Study Guide

The First Part Last Change

By Angela Johnson

Change

Things have to change.

I've been thinking about it. Everything. And when Feather opens her eyes and looks up at me, I already know there's change. (1.11-12)

This is the first chapter of the book, and Bobby already has had a huge, obvious change to his life: He's a father. He also realizes that more than this has to change because he hasn't really changed yet. But he will.

I have to lean against the sides 'cause I could break down any minute. Just fall apart anytime before I get to my pop's apartment, which probably smells like chili-cheese fries. Just for me. (5.30)

It is not easy for Bobby to realize that he still relishes memories from his childhood and then realize that the door to that era is closed forever. Taking Feather to see his dad is one of these times. He's doing the responsible thing in parenting her, but then the enormity of how his life is different almost crushes him. No one ever said that dealing with change is easy.

I know she's trying to pretend she's not here.

Trying to pretend it never happened. (8.5-6)

Nia doesn't deal with the initial news of her pregnancy any better than Bobby does. Like him, she finds that it's easiest to ignore the changes to her life. This is one coping mechanism, but it doesn't work all that well for either of them.

When I walk past my mom's room, I miss her.

I walk to my room, put Feather in her crib, which pisses her off and makes her scream, and then I look around my room and miss me. (9.32-33)

Bobby misses his mom because she travels, but he's also missing the relationship they used to have. Feather's entrance into his life causes Bobby to be nostalgic about his past, for how things used to be, for how he used to be. Have the changes caused him to regret his actions, or is he just having a tough time dealing?

So when she says, "Boy, you look old and tired," I sit on the floor like I used to and think about how easy it was when me and Paco thought the carpet needed spots. She puts Feather in my arms and leans down close to me, braids clicking with beads, and says, "But it'll change for sure. I know it will. I just know." (11.47)

Feather's babysitter is the same one Bobby used to go to, and Jackie has been a caregiver for more than thirty years. Bobby should trust her expertise that his life will get better, but he's in the middle of the newborn phase, which is exhausting and never-ending. On the flip side, a lot has changed since Bobby was Jackie's charge, so maybe there's hope for Bobby yet.

Nothing's changed and everything has. Whoever K-Boy called out to is doing the same ole same ole. I hear J.L. up, complaining about what's for breakfast. But Nia is talking about going. And even if she's not going, she's talking about it all being different. (18.38)

It's pretty clear to us that Bobby wants things to stay just how they were with Nia and his friends, but he's starting to realize that they can't when Nia says she might move away. Even though the day-to-day goings on haven't really been affected yet, Bobby knows that life changes are imminent, and it's a hard pill for him to swallow.

And she's so new. Been on the planet for only a few months. I been thinking about it a whole lot lately. I feel old. (19.3)

It's not that Bobby feels physically old (the lack of sleep could do that to anyone), but that his experiences make him feel older. Experience ages us and makes us more mature, but it also makes Bobby long for the innocence of his youth. It's a far cry from what he expected to happen when Nia got pregnant with Feather.

"Yeah, well I guess you know, Bobby. It gets better, though. I mean the crawling and first steps make you so happy. Then it freaks you 'cause you know they're slowly getting away from you and heading for the world." (21.13)

Like many other parents, Paul's caught between being happy his kids are growing up and fearful that they're growing up too fast. He understands that once kids come along, change is an inevitable part of life. Bobby is only just starting to realize this and just starting to acknowledge that, in some ways, it's better to actively change than to deal with change reactively.

It would all be back the way it was before, in a month. Nothing would have changed. We'd leave school and keep on going.

No baby in a month. (24.14-15)

When Bobby and Nia decide to give the baby up, Bobby thinks life will go back to the way it was. Is this a naïve view of the world? What will have definitely changed for him? What might present Bobby think of this statement?

Then I think—I've got K-Boy and J.L. I mean not like before. But I still got them. It'll never be like before, but I still got 'em. (25.28)

Finally, Bobby realizes that change might be inevitable, but endings aren't—even though his friendships have changed, they still exist. And it's not a bad thing that Bobby is spending less time with his friends and more time with Feather; he's maturing and growing, and that's all good.

I can tell you how it is to feel as brand new as my daughter even though I don't know what comes next in this place called Heaven. (31.10)

Bobby finally decides to proactively change and moves to Heaven, Ohio. Yes, he's afraid, but the fear is nothing compared to his belief that life will be better for both Feather and him.

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