My Name Is Venus Black

My Name Is Venus Black

Heather Lloyd

My name is Venus Black because my dad was Joseph Black, and because on March 4, 1966, my very pregnant mother, Inez, just so happened to be watching a TV special about the Space Race when her water broke. I suppose the name Venus sounded better than Mars or Pluto.

If my mother had been reading a novel that night instead, or if she’d gone to the grocery store, I’d have a different name. If she’d had one of her famous migraines on the night I was conceived, I wouldn’t have been born in the first place.

We all feel so destined. It had to be me, we think. But the truth is, we all just barely made it here. Thousands of other combinations of your mother’s egg and your father’s sperm just missed their chance to connect, and one small change in circumstance could have wiped you out before you began.

If you ask me, we’re all born by accident and there’s no such thing as God. We travel through this life with no real trajectory, ricocheted here and there by the consequences of other people’s actions. And it works both ways, of course. The stupidest little thing we do can alter the future for so many people.

That means everything you ever did, you almost didn’t do.

I think about this a lot lately, trying to figure out how I got here. I trace my life back in time, looking for all those places in the past where, if I could change one key detail, I would never have seen what I saw or done what I did.

—Opening page of journal, Echo Glen Children’s Center,

Issaquah, Washington, September 12, 1980

I could swear I’m in some weird dream or movie, but that can’t be true because the burning sensation between my legs is way too real. Now I know how babies feel when they don’t get their diaper changed. I’m trying to hide what happened beneath my winter coat, but how long can I last?

A female cop and a cranky older detective in plain clothes are trying to interview me, but I’m sobbing so much it’s not going well. They keep saying things like, “Calm down.” “Take a deep breath.” “We can’t understand what you’re saying.”

But I can’t calm down. A bubble of horror has enveloped my brain and left me hysterical.

I make it about five more minutes before pain trumps pride. “I think I wet my pants,” I sputter, looking at the female officer.

She’s blond and prettier than my idea of a woman cop. She stands up. “Let me take Venus for a few minutes,” she says to the man. I don’t get up until she is standing by my chair. I feel like a small child as she leads me to a ladies’ room and tells me to wait inside for her.

The door locks behind me. I use one of the metal stalls, which remind me of the ones in my junior high. When I’m done, I go to the sink to wash. In the mirror, my face glistens with tears and mucus, my eyes are swollen half shut, and my hair is flying everywhere in an enormous black tangle. Then I remember I’ve been madly pulling at it.

Pretty soon, the female cop returns, holding a pair of blue pants that look like pajama bottoms with ties in the front. They’re way too big, but it’s a huge relief to get out of my soaked jeans.

When she leads me back to the interview room, calmer now, I see that Inez is seated off to the side. Has my mother been here the whole time? “I want her out of here,” I say, trembling with anger. And then louder, “I want her out! She’s the one you should arrest!”

Inez looks white as a sheet, like she’s seen a ghost, which I guess isn’t too far off. She exchanges whispers with the male cop and then leaves the room.

After she’s gone, the police try again. They start out with easy questions about my friends at school. I try to cooperate. I admit what I did. But when they want to know details and why, I clam up. “I can’t remember,” I say.

“You mean you don’t want to,” says the old guy.

* * *

IN THE MORNING, I wake up at Denney Juvenile Justice Center. I’ve heard of plenty of kids getting sent here, but they were always rough, older, criminal types. The kind who dropped out of school, sold drugs to kids, or stabbed each other and stuff like that. The kind who scare me.

When I learned last night that I’d be locked up here, my knees shook like Mexican jumping beans. “I’m only thirteen,” I pleaded. “I get straight A’s! I’ve never gotten drunk, or smoked pot, or even skipped a class. At school I hang out with the smart girls’ group.” But even my biggest achievement—“Last year I was Citizen of the Week a record six times!”—didn’t change anyone’s mind about where I belonged.

At Denney, breakfast is served in a small cafeteria that reminds me of our school’s. I go through the buffet line and then find the table with the fewest people and try to send out a vibe that says, Don’t even think about sitting here.

While I eat, random, bizarre details from last night flash in my mind. Like how good it felt when one of the cops gently laid his hand on my head as he guided me into his police car. For a second there, it seemed like he was rescuing me instead of arresting me. And this one: When the car I was riding in pulled away from our house on Rockefeller, I saw the garage door wide open, lit up like a giant TV and neighbors gathered around like someone should make popcorn.

I should be too upset to eat, but I’m starving. The toast is spread with what I’m pretty sure is real butter, not margarine. I wolf down the scrambled eggs even though they come in a square that leaks water.

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