They met by chance, on a cold winter night just after New Years Day, 1991. She needed an escape from the pressure to gracefully follow in the footprints made by those who gave her life. He was struggling, trying to make a mark as the first of his family to go to college. She was from old money. Her family name was known throughout Boston. They were lawyers and politicians. They owned yachts and a summer cottage on Martha's Vineyard. She could trace her family history back to the American Revolution. He could trace his back to the slave ship that delivered his ancestors into the hands of those who needed cheap labor to maintain their standard of living.
She later told her family that he took advantage of her. There was enough lawyer in her blood to make her argument effective, but with a family filled with judges and prosecutors, her case fell apart. There had been a party she wasn't supposed to be at. She was Ivy League. He was State College. She was supposed to just be slumming. That was what her friends called it. When she passed out in his bed he did not take advantage of her. She made the first, second and third moves. He was not about to say no. He was eighteen years old and this girl wanted him in the worst way. It was too easy, this rich girl, looking innocent as a pearl, slurring her words and reaching down below to wake the sleeping giant. He never expected to see her again. He never imagined she might get pregnant with his child.
The product of that night, a baby girl, is now fourteen years old. Her parents never married. They never lived together. The mother tracked the father down and told him about their daughter. He offered to "do the right thing" and marry her. She declined. Her own mother, the baby girl's grandmother, would have disowned her if she married a working class black man. It was bad enough having to explain having a granddaughter whose skin had a curiously dark tint to it. They would invent a story. They would invent another story and then another. They would hide the product of this improper union.
It was easy to hide a baby, but not so simple to hide a growing girl. The mother went to the priest of their church, a gleaming cathedral on the shiny side of town, and he spoke sharply to her. He offered no comfort and told her to ask for forgiveness for her night of lust. In his eyes she could see that forgiveness would be easier if the boy she had fornicated with had been one of her own kind, someone who had grown up on the right side of town with the right kind of family name. The baby made one appearance for Sunday service. The reaction of those who gathered under the cross was more fire and brimstone than anything else. The mother could see it in their eyes. Their wavering smiles could not hide the truth of what they thought. Their eyes betrayed them.
And then the mother made a decision. She would hide the abomination that was her offspring rather than risk being excommunicated from her family and the life she still perilously clung to. Her own mother, the child's grandmother, began drinking with more regularity. She began stocking the bar more frequently and experimenting with margaritas and pina coladas. It looked better that way. These were fun drinks. It wasn't as if she was downing whiskey straight from the bottle. She just always had a pitcher of fun nearby.
The child was given over to babysitters whenever the family had a gathering or event. Sometimes she would be present for holidays. One Christmas the child's grandmother tried to explain that her daughter had adopted the child from a third world country. It embarassed the grandmother that her daughter had never gotten married. She blamed it on "that damned black baby." The more she drank, the more she cursed her granddaughter. The more she cursed her granddaughter, the more she needed to drink.
"No man of any real value will ever want you now, you lousy slut. No man of substance would ever want a woman who lies down with..."
The grandmother did not finish the thought, except in her head. Someone was taking a picture. She posed with her daughter and her pina colada. Neither of them smiled. It was a very happy Thanksgiving. Uncle Charlie, who was just elected to the state senate, gave a rousing speech about being thankful for his family before carving the turkey.
At the age of fourteen, the granddaughter of the woman who makes the best pina coladas on Martha's Vineyard found herself in state care. She had run away from home twice, dabbled in drugs and tried her own hand at mixing drinks. She didn't mix them as well as her grandmother and found it easier to drink vodka straight from the bottle, pop a handful of her mother's prescription pills and stab herself in the arm a few times with a safety pin. Sometimes it made the pain go away.
It isn't easy when nobody wants you. The older you get, the harder it is to pretend.
Somewhere, someone is smiling.
There are arms reaching out. They embrace the child.
"Why are you crying, my child?"
She looks up to meet the eyes that accompany these warm arms, but she sees no eyes. She does not see the arms, but they continue to surround her. For a moment this makes her uneasy, but the moment does not last.
"Sleep, my child."
And the child sleeps a deeper and more refreshing sleep than she has ever known before. She forgets what before she could not help but remember. It fades like a watercolor painting left out in the rain.
"This too shall pass."
An angel finds momentum in the breath of a stormy sky. These wings she remembers as broken now propel her into and out of the storm simultaneously. She feels more alive than ever before. Below her rises a landscape that seems familiar. The urge to make a landing overwhelms her and so she finds herself on the ground.
She forgives them.
And from the ashes rise two cities thought lost. They rise up before her and smile back at her. What was lost is now found. What was cursed is now blessed.
The angel departs and remembers nothing and everything at the same time.
Somewhere there is a seed. It is a seed the planter forget to give to the earth, but the wind and the rain find this seed and bring it to fertile ground.