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My mother went crazy two weeks and five days after my seventeenth birthday. Well that's not exactly true, she had always been crazy but quietly so. She went from paranoia and mood swings to eating sticks of chalk like candy and covering the walls in tin foil. Mama was an artist so at first I just figured it was another piece of her work but in my heart I knew things would never be the same. Eight days after she began to unravel like a threadbare quilt we went to visit my father. He had been no more than a name to me on a birth certificate and when my mother told me to get in the car I had no idea where we were going but I was game.
Hell I was even a little bit relieved, see Mama and I always went on adventures, sometimes we would get in the car and just drive until we found somewhere fun to stop she was just spontaneous like that. Loads of people were down on her about me not being in school and not having friends my own age , they didn't understand us is all. Mama had home schooled me because she didn't think the school systems were doing that all fire good at teaching kids what they ought to know plus we were sort of poor and she knew that even the she could do wouldn't stop other kids from thinking less of me. When she got to be a little more well known and we had lots of money she'd said I could choose whether or not I wanted to go to public school but by then I was spoiled to our ways and I couldn't see giving up adventures in the car and afternoons on the beach to be stuck in a hot smelly class room with thirty other kids and a teacher who didn't even know me.
Other kids already thought I was plenty weird so how could I tell them I had no idea how to play old maid or go fish but I sure as hell knew how to play spades, hearts and poker? So instead of playing games with other kids and going to sleepovers I was staying up all night to listen to Mama and her friends talk about everything from the latest politics to whether cubism was a valid form of artistic expression or whether it was simply too structured .
I loved my life and I loved my Mama something fierce that's how I knew things would never ever be the same. I had grabbed two pairs of jeans and a couple of tee shirts along with some clean panties and a tooth brush plus my art books because with mama you never could tell if you were just going to the grocery store or if you'd end up being gone for a week. I shoved my feet into a pair of flip flops and tossed my sneakers into the bag as an afterthought and slung my beat up denim knapsack with random patches sewn helter skelter to the fabric over my shoulder . Running down the stairs I didn't look back because it would have hurt to much I wanted to pretend that I'd be back in an hour or a day or a week but I knew better.
As we drove down the coast I stared at the beach as Moody's mood for love played on the radio. There I go, There I go, There I go There I go I wanted to cry but I couldn't I did not want to let on just then that I knew things were changing maybe this was what they meant by growing pains because this hurt like fucking hell. I glanced over at Mama she had her purple shades over her eyes and she was still the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen. I don't mean that like most people think either, when I was little I had thought she was pretty simply because she was my mama but a few years ago I had realized that she really was truly a breath taking woman it was a realization that struck me as odd as if I had believed in fairy tales my whole life only to find that they were real.
She was looking at the road and tapping her right hand against the cushioned steering wheel while she worried her full bottom lip with her white teeth. The wind from the open window stirred her long hair that almost always seemed to be in windswept disarray anyway. I stopped looking and opened the glove box. Reaching my hand past a flash light and a pack of big red I pulled out a box of Newport's and shut the compartment. Tapping the unopened pack against my thigh for a moment before ripping away cellophane I pulled a cigarette from the pack and reached on the dashboard to grab my lighter patterned with sunflowers. I had gotten the lighter and ten other like it when we'd driven from California to the Jersey shore, Mama had, had a gallery show in New York a two weeks later and so we had stayed in Atlantic city . The beaches weren't like California instead they seemed dirty and desolate but it was still an adventure.
I snapped back to reality remembering the lingering taste of taffy and the smell of roasted peanuts and metallic salt. Dismissing the memory I took a deep pull from my cigarette and stared out the window blowing a stream of smoke into the already polluted air. Sighing I reached between my legs and down into the deep front pocket of my knapsack my fingers drifted over a patch of crumbs from god only knows what and a sticky piece of unwrapped hard candy before brushing the very edge of my red heart shaped sunglasses.
