I found beauty in a world across the ocean when I was three.
I would stand by the wire fence for hours, the red dirt between my toes, staring at my ebony neighbors whose smiles were like the crescent of the moon.
My parents were missionaries in Nigeria and Congo. Mom knitted afghans with the women while Dad taught the men to farm.
Mom's laundry hung from the line, drying stiff in the sun, and the air smelled like the mangoes that littered the ground. Mom stewed them and slid them into glass jars that lined the window.
Our neighbors waved at me in their colorful print dresses, and their children ran to me and hugged me, their hair thick like rope and their eyes like water, and I pinched my skin trying to make myself black like them because black was beauty, and Africa was my home.
Even though I'd stopped speaking when we moved to Africa in my 18th month, I had a voice there that sung and laughed and carried across the yard. I tucked all the colors and the sounds and the smells in my heart like folded napkins and carried them home when we left, just after I turned four. A long flight back to a world of white.
White snow, white skin, and I found my words on the other side of the ocean, but my neighbors no longer liked me staring at them. They made faces at me and stuck up their middle fingers, so I started looking at my feet a lot, and my words came out in whispers like a snuffed candle.1