Staring Me Down

by Sarah Montgomery

When I’m eighteen I’m going to find my real family,
my sister says, brown eyes boring straight into mine,
like they did when she got her driver’s license
and said she’d use the car our parents bought her
to drive away from us when she wanted;
like when she was sent home from middle school
for getting high and fighting in the bathroom.

She came with a twin brother and a trash bag of clothes,
a warning from the social worker: detached, high-risk.
She also brought a photo album from three months
with the foster family who decided not to keep her.
When she is angry or irritable she sits where we all can see—
our parents, my biological sister, three other adopted siblings,
her disinterested twin—and narrates her life before us.

She holds the album like a children’s book,
stares at us instead of the photos she has memorized.
Look how pretty my foster mom is she croons
on our mother’s birthday. My foster father is so funny she spits
after a fight with our dad. My foster sisters can French braid.
She has held this album at two, five, twelve, sixteen,
staring me down like when I drove her to elementary school,
watched her turn her back and walk into the crowd;
or the day she arrived and punched thirteen-year-old me,
my new sister fierce and unafraid at two years old.

When I’m eighteen I’m going to find my real family,
my sister repeats after I fly 1,700 miles home for her birthday.
Next year I’m going to leave she smiles into her cake.
Perhaps later she’ll pull out that photo album of that family,
the one she lived with fifteen years ago, the one she returns to
again and again, current photos hidden away along with a photo
of her real family—her birth mother, she and her twin,
more biological siblings perched in their mother’s arms,
matching red shirts bright against the soft trees of the park,
each of them stiff, staring directly into the camera.

Sarah Fawn Montgomery holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from California State University-Fresno, and is currently a PhD candidate in creative writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where has served as Prairie Schooner’s Senior Nonfiction Reader for several years. Her work has been listed as notable in Best American Essays and her poetry and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in various magazines including Crab Orchard Review, DIAGRAM, Fugue, Georgetown Review, The Los Angeles Review, North Dakota Quarterly, The Pinch, Puerto del Sol and others.