We'd spend the night at my mom's house. She was setting up pallets for the boys on her living room floor. I'd assured her Dave wouldn't mind a cot in her study; I'd be happy in the guest room. The next day, we planned to take her to Disney World with us. I could see us on the Mad Hatter teacups, spinning, screaming our heads off, ecstatic. The Mad Hatter had been my favorite ride when I was a kid, and later, when I worked at Disney. No ups and downs, no scary things jumping out at you as you churned through dark water tunnels with strangers. You just spun.
Then maybe the boys would go swim in the Atlantic while I stole away to give my speech on the writing process. My speaking engagement was how we were paying for the trip, but I was keeping the talk a secret from my mother: I didn't want her to come.
The last time she'd seen me speak in public was when I was a graduate student and she visited a class I was teaching on Hemingway's short fiction. She'd promised to sit quietly in the back, but she raised her hand anyway. "Didn't Booth Tarkington sell more copies that year? By a long shot?" That evening, she supplied me with a numbered list of twenty-three items "to work on." Make more eye contact. Learn the students' names. She'd tallied the number of times I'd said um.
I felt bad about it, but I didn't want my mother in my world. I was never sure what she would do.
Dave felt it was important I work hard on getting along with her, let her have her way. "She's seventy-three years old," he kept reminding me. "Value the little time left."
So we'd have quality time with her, I'd do the speech in Winter Park on the sly, then I'd take the boys and Dave to my twentieth high school reunion. Dave felt this was too much for one trip, but to me it felt like success, redemption. I wanted my parents and my entire high school to see that everything was okay, that I'd turned out great. Anyway, to be around my parents, we needed a schedule, plenty to do. We had to keep moving. This was the extent of my worry. I was proud of this handsome man who was in love with me, and I was in love with his kids, whose grades had gone from Ds to mostly Bs since I'd come into their lives. As the four of us walked into the airport together, I felt, for the first time in my life, normal.
As we queued in security, Jacob pressed through DO NOT ENTER emergency-only glass doors at the new checkpoint, sending Kent County International Airport Terminal B into lockdown. An alarm buzzed and would not stop buzzing. Men in black uniforms ran toward us from every direction.
"Didn't you see the signs?" a guard demanded. Dave bristled. David Junior assumed his favorite tae kwon do stances, the fancy forms, high block, low block, banking off the row of seating, and posing, striking air.
Jacob clung to the other side of the glass, stranded. He shrugged his shoulders nervously. He looked scared and sorry. He placed his hands on top of his head and shook his legs out, one after the other.
We were moved to a much later flight.
It was pitch-dark when we landed on the shimmering runway in Orlando.
"Am I turning here, sweetheart?" Dave said. He squeezed my thigh in a way that I hated. "We're coming up to a red light," he said. "Where am I going?"
"Go left," I said, hoping for the best. Curry Ford Avenue? I knew something from my childhood happened on this street. Curry Ford. I didn't know where it was exactly in relationship to where I needed to be. I rolled down my window. The October air was sweet. The last time I'd visited, it was summer, and Fred and his brother Donny had been on what they always called a fishing trip, their name for a bender; there was never any traveling or any catch.
"You seem a little tense," Dave said, stroking my arm.
Excerpted from You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers. Copyright © 2010 by Heather Sellers. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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