By Katie Krantz
There are two things that may scare you away: I was in prison, and I have a son. I always disclose on the first date so no one feels betrayed. I went to prison at age nineteen. My friends asked me to drive them one day. Turned out that I was driving a getaway car, and two days later, I was put away for aiding an armed robbery. I kissed daylight goodbye until twenty-six. They released me onto the side of the road.
I stood there, feeling the grass against my toes, brushing my overgrown toenails. I had no skills or place in the world. Looking back at the fences, then down the empty country road, I wondered if I should demand to be let back in. There was nowhere else to go. I had no leads on a future until a slick Nissan Maxima came chugging down the highway. It stopped in front of me, highlighting my shaggy beard in the glossy window. The man who rolled down the window looked like his car, all neat and clean.
“Where are you going, son?”
“Well, hop in.” He leaned over and popped the door. His eyes were crinkled at the corners, laughter lines etched into his cheeks. When he spoke, air hissed from the corners of his smile. The passenger seat of his car was the most comfortable place I’d sat in years.
When Bishop King told me his name, I held back a chuckle. When he offered me a position as a janitor at Christ the King Church, I outright laughed. Not just from the unfortunate duality of name but because of the absurdity of being scooped up from prison and into a job. I thought he was joking. When we drove to Atlanta and I was handed a mop, then I stopped laughing.
“Just like that? I’m hired?” I nearly dropped it. He nodded and grinned, mouth folding along the lines of his cheeks. And just like that, I was hired.
Christ the King welcomed me with open arms. Bishop King, who resided over the diocese, found me a place to stay. There was an adjustment period, but soon I fell in love with the congregation. I would have pulled down and polished the stars for them. There was beauty in cleaning a bathroom for the community that took me in. Especially Bishop King, who took time out of his day every Friday to take me to lunch.
That’s why when he broke his vow of chastity and got Mary Jane Lemark pregnant, I took the fall for it. When that pregnant girl lumbered in on Sundays, I felt the eyes looking for me, sometimes just settling on the supply closet. She was going to keep the baby, even when her family finally disowned her.
Bishop King transferred me to Sacred Heart Church. It wasn’t terrible. He played the hero, letting Mary Jane live with him like the good Catholic. We kept our Friday dates. For a while, it looked like they would be the happy family I prayed they’d become. Then the complications came. Mary Jane died, leaving behind a premature baby with my name on its birth certificate. The Bishop couldn’t look at baby Sam without crying, and just like that, I became a father.
I remember the phone call. I nearly shit myself. I thought Bishop King was calling about our lunch date — he started missing as Mary got sick. But then he told me I had to take the baby and I dropped the phone. Shattered the screen. I didn’t have a dime to my name. There was no place or knowledge for a newborn in my dirty studio apartment.
But I owed it to the Bishop. He saved my life, and it was my turn to save his. I prepared the best I could for the next three days, and Sam was dropped off on a rainy Tuesday. I wasn’t sure how to feel.
Bishop King handed me something that looked closer to an unripe tomato than a baby boy. He was no bigger than a carton of milk, and much uglier, just like his daddy. A raindrop fell on his tiny forehead and he yawned. I’ll always remember the moment God handed him to me, slightly after the bishop did. The weight of the word was placed on my shoulders that day. When that little mouth opened, it hit me. I was holding my son. He may have been the bishop and Mary’s, but now he was mine. I don’t remember if Bishop King had left by the time I first whispered to Sam. Like a firework, Sam’s smile blew away the dark. The word was brighter than the sun with him there.
“I need these words to be the first that find your ears. Your heart may need some time to adjust, but I’ll teach you everything I know. I’ll give you everything I have.” He just sighed. The two of us were inseparable from that day on. Against all odds, we made it. His light was a seed, and beauty lifted from the earth as he grew. We competed against the stars with all of our little hearts.
Sam knows who made him. As the years moved on, his questions took shape. I had no reason to hide it. I don’t know if he tells his friends about it. I don’t expect him to understand. But he knows that I love him to the moon and back. He’s growing up big and strong, nothing like the tomato he came as. He’s smart, gentle, and braver than I’ll ever be.
If my story is a problem, I understand. I just like to put it out into the open before someone gets to know me.
Katie Krantz is a student and writer from Atlanta, Georgia. She attends the University of Virginia for her B.A. in English. She hopes to one day write children's literature.