A Different Blue
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“Can you tell me anything about your mother?” The social worker had asked me. The question was gentle, but I wasn't fooled into thinking I didn't have to answer it.
“She's dead.” I knew that much.
“Do you remember her name?”
I had asked Jimmy once what my mother's name was. He had said he didn't know. He said I had called her Mama, like most two-year-olds do. It sounds unbelievable. But I was just a kid, accepting and unsuspicious. Jimmy had a little black and white TV with rabbit ears that I watched in the trailer. It picked up whatever the local PBS station was, and that was about it. That was my exposure to the outside world. Sesame Street, Arthur, and the Antiques Roadshow. I didn't understand the nature of relations between men and women. I knew nothing of babies. Babies were hatched, delivered by storks, purchased at the hospitals. I had no concept that my father not knowing my mother's name was beyond odd.
“I called her Mama.”
The lady's eyes squinted, and she got a meanish look on her face. “You know that's not what I meant. Surely your father knew her name and would have told you.”
“No. He didn't. He didn't know her very well. She just left me with him one day and split. Then she died.”
“So they were never married?”
“Why do you call him Jimmy and not Dad?”
“I don't know. I guess he just wasn't that kinda dad. Sometimes I called him Dad. But mostly he was just Jimmy.”
“Do you know your aunt?”
“I have an aunt?”
“Cheryl Sheevers. It's her address listed on your father's information. She's your father's half-sister.”
“Cheryl?” Memories rose up. An apartment. We'd been there a couple of times. Never stayed long. I usually waited in the truck. The one time I'd seen Cheryl, I had been sick. Jimmy had been worried and brought me to her apartment. She got me some medicine . . . antibiotics, she had called them.
“I don't know her very well,” I offered.
The lady sighed and laid down her pen. She ran her fingers through her hair. She needed to stop doing that. Her hair was all fuzzy and starting to stand on end. I almost offered to braid it for her. I was a good braider. But I didn't think she would let me, so I was quiet.
“No birth certificate, no immunization record . . . no school records . . . what am I supposed to do with this? It's like freakin' baby Moses, I swear.” The lady was mumbling to herself, the way Jimmy did sometimes when he was making a list for the store.
I told the social worker that Jimmy had some family on a reservation in Oklahoma but that they didn't know me. It turned out I was right. Social services tracked them down. They didn't know anything about me and didn't want anything to do with me. That was okay with me. Oklahoma was very far away, and I needed to be close by when they found Jimmy. The cops interviewed Cheryl. She told me later that they “grilled her.” Cheryl lived in Boulder City, not far from where I was staying in the foster home. And amazingly enough, Cheryl said she would take me in.
Her name wasn't Echohawk. It was Sheevers, but I guess that didn't matter. She didn't really look like Jimmy, either. Her skin wasn't as brown and her hair was dyed in various shades of blonde. She wore so much makeup it was hard to tell what she really looked like beneath the layers. The first time I met her, I squinted at her, trying to see the “real her,” the way Jimmy had taught me to do with wood, picturing something beautiful beneath the crusty exterior. It was easier to do with the wood, I'm sorry to say. The officers let me keep Jimmy's tools, but they took Icas to an animal shelter. They said he would be able to see a doctor, but I was very afraid that Icas couldn't be fixed. He was broken for good. I felt broken too, but nobody could tell.
“When the ancient Romans would conquer a new place or a new people, they would leave the language and the customs in tact – they would even let the conquered people rule themselves in most cases, appointing a governor to maintain a foothold in the region.” Wilson leaned against the whiteboard as he spoke, his posture relaxed, his hands clasped loosely.
“This was part of what made Rome so successful. They didn't try to make everyone Romans in the process of conquering them. When I went to Africa with the Peace Corp, a woman who worked with the Corp said something to me that I have often thought about since. She told me 'Africa is not going to adapt to you. You are going to have to adapt to Africa.' That is true of wherever you go, whether it's school or whether it's in the broader world.
“When I moved to the States at sixteen, I had my eyes opened to the differences in our language, and I had to adapt to America. I couldn't expect people to understand me or make allowances for the differences in our language and culture. Americans may speak English, but there are regional accents and phrases, different spellings, different terminology for almost everything. I remember the first time I asked someone on campus if they had a fag. It's a good thing I didn't get pounded. In Blighty, a fag is a cigarette, and I was going through a stage where I fancied smoking. I thought it made me look older and sophisticated, see.”