Once, in the smooth-surfaced beige and yellow kitchen of her newly married husband’s house, I told my mom that she wasn’t – couldn’t be – black.
My sweat-soaked, black and red, practice basketball jersey clung cold and stiff onto my drying skin and I slumped aggressively down on a stool at the glass kitchen table, dangerously rocking it off balance. Hungry and pissed with no coherent, articulable reason, I settled and watched as my mom hung the landline telephone up – ending her work call (“I got a phoner”) with a startling and authoritative CLACK – and returned to the stove with a flourish of the spatula and theatrical sprinkling of salt. Her back faced me as she buzzed about a flickering stove fire, becoming slowly engulfed in swirls of grayish steam wafting thickly up and around her, clouding the overhead stove lights.
“You’re not black, mom,” I say in a resigned, offhand tone as my eyes intently follow the frizzy, light-brown ringlets sprouted out of the carefully managed nest around her head. I had already run the calculations and her reaction appeared crystal clear in my head. She sharply turns her head toward me, spatula brandished, and releases a single loud, “HUH!”
“What?! J, don’t every say that to me again.”
“You’re mixed,” I tell her calmly, “Like me.” She squints at me.
I gesture at her with my hand and, with a condescending smile, “Look how light you are, c’mon!”
She drops her hand with the spatula and shakes her head emphatically. “No, you’re mixed. Both my parents are black.” Crackling oil suddenly spits high up into the air above the pan behind her.
We drop it.
We eat dinner with my stepsister and stepdad.
My phone rings.
I press the green button and bring the Nokia to my ear.
A calculated, jovial, and familiar voice blares dangerously loud in my ear and I look up quickly to read my mom’s face.
She heard nothing.
“What’s up, Adam,” I say in a low tone then press the phone to my stomach and stand up.
I slip away from the kitchen table, walk into the bathroom, close the door, look in the mirror,
I don’t remember the conversation I had with him after that.