GENRE: YA Alternate History
Tacked to the wall in a wooden frame, a rustic little impostor amid much finer furnishings, our family portrait mocks us. It tells us homesick tales of warmth and togetherness, of unexplored backwoods, life-gorged cities, and infinite blacktop roads. When Clay and Cecelia look at the picture, I know a taste of before still sits on their tongues, sweet and raw. But before is a world I never knew.
Clay’s chili bowl hair, as Cecelia calls it, hangs black and stark above his river-water eyes. His toddler image boasts a valiantly forced grin. What has grown in of Cecelia’s dark hair is held fast with a red bow. I see a mother I never knew who looks like none of her children, because Dad’s brunette and straight-nosed genes vanquished any suggestion of her Irish softness in us: the fair, freckled skin, curved nose, and walnut hair. Clay and Cecilia got her churning sea eyes, but mine are brown like Dad’s. The sun agrees with our golden brown skin, and we look like every Debrosse in recent memory.
I wasn’t born yet when this portrait was taken. I find it strange. The clean-shaven goofball in a turtleneck looks nothing like my dad. He's neither careworn, rough, and ranting about lost freedoms nor glued to a glass of high proof whiskey.
Imagining the world I never knew is disconcerting, so I don’t look at the portrait often. Clay chuckles at it every few months, making fun of our mom’s hair.
"Gotta love the 90s," he says.