C.P. was the oldest and the most deserving of my father's name. Maybe that was why he never trusted me through the years. As if I were one up on him from the get-go. They say that on the day I was born he was hunting those woods up behind the stone house, searching for the beloved whitetail, the coveted venison that would one day be brewing on the stovetop, helping to feed a family of seven, and soon-to-be-eight.
Mother surrounds me. It is only through sleep that I can escape, but she will not let me sleep. Just when my eyelids begin their heavy fall, another contraction ripples through me. Throughout the years, my drowsiness will vex her. She believes it a wanton sign of slovenliness. With each thrust of her hips, she pushes me further away; the soft pressure against my face like pink gum tissue, gives way. She squeezes me out and through the narrow chasm, the tight fit, the tug and push, the heave-ho, the grunt and groan. Her nails dig into the tick mattress.
They say her heart may have given way a little that day, the tissue scarred in the struggle. It may have been at the moment when her watery blue eyes went to the ceiling, where the cheap tiles were. Hatred wells up and then dies down, like the kettle of hot water Grandma has boiling on the stove. It was the life of hard work, what Reverend Terry called God's plan of suffering for redemption, the sorrow that would remind us to care for others. Not so. Not so. Because this sorrow made her mean and guilty, this sorrow would cause her to bring the rod down across my neck and make me cry out and the tears come flooding into both of our eyes, her looking down at me, much in the same manner as she now looks at the ceiling. I knew it wasn't me she hated, not me, really, but God and His plan, the plan that kept her in servitude all these years.
Yet C.P. sat on, oblivious to all, waiting up beyond The Icy Pines, in the gray, chill November twilight, the day I was born, the month my older sister Audrey was born too. Me and her, both November's children, her first, then fourteen years later, me, on this day. C.P. sat next to the dark curtain of woods, waiting for something to emerge. Snow drifted down from those low skies, and a pallor spread over things, in what was to be the metaphor of me for the first fifty years or so: damp, cold earth, leaden skies, short days, long nights, waiting to be born; the picture will be framed on my face throughout the ages in the scattered remnants of photos at a place I sometimes call home.
He waited for the buck that never came, until he finally walked toward home. The air was damp with approaching winter, this dark day, the twentieth of November, the early part of the evening. I was still inside Mother, trying to break free, my emancipation causing her to wail and turn her head from side to side. Her thin hands clutched the sheets. She still wore the thin white gold band, that which had kept her with my father all these years, as he slipped into drunkenness and forgetfulness.
The courthouse bell struck seven times, as C.P. made his way back, walking down past the gravel pit that yet remained, playground of my early years; walking was he, down one of the many Joyce County two-tracks, 30-30 slung over his arm; he was a young man of seventeen, flat top, dark-eyed, handsome, sturdy. Past mother's window he went, but not before pausing to listen to her groans, as I awakened to life.
Grandma held me up as if I were a prized chicken and gave me my first swat, bringing the first of my tears.
"He's such a skinny thing," she said.
"Yes," Mother said. "Just a little bird. Give 'em here."
"What did you call him?" my father said. "You can't call him that. I ain't gonna have no bird in my family. Let's call him John. Name him after his poor ol' pap."
By this time, C.P. had stomped the snow off his boots and was standing there in the doorway, peering in, and catching the tail end of the conversation. "You can't call him that, Pa. I'm the oldest. That should've been my name."
"Never you mind," Mother said.
Grandma handed me to Mother. She took me and hooked me up to her breast. "You can call him whatever you want, but he's always going to be my little bird. My bird."
"John Dee will be his name," my father said. "My last and my first."
"The last shall be first and first shall be last,' Grandma said.
Mother ran her coarse, dry finger across my cheek. She said it again, "Bird."
I closed my eyes. I smoothed my face. I fell back to sleep. I tumbled headlong into the chasm. There I would remain, hopefully.