“180 Sumac” by Julia Scheeres tells the heart breaking story of a girl coming to terms with the
death of her brother. Her brother was adopted and abused by their racist parents because of the
colour of his skin. The story retells their childhood in flashback sequences as this, now much
older, girl goes back to their home, 180 Sumac, which she found was for sale. This story
expresses grief and the struggles of African American people assimilating into society.
Although we may think otherwise, nobody is ready for death of a loved one. Not when this death
comes due to terminal illness, and especially when the death happens suddenly, in the case of
David. Julia is heart broken and the fact that her last words to him were accusatory of thieving, is
something that will always haunt her. Through the things that remind her of him, she paints a
picture and illustrates a story of growing up with this funny, charming brother. All these anecdotes
are to remind her of the memories she did have of him, for example, “Now I stand in the spot
where David and i once sat cross-legged on the floor, baking polymer scorpions and tarantulas”,
is a unique childhood memory which she remembers as she walks into their previous home.
David was an adopted black child growing up in a predominantly white neighbourhood in a white
family. Because of this and the discrimination he faced, him and Julia had made a pact to move to
somewhere more multicultural than this rural town, somewhere where he could feel safe and
comfortable to find his own identity which had been stripped away from him from a young age.
He was never given parental love or guidance, “how is it possible that all the photographs I have
of David fit into a single shoebox?” And it’s quite clear, that their parents didn’t care for him and
saw him as nothing more than a nuisance, as he received inhumane abuse and beatings when he
was even slightly disobedient, screams that are expressed through auditory imagery, “David’s
screams from the basement workshop”.
Despite his life being littered with hardships, David made the best of what appeared to be a
hopeless situation. When the kids of their conservative primary school burnt David with a
soldering rod yelling “KKK” and “Let’s see how black skin burns!”, he wrote “victorious” in his
diary. Despite this act which was filled with tremendously ugly hate, discrimination, and vile
prejudice, David clung to his mantra of “laughter, the best therapy.” He never let racism and fear
define him and his life despite the large role it played in his upbringing. Many young, vulnerable
kids tend to find creative outlets for the childhood trauma they experience, David being one of
Julia also represents the guilt a lot of people feel, when they witness discrimination and blatant
prejudices, but are too afraid to do anything. She was only a child when her father would beat
David mercilessly, giving him sweltering hits, with scars that lasted a lifetime. But even now, after
his death, she wonders if she could have done something to stop this trauma, or whether she was
complicit in it. After his death, she cut oﬀ ties with her parents, namely something obviously very
diﬃcult for her to do, because they treated her like any other child, but realising the impact this
had on David, she disconnected from them as a way to process her grief and make sure she was
doing right by her brother. Even posthumously, Julia didn’t know how to say a simple “I love you”
to David, because of the way she had been conditioned by her parents.
However, eventually she realises that she needs to stop letting tragedy define her, as her brother
never did, and he would want her to be happy, despite everything else because he loved her too.
from where i stand
The poem, “from where i stand” by Morgan Yashinek tells the heart-breaking story of a mother
raising a child with terminal illness. It contrasts her with everything else that could have gone
wrong, bringing the author back to what she is concerned with, revealing a very fragmented and
exhaustive constant mental state that she has to deal with every day.
Through the use of voice, the mother is constructed to be extremely tired, as she talks about her
daughter and her daughter’s treatments with no emotional attachments because she is so used to
it. For example, the second stanza, “doctor’s saying if I don’t get her to a hospital I could find her
dead in her bed in the morning”, shows how she is in a constant state of worry, not knowing
whether her daughter is going to survive the night or not. Being a parent to a child, and being
responsible for this kid’s every action and well-being, shaping who they are, is stressful enough
for any parent. But having a child with terminal illness that may leave them dead, is a diﬀerent
level of diﬃculty to cope with.
The stanza afterwards shows the eﬀort they have put in to ensure the most ‘normal’ life for their
daughter. Her issues took priority over everything else in their lives, “her mortality has been a
principal organiser for years”, showing their constant worry, and the psychological impact it must
have had on the parent’s well-being and happiness overall. Nobody is prepared to have a child
with such special needs. “Driving ten ks each way for swimming lessons”, shows the most
mediocre type things the parents had to worry about, and the lengths they went to in order to let
their daughter have the best she possibly could.
After this, the stanza discusses issues that arise with kids that other parents might have to deal
with. Parenthood is never easy, and complications can arise at any corner given anything you do
incorrectly. For example, “the kid on the bus who tried to stab everyone”, “the boy who was hit in
the head with a shot-put ball” and “sarah who has gone weird since the big day out and is
probably on drugs”. All these children may have been born normal, with no complications, but
due to poor upbringing, peer pressure or other factors, have had complication that will hurt them
for the rest of their lives. So although this girl’s parents feel the burden of the world is on their
shoulders, it’s important to understand that this could have been anyone’s child, and anything like
the things listed, could happen to their child even if they were born perfectly normal. This stanza
shows a shift in perspective as the mother gains strength to continue.