My mom says that I didn't sleep through the night until I was eight years old. It didn't make any difference to her 'cause she was up too, listening to the city. She says she used to come into my room, sit cross-legged on the floor by my bed, and play with my Game Boy in the dark.
We never talked.
I guess I thought she needed to be there. And she must have thought her being there made everything all better for me.
I get it now. I really get it.
We didn't need to say it. We didn't have to look at each other or even let the other one know we saw each other in the glow of the Game Boy.
So last week when it looked like Feather probably wasn't ever going to sleep through the night, I lay her on my stomach and breathed her in. My daughter is eleven days old.
And that sweet new baby smell ... the smell of baby shampoo, formula, and my mom's perfume. It made me cry like I hadn't since I was a little kid.
It scared the hell out of me. Then, when Feather moved on my stomach like one of those mechanical dolls in the store windows at Christmas, the tears dried up. Like that.
I thought about laying her in the middle of my bed and going off to find my old Game Boy, but I didn't.
Things have to change.
I've been thinking about it. Everything. And when Feather opens her eyes and looks up at me, I already know there's change. But I figure if the world were really right, humans would live life backward and do the first part last. They'd be all knowing in the beginning and innocent in the end.
Then everybody could end their life on their momma or daddy's stomach in a warm room, waiting for the soft morning light.
And this is how I turned sixteen....
Skipped school with my running buddies, K-Boy and J. L., and went to Mineo's for a couple of slices. Hit a matinee and threw as much popcorn at each other as we ate. Then went to the top of the Empire State Building 'cause I never had before.
I said what everybody who'd ever been up there says.
"Everybody looks like ants."
Later on that night my pops, Fred, made my favorite meal - cheese fries and ribs - at his restaurant. I caught the subway home and walked real slow 'cause I knew my mom had a big-ass cake for me when I got there, and I was still full. (In my family, special days mean nonstop food.)
I never had any cake though 'cause my girlfriend Nia was waiting on our stoop for me with a red balloon. Just sittin' there with a balloon, looking all lost. I'll never forget that look and how her voice shook when she said, "Bobby, I've got something to tell you."
Then she handed me the balloon.
Excerpted from The First Part Last by Angela Johnson Copyright © 2004 by Angela Johnson. Excerpted by permission.
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