The moment I found out that my father was actually not my father, I wasn’t wearing shoes.
I was nine. I had just walked outside onto my grandparents’ front porch. As a kid, I always ran outside with my socks on, too lazy to lace up my tennis shoes, too scared of rocks slicing into my skin to run completely barefoot. My grandmother always yelled at me because my laundry basket was full of those white socks, their bottoms painted black by grit and dirt. Earlier that year, we had moved in with my grandparents because my parents had abandoned my siblings and me, and I wasn’t used to following rules yet.
Under my grandmother’s gaze, I took my socks off and balled them in my hands right after I stepped outside. The heat from the cement licked at the soles of my feet. My long legs jutted out in harsh, awkward angles when I sat down on the top step, and the concrete snagged at my shorts.
On the grass of the front yard, my three younger siblings (half-siblings, I would soon come to learn) were chasing after each other, shoeless and unafraid. Even though I could feel loose pebbles embedding themselves into the sweaty underside of my thighs, I stayed on the porch and watched them. Their blonde hair was so bright it seemed to blind me. I pulled a strand of my brown hair from my ponytail and looked at it out of the corner of my eye.
“Why do I look so different from them?” I asked, turning my head to look at my grandmother.
Years later, when I get old enough, I will stand in front of my bathroom mirror. I will cut the tip of a hair-dye bottle off with a pair of dull scissors and shake it vigorously. The back of the Revlon box will warn me not to massage the mixture into my scalp, but I’ll do it anyway because I won’t want to miss any strands. When my skin starts to burn, I’ll put my head under the bathtub faucet and watch the water turn dark as it spirals down the drain.
I’ll run upstairs to show my grandmother, and she’ll frown at me and tell me she hates it. I’ll ignore her and go back downstairs, and then I’ll stand in front of my grimy bathroom mirror and smile at my reflection. In the years that follow, I will still dye my hair the same color. My grandmother will still hate it. My parents will still be long gone.
I will keep putting on the cheap plastic gloves, and they will continue to rip open because my fingers will be too wide and my grip will be too strong. Every time I leave the bathroom, my hands will be stained the color of my dirty socks—Revlon #11: Soft Black.
I’ll make up lies when people start asking me what happened: this is what you get when you work on an art project for too long, or these are the kinds of bruises you get from playing basketball. I will never say: this is what happens when you can’t find yourself or this is what happens when you get left behind.
On the front porch, my grandma was sitting in a gray lawn chair, a cigarette between her lips. She sucked in, hard and deep, and stared at me as she blew out the smoke. She pulled the cigarette from her lips.
I remember that she said it matter-of-factly: I didn’t have the same biological father as my siblings. My father had left my mother before I was born. Their father, the one who had raised me, had left us less than a year ago, right after my mother left. That meant that I was purposefully discarded by not two parents, but three. That meant that the blood underneath my skin was not the same blood my siblings shared.
I clenched the socks tightly in my fists as I stared out into the yard. My sister and two brothers were laughing, their small arms outstreched in pursuit of each other. Like me, they were barefoot. Unlike me, they were short limbs and soft edges. They were blonde and beautiful and eternal in the summer light.
Born and raised in Sioux City, Iowa, Sadie Shuck is a writer working full time as a high school English teacher based in Myrtle Beach, SC. She received her Bachelor's degree in English Education from Morningside College and is currently enrolled in Coastal Carolina University’s Master of Arts in Writing program. When she isn’t grading papers or watching Gilmore Girls, she is hard at work on her first novel.