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“Schwayzee, when we finish up here remind me to take you shopping. You’re spilling outta that top and it ain’t cute.” Mom speaks to me like she is rejecting a homeless person asking for money. She looks so beautiful with her red dress and her hair done to perfection, but you can’t put water in a fancy bottle and call it wine.
The bright June sun glares angrily at us as we walk together down the busy streets of Chicago, weaving about aimlessly. Mom doesn’t speak to me and I don’t speak to her, yet I feel so close to her. As we walk, she critiques me. We have a routine. In the morning, I dress myself and wait for her in the living room. I wait for her to tell me that I look beautiful. I wait for her to smile and say, “Wow, baby. You look gorgeous.” She never does. She instead takes me to her closet and plays dress up with her life-sized Barbie. She shows me how to walk in four inch heals and gives me eye makeup that will make my eyes look dramatic. I hate the face paint she passes off as makeup, but I love the time we spend together.
“Oh girl, your cheeks need rouge. Remind me to give you some when we get to the courthouse.”
“Okay, mom,” I smile. Why are we going to court? I conger up reasons as we walk.
I look into the distance I see Genevieve and Daddy. Daddy looks so handsome in his navy suit. He stands tall with broad shoulders. His appearance is so dominating but comforting at the same time. I look at my mother to see if she notices. Her face loses some of its glow, but she quickly recovers. She’s seen them. I watch Daddy tense and release before saying something to Genevieve. Her face twists then she smiles. As we walk closer I can see the shine in her eyes. It’s been a month since I’ve seen her, I miss her. Whoa, I never thought I’d miss her this much. Just last month I was wishing her dead for using the last tampon and not telling anyone.
We seem to be headed to the same building. My mind fills with a million thoughts, but I have no time to sort through them all. Mom reaches the door first. She opens the door and steps inside letting it close gently behind her. I stand outside and wait for Daddy and Genevieve to get here.
“Hey Genevieve. Hey Oldie-locks.” I give Daddy a hug and he squeezes me back. Genevieve smacks me on the butt and joins the group hug.
“How’ve you been holding up, babe?” Daddy asks. I tell him just about school, that’s all he cares about. I can tell he isn’t listening, though.
“Oh, and I’m pregnant. Congratulations, daddy! You’re gonna be a Grampa!” Genevieve laughs and we enter the building.
“Ooh, sounds lovely.” Daddy says, looking through the glass door at my mother. She’s standing by a security guard. Her left hip is protruded and she’s sporting a pout. She wiggles her body and the security guard’s loose slacks become a little tighter.
Once inside the building, we head towards security. I kick off mom’s black pumps and step through the metal detector. I look around the lobby of the courthouse and take in the sights. Floors once white, now beige from constant wear and neglect. Tired women stand with their gangs of children, trying desperately to hold on the beauty they once had. Nervous men with fresh cuts stand in their suits, they stand together as they would on a city corner. Everything sounds so loud and harsh. On the other side of the detector stands girl no older than myself. She’s holding a happy little baby.
“Dwayne, you know I love you. We’ll be right here when you get out.”
“Aye, girl. It ain’t no thing.” Dwayne gives her a kiss. “We gone be fine. We gone go home and be a family. Me, you, and him. I ain’t no punk, I’m staying wit’ you for my son.” Dwayne points to the baby. The girl bounces her child back onto her hip as Dwayne turns on his heel and stumbles into the courtroom. She follows him with her eyes and then begins to cry. My mother touches my arm.
“Put your shoes back on and let’s go.” She speaks harshly.
We go to the elevators and my mom presses the up button. My heart stops, then picks up, then dies. The elevator doors open and I step in. And Genevieve steps in. And mom and dad step in. The air in the elevator becomes completely still as my parents silently curse one another.
You miserable woman, it’s your fault we’re here. Trying to take me for all I’m worth. Get a job and support yourself.
I would have a job, in fact, I could be more successful than you, but you just had to go and get me pregnant. I spent my better years watching your da** kids!
It takes two to tango, chick!
Mommy, Daddy. Please stop it.
The elevator opens at the ninth floor. The toxic air that choked me on the elevator escapes and searches for a place to go. The air is clear and I take a deep breath.
At the front desk Mom signs her name and my name and Dad does the same for him and Genevieve. Genevieve and I are taken into a large, colorful room and are given nametags. Mine reads “Hi, I’m Rude” and Genevieve’s says “Hi, I’m a Genetically Enhanced Robot”. We laugh and stand in silence.
“Talk about your awkward silence.” Genevieve jokes as she takes a seat at a table with games. She motions for me to join her at the small round table. We play Trouble and Sorry in silence for about twenty minutes. Genevieve’s turn comes around, but she doesn’t take it.
