All Stories, General Fiction

The Name of the Game by Frederick K Foote

I fucked up. I did. I admit it. I messed up bad. Some have even accused me of child abuse, and those accusations have come from members of my own family. You might have heard something about this mess already. Now, what I’m asking you to do is set aside whatever you heard and listen to what I have to say. I did mess up, but I wasn’t alone, and if you get the backstory, it might help you understand what went down.

Tamika Morris was my first wife. She was three months pregnant when we got married. Tamika said to me, “Roscoe, this is all on you. I’m only 17. I’m way too young to be a mother. I got things to do and places to go.” And Tamika was true to her word. She did as little mothering as possible. However, I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The month before Tamika was supposed to deliver, both Black grandmothers came at us at the same time and put us on notice that the baby’s name was going to be Heather.

“Grandmas, you are losing it. I’m as black as a boot, and Tamika ain’t far behind. Heather is a White girl’s name. Why would you want to stick your Black granddaughter with that kind of pain and shame?”

“Grandmother Number One said, “My Roscoe, don’t miss a beat. Do he? He drove his garbage truck past that Junior College five days a week for years. And it shows. He’s smart as a whip.”

Grandmother Number Two adds, “Of course, it’s a White girl’s name, fool. We picked a White girl’s name to give our granddaughter an edge. The competition out here is a killer. Heather will get her job interviews when you and my daughter’s applications end up in the round file.”

“Okay, but an ebony Heather is going to catch hell from Black and White kids. Has your grandmother’s brain trust thought on that?”

Grandmother Number Two snarls, “Boy, you had better watch your tone of voice. There ain’t no free lunch. Heather is definitely going to have to pay some dues.”

Tamika interrupts, “Wait, wait just a damn minute. Why the hell did you give us ghetto names? Why didn’t you give us a goddamn advantage?”

Grandma Number One tells Grandma Number Two,” Slap the Black off that girl. She was raised better than that.”

Tamika barely dodges Grandma’s swat at her.

Grandma Number Two says, “We were young and stupid. We trying to help you two avoid these mistakes. You should be thankful for us.”

They both say “Amen.” in unison.

Tamika says, “Well, it ain’t up to you or me. My husband, Roscoe, is the king of this castle, and his decision is final. I stand with my husband whatever he chooses.”

The three of them laugh so hard at that statement that they got tears in their eyes and piss in their panties. And that’s how our Black daughter became a Heather.

Tamika and I barely made it a year before we did a mercy killing of our marriage. She did not contest my petition for sole custody of Heather.

About a year after I divorced, I married Mary Hampton, a friend from elementary school. I guess I must have a thing for marrying pregnant women. Mary was four months pregnant when I married her. Mary was one of those snow-white, White girls. And her baby’s father was White also.

That was not a big deal for me. I was just glad to get a friend, and helpmate for me and a mother for Heather. Mary was looking for the same kind of deal.

Mary and I discussed names for the new baby. She said, “We need a name that will connect her to her black culture.”

“Mary, she’s White.”

“Yeah, but her father and sister are Black. She is going to be a part of Black culture too.”

“What names did you have in mind?”

“I’m torn between Lawanda and Augusta.”

“Augusta? Who the hell is named Augusta?”

“Roscoe, you need to brush up on your Black history. Augusta Savage was a famous Black sculptor who—”

“Okay, alright, I’m not naming her after a golf course. But I’m telling you right now, we all are going to live to regret this. Mark my word.”

So, that’s how we got a White daughter named Lawanda.

And, of course, the grandmothers had to get in on the act.

Grandmother Number One said, “These babies are going to be confused as hell. A Black baby with a White mother and a White baby with a Black father. You couldn’t have created a crazier mess.”

Grandmother Number Two added, “And you got the names ass-backward. Why in God’s name did you do that?”

I replied, “You demanded we name Heather, Heather.”

She said, “That’s before you got a White baby.”

And grandmother Number Three adds, “I told Roscoe and Mary time and time again when we were all living in the projects that they were meant for each other. If they had followed my suggestion, they would have two nice brown babies together.”

Mary and I tried to do things right. We adopted each other’s child. The other parents made no objections. In fact, they both appeared in court to support our petitions.

Mary and I ignored the grandmothers as best we could. However, there were somethings we couldn’t ignore.

Like, the three times in one week, when Mary went to pick up Heather from daycare and the daycare worker bought her a White Heather.

Mary was so frustrated that she took a picture of her, Heather, and me. She labeled each of us, and at the bottom, she wrote, “My Family.” Mary made sure that that picture was posted prominently on the staff bulletin board.

The next day, sure enough, they bought her a different White Heather.

My Mary is persistent and creative. She took that same picture and had it made into a five-inch campaign-style button and pinned that button on her top whenever she went to pick up our Heather.

Mary would show the button to the staff when she arrived, and, lo and behold, about 90% of the time, she got the right Heather.

