My mother turns to me. There will be no youth group praying for our souls in the church basement. "I confided in you," she stresses, "because you're old enough to know the truth, but you have to swear not to tell a soul; otherwise, I could lose my job."
I protest. "C'mon, this is 1979. You've been teaching forever. No one cares."
"This is still Sunnyside," she replies. The town she had grown up in and tried to escape and then been cast out of. The town to which she eventually returned to raise me. A dip in the earth that resists each new decade with the fervor of the recently converted. A Christian holdout on the edge of the desert soon to be covered in 600,000 tons of volcanic ash. A mere forty-five minutes after Loowit blows, the sky is black as night, and though it is 9:30 in the morning, all over town, the streetlights sputter into light.
I have heard my mother's friends in the living room. I know that one teacher lost his job for lingering too long in the high school parking lot with a woman who was not his wife. Another found himself in jail after admitting his true sexual orientation. Careers have been lost on mere suspicion.
And so I inherit my mother's secret, continuing what is though I do not know it at the time a time-honored tradition among the women of our family. And because it is my secret as well, the key to my origins, how can I possibly keep silence, even for her? We are new to this joint management and ownership of lies. Neither of us has any way of knowing that this secret I force down my throat like the chunks of pumice that fall from Loowit like rain will turn out to be so bruising. My mother is mistaken I am not old enough to know the truth. At least, not old enough to carry it, like my heavy, unpronounceable African name, out into the world alone.
Like any good creation myth, the true tale of my origins is deceptive. Upon first telling, it seems harmless enough. The major themes endure: my parents cared for each other and loved me; my mother managed alone. The only differences, I tell myself, are simple matters of legality and geography the absence of a marriage certificate, a birth at a forgotten address across town. But beneath the thin crust of the earth we think we know, the new world shifts and steams.
Copyright © 2003 Faith Adiele.