Until I was seven and entered first grade, a woman named Docia took care of me during the day. She smoked Kool cigarettes at all hours as we played with my plastic animals and cut out pools of water and fields of grass out of construction paper.
It was our secret that we watched “The Guiding Light” without fail. Docia would say, “Oh my goodness,” when someone planned to do something bad, or “That’s some foolishness there—why she going to fall for him after what he did?”
Docia had a boyfriend who came to the house sometimes, and that was our other secret because he wasn’t supposed to be there. He had shown up at the house drunk once, when my parents were there.
On a cold day in April, I could hear her and her boyfriend arguing in the backyard. He said, “You’re too old to play these kind of games, woman!” A few minutes before noon, she came back in and turned the TV on, and this time she held me in her lap, but she remained silent. Instead, she stroked my hair the whole time.
A year later she would get in the car with him, and he would drive straight into a Lay’s Potato Chip truck; both of them were killed instantly. But on this day we were taking solace from the misguided actions of Kit and Holly and Roger and Jerome. And we were taking solace from each other. When the show was over, Docia kept her hand on my head and let out a deep sigh.
“How come you so sweet?” she asked.