When I picked up our daughter, it was about 50-50 whether I would get a Black or White Heather. I couldn’t understand what the confusion was. The daycare manager explained it to me. The staff was traumatized by Mary insisting that they bring her daughter on the first try. The manager asked me to select a new daycare because dealing with our family was much too stressful for her staff.

“Mary, I knew there were going to be problems naming her Heather. And here we are without a daycare.”

“Don’t be small and petty like that, Roscoe. Be helpful. Find us a solution.”

Grandmother Number Three had a solution. Her niece, Jo-Ann, ran a daycare center about three miles out of the way, but Jo-Ann knew us. Problem solved.

##

Grandmother Number Two said, “Heather is dark black, got bad hair, and ain’t cute in any way, shape, or form. Life is going to kick her little Black ass.”

I replied, “Bullshit! Heather has bright eyes, a sharp mind, and knows what she wants. I suggest that you not get in her way—ever.”

Mary said, “Heather’s love is unconditional and infinite. We are all fortunate to have her in our lives. She’s beautiful in every way.”

Grandmother Number Two said, “You two blind fools deserve each other. Just understand how others will see her and keep her safe. I pray for us all.”

Despite what I said, I shared grandmother Number Two’s apprehensions.

Heather fooled both of us.

Heather was a line of sight, straight as an arrow child. She knew what she wanted, and she could focus on getting it. She had more patience than any child I ever saw at every age of her development. And that made a lot of difference in preschool and school. If you know where you are going and you proceed with determination, people will follow you. You will be a leader whether you want it or not. It seems that most people don’t know where they want to go nor have the persistence to get there. Folks said negative and positive things about Heather, and she understood those remarks. She evaluated them in relation to how they helped or hindered her ability to get where she was going. Even at the age of two, her playmates understood it was not a really good idea to get between Heather and her objectives.

I think she got this attitude from Tamika. Her birth mother was single-minded like her mother and her siblings.

The other thing that helped Heather succeed was Mary’s boundless love and happiness with her adopted daughter. It wasn’t just the love—they enjoyed each other. It was like they bonded on day one. And the sight of them together made my world complete.

Grandmother Number Two put it like this, “Roscoe, you fall into the shit pile and come out smelling like a rose. You need to go to Vegas with that kind of luck.”

##

Lawanda was way different. She was a troubled pregnancy, difficult labor, with a post-delivery hospital stay due to serious heart issues.

And Mary had problems nursing Lawanda. Lawanda had frequent medical appointments to monitor her heart issues. And our new daughter was a colicky baby.

And there was something else going on too.

Grandmother Number Three identified it the first day we brought Lawanda home from the hospital. I took a screaming Lawanda from her mother, and the baby stopped crying. In a few minutes, she was sleeping in my arms.

Grandmother Number Three said, “That’s daddy’s girl. No two ways about that.”

Lawanda was slow in meeting developmental milestones and, at times, seemed to space out and lose contact with this world.

She was a meanderer. She started in one direction and changed her direction so often that it was hard to figure where she was headed.

I know Mary loved Lawanda, but they didn’t get each other like she and Heather did.

I didn’t get Lawanda either, but I knew she was something special, and I didn’t have to get her for us to get along just fine.

##

When Lawanda was three, I picked her up from preschool as usual. Lawanda launched herself at me like a tiny, guided missile as soon as she saw me. She was slow to walk but was quick to learn how to run. And she was fast.

I gave her a head start to our car. I would catch her and pick her up and run to the car with her in my arms. It was a ritual. All the preschool staff and the other parents knew it. But somebody didn’t or didn’t approve of the ritual because they called the cops to report a Black man kidnapping a White child.

On the way home, I stopped at KFC to pick up dinner, and in front of me, there was a Toyota Rav4 the same color and year as mine. By the time we got our food, the other Rav4 was a block ahead of us and just crossing the intersection when three cop cars with sirens and lights blocked him in. Cops leaped out of their vehicles with guns pointed at the car.

I turned off the street to go around the cop’s roadblock. 

I was three blocks from home. Lawanda and I were discussing who was going to get a drumstick when I had to slam on my breaks to avoid hitting the squad car that squealed to a stop in front of me.

A pair of cops leaped out, screaming and pointing their guns at me. Another squad car joined them in seconds, followed by another. Each of them discharging armed cops moving in my direction.

I rolled down my driver’s side window. I stuck my hands out the window. I yelled, “I have my three-year-old daughter in the back. Don’t shoot. Please don’t shoot.”

The cop closest to my side of the car was red-faced and screaming, “Put your hands on the steering wheel! Now! Now! Now!”

For a moment, the sounds of a helicopter drowned out the voices.

A cop smashed in the passenger side front window and demanded I get out of the car.

The cop on my side of the car was still telling me to put my hands on the steering wheel.

Lawanda let out a piercing screech.

