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But like Kenyatta's father, my maternal grandfather abandoned the family when my mom was young, leaving three daughters in the care of her mother. They lived in the projects in Baltimore, and, like Camille, my grandmother obsessed over protecting her daughters. When my mother met my father, his rap sheet read exactly like the sort of guy my grandmother didn't want her daughter to end up with. He was a book-peddling college dropout with an estranged wife who, while polite, had little tolerance for the sort of niceties and effects that my grandmother believed in. He wasn't a churchman, and he'd already sired five kids by three women.

My résumé reads better than my father's did, and I am more willing to bend, but I can't escape the thought that it isn't just the daughter revisiting the sins of the mother, it's the son doing the same.

Camille walks in with my parents at about 10 A.M. By then Kenyatta's hard labor is approaching the five-hour mark. The hospital regulations only allow two people in the room. Since I insist on always being present, that means that each visitor has to file in one at a time. Camille understandably comes in first. She offers me a hug and then stands over her daughter, leaning down so she can speak to her as tenderly as possible.

I've never doubted that Camille loves her Kenyatta. Now she talks to her in a really low voice, and Kenyatta responds in a similar tone, mostly because of the drugs. After a few brief moments, Camille walks out. After she leaves, Kenyatta says that she's told her mother that I had been speaking for both of us and wasn't trying to shut her out. I am impressed that Camille elects not to wage war over the issue.

My mother and then my father file slowly in. Across the way, I can still hear that lady's besieged wails.

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