Excerpt from Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Take My Hand

by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez X
Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
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    Apr 2022, 368 pages

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One
Memphis
2016

A year never passes without me thinking of them. India. Erica. Their names are stitched inside every white coat I have ever worn. I tell this story to stitch their names inside your clothes, too. A reminder to never forget. Medicine has taught me, really taught me, to accept the things I cannot change. A difficult-to-swallow serenity prayer. I'm not trying to change the past. I'm telling it in order to lay these ghosts to rest.

You paint feverishly, like Mama. Yet you got the steadfastness of Daddy. Your talents surely defy the notion of a gene pool. I watch you now, home from college, that time after graduation when y'all young people either find your way or slide down the slope of uncertainty. You're sitting on the porch nuzzling the dog, a gray mutt of a pit bull who was once sent to die after snapping at a man's face. In the six years we've had him, he has been more skittish than fierce, as if aware that one wrong look will spell his doom. What I now know is that kind of certainty, dire as it may be, is a gift.

The dog groans as you seek the right place to scratch. I wish someone would scratch me like that. Such exhaustion in my bones. I will be sixty-seven this year, but it is time. I'm ready to work in my yard, feel the damp earth between my fingers, sit with my memories like one of those long-tailed magpies whose wings don't flap like they used to. These days, I wake up and want to roll right over and go back to sleep for another hour. Yes, it is time.

Two weeks ago, I heard the news that India is very sick. I'm not sure what ails her, but I take this as a sign that it's time to head south. I know what it looks like. No, I am not going to save her. No, I don't harbor some fanciful notion that she'll be the first and last patient of my career. I have prayed about that. Please, Lord, reveal my heart to me.

I call your name, and you look back through the screen into the kitchen. You're used to my hovering, though each year you need me less and less, and I mourn the slipping. Soon it will be just me and the dog, an old lady muttering in that rambling, crazy way owners talk to their pets when no one is around.

But before we both head into that next chapter, we need to talk. You and I always have been open with each other. As soon as you were old enough to wonder, I told you everything I knew about your birth parents. I told how you came into my life, about the gift of our family.

I told you the story of your parentage, but what I didn't reveal was the story of your lineage. How you came to be. How you came out of a long line of history that defies biology. What I am trying to say is that your story is tied up with those sisters. The story of my welcoming you into my life, of my decision not to marry or bear children, is complicated. I have tried not to burden you, but I'm beginning to believe that not telling you the whole truth, letting you walk this earth without truly understanding this history, has done you a disservice.

I reach into the pocket of my dress and pull out the paper. Without opening it, I know what it says because I have memorized the address, mapped out the directions on my cell phone, and I know the route I will take. The car is gassed up, the snacks tucked into a backpack. The last of my carefully packed wardrobe capsules are squared off in a suitcase that sits behind the door. The only thing I have not done is tell you where I am going or why. You know a little about the sisters, about the case that engulfed the country, but you don't know the whole story. And it is time for me to tell you.

"Anne?" I call your name again. This time, I wave you inside.

Two
Montgomery
1973

There were eight of us. When I think back to the time I spent at the clinic, I cannot help but stumble over that number. What might have been. What could have passed. None of us will ever know. I suppose I will still be asking the same question when I'm standing over my own grave. But back then, all we knew was that we had a job to do. Ease the burdens of poverty. Stamp it with both feet. Push in the pain before it exploded. What we didn't know was that there would be skin left on the playground after it was all over and done with.

Excerpted from Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. Copyright © 2022 by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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