The cop on my side moved his gun in her direction.

I screamed, “No!” and opened the car door.

The cop turned the gun back on me. “Stop! Don’t move. Don’t move motherfucker!”

“My baby is in the back, please.”

I was dragged from the car and placed face down on the asphalt. The temperature was 101, and the street must have been ten degrees hotter. I was frying in the street tar.

Someone was kneeling with their knee in my spine.

Someone put a gun to my temple.

Others kicked me repeatedly when I turned to look for Lawanda.

The crowd saved my life. They screamed at the cops, “You are cooking him on the street, man. Let him up. Get him up.”

“I know them. I know them. That’s his daughter. What are you doing?”

“Why are you kicking him, motherfucker? You need to stop.”

And the news cameras and telephone cameras saved us.

They charged me with resisting arrest, assault on a police officer, evading arrest, and obstructing justice.

They jailed me for four hours. They ignored my second and third degree burns and didn’t give me any medical attention. They never questioned me or told me why I was stopped. They wouldn’t tell me what they did with Lawanda. I didn’t know about the alleged kidnapping until they released me from jail without apology or explanation.

Grandmother Number Three and her lawyer got me out.

Mary was trying to free Lawanda from social services with a lawyer supplied by Grandmother Number One.

Ten hours after the cops stopped us, we were all back in our home. We all slept in the same bed. We were exhausted.

The next morning, I got more of the story.

The Rav4 the cops had stopped two blocks from KFC was driven by Ruben Santos, a tan, 5’7″ tall legal resident from Honduras. Santos had a baby seat in his car. He was beaten severely, grilled on the melting street, and held for immigration services. His car, like ours, was impounded, and he was charged with resisting arrest and assault on a police officer.

I’m ebony-colored and 6’1″ tall.

I saw the post-arrest pictures of Santos. Man, they messed him up hella bad. We were in the same emergency room at the same time for our injuries, but we didn’t meet.

I talked to him once on the phone. We both cried.

I thought the worst was over. What more could they do to us?

Tamika filed for custody of Heather. She claimed that my household was inherently dangerous because I was a Black father with a White daughter in a racist, violent-prone society. Our attorney said Tamika had no standing to sue because she had given up her parental rights, but there had to be a court hearing to establish this fact.

CPS took our children pending a hearing. CPS claimed there was evidence (my arrest) to support Tamika’s claim of imminent danger to our kids. That’s what you probably remember about us. The case made international news. Tens of thousands weighed in on social media.

Mary and I were devastated. The Grandmothers picked up the slack. They got our kids back, in their custody, pending our hearing.

Tamika was shattered. She never wanted our kids in custody. She thought she was finally being a good mother.

So, I was wrong to believe and to encourage Mary to think that I could be a good father and husband in the USA no matter the color or race of our children. I was a fool. I admit it. I fucked up. I studied Black history. I knew better. I just fooled myself into believing different.

We now live in Trinidad in Tuna Puna, where Grandmother Number Two has relatives.

I’m not okay yet, but I will be.

Mary is doing better than me.

Heather is sorting it all out. She’s trying to figure out who’s responsible for trying to destroy our family. I pity that person.

Lawanda has been the tender glue that has held us together. She is our amazing grace.

Oh, I thought we were over this, but we just received the results of the district attorneys, attorney generals, and FBI investigations of the incidents involving Mr. Santos and Lawanda, and me. I can summarize. The cops did nothing wrong. There is no basis for any criminal actions against them.

When we heard this, Mary and I just held each other and vowed to not listen to any more news from the Red, White, and Blue place.

Good luck to you and yours in the US of A. I think you are going to need it.

Frederick K Foote

Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay

5 thoughts on “The Name of the Game by Frederick K Foote”

  1. How strange – This is the only story I have read that has people as numbers and for whatever reason it works – What the hell!! How does ‘Grandmother one work when you writes it Fred, when others who use’ Boy one’ doesn’t??
    Maybe it is that I accept your characters would use these terms where some of the other stories we have received is all about some shit generic reasoning????
    Anyhow, so powerful. Having to take a picture of the family is disgusting. The actions of the police, well, we know this is fiction but unfortunately we know this fiction can and will have been fact in some similar way too many times.
    Brilliant and harrowing!!
    All the very best my fine friend.
    Hugh

    Like

  2. Wow! This is so good!
    The story meanders from taking stock of an interracial family to the devastation of being one.
    It’s really sickening how being a darker color can give the whiter ones a right to interfere and make their own sick assumptions. Disrupting and destroying a family that was just minding their own business. Moving away, a sad but better option.
    And the grandmothers are hilarious but backbones of support. Such an honest and creative piece of writing! 🙂

    Like

  3. Absolutely stunning! Someone should nominate this story for a Pulitzer or something. You can definitely write, I was hooked from start to finish. Did I say absolutely stunning? Because it is.

    Like

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