I didn’t used to have to prepare myself to see him. Before the trench coat and bail bonds and scabs. Before the lies and the red-rimmed eyes, and the snot strolling toward his lips. Before the pleading for mom’s car payment and before the blue-eyed baby was taken away and mom’s dreams turned to nightmares turned to 3am house cleaning. Before I had to bleed the venom from my fangs so I didn’t scream into the receiver or into your face, “Leave mom alone!” Before you lived in a tent and in a van and before you stretched your hand out for change and we prayed for it. Before you sold Daddygrand’s map like a sheet of paper. Before every sentence was propaganda, and I had to plan what I’d say if you asked and what I’d say if you didn’t ask. Before I sat in this car beside mom two hours from home waiting to give you this plate of cookies, these birthday cards with the cash that we know better than to tuck inside. Before mom and I make small talk for an hour and pretend we aren’t wondering if you’re feet first in a metal drawer and before a woman’s voice finally answers your phone and says, “I’m sorry.” And before we sit for another ten minutes because if we move we’ll puke or cry or both and before I hug mom in my driveway and know her car will be a submarine for the next 40 minutes. Before I stand at my kitchen sink scrubbing knives after dinner and my phone asks, “Have you talked to my dad? I texted him for his birthday and haven’t heard anything back.” Before I had to answer. Before that you were my big brother, my fishing partner, the second half of a duet.
B. Bilby Garton is a Pacific Northwest writer who enjoys hiking and studying native conifers and edible plants. She has been published in Brevity, Cleaver, Bending Genres, FEED, and others. Her work was nominated for Best of the Net 2020. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org