I don’t know when my daddy is coming home. He’s been locked up for a few months. We girls dress real nice in church clothes and make the ninety minute drive with my stepmama to see him in the work prison. He spends the whole Sunday afternoon talking to her about how to get home faster. We drag our feet around in the sand and wait. We try to play a game but it ends quickly when we realize we can’t get too far away from our reserved visiting area.
During the week I can’t focus on my teachers. I can’t make myself care about equations or the capital cities of foreign countries. Band class is fun and I quickly understand the circle of fifths and basic scales. My social studies teacher makes me sit in the hall everyday after lunch. She doesn’t want my smart ass comments disrupting class anymore. I never do my homework.
My pre-algebra teacher sends home a note stapled to a final exam at the end of the year. She tells my stepmama that I’m brilliantly gifted, but lazy. She says if I just did my homework I would have an A in her class. I have a 68 instead. The woman says she believes in me and suggests that I advance to Algebra 1 next year.
I write my daddy a letter and tell him that things are not the same without him here. I tell him about the algebra class. I tell him I think about him all the time. I tell him I worry about things. I tell him I can’t focus in school. I tell him things are a mess at home. He writes me back and says I better get my shit together. He also reminds me that I’m not allowed to have black boys callin’ the house.
I wake up late with a hangover to a mess on the floor. It’s my green messenger bag. It’s in shreds, along with a wet dry mix of papers and cardboard. Is it pee or slobber? The dog is napping in the middle of this mess. I realize quickly that I need to grab a bag and get out of here. My math exam is in 30 minutes. My phone rings and I answer it before I think about it. Now I’m trying to understand my little sister, but she’s crying too much. I throw everything in another bag and run out the door. I speed up I-75 to Central Avenue. All I get from this conversation is that my stepmama has thrown a bunch of stuff in the backyard and is threatening to set it on fire.
I tell her I’ll call her back after my exam. I walk into the small classroom and everyone is already faces down with pencils scribbling. I grab a blank test from the front and take a seat in the back. I get my pencil and rummage through the sack for my calculator. The entire exam depends on the functions of that small piece of technology. We were never taught any other way to solve these problems. I don’t have the calculator. It’s at home under the sleeping dog upon his throne of mess. I return the blank exam with my name on the top to the desk and leave. I don’t care that I just failed this class.
I withdraw from school later in the next semester. I move back to my hometown to be closer to my baby sister.
My older sister tells me that my stepmama is moving in with Granny. She’s too sick to stay by herself. She also has no money. I say that’s a good idea and to keep me posted on things. I’m one thousand miles away trying to live a new life. I’m taking online classes so I can stay home with my baby girl.
A few months pass and I get several sister to sister phone calls. We cry and we admit we cannot do anything else but wait. She’s in the hospital again and the doctor says it won’t be long. It’s Christmas time when we visit and she looks awful. Granny tells me she still goes out with her friends. She’s still using.
We visit again the next summer and she’s lost even more weight. She can’t remember things from one conversation to the next. We have a small birthday celebration for my daughter and her cousin and we set up an inflatable pool in the front yard of my sister’s house. We don’t let her hold the babies on account of the Hepatitis C, not to mention the things we’re not sure of. She smiles a lot and laughs and tells us how pretty we all are. We drive back to Pennsylvania from Georgia and my heart is heavy. I don’t know this is the last time I will see her alive.
A week after we return from our summer visit down south I get an early phone call. I see it’s my older sister and I know. I’m already crying when I say hello. We load up the car and drive the thousand miles home. I call my daddy and his new wife answers. I hate her. I say it’s Rose and I need my daddy. I can’t stop crying when I tell him she’s dead. He says he’s sorry and gets off the phone. I call my school advisor and tell him I will not be registering for fall classes. My life is too messy right now.
If I think real hard about it, I know I’ve had this calling for most of my life. I’ve gotten good at ignoring it. Until now when it’s the only thing I can think of. I keep telling God that I’m not the right person. I say I don’t even want to do this. I say this is a terrible idea and not what I want for my life. But, I’m agnostic I say. He reminds me that none of that matters. He says that becoming a minister is my purpose in life and I have to do it to feel whole. The narcissist in me thinks this might be right.
Some denominations require their ministers to be formally educated. They need a Master of Divinity from a proper school. The denomination I’ve paired up with is one such. I find out that I can apply for the MDiv without having an undergraduate degree. My seminary of choice admits a select few students under these conditions, following strict federal guidelines.
So I answer the short essay questions and write a three page personal statement. I complete all the required paperwork and send it in the mail. I call the school and schedule an interview with the Director of Vocations. During the face to face chat in her office, I blow her away. She makes lots of notes. I drive home feeling elated.
Later that day I get a phone call from Misses Director of Vocations. She wants to talk about why I started college twice and didn’t finish. She wants to talk about those AP classes I took in high school and how I got three’s on the exams earning college credit, but F’s in the classes. She wants to talk about ugly things that I don’t really want to talk about.
I decide to tell her the truth. I have to prove that I’m worth the investment of their time and resources. I talk simply and quickly about slowly losing my stepmama to beer and crack cocaine. I talk about raising my little sister. I talk about my daddy and his profession. I tell her that it took me a long long time to put these things in their places. To reduce the power they had over me. I tell her about the support system I have now and I talk about all the things I’ve learned from the Sanctuary Model of Care. I tell her that I ask for help now. She likes hearing that. Three weeks later I get an acceptance letter.
I put all those messes into a pretty little box and tuck that box away. I take it out and rummage through the contents now and then. Mostly when one of those messes can help me mother someone.
Agere Contra, friends