He was pointing a knife at me. I had just rinsed the soap from my favorite stainless steel pan; the one I boil fresh beans in every morning, when I turned to find him stiff armed and resolute. He had not been his usual self all week, ever since that segment on the Sunday news. We had all watched it together like we were witnessing the debut of what was going to be a long and successful acting career. After all, he was the star of the segment. They called it Sunday’s child. Made me think of that rhyme, “but the child who is born on the Sabbath Day, is bonny and blithe and good and gay.
We were all gay as we turned on the television set and munched on the chips we dunked in the salsa I had made special for the occasion. I drank a coke while he and the other children sipped from juice boxes. We were antsy as we suffered through the last of the real news stories before we would get to his big moment.
He enjoyed being the center of attention. He shook his leg trying to calm his stage fright. I was so happy that he was getting this chance. Now maybe he would find a permanent home with a loving couple who would cultivate his naturally inquisitive nature into a high achieving member of society. I hoped that the couple who would see the segment and fall in love with his happy face and athletic body would be black, so he would look at them and see himself.
I had taken him in when he was eighteen months old and showered him with the love I had given to my own, now grown kids, and the other foster children we had taken in when our nest became empty ten years ago. I relished the first time he spoke, looking at me and saying “Mama.” I took pride in his ability to make friends easily and his natural curiosity about the world around him. But I knew it must be hard for him to look at our family and see the brown skin and wavy, black hair that our grandparents carried with them from Mexico. At five years old he was starting to notice these things.
After an endless series of commercials, his segment began. We all clapped with joy when they showed the first shot of him. His smile lit up the screen. I turned in time to see that same look on his face as he stared at himself. They showed footage of him playing on the beach and climbing the monkey bars. The other kids patted him on the back. He was a star – at least in our house.
But then the man’s voice narrating the story became serious as he told us, and who knows how many other thousands of people about how our star had been born in the county jail. In all of our excitement that unpleasant fact might have slipped by us, but the narrator continued to report more heart breaking information about a mother who was a crack addict and multiple-offender. My mouth fell open, my heart raced. It took too many seconds for me to comprehend the blow being delivered to him. It took me too long to grab the remote and turn the segment off. It was too late to erase this memory from any of our minds
He was the first to try and save the day. He played the celebrity and boasted how he was the only one who had been on t.v. I hoped that he was as they say about children, resilient, able to forget a bad taste in the mouth as soon as he put a better one against his tongue. I refused to see how with each passing day he grew more quiet, less playful.
As I washed the dishes, I asked him to put the dirty napkins in the trash. I heard him say “no” with a particular venom in his voice. I put my favorite aluminum pan in the dish rack to dry, and turned to scold him, discovering the knife in his little hand. I was relieved to see it was only a butter knife. But the anger on his face vibrated through my body and my knees buckled. I begged him to put the knife down but he stood his ground. I don’t know what would have happened if my husband hadn’t walked in.
The knife hit the tile floor with a dull thud and he ran out the back door. My husband held me tight. He did not ask for details. He did not say anything. But I knew what he was thinking.
A few days before Christmas he was taken from our home. I never saw him again. My husband and children were full of anger and fear. I knew they had never seen him as one of us like I had. I knew there was nothing I could say so that he could stay with us
Now each Christmas fills me with melancholy. I wonder what ever happened to him. I wonder if he remembers me whom he used to call Mama. I wonder if he ever found that couple and made that perfect life I had pictured for him. I hope the system didn’t fail him the way I did.