Genotype by Sarah M. Wells

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close up of hand on hoe in garden


When I walk into the Hitch’n Post for a gallon of milk, the cashier behind the counter calls out, “You must be a Fugman… you Roger’s daughter?” She recognizes the Fugman nose, straight and lengthy, or maybe the Fugman stride, or maybe the Fugman posture.

“Yes,” I smile a Fugman smile. “I’m his daughter.” I check out and head back to my car. I’m his daughter in both form and function. I bring home the bread and butter. It is me who sees the future just beyond my reach and swaggers toward it, ambition pressing its wet nose against my back and urging, forward, forward. It looks so easy, this Fugman stride, determined and steady, as if I know exactly where I’m going.

“Mom, can we go to the pool?” my kids ask, “Mom, can we go to the rec center?” my kids ask, “Mom, can we go to the park?”

I have time only for more: write more, read more, work more, do more until I flop exhausted on the couch with the remote. “Here,” I say. “Why don’t you watch a show?” Please leave me alone. I inhabit my own personal “shop,” my skull its perimeter, my brain, the spaces collecting dust and oil spills. It is the arena where I wander and wonder what others think of me. It is the place I huddle with a glass of whiskey and a laptop, contemplating the ways my dad was absent and ever-present in his absence, remote in hand and head tipped back, eyes closed. My children space out to Looney Tunes around me.

Even my hands, they are his, calloused in some of the same places, a blister flattened from the handle of a shovel or garden hoe, knobs along the top of my palm. His are enormous, swollen slabs, but mine are long and slender, feminine, different—the writer’s bump on my middle finger, for instance. Both sets of hands were made for work; they were made for pouring your sweat into the thing you love.

My children scamper in through the kitchen and hug my mother. I put the milk carton on the counter. We smile, delighted. “You look just like your mother; you two could be sisters!” people say when we’re together.

I never could see it. I am my father’s daughter. But here we are, words and phrases we keep tripping over: “Who’s that one actor who plays that one guy in that one movie?” Our eyes squint shut when we laugh, tears leaking. Looking even closer, yes, the shape of the eyes, like almonds, eyes the window.

Easy on the eyes, even, as one of my husband’s friends said at our wedding, “Your mother-in-law is hot! Nice work,” as if this is a prerequisite to finding a bride. Why not, I guess? Is there another woman I’d rather resemble? Mom, the gentle spirit, the comforter, the peacemaker.

It must be internal. The width of our hips for childbearing, the way I knew I might not be able to deliver naturally, just like her. The way I resisted going “all the way” with boys in high school because of her warning, because of her story—got pregnant; too soon—the way I carry guilt on my forehead. How I wanted to get married as soon as I was out of high school, or as soon as someone would have me, as soon as the current love of my life would propose. Marry young so I could begin my baby-making, my one true identity, the Mrs. I wanted to earned above any other degree.

Maybe the way we yearn for a certain kind of attention, a certain kind of love delivered in roses or compliments or quality time, the way our hopes rise. Maybe the way we default to silence, huddle up inside and wait for the storm to pass.

If we are eating dinner as a family and my husband is frustrated because the kids aren’t finishing their food or using their forks or staying in their seats, I am my mom, the lubricant, brake pad against rubber and metal.

My mom laments her flattened fingernails, fragile and thin. She keeps them filed low so they don’t snag or break. She tucks her “ugly thumbs” inside her fists to hide them. Except when we garden together. We once re-imagined an entire landscape centered around one tree. We moved mulch and dirt and fieldstones. We transplanted rhododendrons and roses.

We take the landscape we’re given and transform it.

I touch the places on my palm where the tender places have hardened.

There she is, there he is, and here I am.


Sarah WellsSarah M. Wells is the author of the novella-length essay, The Valley of Achor, a collection of poems, Pruning Burning Bushes, and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce. Her essays have been listed as notable in Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. She serves as the managing editor for the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, associate editor for River Teeth, and blogs regularly for Off the Page. Follow her @sarah_wells or on her website,



STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Tim Samoff

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