When my grandmother was pregnant her husband came home angry enough to hit her. She barricaded herself in her room with her wedding trunk. He shot through the door with a double barrel shotgun.
In second grade I was picked because of test scores for a free spot at the magnet school, which meant crossing the freeway to go to Morningside Elementary. Already then he had moved away, married another woman, but we went to visit him at summer, and my mother ushered me in front of this man I’d just met, had me tell him proudly where I’d be going to school. He said, “You can’t go to school there, that’s where all the black people are.” Except he didn’t say black people. I must have heard the word before because I knew what it meant. But I had never heard it used before, like how you might use a circular saw, for a purpose.
When his father was dying my father arranged to visit. Time had not been kind; he was blind, missing a foot, prone to seizures that would kill him any day. The day he was to leave, my father got a call. His father said that he had never told his newest wife about his first marriage. He wanted my father to tell anyone that asked that he was just an old friend—not even family.
I was named after him. I have filed his name off of mine like a serial number on a gun. I would do anything not to be him. I would shoot holes in anything or anyone that said otherwise. I would use whatever tool I had at hand to draw a line between him and me. I will tell you if you ask that he’s not my family.
This piece was originally published in The Boiler in April of 2016.
J. Andrew Briseño is Assistant Professor of English at Northwestern State University of Louisiana. He holds a PhD in Fiction from the University of North Texas. He founded and coordinates the Cane River Reading Series, and is Series Editor for the Katherine Anne Porter Prize. His work can be found or is forthcoming in Smokelong Quarterly, Waxwing, and Acentos Review, among others. He lives and works in Natchitoches, Louisiana.