Kevin looks at me and I know he isn’t seeing the little girl I use to be, all pigtails and gangly limbs. He isn’t seeing my mother’s daughter or even my mother anymore. As his eyes linger over me, stopping here and there in the most uncomfortable places, I know he isn’t really even seeing me as I am. The bloodshot eyes staring out of the alcohol-flushed face are seeing a girl, nearly of age, who owes him a tremendous debt of gratitude.
He has had no shortage of women over the years. He kept them from me at first, being careful of what I saw and, disturbingly, heard. But, as I grew older, and he saw that I was not growing into a refined young lady but that the poverty and desperation of our lives has made me something harder, coarser, he stopped caring. There were one-night stands and those who didn’t bother staying more than a few hours; those who got what they wanted, just as he had, who used him just as he used them, and left promptly after. Occasionally one might last a few weeks, but rarely. They didn’t want a man with responsibilities.
A man with responsibilities and no car and an address that changed at least every fifth month depending on the compassion of our landlord at the time.
I was the only unchanging factor in his life and knew he blamed me for his lack of constants. If he hadn’t done the right thing, if he hadn’t been so good to me and true to the promise he had made to my mother then his life would be different.
But he had been true to my mother’s wish.
She had been obviously pregnant when he had taken her in. And when she had asked him to care for me, he had agreed.
They had pulled me from the hemorrhaging, dying body of my mother and turned me over to the care of the man who was not my father. He had taken me home to their tiny apartment above the old hardware store and done what little he knew to take care of me.
It took less than six weeks for him to realize his mistake. Maybe even less than six hours, but he never abandoned me. He clung to me as though I was the last remnant of some great and powerful love.
And that gave me hope that maybe my mother was really something else and not just some girl who got knocked up by a guy whose name she didn’t even know. She was something special, someone worthy of a man’s loyalty and devotion.
(c)2010 Gwenn Wright
Library of Congress