Excerpt from Somebody's Daughter by Ashley C. Ford, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Somebody's Daughter

A Memoir

by Ashley C. Ford

Somebody's Daughter by Ashley C. Ford X
Somebody's Daughter by Ashley C. Ford
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  • Published:
    Jun 2021, 224 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Callum McLaughlin
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Print Excerpt

Somebody's Daughter

My mother wanted to be with her boyfriend. He wanted to be with her too, but there was distance, and youth, and there always seemed to be some other woman involved. It would not last between them. He'd come into her life quickly, and he left the same way. The culmination of the first phase of that relationship, the baby, my second brother, was born without ever breathing. My grandmother said he was born small and gray, with an exposed serpentine spine. When she repeated this story, she would push up her glasses, wrinkle her nose, and use her index finger to make a wavy line in the air to illustrate the curve of his body. She said my mother held him for hours, kissed the top of his head, rocked him against her chest.

My mother hadn't wanted to have another baby, not without being married. But abortion wasn't an option, and he kept growing inside her. My mother could not fathom what kind of good Christian woman would end the life of a child, even if she was in no position to provide for him, and my mother very much wanted to be a good Christian woman. Still, she did not want to be pregnant. And when the baby was born already dead, she blamed her desire to be free for his passing. She named him after his father. She did not mark his grave.

My mother came home to us raw and all alone. My grandmother told me she sat in the bathtub for hours, bleeding into the water. She stared into the space between herself and the walls, her body purging its sin, staining the off-white fiberglass. Her silence worried my brother and me for reasons we couldn't grasp just yet. He and I would sit close enough to hear the water make small splashes when she adjusted herself, making sure she wasn't giving up on breathing or living, that she wasn't giving up on us.

On the other side of the door, my mother sent noiseless prayers into her bathwater, repenting in spontaneous expulsions, oblivious to the world growing red around her. Grandma and my mother's sisters wanted her to be well. They took her back to see the man who had delivered baby Darrell and the hole in his back. They told him my mother's symptoms because she'd lost her voice somewhere down in her chest, somewhere they couldn't reach in and grab it. She'd stopped trying to find her voice days before. She was content in her silence, in her bleeding, and in her inevitable demise. The doctor told my grandmother it was psychosomatic. My grandmother called him a quack and a demon.

He said, "There's no reason for her to be bleeding anymore. She's using her mind to punish herself. She won't get better until she chooses to get better."

Someone decided my brother would stay with my mother, and I would leave with my grandmother. We moved to her father's, my great-grandfather's farmhouse in Columbia, Missouri. A few years later, when I couldn't quite remember the worst of this time, I'd ask why I was sent off with Grandma Billie before kindergarten. I would be told, "Because you said you wanted to go."

I disappeared into a new life in Missouri—a life without either brother, living or dead, and a grandmother who put strawberries and whipped cream on my waffles without blood under her nails. There was no one for me to protect or worry over. I missed my mother, but less and less every day. To keep me company, I had a dog, a goat, and a great-grandfather who threw hammers at wild pigs in the backyard then paid me two dollars to collect the tools and bring them back in the house. It was a game I thought my brother might enjoy, but I tried not to think of my brother too much. When I did, I felt sick with missing him. I couldn't forget him if I tried.

My grandmother and I had our own routine. I had school and day care all week, and I got to see a movie and get one toy on Saturdays. We alternated picking the movies, and when it was my turn, I could pick whichever movie I wanted, all by myself. I was electrified by the power of my choice, and made my decisions based almost exclusively on the posters outside the theater.

Excerpted from Somebody's Daughter: A Memoir. Used with the permission of the publisher, Flatiron Books. Copyright © 2021 by Ashley C. Ford.

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