The spring before our geography irrevocably changes, as we sit in the living room, my mother breaks the spell that holds us to the sofa. "Well," she says, rubbing her temple with the same hand that now holds the permission slip to Mexico, "can you keep a secret?" She crooks a half-grin.
I bite the insides of my mouth to keep from smiling back. This must be big, bigger even than my first trip abroad. I nod, as chill as mountain run-off. "Sure."
"Well..." she begins, tilting her head to the side and looking a bit like me when caught rifling her drawers for photographs and letters. "I can't prove sole custody because..." she pauses, "your father and I were never divorced." She gives me an amused, expectant look.
After a minute I ask, "What do you mean did Dad die?" Even as I say it, I suspect it can't be the explanation. My father writes to me, after all. And though I haven't heard from him in five years, as we learned following his three-year silence during the Biafran War, as we will learn a mere three weeks after Loowit blows when horse tail rushes and fireweed pop up through the still-smoldering ash, followed by a scurry of pocket gophers and ground squirrels, rebirth is always possible.
My mother shakes her head, and unbidden, The Question arises from childhood memory, where it dozes fitful, ever near. I can feel it rumble through my stomach, force its way into my head as clearly as if I am on the playground, surrounded by a crowd of children who have just seen my mother's white skin for the first time and won't stop asking, Is that your real mom?
"Uh huh," I reply, rushing to head off the inevitable barrage of questions. I shut down my mind and chant my answer like a nursery rhyme: "My father is black. He's darker than me. My mother is white. Black and white together make brown." I present my arm for inspection. "See?"
Sometimes the scowls relax, the play resumes. There is frequently one who doubts. "Nuh-uh," he or she insists, balled hands against Toughskin-clad hips as if this were high noon at the Okay Kiddie Corral. "She can't be your real mom." Pale eyes squint through potential holes in my story, then the drawled challenge: "Where's your real mom?"