The “First Time” Quan does “it,” he, Dasia, and Gabe are hungry. Dwight has been living with the family for a year and a half, and Mama hasn’t worked in four months. Quan knows she was fired for taking too many sick days. Now, Dwight withholds money for any offense, like disagreeing with him, moving things, or making noise. He doesn’t want his kids spending time with “Delinquent Junior,” but he also takes offense when Quan leaves the house to spend time alone. The lead-up to the “First Time” begins after Mama applies for “assistance.” She received an EBT (food stamp) card the family can use at grocery stores, and she sent Dwight to the store with it. He then refused to give it back.
Dwight creates a home environment that’s terrifying and dangerous for everyone—and it gives no one but him power. Mama no longer has the power to earn a living, and she perhaps doesn’t feel like she can defend her children from Dwight’s abuse given his proclivity toward violence. Taking away the EBT card cements Dwight’s power over the family, as he now can control how, when, or even if the family eats. In this sense, Dwight controls the family’s survival.
Upset with everything, Quan escapes to the rocket ship to relax. He accidentally falls asleep, and it’s dark when he wakes up. He sprints home. Dwight is gone, but Mama’s face is swollen and it doesn’t look like she can use her arm. Quan apologizes, his guilt growing. In his bedroom, he finds Dasia cradling a sleeping Gabe in the closet. Dasia spits that she can go to her room now and hits Quan with her shoulder on her way past. He can barely handle how grown-up she is. Quan scoops up Gabe and climbs into bed with him.
It’s understandable that Quan would fall asleep in the rocket ship. It’s where he feels safe—a sharp contrast to how he feels at home. But seeing what abuse Dwight carried out in his absence, Quan starts to feel like he can’t ever leave home. He’s trapped there because if he leaves, even worse things will happen to the people he loves. At least if he’s there, he won’t have to live with the crushing guilt of not defending his loved ones.
Dwight is gone for more than a week, but Quan can’t feel happy about it because Dwight took the EBT card with him. Dwight also managed to find Mama’s meager stash of cash and left a note accusing her of hiding things. The first few days are okay, since there’s a bit of food. But by the sixth day, things are dire. After Gabe goes to bed, Dasia settles on the couch and insists she’s hungry. Quan goes to the local corner store, where the elderly owner knows Quan. The owner smiles and goes to the bathroom. Quan gulps, knowing the owner trusts him. But he quickly grabs bread and peanut butter. Dasia cries when she bites into her sandwich. The next day, Dwight comes home with groceries.
The book implies that Dwight is a skilled manipulator—it seems that he knows Quan won’t even enjoy his absence due to feeling anxious about food. The note Dwight leaves also means that the family waits in fear, as there’s no telling what Dwight will do to Mama when he gets back. In this dire, seemingly hopeless situation, Quan does the only thing he can think of and steals food to support the family. His desire to be independent and care for his family himself means that he can’t ask for help, either at school or from this storeowner.