A light tapping noise alerts me to the laundry room window, where I find my sister, uncle, mom, and aunt, staring up back at me.
“Open the window!”, my aunt insists, her voice hovering somewhere between a whisper and a holler.
The laundry room is connected to the kitchen, which also connects to an outside door in the hallway. I assume that once I open the window for my aunt, she will open the door for the rest of my curiously eager family members. I still do not know why they are here — nor why they are attempting to climb through the second-floor window of my father’s house — but I know far better than to ask too many questions. I open the window, and the plan proceeds as intended.
Once inside, my family members convene in the computer room, a den full of old VCR tapes, floppy disks, and whatever my father decided to sell on eBay that week.
“What’s up, Dara Puggins?”, my Uncle Carl teases.
“It’s Dara HUGGINS!”, I playfully insist, feigning anger.
I knew my Uncle Carl knew my name, but I always took the bait anyway. This, as I fondly recall, was simply how we greeted one another.
“Come here, Ms. Puggins”, he calls again, motioning for me to come give him a hug.
I obliged. My Uncle Carl was a quiet man — moderate in height, but large in presence. His warmth, rather than his stature, defined his presence; and this was, in part, due to the natural comparison to the woman standing beside him: my mom, and his sister.
“Carl, leff har alone!”, my mom loudly chimed in, joining the ritual. “Come here, Dara Melodi.”, she said, with a loving sing-songiness in her voice this time.
Dara Melodi. My mother always paired my middle name with my first name, as if to remind me that it was there — that she gave it to me. As the story goes, my mother and father found my name in one of those African name booklets that were so common in mid-90s New York City. They chose the name Dara for its supposed Swahili meaning, “the beautiful one”. Then, they added the Melodi (with an ‘I’, ok?!) to incorporate my parents’ shared love for music. The beautiful song. That was my name. I was always a bit embarrassed by how much more beautiful my name was compared to the person it was assigned to. I just couldn’t imagine myself being important enough for a name like that. I hadn’t earned it. But all the same, it was my name, and I damn sure answered to it.
I had not seen my mother in a year, at least. So discreetly, but intently, I scanned my mother’s face, then her body, and then her face. Her hair is different, I notice. Once short and blonde, her fine, coily hair now shone a fiery red. I quietly marvel at how beautifully gaudy the color is, especially on her muscular, stout frame and dark skin. My mother looks strong, and she is.
“Jesus Christ, look pon mi pickney head…”
My hair is not up to code, it seems.
Unlike my mother, my father took a more laissez faire approach to maintaining my appearance. Every so often, my Aunt Carol — my father’s youngest, adopted sister — might show up to braid up my hair (never without a few pops in the head from unsuccessful attempts at securing hair bubbles, no less) and that was the end of that. If we can be real with one another, Reader, more often than not, I looked like Donnie from The Wild Thornberrys.
My mother had been sending clothes for me. Ralph Lauren dresses, Ralph Lauren socks, Ralph Lauren polo shirts, hair clips, bows — all the things a little Black girl might need to go into the world looking respectable. My mother had been sending clothes for me, and she now realized that I had received none of it. She could’ve owed them rent, with all the hours my mom spent in Macy’s and Burlington Coat Factory, diligently racking up a layaway balance on clothes for her kids. She had sent clothes for me, and my father got rid of every last bit of it.
Of course, at the time, I didn’t know any of that. As far as I was concerned, my mother was living comfortably in Florida, having a grand ‘ol time while I suffered in New Haven under my dad’s watchful eye. It didn’t occur to me that she was thinking of me at all, actually. After all, she had left me in Connecticut with my father — who I hated. She wasn’t worried about me!
But the truth of the matter was, my mother spent her last dime making sure that her daughter knew her mother hadn’t forgotten about her. And she had sent clothes, for me.
Now, all of a sudden, she was back.
Apparently, my mother was taking her daughter to Disney World, with or without (read: completely without) my father’s permission. This, come to find out, was why I was being abducted from my own house in broad daylight by my own family.
I wasn’t even mad at it.