Six weeks ago, Junior cut our son’s hair so short I could see his brown skin ripple beneath the fuzz. “Mira!” Max-Yamil yelled as he pulled one of his father’s knitted caps off of his head. Junior wore a brown-and-beige-striped cap in the frosty delivery room the night Max-Yamil was born; I remember it hovering above me as I labored. On Sundays, he always sends his son back to my house wearing one from his collection.
Max-Yamil is handsome enough to pull off a crew cut, proving my theory that the diversified genetics of mixed-race children render them better looking. My current boyfriend informs me that in a post racial world, parents will wait to find out the race of their children the same way they used to await the discovery of their sex. I resist the urge to tell him that it is already like that—how, the night he was born, Max-Yamil’s aunt marched into the delivery room, unwrapped him from his receiving blanket, and examined the color of his testicles to determine the future cast of his skin. “The only thing we can’t know,” she whispered to me in Spanish, “is whether he is going to have good hair or bad hair.”
“It’s growing back curly!” Max-Yamil squeals, devastated. He is standing on a footstool in front of the medicine cabinet mirror. He’s naked, and only five years old, but his shoulders already insinuate the build of his father. Sometimes I smooth my palms over his chest with longing.
“Don’t tempt the negro in me,” Junior would say in Spanish just before he hit me. He backed me against bathroom doorways, into bookshelves, across stairway landings. He clocked me hard with his knuckles just above the hairline where the bruises wouldn’t show.
Today Max-Yamil reports that Diamonique, his classmate, told him that he was African. “Because of my hair,” Max-Yamil says. “Well,” I say, stalling. He pulls the globe off the dresser in his room. He finds the island of Puerto Rico and taps at it with his index finger. “Abuela lives here,” he says. “This is where I’m from.”
The night I told him that he had to leave, Junior stood in the nursery gripping the rail of Max-Yamil’s crib and staring blankly at the globe sitting tilted on the dresser. “I wanted to build a castle with you,” he said in Spanish. He looked me in the eyes then, let go of the crib rail and brought his fist down hard against the globe.
I gather Max-Yamil in my arms and sit the globe on his lap. I explain that many many years ago the Spanish settlers needed workers for the sugar cane fields and that they brought these “workers” over on boats from Africa. “They must have paid them a lot of money to come all the way from there,” he says. His fingers trace the route of the Middle Passage slipping into the cavernous dent left in the Atlantic Ocean by his father’s angry fist.
Lindsey Birdsall Brown studied Creative Writing at Hollins University and SUNY Brockport and teaches Spanish in Rochester, NY. She has a poem forthcoming in the anthology Love Rise Up edited by Steve Fellner and blogs at lindseybbrown.blogspot.com.