Can You Hear Me? – Anonymous
It was 3:57 a.m. Where are you, Daddy? I sat up on my queen-size, Care Bear-themed bed, looking down the hallway, listening to the bass rumble the trunks of cars and screeching tires fill the night with danger. Every evening my dad would stretch out on his stomach on my bed and I’d lie on his back as if he were about to give me a piggyback ride. That’s the way we watched our movie of the night. I’d fall asleep smelling his Chanel Blue cologne and listening to his long, deep breaths, only to wake up in the middle of the night and see that he was gone, out roaming the police-taped and candle-lit corners once again. As a seven-year-old, it didn’t really bother me. I knew he’d be back in the morning. He always came home to take us to school before returning to another day’s “work” in the streets. He’d sell drugs all day and night, then turn around and lecture anyone willing to listen about the people of Oakland being able to recite an entire Mac Dre song, but not one line from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s world-renowned “I Have a Dream” speech. This was my dad.
In the morning, I rush out of bed and into the living room. “Hey, Da–” He isn’t in the living room, wearing only boxers and his beautiful smile. I had been dreaming. I’m not seven years old. I’m eleven, and my dad has been gone for about a year now. It’s time me, my mama, my younger sister and brother wake up, so we can get ready for school and work. My dad has always been in and out of prison. This is the first time I’m old enough to realize that he’s actually in prison, not on vacation, as my mother used to tell me. I wish I could call my dad and hear his deep, soothing voice, but I can’t. So, suck it up, Jakaela, no sad emotions to be displayed today, or any day. Off to school I go, making sure that everyone is smiling this early in the morning by cracking jokes and bringing up the positives in life, just like my dad used to.
I’ve become immune to that sick empty feeling that bullies its way through loops in my stomach—the feeling formed by my father’s absence, my mother’s distance, and my teachers not paying attention to me. Every recess I stay in class after the other kids go outside to play. “Ms. Graham, can I tell you something?” I ask my fourth-grade teacher. But she doesn’t respond, her attention focused on the piles of workbooks and ungraded math sheets. “Later on today. I have important papers to go over,” is the response given to me from all the staff I attempt to reach out to. This leaves me with no choice but to keep going about my day, blocking out my emotions. All of this growing up I have to do, teaching myself to be an independent eleven-year-old, all because of my dad’s incarceration. Why doesn’t anyone seem to care about the children of incarcerated parents?
Even my weekends are affected by my father’s incarceration. I’d pick school over getting up at four o’clock in the morning any day. What kid, or human, for that matter, likes to wake up that early to be hauled into their mother’s roaring green Ford, only to drive hours away and sit in the freezing cold dark, waiting to get their last name on a piece of paper? All that, and your visit isn’t even guaranteed due to Santa Rita Jail’s limit on the number of visits per day. To my mom, getting a visit is like having a chance to meet the Queen of England. To me and my siblings, it is like walking through a haunted house. The large heavy doors guarded by goblins in black, towering over us, telling us to take off our shoes, jewelry, all things metal, and walk through their detector. “We’re going to see my daddy!” my little brother tells one of the creatures. “Shut up and go to your mom, kids,” it replies. We walk down a long hallway, hearing echoing voices. I sit in the waiting room, making sure not to touch anything, afraid one of the other goblins will see me and try to eat me. Eventually one hobbles over and speaks to my mother. She turns away from the goblin and tells us we’re leaving. No one bothers to tell us why we aren’t able to see my dad. What have I done wrong this time for them to keep him away from me?
I lie in bed staring at the cracks in the ceiling of my room, thinking of how stressful my life is without my dad here to tickle my rib cage and make the pressure go way. A thunderstorm of emotions builds inside me, growing bigger with each memory that passes through my mind: the time you showed me how to draw a money sign, the plan we came up with to scare mom by placing a rubber rat under her pillow. The thunderstorm is determined to wreck through the custom-built barriers in my throat and behind my eyes Why, Daddy? Why aren’t you here? If I wouldn’t have asked for Jordans or that pink four-wheeler, would you be a doctor instead? I’m sorry for asking for too much. Fighting back tears with the strength of a wounded soldier determined to make it home to his family, I eventually fall asleep.
