Black & White
When I think back, I see blackness and scarcity. I see tiny specks of dirt and remnants of dried up plants, plastics and desert. Crying. Fighting for random objects and indiscriminate attention.
I remember the barren, dry, brown land incarcerating her tiny village, imprisoning its people on the day they were born. A black village somewhere in Ethiopia. A poor African village nowhere to the Western world.
I recall sand castles, pearl-colored ones we created on the sea coast of Massachusetts and the lakes of Vermont. Posh destinations with their pristine beaches and all-white visitors, their dramatic juxtaposition to the gray, concrete cell that was my daughter’s home, her orphanage prison, for six months.
My daughter. Her hair is jet black. Her eyes are a tad lighter. Her skin is a cross between seal brown and dark chocolate.
Her knees are dry, lighter in color than her chocolaty skin, charcoaled and greyed, bruised from her constant falling as she grew six inches her first year with us. An elevated scar, bumpy, left over from one particularly clumsy fall, settled at the top of her knee. Her tiny body, playing catch up to where she wanted to go.
Her legs once crooked, knees knocking together from the rickets, was easily corrected by swallows of milk she engulfed. Accompanying this milk was food she devoured, shoving, shoving until it fell back out of her mouth and returned to her plate.
“Six hard boiled eggs and four clementines,” my young son remembers. “That was her record.”
My daughter’s elbows are thirsty for moisture. Always thirsty for lotion that I remind her to apply so that her skin doesn’t become ashen.
A newly formed blemish, pink on dark flesh, now permanently resides on the right side of her head, a remnant from where her nylon stocking cap rubbed against her skin beneath her new winter hat.
Her bottom lip, puffy and pink, embraces her perfectly spaced, white teeth.
Her white teeth and pink scar are the only physical similarities between us. Mother and daughter.
My daughter’s “bedroom” was filled with bunk beds pressed up against cinder-blocked walls, sleeping four to a bed. She napped alongside another young girl, on a bottom bunk. Her head bald. Hair shaven. Exhausted from the waiting. Waiting.
Children sat lifeless on mats in another 12 x 12 room. Snot flowed from between the children’s nostrils and upper lips. Running down and into their mouths, it hung off their chins, unbeknownst to them or simply not caring. Stained clothing, too small, clung to their undernourished bodies.
The three of us, husband, son and I, sat beside them on the cracked, navy mats, dumbfounded. Oppression suffocated us.
One boy, perhaps four years old, pressed the lollypop he had just been given by another couple tenderly to my lips. I opened my mouth to receive his gift, despite my revulsion for lollipops marinated with snot.
“Mommy, at first I was afraid to touch her black skin,” my blond haired, blue eyed, biological son confessed to me soon after meeting his new sister. He was five at the time. My new daughter three.
I, too, was afraid to touch my daughter. But not because she was the first black person I had touched. No, I remember being afraid, because all at once the responsibility of being her new mother overwhelmed me. Her blackness and my whiteness became instantly real.
The gray area between us was gone.