Taking the novelty shades out I shook the crumbs away and slid them on my face as the cigarette I held between my lips shook a tiny bit and deposited a tiny pile of ashes on my already dirty bag. I watched Mama glance at me from the corner of my eye before turning her gaze back to the endless road before us. I wanted to ask her where we were headed but I knew she would say what she always did, "We're headed for tomorrow silly." At least I hoped that's what she would say, I didn't want answers bad enough to shake the foundation of every thing that was familiar to me even though I could already feel the truths I had known my whole life breaking away and scattering into the wind.
It only took about an hour or so for us to pull up in front of a two story house in some suburb, the house looked neat and clean and for some reason it struck fear in my heart I wanted to go back to our apartment right now, I wanted to walk in and see black and white murals painted on the walls and hear Billie Holiday playing smooth and low in the background while people came and went like we had a revolving door. I wanted, I wanted, I wanted. I wanted the security of knowing that there was nothing in the refrigerator but sushi fresh salad and bottles of water and that dinner was merely a phone call away but wanting didn't magically make all things right.
The car was in park and Mama was shaking me as if to rouse me from sleep, I stared at her through the darkened lenses of my sunglasses and frowned. She hadn't said so much as a word for the whole drive and now she was motioning for me to get out of the car.
I moved slowly trying to rack my brain, of all the places we had ever been I'd never been to this house. She was ringing the door bell as I grabbed my bag and the shut the passenger side door.
I walked up the driveway and waited behind her. A tall dark skinned woman with jet black hair opened the door of the house and looked at us. I didn't know her and she couldn't have been more than a few years older than me but she seemed to know exactly who we were. In fact she seemed to have been expecting us.
She smiled broadly and stepped back inviting us to
"Come on in."
She had an accent like the summer air in Baton Rouge deep thick and slightly smothering. The house looked like an ad for cleaning products there wasn't so much as a speck of dirt anywhere and far as I could tell there wasn't an artist within miles of the place.
We sat down in the living room that was stark white with peach sofas and deep dark wooden furniture, I had my doubts as to whether the couch had ever been sat upon. The room made me uncomfortable and slightly self-conscious like I should have scrubbed my self clean before walking into it.
The woman sat across from us perched on the edge of an overstuffed peach chair.
"Why you must be little Billie, I'm Satin." I stared at her from behind my shades and raised an eyebrow.
Satin? was she fucking kidding me and who the hell was this chick calling little did I look like some damn toddler?
"Nice to meet you."
I drawled mocking her accent. Mama threw me a furious glance and turned to the woman and smiled.
"It's nice to finally meet you Satin, You have a lovely home."
The woman smiled and offered us a drink I wanted a drink all right but I had a feeling she didn't mean what I meant. When Satin disappeared into the kitchen Mama turned to me.
"You're staying here kid so make nice, I'll be back for you after a while."
I stared at her unable to comprehend what she was telling me. Sure I'd stayed with her friends before loads of times but certainly not people I didn't know and none of Mama's friends lived in perfect little suburbs. I felt like puking all over the damn peach sofa.
"Who is this woman?" I asked
"She's your father's wife."
Mama said standing and grabbing her keys off of the coffee table . I sat still for a moment shocked beyond words or motion. I heard the front door slam before I jumped up, by the time I'd gotten to the driveway she was racing down the street like a bat out of hell.
I still couldn't process what was happening my mind simply refused to understand, I closed the door and returned to the living room sitting down on the sofa , Satin came back with three glasses of lemonade but there were only two of us now. I reached for one of the glasses my hand shaking a little, almost imperceptibly.
I didn't say a word as I downed the lemonade, Satin just sat there staring at me like she wasn't quite sure what to do or say. I slammed the glass down on the tray she had carried out and set on the coffee table.
Her eyes widened and I'm pretty sure she wanted to pick up the glass and check it for damages but she didn't. She picked up one of the two remaining glasses and sipped the drink.
