By Umm Zakiyyah
a short story
PART ONE | PART TWO
I hugged my knees and concentrated my attention on the parking lot beyond my third-floor apartment window. It was all I could do to steady my trembling and think of something besides the torn envelope and embossed card next to me on the crumpled sheet of my bed.
I was upset. I knew that much. But there was something deeper knifing at my heart.
Your attendance is requested at the wedding celebration of…
I gritted my teeth until my jaws hurt.
Betrayal. The feeling sliced through me so suddenly that for a moment I stopped shaking.
Fourteen Years Before
Life as I knew it ended a week after my ninth birthday. It was late May, right when a month of school felt like a year, and the days dragged on until the desire for summer drove everyone, even the teachers, to a mixture of madness and dejection. Schoolwork was no longer displayed on classroom walls. Decorations were slowly and surreptitiously removed from bulletin boards, and the hall monitors turned a blind eye to students lingering in the corridors without a pass. And even failing students held a flicker of optimism because teachers no longer had the energy or concern to hold students back.
Later, I’d find myself wondering if my life would have turned out differently had my mother’s energy or concern for my future mirrored the pity teachers had for hopeless students…
I came home aggravated as usual. I was tired of the rushed homework assignments that I had to cram into my schedule every night because yet another teacher wanted to finish the book before the year ended.
“Faith! Is that you?”
I threw my backpack on the tiled floor of the foyer and groaned as I shut the front door. Who else would it be? “Yeah, Mom!” I yelled back.
“Come here, sweetie.”
I groaned. I already knew something was wrong because my mother never called me “sweetie” unless there was bad news or she wanted me to do something I loathed, like clean the bathroom.
“Mo-om,” I whined before I even dragged myself into the den, where I was certain she was sitting in front of some stupid soap opera.
I was surprised to find her on the couch in front of a darkened television screen. She forced a smile when I entered, and I saw the thinly veiled sadness on her face. I kept my arms folded, and my face twisted only because it didn’t make sense to change my stance or soften my pout. But I sensed my mom was trying to cheer me up to lighten the blow, and that’s when a sick feeling came over me and I knew something was wrong. As awkward as it sounds, this was the first moment I actually saw my mother, I mean really saw her.
In retrospect, I should have known. I know I was only nine, but really, let’s be frank here. My mom was a fiery redhead with blue eyes, and my dad, who shared my mom’s eye color, was so blond that he was often mistaken for an albino. And they both shared that pale, colorless complexion that the sun blotched instead of tanned, not to mention their straight, limp hair that wouldn’t curl even when it grew long. I, on the other hand, had dark brown eyes, kinky black hair that only braids and thick ponytail holders could keep in place. And my skin looked like latte with a generous portion of milk.
Yet stupidly, I’d thought nothing of how my playmate and neighbor, Paula, was often mistaken for my parents’ daughter and I her best friend, instead of the other way around. It was something we’d laugh about. But in that moment before my mother spoke aloud what I should have known all along, I saw my parents for who they were: two middle-aged, White people who had everything they could want in life, except the hope of ever having a child of their own…
Five Years Before
“I’m so happy for you!” Paula squealed as she drew me into a brief hug as I stepped into the foyer of her parents’ home. I wore a smug grin as I shrugged off my coat and stepped out of my muddy boots. I usually didn’t bother taking off my shoes when I visited, but I didn’t want to soil the plush carpet.
“But are you sure?” Paula said, drawing her eyebrows together as she regarded me.
I looped my arm through hers as we walked toward the stairs leading to her bedroom. “Mm hm,” I said, giddy as a kid who’d won a trip to Disney World. “Positive.”
“Oh my God,” she said as she hurried up the stairs, almost dragging me beside her. “You have to tell me everything! How are they?”
I laughed as she ushered me into her room and closed the door. “I don’t know yet…” A tightness formed in my throat, and a twinge of sadness weakened me. What if my birth parents didn’t want to meet me? Just because I was eighteen now and had a right to find them without my adopted parents knowing didn’t mean my birth parents would want me to find them. But I had found them. Or at least the agency I’d paid with the money from my part-time job at the mall had found them. Now it was just a matter of waiting to see if they wanted to be found.
“But John is really supportive,” I offered, a smile plastered on my face as I sat down on the edge of her bed.
“That’s good.” Paula’s tone was distracted as she sat beside me, one leg folded between us. I hated the way she acted whenever I mentioned my boyfriend. He was the first boy I met that I really connected with, and although I’d only known him for a few months, I really felt like he was “the one.” I’d never felt like that with anyone else. Why couldn’t she be happy for me? She knew how much anxiety I usually felt around guys. That’s why I was still a virgin while most of my classmates debated whether or not “respectable girls” could have one-night stands.
Paula herself would often tease me about being so “compulsive” about intimacy with the opposite sex. She went through boyfriends like most girls went through lipstick. In a way, I envied her. I wanted to feel that freedom with myself and my body, but I just couldn’t. Paula had all these radical ideas about feminism and women opposing patriarchal oppression, especially with regards to the female body, and to be honest, it sounded really convincing. But it just wasn’t me. I wasn’t sure if I was backwards or just old-fashioned. But if I gave myself to someone, it would have to be someone special, someone I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. And I was beginning to feel like John was that person…
“I’m sorry, Faith,” Paula said with a sigh. “I’m really happy for you and John. It’s just…” Her voice trailed as her eyes stared at something beyond my head. “…I wish I could find someone too.”
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