It would be chocolate, velvety and smooth. The ice cream would be chocolate and ice cold but would go down soft and comfortable. Though not my favorite, it would be mine, and it would do. After I had my fill I would take it to Brooke–there, I would taunt. He does exist.

Her father lived with her and loved her plainly, but I didn’t know that then.

You. Promised.

When you made the statement the first time I could hear the truth in your words–I mailed you a cake. There was no humor in your voice, no indication of the bodies surrounding you, laughing at your mischief and my naïveté. They, those that surrounded you and knew about the little speck of dirt that you could not out, must have laughed heartily. You must have turned to them with your cheshire cat grin and reveled in their laughter. You must have heard my voice made small by immaturity and youth and you must have held your own laughter back for so long it hurt.

I did not hear the laughter then. I only heard your promise.

With the innocence of a child I took your words and tucked them near. They were, after all, a promise and promises were kept.

On the first day I tumbled from the bus barely aware of a scraped knee. The mailbox gleamed like an oasis in the heat of a desert. There was nothing there, and my mother confirmed that no gift had arrived. She did not tell me that it would never come. She has never said that.

She has never called you what you are.

I wondered after the third day of nothing whether or not the box was too small. The house was tiny, little more than a box itself. I imagined your house would be grandiose and I would have a room of my own there, should I ever be invited to visit. I hoped that the decadence of a cake from you would be placed in a box that may not have been worthy to receive it.

I waited by that insufficient box for weeks. At one point, briefly, I blamed the box.

The loss of my innocence was private and wrought with despair. At an indeterminate point after my birthday hope left like a vapor. The cake that you promised would not come.

Your words ate at me as an acid until all that was left was the rawness and the realization that not all promises are kept.

I took your name from you then. You were daddy before. Unearned merit and unquestioned love. You lost both.

An eye for an eye.

I spit out your name—Jonathan—like poison on my tongue. I do not hold it too closely and for too long.

Jonathan—when I was ten you picked me up for Christmas. I was homesick and wanted to speak with my mother. I begged to call. You dragged me across the line into Florida and I asked if we could see my dad’s family—he earned what you lost, you see—because they had his blood and in that way I could be close to someone who loved me.

You said I could call soon. You did not promise, then.

You gave me $50. More money than I had ever seen. Because it was Christmas I wanted to buy you a gift. It did not occur to me that you would not wish to receive it.

In the way of macaroni necklaces and trees made of sloppy handprints I assumed that you would love anything I chose.

I did not know then that love was a promise that you would not keep.

From the bins of TJMaxx I chose cheap cologne. It smelled of pine straw and slow death, but I selected it for you.

Your face froze when you unwrapped it. You met your wife’s eyes and you said, “thanks” through gritted teeth. My heart sank and my cheeks burned.

Later, as we prepared to leave, I saw the cologne left on a dresser, already forgotten. Cast aside and awkward.

Something else you did not want.

I did not cry for you when you lost your mother. I considered it. I remembered her as a one-dimensional figure. One who refused to properly name me. In her nasally voice she called me “Reenie” and her voice did not harbor love for me.

She, like you, could not pretend. In this way I suppose we are kindred.

In the recesses of my brain I wondered if I hated you. I wished I could. Every good story needs a villain. But you are not my villain. You do not belong to me.

Still, I could not cry. I did not know her.

I do not know you.

I shed you like an ill fitting skin when I was one and twenty. The words tangle now in my mind, but you did not question them then or now. I wonder what you must have said. I wonder what words you twisted to form me. I wonder how I appear in your recollection.

I wonder if they still find you laughing. Do you remember that cake?

You carry me as your albatross. When we pass invisibly through each other’s lives we react differently. I recoil. I know your sting and I do not wish to relive you.

You bend under the weight of your burden. Your mouth forms stories and you create an “us.” Promises not meant to be kept creep from your tongue because you have not yet learned to keep them at bay.

My mother has hope when she rings. “Nicole,” she calls me, and I hear her words dripping with honeyed love. “He wants to reach out. Let him.”

“Jherine,” my dad says, his words a smooth salve to the pierce of another lie from you that only I can see, “you owe it to him to hear him out.” I am angry with you for lying to them. I can bear the weight of your lies—my shoulders were made strong by them. They should not have to, and I want to protect them from you, as I protected my daughters. To them you do not exist.

Shhh. I would not wish for you to make a liar of me.

You reach across the years and these are your words:

The Saine family reunion

is being held in Dayton

on the weekend of July 21

please put it on your calendar.

Nine years of nothing. You reach out and you cast across a mass message. It reads as a curse, your mass message. I chuckle humorlessly and I type, “I will respond to this soon.”

I want to create words for you, to construct you. I want you to see yourself in whole and in truth. I am no longer seven or ten or any other age that found me cowering under the weight of being unloved by you. I am who I grew into naturally, but not in spite of you. Because of you.

And you. Unnamed to my children, sad stooped figure of my recollection, caught interminably in his own web of broken promises. Can you remember them all?

You are as you always were. A man as good as his word.

Invocation: Pretty For a Black Girl

HERE words form haphazardly, and they are the jagged breath of a dying man. The last one will spray onto the page and its stain will linger, but it will seem that there was more to say. They will be crude and unvarnished and raw, but they will be.
When God was still alive I would have petitioned a favor.

Help me, I would have begged. I would have swallowed thickly and my throat would have ached and I would have felt a deep and abiding embarrassment in my chest; it would have seized my heart and for a moment I would see clearly my mortality, and I would have pressed any negative thoughts past that which I thought God would have seen. My link to hm was tenuous, torn asunder by the mere thought of wrongdoing.

Help me. I would have begged. Please help me write.

I would stare blankly at the page then and wonder if the first words should be a dedication to him, God, if I might be smote to the depths of hell if I did not. But the words I gave before were all that I could muster, and there was never room or word enough for God.

I did not receive the favor. My prayer was too low in my chest, or perhaps he was too high to reach, or, more likely, he had already died. My words, secular though they were, were my own.

I would invoke the muse, had I one. Move in me muse. Sing in me muse. My mind would travel to paradise and I would be lost in it and I would imagine them, the words, erupting like spring blossoms or spilling out like awakened virgins, but when the pen pressed against the page the muse would have gone, or she would have sighed into another missive dedicated to the boy whose eyes locked with mine or the dance that I wouldn’t be allowed to attend.

Here instead I remember yesterday and tomorrow and I grab the words that I know and mourn the loss of ones long gone and yearn desperately for the arrival of ones that will free me.

I will look in the pages beyond and see my body and myself and I will be pretty and intelligent and whole and pretty.