I watched her and wondered if she'd been to some archaic finishing school. Her thighs were pressed together with her legs crossed at the ankles, and although her back wasn't resting against the back of the chair it was straight. Her posture was perfect and instead of looking uncomfortable she seemed to be completely relaxed.
She had to have known that my mother had literally run out of the house and left me there and she was sipping her lemonade as if everything was on the up and up. When she had finished her drink set her own empty glass down she stood and picked up the service tray taking it back into the kitchen. When she came back I was still sitting there staring at the chair she had vacated and trying not to think at all .
"Why don't you come with me and let me show you your room honey."
I said grabbing my bag and glaring at her from behind my sunglasses. It was quite easy to pretend that she was the woman to blame for my current situation.
We walked back into the front hall and up the staircase turning to the right and going all the way to the end of the hall she opened another door instead of it being a room there was another staircase. At the top of the stairs I was one huge room empty except for a bed and a dresser. The room gleamed as if it were brand new not so much as a scuff on the wood floor. There were two doors one on the far side of the room one was a walk in closet as big as the my bedroom in our apartment and the other was a full bathroom.
I tossed my bag on the ground and kicked my flip flops off before I flopped onto the bed and stared at the ceiling.
Satin turned to leave me and I stopped her.
"Hey what's my father like?"
She turned back to me and although I wasn't looking I could tell she was staring.
"He's a good man." She told me quietly. I laughed because if I didn't I might have lost it for real.
She was still staring at me and probably thinking I was a little nuts. When I stopped laughing she spoke.
"You don't know anything about him do you?"
I took off my sunglasses and turned my head to look at her,
"I know that he fucked my mother then left her so he could go off to school. I know he hasn't bothered to send me so much as a damn birthday card. I know that much."
"You don't know anything."
She told me before walking out of the room and quietly shutting the door. I frowned wondering what the hell she meant. I got up off of the bed and grabbed my bag I had exactly 23 dollars to my name and that was shoved in my back pocket I doubted if I would be able to find a city bus out here in the boonies so it looked like I'd be hitching a ride.
I knew that the highway was maybe a mile or so away and I'd have to walk to it if I had any hope of going anywhere. I picked up my shoes and crept out of the attic down the stairs and into the hall. I had no idea where Satin was but she was nowhere in sight.
Hell she was probably off scrubbing or scouring something, unless they had a maid to do that type of thing. I didn't spare too much time thinking about it. I walked down the main stairs and right out the front door. Heading back in the direction that I had come earlier while I was in the car with Mama I found the highway easily.
I had to run across it to get on the right side for hitching in the direction I wanted to go. Cars passed me by not even bothering to slow down after about forty minutes I was getting a little ticked, but I could wait it out if it meant going home.
When there was a lull in traffic I pulled a cigarette from my bag, lit it and stood there smoking . The car that slowed in front of me had such a quiet engine I hadn't even heard it coming it was a sleek low-riding black Lexus with tinted windows.
It was a cool ride but I wasn't about to get in, people with cars like that thought they could take liberties plus with the way my day was going it would probably turn out to be a pimp or worse a porno producer with a proposition for me.
The drivers side window glided down and I saw it was worse than a pimp, it was Satin. I looked away from her and started to walk backward with my thumb stuck out, she put the car in reverse and stayed along side of me.
"Get in the car." Her voice had a hard edge to it when she spoke.
"I'm going home." I told her almost bursting into tears.
"Well then I'll take you, I'm not going to leave you out here. Don't you understand that someone could kill you?"
"Don't you understand that I don't fucking care? My mother just dumped me at some damn stranger's house and went off for god only knows how long." I said finally breaking down and starting to cry.
I had stopped walking and she had her foot on the brakes to keep the car from moving. "Get in the car." she said again. Not feeling like putting up a fight I tossed my cigarette and rounded the car to get in. The chances of someone picking up a crying teenager were slim to none anyhow, it smacked of the classic runaway story.
