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    Chapter 1: Your Family

    Chapter 1: Your Family

    Key West, Florida - March 1997

    Dad appears to be lost in thought as he plans out our first day of spring vacation. He scratches his mostly gray beard while scrutinizing a map of local attractions. My brother Derek and I lean on the stone wall outside of the historic Banyan Guest House, waiting to receive the day’s instructions. Mom looks up from the six-page itinerary she put together for our trip, and upon noticing Derek and me standing together, pulls out her camera.

    “Now, get close like you love each other.” She looks at us expectantly, her piercing blue eyes and warm smile encouraging us to get close.

    Derek rests his head on my shoulder, and I make a half-hearted attempt to smile. Mom snaps the picture, and then I poke Derek in the ribs causing him to flinch. He scowls for a second, smiles, and then returns the favor.

    “Ok, Fort Zachary is a mile and a half to the West,” Dad says, pointing in the direction we are to walk. “From there, it’s a straight shot south to the Hemingway House and the Southernmost Point.”

    “Sounds like a great photo op,” Mom says.

    I clear my throat and ask, “Do you think we can look for a place where I can play some pickup basketball later?”

    Dad considers this, “We’ll see. Our schedule is fairly packed today.”

    “You don’t want to go to the pool later?” Mom asks.

    I shrug, “Got to stay in shape. Lacrosse season starts when we get back.”

    “Ok, everyone ready?” Dad folds up his map, adjusts his NPR-Radio baseball cap, which he uses to cover his balding head, and takes off. Mom and Derek fall in line behind him. I linger at the wall for a moment longer, basking in the morning sun, like one of the little lizards that darts around the shrubs. Derek, who is obsessed with reptiles, corrected me when I called it a salamander. Finally, I move to rejoin the family when I notice that Mom, Dad, and Derek are walking perfectly in sync, the family resemblance unmistakable. That stops me in my tracks.

    Derek has Dad’s lean build, Mom’s pale complexion, and a combination of both their mannerisms. With my black hair, brown skin, and dark eyes, I’m the only one who doesn’t belong in this picture.

    My parents have always been open about my adoption, but they haven’t been able to tell me much. All I know is that Mom and Dad adopted me 14 years ago, at the age of two, from an orphanage in Honduras, called La Guarida. The nuns who ran the place told my parents that I had been through a traumatic experience, but could not, or would not, tell them more. They knew so little about who I was or where I came from, that Mom and Dad had to choose a date of birth for me so an official record could be created. All they can tell me is that I was about two years old, shy, malnourished, and temperamental.

    Of course, I’ve always had questions about where I come from, but I’ve never bothered to ask them. I trust my parents, and I know they have told me all they can. But still, life’s unanswered questions have a way of eating at you. With no birth record or family history, sometimes I feel as if I had not been born but instead appeared out of nowhere.

    How lucky is Derek? People don’t look at him funny when we enter a restaurant as if there is no way the four of us could be a normal family. They don’t, because it’s obvious that he is their son. When I look at them now walking, the three of them seem like peas in a pod. But where are the people who look like me?

    A pang of sadness washes over me as an image of my bedroom window pops into my head. It’s late at night, and I’m sitting on the edge of my bed staring into the night. Tears trickle down my face as I whisper into the blackness four barely audible words, “Mom, where are you?”

    “Are you coming?”

    Dad’s voice pulls me back into the present. I swallow hard, hide my face, and try to push the painful memory away. Mom, Dad, and Derek have stopped and are now staring back in my direction.

    I blink a few times as I try to refocus on the world around me.

    “I… Umm... yeah… I’m coming.”

    Newton, Massachusetts - May 1997

    I walk the tracks of the T, an above-ground trolley that Derek and I ride every day to and from school, like a they are a balance beam. My brother stands well behind the yellow line and says, “You really shouldn’t do that.”

    “Lighten up, Derek, have some fun. Besides, the electricity in is the wires above, and you can hear the train coming from a mile away.”

    “But, you could get your foot caught or something.”

    “Ugh, you sound like Dad.”

    “I’m serious. It’s not safe.”

    I sigh and step off the tracks.

    “Two more weeks, Derek! You excited for camp?”

    My brother looks a bit unsure, “Yeah, I guess so.”

    “Don’t you want to go?”

    “I do, I just hope they put me in the Junior Unit this year.”

    I walk over to where my little brother is standing, and place an arm around his shoulder. “Don’t worry, you will be.”

    “How about you?” He asks.

    I rub my hands together. “I think this is my year to win a plaque, I can feel it.”

    The tracks begin to vibrate with a high pitched whine, and kids gather their belongings.

    “Like I said, you can hear the train a mile away.”

    East Brookfield, Massachusetts - August 1997

    “Promise you won’t forget about me.”

    Carolina and I sit shoulder to shoulder on a bench next to the Senior Unit basketball court at Camp Frank A. Day. The enormous pine trees that surround us seem to be gently waving goodbye to the campers who are being reluctantly dragged back home by their parents.

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    Nelson/Roberto

    Separated from my family during El Salvador's civil war, by death and adoption, I am a writer, photographer, and storyteller.

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