Tracei R. Willis: When You Tell My Story
When You Tell My Story
Write that I watched you sleep…
Tell them that I counted your fingers,
counted your toes, your eyes, even your nose.
When you write my story tell them that
I counted your every breath, that I counted your tears…
Say that from the beginning,
I was always there to calm your fears.
Don’t write that I was afraid to be alone,
Don’t tell them that I cried when you were asleep
because all I had to offer you was me.
When you write my story, don’t say that sometimes we ate rice and beans for too many days in a row.
Don’t tell them that I added water to your milk to make it last until the next WIC check
or that you potty-trained early because I couldn’t afford diapers for two.
Don’t say that sometimes it felt like I was taking out my frustration on you.
Write that we sat by the Pacific Ocean,
That I taught you the names of all the animals at the zoo,
Took you to science museums and art galleries too…
Tell them that the lady at the book store knew us all by our first names,
That I took you to hear Nikki Giovanni obsess over Tupac,
And that you even got to see her Thug Life tattoo.
When you write my story, make sure they know that I read to you every night—
From Good Night Moon, A Dog Called Kitty, Maniac Magee, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X…
Say that I drew pictures out of words to fill your dreams…
Don’t write that sometimes I left you alone watching TV
so that I could go to sleep before my night shift at the hospital.
Don’t tell them about my bad babysitter choices,
or how you sat outside a tattoo parlor
while the babysitter went inside to get her tongue pierced.
Don’t say that sometimes you slept in a chair in the hospital lobby,
because I had no one to offer you except me.
Write that I had your back every step of the way,
That I was at your string concerts, 3rd grade plays,
Basketball games and marching band contests…
Let them know that I never missed a single step.
When you tell my story, say that I let you sleep with me when you were sick,
Say that I made you soup, brought you juice, and watched over you until the fever faded away.
Tell them that I listened to your stories, your corny anti-jokes, and your rants about your best friend—
Say that I laughed with you, cried with you, fought against all odds for you,
You can even tell them that I yelled at you—
As long as you tell them that you never once had cause to doubt my love for you…