I slumped down in the passenger's seat and stared out of the window True to her word Satin took me back to the apartment, she obviously knew her way because she didn't even ask for directions she just drove me there. I fished my keys out of my bag and went into the building. Satin was right behind me I ignored her until I got the door unlocked.
"Thanks for the ride, bye." I told her trying to shut the door in her face.
She pushed the door with more force than I expected and walked in as if I had invited her.
"I'm not going anywhere." she said
I mumbled turning away from her and heading up the stairs to my room. I slammed the door and turned my stereo on full blast. The downstairs neighbors would raise hell if they were home but so fucking what. I opened my desk drawer and pulled out a handmade wooden box, I had gotten in Mexico. Sliding back the top I pulled out a joint and lit it.
Taking a long drag and holding the smoke in my lungs I sprawled across my Power Puff girls bedspread. I wasn't in my room for a full three minutes when Satin opened the door and walked in. She turned the music off and turned to me.
"You know you're kind of a little bitch."
She said as she grabbed the joint from me. I thought she was going to put it out so I was surprised when she put it to her lips and took a long pull. Clearly she was no beginner. She held the smoke in her lungs for almost a minute before slowly exhaling. I was staring at her with my mouth open in shock.
"Did you think you were the original bad girl honey? or were you judging the book by it's cover?" She asked me laughing.
I didn't say a word as she handed the joint back to me.
"I'll be downstairs waiting when you're done, get whatever you'll be needing and come down when you're ready. I can wait as long as you can." she told me as she smoothed the front of her dress.
I sighed and stayed where I was smoking and thinking. I cried and cried and when there were no more tears I stood up and looked around my room. I grabbed my two huge CD cases and my portable CD player since I didn't even feel like disconnecting my stereo.
When I got downstairs Satin was sitting on the couch waiting for me. When she saw me she stood. We left and drove back to her house in silence. I stole glances at her and silently wondered just who she was. When we pulled up she opened the garage and parked her sleek little car inside before closing the door again.
There was a jeep in there too and I had no idea if it had been there all along or not. As I passed the front of the Jeep to enter the house through the inner door of the garage I touched the hood. It was cool and hadn't been recently parked, but that fact told me nothing we had in fact been gone for hours. I was nervous what if my father was in there?
When we walked in the door there was a man standing in the kitchen, when he turned to look at me I felt as if the bottom had just dropped out of my world. It was more than a little disconcerting to see your own features on the face of a stranger, and even more alarming when that stranger happened to be a white man. I looked from the man to Satin and then back again.
"What the fuck?" The words were out of my mouth before I could think about them let alone stop them.
"I take it you didn't know I was white?" He said with a smile.
I just stared at him, I didn't know what to say. Instead of continuing to stand there like a moron I walked past him and ran through the house and up the stairs. I couldn't believe this, overnight my life had become The Jerry Springer show. If Satin turned out to be my sister I was going to go berserk. How could my mother have hidden the fact that I was half white from me for more than a decade and a half?
Being emotionally drained and coming down from my marijuana induced buzz had me asleep five minutes after I collapsed on the bed. I awoke the next morning to Satins low gentle voice calling my name as she shook me awake. I opened my eyes and glared at her.
"Come on Billie get up we have to get you to school." she said brightly as if it were good news.
I sat straight up fully awake "Get me to where?"
"School." she repeated
"Are you kidding me?"
"No honey I'm not I know you've been home schooled but I now that you're going to be living here your father and I think you need to go to regular school and have some structure, some rules and some friends your own age."
"You're out of your mind." I told her laying back down
"Come on get up," her voice had a harder edge this time but I ignored her turning my back to her in case she didn't get the message.
I was nearly asleep again when I felt cold water complete with ice cubes drenching my head and upper chest. I jumped out of the bed and stood there glaring at her.
"Oh I see you're up." She said as if she hadn't just drenched me with a pitcher of ice water, she had damn near drowned me.