The morning after my emotional battle in bed, I drag my eleven-year-old body down the halls of Piedmont Avenue Elementary School. I feel myself reaching my breaking point. I’m not smiling or laughing. I keep my distance from everyone, even the younger kids on the black-matted playground, who usually wait on me to hand them my green M&M’s from the king-size pack my mother gives me every morning. I sit underneath the trees on the moist grass area near the preschool. A group of girls from my class walk up to me, expecting a loud greeting, but receive nothing. “I think she’s sad because her dad doesn’t want her anymore. He doesn’t even drop her off now,” one girl whispers as they walk away. That’s it. I can’t take it anymore. Jakaela, stop! I scold myself. It’s okay. He loves you. No he doesn’t. He left me! He hates me! I made him leave. I begin sobbing uncontrollably. All of the pain, heartache, and letters full of truth, which I never had the courage to send, come flowing out of me. I am afraid to cry because of the icky throw-up feeling stuck in my tummy, but I can’t stop. Hours go by. I probably miss our math test and the Reading Buddies’ season with the volunteers. I think eventually my teacher will come searching for me, but she doesn’t. No one does. Why is it that even when aware of my father’s incarceration, no one thinks to ever check in with me or even listen to me when I try asking for their support? Shouldn’t someone help me deal with all of this? Don’t I have the right to support as I face my parent’s incarceration? That’s when I realize my feelings don’t matter. Up and to the bathroom I go. Time to wipe the blood off of my shield and get back to war.
Home, at least that’s what my mom refers to it as. To me, it’s just another battlefield filled with illusions and distractions. Mama goes straight into her room with the door closing behind her. Won’t see her for a while. She’s been such a stranger since my dad went to prison last year. If we didn’t look identical I probably wouldn’t even recognize her. She’s gone from a size sixteen to a size ten in just a few months. I barely see her. The times when I do see her it’s awkward, not only because she never looks up from the ground, but because I can’t look at her without having a flashback of the day my daddy was taken. The rare times she does talk I don’t hear her words. When she looks at me or speaks to me, I just see her falling apart on the day my dad was captured. I remember her screaming, questioning God and herself. She caught me peeking through the crack in the door, so I ran to her side, attempting to comfort her. I squeezed her as hard as I could, rubbing her back like the way she used to do when putting me back to sleep after a nightmare. She continued to sob and scream as if I weren’t even there. I know she appreciated me for doing this because after she calmed herself, she held me for thirty minutes before getting up and leaving to roam the streets as my father’s replacement.
Now that I’m older I understand what was going on. I wonder if she feels alone like me, but that I’ll never know. You see, my mom is like a one-way street. She consumes all the heavy things speeding towards her, but never releases any emotion back. I never thought about it before now, but I want to be just like my mom when it comes to my emotions. Today we’re closer than any other mother-daughter duo, mainly because of my father’s incarceration. When either one of us is down or slacking we’re there to motivate each other. I honestly believe that wouldn’t have happened if my dad hadn’t been gone for those four years.
Today I’m fifteen, and I’m still the same girl laughing and joking on the outside and constantly fighting myself on the inside. My dad has been out of prison for two years now, yet I still miss him. He’s not the dad I used to dream about. He’s changed from hugs and kisses to loud music and demanding our submission. Where did you go, Daddy? Err, Dad? Sir? It’s me! Your baby girl! Your money queen! Your princess! What made you become so different? Help me, Daddy. I’m dying, too afraid to show you the tears I’m crying. Now before I go to lie in my shrunken twin-sized bed with whatever sheets and blanket I can find, “Daddy, what movie do you want to turn on?” doesn’t leave my mouth. Instead, neglect fills my already broken heart, because by the time he gets home it’s time for everyone to get up and dressed. When I am able to stay up late enough to see him get home, we turn on a movie, get our cups filled with peach tea. But not even halfway through the movie, his head is tilted back on his chair, mouth wide open, eyes shut, leaving me with no other choice than to go lie down myself. Alone in my bed, surrounded by the gunshot-filled night, I am once again having to fend for myself, as my nightmares continue to win the fight. It’s 3:57 a.m. Where are you, Daddy?