate, and bigotry...especially in her own home?

The jury is out.

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