Burn Down the Ground: A Memoir
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In this powerful, affecting, and unflinching memoir, a daughter looks back on her unconventional childhood with deaf parents in rural Texas while trying to reconcile it to her present life—one in which her father is serving a twenty-year sentence in a maximum-security prison.
As a child, Kambri Crews wished that she’d been born deaf so that she, too, could fully belong to the tight-knit Deaf community that embraced her parents. Her beautiful mother was a saint who would swiftly correct anyone’s notion that deaf equaled dumb. Her handsome father, on the other hand, was more likely to be found hanging out with the sinners. Strong, gregarious, and hardworking, he managed to turn a wild plot of land into a family homestead complete with running water and electricity. To Kambri, he was Daniel Boone, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ben Franklin, and Elvis Presley all rolled into one.
But if Kambri’s dad was Superman, then the hearing world was his kryptonite. The isolation that accompanied his deafness unlocked a fierce temper—a rage that a teenage Kambri witnessed when he attacked her mother, and that culminated fourteen years later in his conviction for another violent crime.
With a smart mix of brutal honesty and blunt humor, Kambri Crews explores her complicated bond with her father—which begins with adoration, moves to fear, and finally arrives at understanding—as she tries to forge a new connection between them while he lives behind bars. Burn Down the Ground is a brilliant portrait of living in two worlds—one hearing, the other deaf; one under the laid-back Texas sun, the other within the energetic pulse of New York City; one mired in violence, the other rife with possibility—and heralds the arrival of a captivating new voice.
especially by Dad. I took an early lead, scoring basket after basket. On his turn, Dad made a few. But after a miss, he elected to take a risk to start from the beginning. He missed again and my lead doubled. The only other time my father had seen me play was the night I had flubbed the easy layup. Now I was down to my final shot for the win. As I took aim from the three-point line, Dad attempted to distract me by squealing and hollering. Despite his efforts, the ball went in. “I won!” I
longer paced the driveway worrying about him. I had grown accustomed to his long absences the same way Mom had and, besides, I was off on my own adventures with David. David was a junior and I was a freshman at Montgomery High School and we were now inseparable. He was going steady with my new best friend, a girl in my grade named Amber, who had recently moved to Montgomery to live with her father and stepmother in a three-bedroom A-frame home nestled in the woods. A curvy, green-eyed blonde
me vigilant. I stashed my cash and cigarettes in different hiding places and slept with my bedroom door locked and keys under my pillow. When he stopped by, I quickly left to avoid any confrontations, careful to avoid eye contact. With my mother’s work schedule, her dance troupe, and other activities at the Deaf club, she wasn’t home to witness most of my brother’s rages. When she was, however, David’s bombastic rants reached epic proportions. He demanded cash and, if she refused, cursed and
times to check my brother into a hospital, but unless he was deemed to be a threat to himself or the public, he was allowed to leave under his own free will. “But he is a threat! How can they just let him walk out?” I asked. “It’s the law,” Mom sighed. Even David’s old friend Allen, who had been clean and sober since leaving Montgomery and was serving in the military, knew something was wrong. He had recently visited David and was so jarred by my brother’s appearance and behavior that he
family had rallied around to help David, no one had reached out to see if I needed help—not a phone call, a letter, an offer for counseling or assistance with the college application process, nothing. I was the forgotten child. By all outward appearances, I seemed fine. I was a straight-A student, thriving at school activities and holding down a full-time job. If my own relatives didn’t worry about me, why would a teacher care if I got married? Besides, my friend Charity hadn’t believed me when I