Mrs. Yocum called me
down to her office today. She's the counselor at school who I
have to go to once a week 'cause I'm on
some "At Risk" list that I saw once on the secretary's desk.
(Ronnie Kline, Marianne Ferlinghetti, Sam Katzenbach,
Danita Brown--and some others I forget--are on it, too.)
Most of them have substance abuse next to their names,
but I have financial/single parent--father/possible medical?
next to mine.
Anyway, when Mrs. Yocum called me in, I sat
in her big green chair, and she sat
across from me in her big blue chair--
blinking at me like a mother owl through her oversize glasses--
and it all started off as it usually does,
with her asking me about my stomachaches
and if I had raised my hand more often in class
and if there was anything particular on my mind I thought
I needed to talk about.
Then all of a sudden she asked me if I
miss you. She never
asked me that before, and I couldn't make the words
come out of my mouth, they seemed to be
stuck in my throat, or maybe they were just tangled up
with the rabbit I seemed to have swallowed
that started kicking the sides of my stomach,
desperate to get out.
I guess it must have been four or five minutes we sat there,
her making notes in her folder
and me with that rabbit
thrashing around my insides and still no
words coming out.
I started to draw on the top of my binder,
like it seems I always do
when I don't know what else to do, so I
didn't notice that she was trying to hand me
a red leather notebook (this very one I'm writing in),
and she said: "Georgia, why don't we make
a deal? I will excuse you
from coming to Guidance for a while, provided--
you promise to write down your thoughts and feelings
at least a few times a week
in this diary. You don't have to show it to me, or to anybody,
unless you want to,
and it might be a good idea if you tried--sometimes, or
all the time if you want--
to write down what you might tell, or what you might ask,
if she were here."
So, Momma, that's how I've come to start
writing to you in this pretty red leather diary
that I keep in the drawer of my nightstand.
But I'm not sure what I'm going to tell you, 'cause my life
is not all that interesting, but anyway
it will fill
a few minutes after school
or maybe that half hour or so
after dinner, after homework, after doing the dishes,
when I'm stretched out in the back of our trailer and Daddy
is trying to keep the TV down so I can fall asleep
but loud enough so he can still watch
whatever game is on
and I'm trying to remember what it was like six years ago
when we were a family
and Daddy was happy
and you were here.
Today I turned thirteen.
As usual for mid-February, it snowed a little bit, then the
sun came out like a tease, 'cause it never got above
As usual, it was just me and Daddy having my birthday dinner
at the fold-down table in the kitchen.
I said I could make chicken, baked potatoes, and peas,
but he brought home a pizza after work
(with anchovies and green peppers)
and we ate it right out of the box so it'd stay hot,
'cause it wouldn't fit inside our oven.
Then Daddy carried in a cake
he'd been hiding in the closet, but when he
uncovered it, he got mad
because a heat vent was right next to it
and the icing around the edges melted
and the "Happy Birthday" ran all
over the middle until it looked like
a big pink puddle.
But I didn't mind. Last year
he forgot my birthday altogether until
he saw the mail and the annual
$20 bill from Great-Uncle Doug in Atlanta.
The cake was good--chocolate with chocolate icing.
I had seconds and Daddy did, too, and I know
you would've joined us.
Afterward, I went through the mail and I
got a card and the $20 bill from Great-Uncle Doug.
The card had a clown and balloons and was really made
for a little kid, but still,
it was nice of him to remember.
Daddy gave me those jeans I'd seen in the Army Navy Store,
a new pair of shoes,
and a "blank inside" card like he always does,
one with a flower on the front, same as always,
and his big, slanted lettering inside:
Can I tell you something, Momma?
Every year since you died, I've been waiting for him
to write Love, Daddy inside,
but after all this time
I think I should wake up and stop
Copyright © 2007 by Jennifer Bryant. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.