Toby Note by Nat Hilton

Toby’s Flight: The image above is a visual depiction of the following field note. The four masks at the top represent my family, they are in a Guatemalan art style. The dividing section beneath is a defibrillator mask creating clouds for my brother’s plane to fly through. My brother is at the bottom separated from us by his birthplace and anxiety, being the mask and the plane. This was drawn by hand and colored and edited digitally. 

          Toby used to have a breathing issue, his inhales and exhales would rasp and bubble. My mom bought him a defibrillator. He used to sit in the corner of our dining room and fly his toy planes through the steam, making engine noises beneath his plastic face mask. When the breathing issues wouldn’t stop we took him to the doctors, and they informed us it was a symptom of anxiety.

          My brother was adopted from Guatemala, he stands out as the single person of color in my white family of five. I have memories of him crying in bathrooms and running out of the house, all following conversations about his difference of race. Often times my brother uses this fact to separate himself from the family. If there is an argument he will claim we are racist for disagreeing with him or we will never understand how he feels because he is Hispanic. Which is true.

          I have taken the role of speaking calmly with him. I am happy to be his conversational output, he blames my parents for his anger and my sister is too young to understand. It is me and our dog that sit with him and listen. He speaks to me about how he wanted caucasian hair, like his friends, and how plasters his thick black filaments with product after product until it is cemented in a fine swoop across his forehead. Many times my parents will say in moments of anger that “without us, you would be living in a slum halfway across the world”, they would list the privileges and personal wealth of living in a white family. An excerpt from the article; Maybe White People Don’t Really See Race and That’s a Problem transcribes an interview from an adopted Hispanic individual in a white family. It reads, “… I believed that my own flesh was inferior, that by the grace of my white saviors I was saved from a lifetime of drugs and prostitution…”, this perfectly represents the actions of my parents. They do not understand in their attempts to reclaim their son into the family, that they are pushing him farther away from the roots and aspects of himself that he should respect and love.

          My parents do not notice when we arrive at a restaurant or movie theater, the employee will say, “four tickets?” and raise their eyebrows at my brother, who always positions himself in the back of the group. I feel and want my role to be the listener, but most of the time as another white face in his hardship it becomes hard for him to relate, trust, and connect. I will often be cut out with the rest of my family, left with the helpless want to aid him.

          For years now we have talked about a trip to Guatemala, where he can reconnect with his biological siblings and mother. I want him to see the beautiful city of Antigua, where he can see the near indigo skies and stone streets. Maybe that toy plane he used to cut through the fog had me and him in it, returning to the country that he has never seen but always wanted to.



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