“Genevieve, go.” I look into her eyes. She’s not there. Her jovial brown eyes are broken and gray. Her smile is nowhere to be found. Tears line her eyes, but they don’t dare fall. I look around the room before leaning in. “Genevieve, what’s wrong with you?”
She shoots me with her cold stare. “Schwayzee, you saw them! They didn’t say anything but they said everything. This family is so screwed up, and what I did only make us worse. It’s my fault we’re here!” Genevieve quickly stands and turns her back to me. I can’t see her face, but I know what’s happening.
“Genevieve, it’s alright.” I try my hardest to calm her down. I hate tears, especially hers.
“I can’t so back, Schwayzee. I love Ma, but it’s not healthy there. I know you want to stay there, but you’re gonna have to go home alone. I’m sorry.” She collapses into a large plush Mufasa from The Lion King and shakes violently. I hold my sister. She and Mom had fought before and they always made up the same night. But for some reason, Genevieve and Mom just couldn’t do it. Genevieve packed a duffel bag and left for Dad’s house a month ago and things only got worse from there. My sister needs me and I have no idea how to help her.
We’ve never been apart before now. If I went to camp, she went to camp. If she had a play date, she had it with me. If one of us had to pee, we found a way to share the toilet. The thought of going home without her kills me, but she’s right. She can’t go back home to Ma. “Genevieve, it can’t be that bad.” I try.
“You weren’t there, Schwayzee, you’ll never know. And now we’re here and we’re gonna have to go tell someone who we want to live with. Schwayzee, the next few hours can change our entire lives. We can’t mess up.” Genevieve’s use of the all-inclusive “we” scares me. It makes me realize, that I am in this, too.
“Yo, I know what you want, but I don’t have issues with her. True, I we don’t see eye to eye, but miscommunication is better than the neglect we’d get from Mr. Workaholic.” Genevieve’s eyes are swollen.
“Schwayzee, we’ve never been apart. Ever. This is scary and we need to be together. We have to make up our minds right now that we’ll never split up again.”
“Genevieve, why do I have to pick up and ship out whenever you want me to? Why can’t you just stop being a brat and come home?” I pause. “We don’t need to be together. We need to be in a place where we can flourish. I know where it is for you, and I know where it is for me.”
Genevieve sits up and nods. No need for words. We get up and sit back down at the table. “Move forward eleven spaces.”
Genevieve is called out by a middle aged Mexican woman with a generous bosom. They walk out. Gone for five minutes, but it seems like a lifetime. “Schwayzee?” I look up. Genevieve stands in the doorway. “She wants you.” I stand and walk towards her. “I did what I had to do.”
“Hey, I’m not mad at you.” I give her a weak smile. She sees right through me.
“Down the hall.” Genevieve jerks her thumb behind her. I follow its invisible path down a narrow hallway. It’s painted white with a teal-blue carpet. The plastic plants are turning waxy from over polishing. The floor moans under me and the ceiling is close to falling in on top of me. That’s right, God. Just let everything fall apart.
The woman stands in a gaudy print by her door. “Go on,” She makes a sweeping gesture with her clipboard. I pass her. “My, don’t you look beautiful.” She gushes. I’m disgusted. She offers me a seat. I take the one farthest from her, close to a large African doll. I smile at it, it’s missing an eye. She smiles at me like we’re old friends. “Out of curiosity and it won’t sway what I tell the judge, if you had to tell me which parent you would want to live with, which parent would you have in mind? Hypothetically.”
“Oh, sure.” I indulge her and give her my hypothetical response.
When I come out of the office, daddy is at the table with Genevieve and Wendy’s.
“I got you Coke and a burger, Shemp.” I smile at my old nickname and join my family. We catch up and for the first time in a long time, I believe daddy’s actually listening to me. My throat becomes tight and I quickly sip my Coke.
The faint sound of heels causes me to look up. Mom’s standing by the door. The fluorescent lights from the hallway cast a holy halo around her head. “Come on, Schwayzee. It’s time to get going. We’re gonna need a lot of time to hit up those stores.” Mom gives Genevieve a smile of acknowledgement. I stand to leave.
“I love you, Shemp.” Daddy rises from the table, tears teasing. I give him a hug and pretend not to see. A flood of emotion comes over me.
“I love you, too, Daddy. And I’ll see you this weekend.” I give Genevieve a quick wave and follow my mom out.
We step back under the unforgiving eye of the sun and make our way back to the car. Mom starts telling me about the security guard. I pretend to listen all the while watching the people walk around me in their seemingly perfect lives. I think about Mom, how close I feel to her right now. Then, I think about daddy. I love you, Shemp. I wonder if I made the right decision.