Seeing Reconstructions of Myself

By Georgia Bell

georgia-bellA loud noise startles me. I turn around to the face of Janet, the elderly woman whose home we would be working on.  She yells at an old truck screeching by and it comes to a rickety stop. Janet’s anger resembles my grandmother’s temperament if I touched something that was forbidden.

Fortunately, her lioness voice wasn’t directed at me. She was yelling at Gus, her husband who was driving the truck. The interaction was so comical and heartwarming that I could barely contain myself.  I came to Mexico, Maine for one week to renovate Gus and Janet’s house. The construction project became a mirror into my past, cementing the connections of humanity. I was in an impoverished town of Maine and knew no one but my 20 fellow Parish volunteers.  In this strange place, familiar moments rushed through my mind.

Most people I saw were poor. They were also white, like my mother, but they would never have guessed this considering my brown skin, a shade lighter than my fathers’. I never thought anything of my parents being different races-until one day when I was 8. Joel, a classmate, pointed out that all the other black kids had black moms. “Georgia,” he yelled across the schoolyard, “your mom, she’s white!  I think you’re adopted.” This shook me to the core.  I began to notice people who stared when I was with Mom in the park or the grocery store. For the first time I felt alone, like I didn’t belong.

I have grown beyond that inner unrest of having a biracial family.  However, the stares in Maine carry me back to that time. Here, they are staring at the rare sight of a black person. There were so many opportunities for my mind to wander while working on the house. Break, pull, scrape, breathe repeat. Each movement was a small part of a deliberate pattern, break the drywall, pull down the pieces, scrape the excess from the wood, take a breath and repeat. The attic was a cloud of dust, particles and pieces of wood, drywall, and insulation. I wore a mask to protect myself from the toxins, but I often would opt for a breath of fresh air after finishing a wall. Sticking my head out of the open window, I inhale the fresh, crisp Maine air, hinted with the smell of the meadow behind the home.

I saw the mountains in the distance, the tops speckled with the little bit of snow that survived the hot summer temperatures, the pine trees and finally Janet and her husband. Each time I took a breath, I would witness a different scene in the play of their lives: arguments, laughter, Gus’s kind attempts to help us work and their eventual retreat to sit on their little blue bench which overlooked the meadow.

Yet another flashback: Dad prepares to leave the family for 31 days for a business trip to India. On departure day, his eyes grow with expectation, trust and vulnerability.  I had never seen that look on his face before. I grew anxious. When he finally spoke, a wave of noxiousness crashed over me. “Okay George this is it, game time.  I need you to look after the family when I’m away, your mom, your sister, even the dog. I don’t need anything bad happening when I’m away, because I won’t be able to get to you. I know you can handle this.”

At that moment I realized that I was the successor, but its role carried much more weight than just its title. I had assumed the role of caretaker, leader, and relief giver and once again strove to take on this role while working in Maine.  Gus and Janet opened their home to us and I was moved to do everything in my power to provide them with relief just as I would for my own family.

Georgia Bell, a freshman at Howard University, is a graduate of Milton High School.

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