By Shandrease Cushionberry
My father was a shadowy Moreno until the day of his funeral. He was what I would call a black Dominican. My mother is a black woman. I am her only child, her little black girl.
“Te quiero mi negrita,” she sometimes says to me.
And I smile, although I am not sure if I have accepted this title to be correct. What makes me a little black girl? Is it because of my color? Is it because of my heritage? Or is it simply because the world around me says, this is your truth? But I accept it. Half of my truth is missing. And I accept it.
I knew nothing about my father, except for what the framed picture that has sat on my mother’s cherry wood nightstand for the past sixteen years has told me. Not much. Not even a name. I knew I had his reddish-brown skin color. I knew I had his freckles. I knew I had his jet-black, wavy hair. My mother did tell me they married so that he could attain citizenship. She fell in love; she got pregnant; he left shortly after and they never divorced. I assume I have the strength of this nameless man, as there is no way I could have inherited such a mannerism from my mother. If I had, the perfectly aged gold frame would not be freshly polished and the picture would not still be there on the cherry wood nightstand, pristine, would it? But I accept that she still loves him as well as I accept almost everything else about my life.
I will tell you that I do not accept pity from others, as I do not feel that is fitting. So, if you were beginning to think of me as a poor little black girl, consumed with daddy issues, looking for love in all the wrong places, stop it. I was not, nor have I ever, looked for my father, a father figure or a father’s affection. My mother raised me fine. I have never wanted for anything and have been adored by her. So imagine my surprise when I received a phone call from a girl with broken English, three years older than me, saying she is my half sister and our father, Brache, is dying of cancer. He would like to see me. Try to imagine how intense this shock became when this same girl showed up at my door, all smiles, lighter complexion, mirroring me, freckles and all.
Her name rolled off my tongue like Rs do with a Spanish-speaking people. “Kedelin?”
Still smiling, standing stiff and upright, she hugged me, but not a church pat hug that you would give a stranger; a warm, tight, love-filled embrace, which only a sister could give to another sister. Then she gave me the news. Brache had died overnight and his funeral would be held in three days. She cried. I was insensitive to her mourning.
The funeral was held at a Catholic church. I was invited to sit with the family by a woman half my size in height that spoke very little English, the Other Woman. We walked by twos down the aisle toward the coffin. Kedelin clenched my hand, in support of herself I think, interlinking her fingers with mine. I stroked the top of her hand with my thumb because it felt like the right thing to do. Her skin was hot and her hand was shaking.
When we arrived at the front of the church where the coffin was placed, Kedelin kissed her father’s forehead lovingly, dampening his cheek with her tears. I wanted to do the same, but I could not bring my face to move. Instead, I placed my hand on his hand. He felt cold, hard and hollow, and at the moment I felt the same way for him. This was the first time I ever touched my father. He was without that one thing that made us alive; I am still not sure what that thing is. I stared at my father as he slept in death. He had changed since the picture on the nightstand. His hair was shorter and thinner with streaks of grey that spread out so right that only God could have done something so perfect. His skin was darker and his body was frail. It was not the strong man that I imagined to see, as only a strong man could have left my mother and me. The pain of our absence would have killed a weaker man instantly. My father was once a strong man.
Kedelin nudged me to move and we took our seats beside each other. When all the family was seated, two men began to close the coffin. Loud cries rang out, loving sobs, and screams of pain echoed throughout the church. The closing of the coffin made a thump and there was silence until a man started to speak in Spanish about Brache’s life. I caught a few words: credo, mal, dios, but that was about it.
The church was packed. Every person sat lifeless and completely respectful, as if waiting for their creator and their own death to arrive.
Soon it was over.
After the funeral family and friends talked animatedly. I received many holas, como estas, and mucho gustos. Kedelin stood close beside me translating the best she could. Finally, she said, “Let’s go outside.” We did. “So how do you feel?” she asked, looking at me as if I should have had some type of profound revelation upon seeing my dead father.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess I thought I would feel differently.”
She smiled, “How so?”
My voice trailed off. “I don’t really know.”
“I have something to give you.” She reached in the pocket of her black dress and handed me a folded piece of paper. I looked at her, confused. “Read it.”
My dear daughter,
I am writing this letter to you because I do not know what the future holds for you or for me. I want you to forgive me for not being there for you. There is something about knowing that you will die soon that makes you want to right every wrong. You were my greatest right and not being a part of your life was my greatest wrong. Forgive me for taking so long to reach out to you and forgive me for being sick and unable to take care of you. This letter is so hard for me to write because I know by the time you read it – there I go crying again – I will be gone. I love you, mi negrita. That’s what I said to you the first time I saw you and the day that I left, although I am sure you don’t remember. You were so beautiful and I was so stupid. Know that I will take you with me, wherever I go when my life ends. My love is always with you.
Te quiero mi negrita,
Smiling, I balled up the letter and stuffed it in my right coat pocket. “Let’s go join the family and eat, Kedelin.”
As we ate, I asked, “What is negrita?”
“Little black girl, why?”
I shrugged and continued to eat.
My name is Anny, their little black girl.
Category: Short Story