by Jac Jemc Read author interview June 27, 2011
When I was a child, people told me I had pearl eyes. I’d rub my sandy fingers in them, sure that was the only way to keep them smooth and beautiful.
I don’t remember my momma, but I remember being kept warm on dark, windy beaches, and I know that must have been her. If you’re asking if I remember her face though: no.
I remember the face of my first home after her. I remember because I had to decipher it, so I could predict when it was time to run and when it was time to hold still. I remember that face thinking I should know more than I did, and punishing me for it, either way.
I remember the pink, pulpy flower face of my grandma. She didn’t try too long to keep me. It took them a while to find her, and when they did, she took some convincing to think with her own mind I was hers. On the first day, she called me Little Bird, but by the second she’d started seeing her daughter in me, and the darkness dipped in.
I remember the expiring Phoebe family who took me in, all of them withering like they’d gone without for too long. How they convinced the state they could stand another child was beyond me, but then my roots were shallow, and they were getting more cash than the raising of me required.
In a lot of ways I felt like a velvet bag of marbles loosed on a hardwood floor. I’d been scattered so quickly that there was no time to think about what direction to go. There are days when I try to look back at my childhood to remember something, but it’s hard to pick out moments. It feels like every time I was placed with a new family is just a layer of the time before.
I remember the kingdom of heaven and finger touches on my forehead like belief could seep through my skin, deep into my brain coils, and me asking questions and being told the Lord would provide any answers I needed, and scowling at being denied the opportunity to learn.
I remember listening to phone calls the blond one made to my case worker, lie-telling about some capsules she planted in my bag, and me, too young and too shy to know how to pin it back on her, but then if I won that case, if I proved I wasn’t lying, the outcome would be no different—either way they were putting me in another home, and that’s what everyone wanted.
I remember what it was to be read stories before bed, and hearing about how Goldilocks found a house where she didn’t belong, but before the bear family kicked her out, she at least got some warm food and a good nap in. I remember believing that story more than the other fairy tales, because there was no happily-ever-after, just Goldie running off into the woods, and the bears left to deal with the feelings of their privacy having been breached.
There were houses with locks on the insides of rooms and houses with locks on the outside, and I was used to feeling trapped either way.
I remember outgrowing clothes and repairing split seams myself. Every time I repaired a split seam, the shirt was a little smaller, and I tried to swipe clothes from my siblings, from my foster mom, but they’d swipe back and so I’d eat little of what was put in front of me for dinner, in the hopes of better fitting the clothes the next day.
I remember the man that would play the drums in the night. I’d go downstairs to tell him I couldn’t sleep, and he’d beckon for me to come closer. He’d breathe his warm beer breath on my head while he hugged me and said he was sorry. After I’d tucked myself back in, the rhythms would start again.
It seemed to me that an instant’s rallying glow is numbed when you dwell too low. I remember, after a hard rain that broke through the roof, being forced out onto the earth, and the wind wearing away half of my complexion. I began with an old-fashioned heart, but it was demolished every time. I grew hard.
I remember the family that put the video tapes back in the wrong cases, so when I thought I was going to watch a cartoon, panting men and shrieking women filled the screen with all of their skin colored shapes.
I remember my teeth falling out my head, and no one telling me they would grow back bigger and stronger. I remember trying to match my mind to each home, and thinking it wasn’t normal to adjust my opinions so much. I remember learning the continents for school and thinking that if you define something big enough, it’s harder to recognize the changes.
I remember the moment I learned that one day they’d believe I was capable of caring for myself, and I remember the counting. I remember running away, trying to prove I knew better. I remember being brought back, and knowing it would only be days before they’d find a new home where they could lose me.
About the Author:
Jac Jemc lives in Chicago. A chapbook of her stories is forthcoming in April: This Stranger She'd Invited In (Greying Ghost Press). Her first novel, My Only Wife, will be out from Dzanc in 2012. She blogs her rejections at jacjemc.wordpress.com.
About the Artist:
Becca Fischer is a photographer and barista in Chicago. You can see more of her work at IceCreamCastles.
Like what you read in SmokeLong? Consider donating to us. $3 helps a writer get paid.